Root down: Pittsburgh-based Michael Glabicki and Rusted Root maintain a healthy following Shoreside, and they’ll return to the Stone Pony on Saturday night.
By DOROTHY CREAMER (First published on Red Bank oRBit September 10, 2009)
It’s a melting pot out there. Always has been, of course — witness that wayward lovechild known as rock and roll — but when a musical group can build up a fervent following on the jam-band circuit by mixing the heretofore exclusive flavors of bluegrass-tinged Americana and exotic world-music beats, well, the sonic stew has certainly thickened.
Like fellow Pittsburgher Joe Grushecky, Rusted Root has long maintained a kind of honorary-locals status here on the Shore — a memorable live act, a study in diverse musical viewpoints, and a band that, despite their impeccably indie credentials, has enjoyed a fair amount of mainstream success over the course of some eight albums. In addition to scaling the top of the charts, their tunes (including the ubiquitous signature song “Send Me On My Way“) have been featured in movies, TV shows, and (by way of NASA’s piped-in sound system) the space shuttle.
This surge of popcultural attention has given Michael Glabicki and his bandmates a new cadre of fans who are probably more familiar with the Jonas Brothers than the Allman Brothers — causing the founder and frontman to remark that “there are a lot of young kids coming out to our shows…they call ‘Send Me On My Way’ the Ice Age song.”
Glabicki and his current bandmates — Liz Berlin, Patrick Norman, Jason Miller,Colter Harper, Preach Freedom and Dirk Miller — have never made a secret of embracing the tailgater culture of fans who revel in those percussive rhythms and the social nature of the event. While they’ve never taken a break from touring, Rusted Root did take a seven-year hiatus from recording while Glabicki took some time to develop a side career as a solo artist. In 2009, the band returned to the studio and laid out its most recent album, Stereo Rodeo, released last May.
The 2009 lineup of the Rusteds returns to the Stone Pony for a Saturday night set, joined by Aussie combo The Kin, recreating the same bill that last appeared locally in a 2007 benefit show at the Two River Theater. Red Bank oRBit managed to catch up with Glabicki as he took a rare few minutes to reflect on some two decades of creating distinct sounds and dramatic performances.
RED BANK ORBIT: There was quite a lag between albums. Did you have any nerves about returning to the studio as a band?
MICHAEL GLABICKI: During that time we’d been touring quite a bit and we put out a live record, so we still felt pretty connected to our audiences. The good thing was that in that period we rejuvenated and got different ideas going. The recording process went really well.
I feel like getting back into it, there is a lot of energy. I’m having a lot of creative vigor, because I did take that time away. It’s much easier right now and there is a lot of music flowing out of me. I am writing a solo record and I’m already working on another Rusted Root album.
Was there a plan going in to record Stereo Rodeo?
I had been doing a lot of the material out solo, so I had been connecting with the songs on my own. It was great because I had the opportunity to really spend time with the music and find the quieter dynamics of the songs. I had never really explored that part of the music. I thought it would be great to bring those songs to the band so we could get into that spectrum of the tunes together.
What with constantly being on the road and recording, what do you do in those rare free moments?
I try to keep in contact with what is going on in the writing side of me. Of course I also have a family – I have a son, he’s 12. You gotta keep your relationships going outside of your career as well.
How do you try to balance family with your schedule?
It’s interesting because I would get nervous that once families came, that would switch our focus and we wouldn’t have the same vibrant energy. But we just kind of got better at being a band. I got better at being a solo artist by making more time for family and friends and fitting in life between traveling. Being a father inspires me even more and makes things even better.
On Stereo Rodeo you cover Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.” How did that song make the cut?
I always loved that song. One day during a sound check I started strumming it and the band joined in. I told the drummer to play a Latin beat and it just worked! We started playing it live and it became a hit with our audience, so we had to put it on the record.
What has been the biggest surprise with your rise from being an indie band from Pittsburgh, to internationally renowned stars?
Being able to tour with legendary bands and be a part of their statement, like Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana and the Allman Brothers. Becoming a part of that whole genre of real music and real inspired music, that was shocking to me. Going from my bedroom to performing in arenas, it was just surreal. Then I also think of “Send Me On My Way” being used in Ice Age and I was surprised at how good that song fit. It was sort of perfect.
With all your touring, do you have a favorite venue to perform at?
I don’t really. There are certain events I enjoy where there are groups of bands performing, but as far as places go, I tend to get a thrill from the audience that’s in front of me and try to create something of a spot with that unique audience.
What are you working on next?
I’m developing some stuff for my solo album that is a whole different feel. For Rusted Root though, I want to get back to the sort of constant pounding rhythms in the songs and explore that for the next record. It’s a hard thing to describe. It’s intimate but artsy in a unique way.
Which comes first…the lyrics or the music?
I tend to save the lyrics for last. I really don’t think of lyrics at all. The musical version is better and then I keep working until the lyrics come out. Usually it times up, that when the music is done, the lyrics are there, but I try not to rationally think of lyrics. I let them sort of flow out like a dream.
There have to be some perks to being in the music biz. What would you say they are?
I don’t always notice this, but being able to have a different perspective on life. I am glad for being able to see the world sort of freely, not being caught up in a rigid regime.
What are Rusted Root’s dressing room demands? Any only green-colored M&Ms and Cristal champagne orders?
It’s pretty basic. We’re pretty simple as far as that goes. All I need is a bottle of water and a couple of Budweisers!