Des Rocs Is Pushing Boundaries to Modernize Rock and Roll One Song at a Time
Des Rocs is a man on a mission, and a noble one at that. "Bringing rock n roll back to the people" is the tagline on his Twitter page. Part of his ability to do so has been his dedication in being an independent artist, issuing one EP so far, but also capturing the ears of listeners by offering stand-alone singles filled with blues-infused glory turned around quickly when the inspiration hits.
Des has been turning heads with his live performances, recently getting an invite to open for the Rolling Stones and helping to lead the rock revival charge playing dates with the Struts. We recently chatted with Des right after one of his biggest weekends of the year so far in Chicago at Lollapalooza. Check out our chat below.
Sounds like you had a great weekend at Lollapalooza, playing a couple of sets and getting to join Bring Me the Horizon later.
It was unbelievable. We did three shows in one day actually. For me, I’m never gonna sacrifice the intensity of the set, so it was definitely an intense day to say the least.
Looking at your socials, I thought it was great showing your “second grade project.” There was never any doubt that it was gonna be rock for you, was there?
(Laughs) Yeah, I’ve always loved it. I was exposed to it at a young age, and I was born and raised on straight rock 'n' roll and over the years I’ve learned a lot more about other genres, but for me it’s always been the core of my DNA.
You’ve very much forged your own path. What did you discover along the way that’s helped in how you want to present your music to people?
I remember one of the first places I went to was this dive bar in Long Island, New York, and I was probably 13 or 14 years old and it was a little club and everyone was just losing their minds. There was probably about 150 people in this club, packed, sold out, and I was just blown away by this whole spectacle of all these people having this shared rock experience, and I had just started playing guitar at the time. But it’s still something in me that was always craving that energy. So I was always in bands for a very long time just as a guitar player and only until recently did I decide to start fronting my own band.
I’m hearing a good dose of the blues in your music. Can you discuss a bit of where your influence comes from musically?
I’m a huge fan of the blues, and to me it’s a real mission to modernize blues. There’s only so much you can do in the format by definition. It’s certain musical motifs and certain chord progressions, but for me it’s super important to take it and combine it with as many other elements as I want to, and that’s something I love to do.
But really, I���m hugely inspired by Elvis, Roy Orbison, Talking Heads, Queen, Jimi Hendrix and a lot of other things too, but those are my creative north stars. That’s the stuff that I grew up on and it internalized in me at a very young age.
Likewise, because you are a dynamic live performer, is there anyone who has influenced how you present yourself onstage?
Absolutely, and I’ll take it back to Queen, Elvis and the Talking Heads, each of them in a different way. For me, when it comes to Elvis live, it’s such a spectacle and such an incredible rock performance. When it comes to Queen, I just love the band. They’re just perfect and that’s something I’ve always wanted with my band. And when it comes to someone like the Talking Heads, they really knew how to push what they do live. They could just change the way the show could look and feel. It was as much of a show as it was an art piece. Those three, and also there’s elements of the E Street Band that I can throw in there live, just in the way that every person onstage is living and breathing every personal thing of the lyric. That is something that is so, so special that has held up for 40-plus years.
One of the songs they shared ahead of this interview is a track called “Living Proof,” which isn't out yet [Update: The song is now due Sept. 6] I love the lyrics pulling yourself through darker times and it comes across so grounded in something deeply personal to you.
Yeah, that one doesn’t have a release date yet, but I think that record is what I was talking about when I say I really want to modernize blues. The 12-bar blues progression, how do I present it? How do I make this record look big and bad?
Lyrically, it comes from a part of my life when I was on the road with another band and we had put in many years of hard work and ultimately the band couldn’t continue any more because half of the band, including one of my best friends, just had to stop. So we had to start a new band. But for me, I don’t want this to be the end of the story about how the situation is, I just want us to realize that we’re all in this together. You can get through the darkest times in your life, which is kind of in that blues vein — but updated for today.
I just saw you were celebrating this being the one year anniversary from when you wrote “Let Me Live / Let Me Die,” which really put you on the map. Over the past year, what has been the greatest thing in seeing that song evolve and continue to reach new listeners?
It’s so cool. Just a year ago, I just did that song in one very fast session. I had the idea for the guitar riff in a dream, and I woke up and recorded the vocals and did a demo of just me with the guitar part. I still have that. Then I took it in the studio and did it in like 45 minutes.
I just put it out and I really didn’t think people were going to mess with it, but I was totally wrong. People did, and it’s remarkable to see how this song has affected people and seeing kids singing it front row at stages all over the country. It’s just an incredible feeling.
It’s been an interesting roll out for you in terms of how you’re releasing this music. There’s an EP, but it’s mostly been a song at a time. Can you discuss trying to remain an independent artist and what it means to have control of how you present your music?
I'm pretty alive right now. You talk to labels and they say what kind of music are you gonna do, and I say rock 'n' roll. I always put the roll in there as well because that’s what I feel like there’s less of today. That’s something I’m always championing, and as an artist it’s freeing the ability to do whatever I want. I can put out whatever I want and however I want. I don’t have to be tied to anyone’s release schedule. So I just want to keep it constant, and keep evolving.
So you’ve got labels that have urban music or pop music and they want to make a giant album and then put it out for nobody. I want to just keep constantly evolving, and because I do most of the production myself, I’m able to continually evolve. If I hear a sound I like and it’s a drop from a blues record, I can release it three weeks later. So being independent right now is really important in affording me the opportunity to do that.
You mention the quick turnaround. Do you consistently have something close to create music whenever the mood strikes?
I’m constantly recording on the road. I’ll record anywhere and everywhere. I don’t really have a formal studio, I just have spaces that I come and go out of — coffee shops, my apartment, and a lot of my vocals, the background vocals on “Living Proof” are me in the back of a moving tour bus at 7 in the morning while everyone else is asleep. If you isolate the stems, you can kind of hear the driving in the background. But I just kind of make music whenever and wherever.
Rock has taken a little beating in recent years, but as you’re on the mission to bring something fresh to it, where do you see the state of rock these days, and do you really see rock stars out there anymore?
I think rock is creatively confined. Rap and urban and pop can be so many different things, but for the average person, rock just has to be this one thing. I think that has creatively boxed it in in a way that hurts it in the relevance game. But to me, I think it’s important for guitar based music and for people to be rocking in the way that we’ve been rocking, it’s that we’re always pushing and exploring. We’re pushing back.
Grunge was huge because it pushed boundaries and explored and gave us something new and every movement in rock has been so significant because it’s pushed boundaries. I feel like on many rock records today sound the same way they sounded 10 years ago. You wouldn’t know if it was from today or 2009. But you can’t say that about a rap record, because it’s a totally different genre of music. Same with pop music. Ten years ago, it was EDM and now it’s something totally different. It’s always evolving.
I feel like we’ve lost that drive, so for me I’m always thinking how can I push? How can I paint there? How can I turn it into art and not just a song?
I also noticed quite a few sync licenses you’ve hooked up over the past year from WWE to NFL to video games. Do you have a favorite placement for your music?
I don’t have a favorite, but for me just getting placed is a bonus. It’s not something I think about when I’m writing, but I think going back to your last question is responsible for why rock has gotten kind of replaced the last few years is that people just write rock for commercials. So it’s so effecting to me to seeing a rock record ending up in these same places. So hopefully, we can start replacing some of the fake stuff with stuff that is truly by artists.
There’s been some discussion on this lately in terms of bands going outside of their ranks for songs from other songwriters. Where do you fall on songwriting? Do you like to keep it in house or do you see the benefit of collaboration or working with some music coming in from outside your ranks?
I write my own records entirely, but I just think there’s no rules. The second you start putting rules on it is the second you’ve started compromising what rock music can be. Maybe the most bad ass rock records of all-time are a rock band with another writer who maybe even hasn’t written in rock.
I don’t place a strong opinion on it one way or the other, I just love a great song and a great piece of art so long as it’s true and comes from a place of let’s make great art, whoever it’s with, and that’s all that matters. But I do think that people need to step up their game for sure and to say something they mean and not what they think people want to hear.
I have to ask about you getting a chance to open for the Rolling Stones. For an emerging artist such as yourself, that’s gotta be huge.
It was absolutely fucking insane. I just launched my record last year and it was just unreal to get the call from the Stones. It made me feel how egalitarian they are in who they pick for their openers. They don’t care how big you are. They don’t care how many machines you have or how long you’ve been a band. All they care about is do they like the music and want to champion it. That to me was just so inspiring that they just liked my music and wanted to give it a platform.
That was incredible and just meeting the guys was a real experience. Having Mick Jagger shout me out from the stage, that’s definitely kind of once in a lifetime stuff.
Upcoming dates with the Struts and that seems like a great bill…
I loved those guys. I’ve toured with them before earlier this year, and we had such a great time together we decided to do it again in September. But I’m excited to be getting back on the road because they are the nicest guys and they put on a hell of a show. It’s a great combination. We do extremely different things but it works well together.
As you continue to work on new music, are there certain things inspiring you? Do you read or follow world events? What’s got your attention these days?
I’m inspired by pretty much everyone and every thing. Musically, more recently, I’ve just been touching the surface of ‘50s and ‘60s poetry — the whole Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg era. I’ve been reading about New Yorkers and other people writing these incredible things.
One thing I’ve really been inspired by recently is this Jack Kerouac collection calls Old Angel Midnight, which is just a several year long stream of conscious writing with no editing. There was just several years in a row where he just wrote whatever came to his mind and didn’t revise it. It was eventually put together and it’s kind of like this creative thought experiment.
It’s very inspiring to me to think about how I write and to just kind of let it go and not do much revision for the actual song. But it’s about the mix where I’ll sort of tinker. But it’s that sort of consciousness of creativity that I’ve been doing.
What’s on the horizon for say the next six months? Do you even think of doing a full length album or do you prefer the path you’ve chosen so far with the music?
I’m going to continue to release songs individually or as packages together. For me the release of what songs go together should be just as much an expression of art as the song itself is. I wouldn’t to release an album just because I’ve got 10 songs. It really has to be well thought out to where you could experience the album itself, so until I have that ready to go, I have no pressure to release an album.
But I do love the idea of pairing songs together for certain purposes, or taking a creative risk of doing three songs together and I can just call it a three-pack. I don’t even have to call it an EP, which is an acronym that 90 percent of the world doesn’t even know what that means. But I’ll just release it how I want and not everything needs to be in a box.
The next few months will be some really fun tours and festivals. We’re going to the U.K. We’re going to Voodoo Fest and Kaaboo down in Del Mar and we’re going to be releasing a few more records. I’m going to be releasing technically what is my second EP.
And because you’re an artist, but I know the music world has changed, but do you see music videos and video presentation being part of the promotion down the road?
Visuals for me are easily as important as the music, and I feel the exact same way about videos as I do about releases and songs. There are no rules. You can do whatever you want. You could have a 30 second music video or you can have an hour-long TV special, which is something I’ve been working on for quite some time. So I have a lot coming and a lot on the way where that’s concerned, but any sort of traditional music video is very boring to me.
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