By Al Kaufman
Sometimes a recession is a good thing. Take this year’s Midsummer Music Fest, sponsored by AM sports radio 790 The Zone. While last year’s event, which featured Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ and Blues Traveler, put people back anywhere from $10-$20 per ticket, this year’s festival, featuring Rusted Root and Guster, is free.
Held again in Candler Park, festivities begin at 10 a.m. with a 5K road race. In addition to concerts throughout the day, there will also be Kids' Zone, Artist Market, and Green Area.
But it’s the music that most people come for. Sol Junkies, Sonia Leigh and Jupiter Coyote are a few of the bands supporting Guster and Rusted Root, two bands with rabid followings. For Rusted Root, whose new CD, Stereo Rodeo, is their first release in seven years, fans have held on since their catchy jam-single “Send Me On My Way” from 1994’s When I Woke. Atlanta Music Guide caught up with Rusted Root’s founder, guitarist and lead vocalist, Michael Glabicki, and he talked about the new album, why it took so long to make it, how he feels about the label “jam band,” and how the band stays in shape on the road.
Why did it take seven years for the new album?
I think we just needed a break to start out with. And then we were off doing solo projects for a while. And in the meantime also we were doing a live record and we were still touring a lot. We were still keeping busy. I think it was very necessary. I think it was time to take a break. But we’re very geared up now, though, creatively, and we’re ready to try to get an album out next year around this time. We’re already working on it, and our creative juices are flowing. We hope to be busy for the next 10 years and keep putting out records.
There are a lot of bands that hate that make an album, tour, make an album, tour procedure. Is that where you guys were?
Yeah. We’re really blessed that we can take that time off, come back, and still have our fan base there.
Was there any fear about that?
There really wasn’t because we were keeping our live shows fresh, and the live CD really tied us over.
A lot of the songs on the new CD seemed to have come together after playing live. You wrote them a long time ago, then after playing them live you really fleshed them out. How long does it take you to get a song from beginning to end?
It can be anywhere from a couple of months to three years. There’s a song called “Grace” on the record that was written about a month before going and recording it, and then the song “Stereo Rodeo” was actually written seven years ago. Then “Driving” we came up with on tour. That was about eight months before going into the studio with it. We wrote that at a sound check, so they just pop up everywhere. We’ve got a lot of material already happening now, so I think what was normal in the past is not going to be normal in the future.
You cover “Suspicious Minds” with a great Latin drum intro. What made you want to cover the song and how did the whole combination come together?
I’ve always been interested in that song. It’s always been very moving to me, and it’s also kind of mysterious because I would look at the chords and look at the lyrics and they were kind of there, kind of not there. We couldn’t figure out on paper why it was such an interesting song. I always kept it in my mind and started strumming it at a sound check, and [bassist] Patrick [Norman] said, “Maybe we should try that.” I turned around to the drummer [Preach Freman] and said, “Hey, try a Latin beat,” and he came up with the perfect beat for it, and that was it. That night we played it and it was an instant hit with our fans, so we sort of had to put it on the album.
Do you consider yourself an Elvis fan, or do you know the song from the Dwight Yoakam or Fine Young Cannibals’ versions?
I like the Fine Young Cannibals’ version, and I loved Elvis’ version, too. But I’m not a huge Elvis fan. I don’t know much about him.
On the new CD you’ve got the anti-Bush song, “Bad Son.” It’s a great song, but I’m assuming you wrote it a while ago. Were there reservations about putting it on a CD that came out after he left office, that it wouldn’t sound fresh?
Yeah, there was. I had written that after going to DC and performing in a couple of benefits for Iraqi Veterans Against the War. I went to the march and protest and saw where there were probably a couple hundred of them in their uniforms lie down on the Congress steps and refuse to move they got arrested and taken away in paddy wagons. It was very moving to me. You’d heard about that kind of stuff happening in the '60s, but when you see it, when it’s 20 feet away from you, it’s pretty powerful and moving. So I felt like I had to write a song about it. That’s how the song came about. And I’m still in touch with guys and for me it’s still a fresh feeling. I felt it was okay to put it on the record only because if it continues that kind of attention on what went down with the Bush era, then maybe it could motivate somebody, one person, to work towards consequences for their actions. That would be fantastic.
In Atlanta you’re playing a festival. You’ve played a lot of festivals. What’s the difference between playing your own and playing as part of a festival?
I looked at the line-up and there are a lot of great bands playing that day. So we’re going to get in there early and check out all the bands. That will be exciting, and as an added thing we’re hoping to get there by 10 a.m. and do the 5K race because we’re all trying to keep exercising while we’re on the road. But festivals are always a good break. I don’t like doing a lot of festivals, but during the tour if we pop out and do one every two or three weeks it’s a lot of fun.
You have a very strong, diehard fan base, but you haven’t had a radio hit since 1994’s “Send Me On My Way.” Why do you think that is?
I think radio just kind of closed up as far as the styles of music it would play. You really can’t get on the radio anymore unless you sound like a band already on the radio. We’re obviously a unique band and we have a unique perspective and it doesn’t quite relate to that world. But hopefully things can change. Things are definitely changing. We would welcome it if radio opened up again. It’s not like we’re done with it. We’re going to be doing a lot of radio visits on this tour. We’ll be doing a lot of interviews and live performances on the air. So we’re not giving up on it, but it’s definitely changed.
You get a lot of play on the satellite radio stations. Do you see that as the future of radio?
We’re going to do a lot of performances and interviews on satellite radio. The internet we’re really getting into right now. We just did a lemonade stand for the release of our record and we filmed it. It was a total blast. It was great to hang out with our fans. We gave out free lemonade to anyone coming by to pick up the CD, or anyone who just came by to say hello. It was a blast and quite charming. It will be on our web site, YouTube, MySpace and all that. We also have a video in which we were going to the studio and broke down along the way and spent 13 hours on Route 80 in Pennsylvania, just playing music on the side of the road, so we filled all that and made it our video for “Dance in the Middle.”
“Dance in the Middle” is that kind of sound that people who know you from “Send Me On My Way” expect from Rusted Root. That song, and a few others on that album got you the label “Jam Band.” What do you think of that label?
I don’t like any labels. Anybody who sees us play live never says we’re a jam band or any kind of band. I think they would just say Rusted Root is Rusted Root. It’s very foreign and weird that people would even attempt to label us.
You certainly have influences from all over. Did you listen to a wide variety of music growing up, or was it something that happened later on?
I think my influences were probably in synch from nine years old. From that point on I didn’t really listen to things that influenced my music. Through high school I was more into Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, so . . . But later on, after people started comparing us to Talking Heads I started listening to a lot more of that, which I think influenced us a little bit.
“Driving Two” sounds heavily influenced from the Heads “I Zimbra.” I don’t know if you noticed that.
No, because it really just happened. That song was called “The Tamborine Song” for a long time because it was written in a rhythm that Colter played on the tambourine, a Brazilian tambourine rhythm. That’s really where that song came from.
Do you make CDs so that you can play live, or do you play live so that you can make CDs?
Make CDs so we can play live. In the development of our CDs we play it live for the audience and that’s really the process. The audience feeds us and we create out of that. We get it to the point that it’s able to be recorded and we just make a CD, and that promotes our next record, which allows us to get back out there.
If you could do it without making CDs at all would you just play live all the time?
No, I love recording. I got to produce Stereo Radio and that’s a real love of mine and I really enjoy it, and I really love working with the band in that way.
Rusted Root plays the Midsummer Music Fest at Candler Park on Saturday, June 20.