Posted January 11, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes

Rusted Root: Setting the foundation for the next 25

All Rights Reserved - Rusted Root
All Rights Reserved - Rusted Root

Part jam band, part world music aficionados, Rusted Root has carved out a nice niche for itself. Led by singer-guitarist Michael Glabicki, the ensemble got national attention with its sophomore effort When I Woke, which delivered singles such as “Send Me On My Way” and “Ecstasy.” The group’s most recent album, 2012’s The Movement, has a new depth and is its best yet. Glabicki recently phoned from a tour stop to discuss the band’s 25-year career and the progress it has made toward a new studio album.

Is this a 25th anniversary tour that you’re on?
We’re not doing an official thing for the 25th anniversary but it helps. It gets people talking. It’s an interesting time because we realized it had been 25 years and we realize we could go 25 more. I’m writing music right now in the basement of a huge theater. I have a little rig down here and I’m planning out the next record which, to me, is the foundation for the next 25 years.

The band formed in Pittsburgh in 1990. Was there a good music scene then?
There were a lot of different types of bands. There was a lot of Depeche Mode-techno-sounding stuff as well as R&B, blues and rock bands. Everyone was doing their own thing. It was easy to come out and have your own domain. We took off pretty quickly there. The time period was pretty special. People were very open-minded to any type of music. I think for us, it was cool because we started in a community of people. A lot of people were our friends and fans were our friends. We would rent out warehouses and build the stage and sound system. Our fans would show up with food. We’d sit down and eat and go up and play a show. Everyone was a part of it. It was a special time. Not so much anymore. I think people are looking for the same sounds.

How did the band end up sounding so eclectic?
I listened to anything. I started out with Cat Stevens when I was real young, like four or five, and then Beatles and Stones. I got into Black Sabbath and Van Halen and stuff. It was all over the board. As far as world beat music, I was not that aware of it growing up in Pittsburgh. One of my cousins taught me drums and the other taught me guitar. One cousin was in a reggae band and the other was filtering African percussion into his sounds. I got tuned into it. One of my friends in high school found an African drumming cassette tape and he would listen to it. He would create the rhythms on his drum kit and we would play for hours and hours and hours. There was a thing that made it special. It felt like it was my own and unique in the way that I heard it. I wasn’t going to go and study it and bring it in traditionally, but I was going to listen to it and get turned on to the idea of the vibe of it and how I could bring that into the music. At the same time, Peter Gabriel came out with So. I don’t think Paul Simon was out yet with Graceland. There were doorways opening. It was like,  “You can do this stuff and it will be popular.”

I think you self-released your first album, Cruel Sun. The band would be signed to a label after that. Was that an easy transition to make?
It was pretty easy. They left us alone. We had done a lot of touring and we sold 30,000 of our own records. They were courting us a bit. I remember the president of the company came up to me and said, “All we have to do is not fuck it up and this is going to work.” I liked that attitude and felt comfortable with that. The second album was a real pain in the ass. They wanted it quickly and the band wasn’t prepared to move quicker. That was a growing period.

There was a seven-year gap between Welcome to My Party and Stereo Rodeo. What was that period like for the group?
We did a self-titled album in 1998 and then Welcome was 2001. I got fed up with a lot of things at that point. I decided I was just going to have fun and get off the grind for a while. We still toured a lot. In retrospect, it was a really good move. It’s a different world and a different type of learning out there on the road in front of people instead of sitting in a room and thinking about what would translate to an audience. During those years, I wanted to have fun and party and have fun with the crowd and it was my vacation. In that time period, I was doing solo shows for the first time. It was scary. Rusted Root was my first band. If I broke a string or missed a chord, I could rely on the band being louder.

Part of my frustration was that the band was becoming one dimensional. When I brought the acoustic vibe to the band, it opened up the spectrum and freed up a world of possibilities.

I thought your last studio album, The Movement, was terrific. Talk about your approach.
I wanted it to be simplistic and fun and it was. It was a lot of work. It was all about getting in a room and doing all the recording and engineering myself. For the most part, it was just us. It was like being in a clubhouse and creating your own little club where you have your own ideas and sense of humor. It was that sort of record.

Had you done recording and engineering yourself before?
I had done parts of records but never a full one.

Did you record in Pittsburgh?
Yes, I have a studio in Pittsburgh. It was in an old Polish vets bar. I’m deciding where to go next with it. It’s a great studio. One of the things is just having the gear and sound that I could relate to or feel. Sometimes, it’s just simple things like certain types of preamps or microphones that you relate to. It’s like using watercolors or oils or acrylics. It’s pretty drastic when you’re talking about the emotion of the music. A big part of it was trying out gear and building the medium that we wanted.

What part of town?
It was Lawrenceville, close to the Strip. The Thunderbird Café was pretty close. There’s lot of good music coming out of there. It’s one of the few bars developing bars and scenes, which is cool.

Do you have a timeline for the new album?
Probably late summer. That really means fall or late fall. It always does. I feel this sort of pressure. It’s a good pressure to create the foundation for the next 25 years. We want to take our time and not let anything go unsaid. It’s about being careful and conscious. It’s pretty cool. We played a show last night and got comments online because it was streamed live through Yahoo. People said their favorite parts were the new material. I was pleased. It’s a really good feeling. There’s five new songs in the set right now. I’m working on another eight here in the studio. We’re doing both things at once. We’re working in the dressing room, creating the arrangements for the songs we haven’t finished yet. During sound check we work out the five songs we are playing and then we work them out in front of the audience too. It’s the best way to do it.

Upcoming 2015 Shows 

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Wooly’s – Des Moines, IA

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Bell’s Back Room – Kalamazoo, MI

Hard Rock Rocksino – Northfield, OH

Westcott Theater – Syracuse, NY

The Ardmore Music Hall – Ardmore, PA

Tupelo – Londonderry, NH

Rusty Nail – Stowe, VT

Culture Room – Fort Lauderdale, FL

Jannus Live w/ The Wailers – St Petersburg, FL

House of Blues Orlando – Orlando, FL

House of Blues Myrtle Beach – North Myrtle Beach, SC

LC Pavilion w/ The Wailers – Columbus, OH

Snowshoe Mountain – Snowshoe, WV

The Rave/ Eagles Club – Milwaukee, WI

Genesee Theatre – Waukegan, IL


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].