This post was originally published in The Aquarian Weekly. The opportunity to interview Michael came in the summer of 2013, nearly 20 years after I first heard their album, When I Woke. That record is, to this day, one of my top 10 personal favorites. Many people know and love songs like “Ecstasy” and “Send Me On My Way” but there are so many other treasures from this beautiful band…
Rusted Root are in celebration mode. It’s only appropriate—the band released their seventh studio album, The Movement, last fall, in honor of their fans and the community surrounding their lively, vibrant music.
For 23 years, Rusted Root have brought together acoustic, rock and emphatic percussion drawn from African, Latin American and Native American influences. Pittsburgh-based Rusted Root consists of Michael Glabicki (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica), Liz Berlin (percussion, backing vocals), Preach Freedom (percussion, backing vocals), Colter Harper (guitar, backing vocals), Dirk Miller (guitar, backing vocals and percussion) and Patrick Norman (bass guitar, backing vocals and percussion). The band, which has sold more than three million albums worldwide, is noted for its eclectic fusion of energizing basslines, acoustic-electric guitar amplification, and a vast vocal range.
Though the group has produced a plethora of exciting music, some of their most notable tracks include “Heaven” off the 1996 album Remember, as well as “Ecstasy” and “Send Me On My Way” off 1994’s certified platinum album, When I Woke.
Integrated into a number of tv commercials, shows and movies, “Send Me On My Way” hit number 72 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1995 and brought a dance-happy vibe to the masses.
Currently touring nearly seven months out of the year, the band has expanded its setlist to include tracks from The Movement including “In Our Sun,” a musical experiment of acoustic guitar and drone effect drums. Other new tracks include the ballad “Fossil Man” and the versatile “Something’s On My Mind.”
According to lead singer Glabicki, The Movement is an energized and poetic culmination of everything the band has learned, or have tried to learn, over their entire career. “It truly is a career record for us,” he says. “The Movement is a tribute to Rusted Root’s fans. Rusted Root is a state of mind shared and explored by many people. We are a community that supports one another.”
Glabicki took some time to talk about the band’s 23-year-long tenure, his creative writing process and The Movement. An excerpt of the interview is below:
The band has such an interesting dynamic. All six members bring their intrinsic talent to the table for a really special celebration of music and sound. What’s your musical composition formula?
It’s always been an experience where we’re always trying to push the boundaries a little bit—in the way that we create music—but also the type of music that we’re playing and the different sounds we’re bringing to it. In the end, what I’ve learned about Rusted Root is that it’s about simplicity. You take these great, long strides and pains to explore different areas in music, and it’s a lot of work. In the end, I think you can only bring back these little gems to this bigger thing—something that is bigger than all of us. It’s very simple in the way it works.
Some people “get it” and some people don’t, but most people get it. And then we’re always just staying true to that simplistic formula of laying out the basic structure for songs and the lyrics. I’m really simplistic in my intentions. I already know what’s going to work out for the band, so I can just go ahead and do it. But if I’m trying to do something outside of what the band has done in the past, I bring it to the band [to review]. Sometimes it works and others it doesn’t. It’s something that we were gifted with.
Your lyrics are creative and spiritually connected, which is especially refreshing since the market is saturated with a lot of music that, frankly, lacks sustenance. And these beautiful words flow so well with the unique fusion of music. From where do you draw inspiration to create incredibly different sounding music, and for so many years?
I grew up listening to Cat Stevens and ‘70s music from when I was six, and I was really inspired by U2 and Peter Gabriel for a while, from right about the time I started to write. I also love heavy metal: Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. There’s always something to explore in every type of music. When I would sit down and write and start to like it because it sounded like something I knew or reminded me of something I would like, I would immediately throw that piece of music or lyric away, just because I wanted to come up with something really unique. The music at times isn’t very complex at all. Sometimes there’s a lot of work put into it, but at every moment I’ve always felt that “This is really ‘me’. This is unique and something that’s beyond my musical learning.”
“Send Me On My Way” has been a widely adopted and commercially used song. Did you anticipate the reception of that particular song to be so great? What is your favorite use case for the song?
I remember writing the song and walking into the studio. There are some songs that have this kind of light, and “Send Me On My Way” has that particular energy. It’s fun; it’s giggly and creates an experience that separates it. Other songs like “Heaven” and “Rising Sun” have that particular energy.
Writing the song gave me that experience. Playing it out live for the first time, we realized that was going to be our “pop song” and I was like, “Okay, whatever.” It already was fun for me and I didn’t mean it to be anything more. That song had its own destiny, I guess. It’s gotten so big that I don’t even control it anymore. I’m sort of just a witness to it. I really think [the way it was used in the movies] Ice Age and Matilda was really great. We’ve seen a lot of young people, like 14-year-olds, now coming out to the show because of the experience with that song, and that’s exciting to us. On tour now we bring the young children up on stage to sing the song with us. It’s really their song!
While touring is your livelihood, it still has to be exciting to have the opportunity to play for people who’ve loved you for years, and now, to your point, a new—even younger group of people—who come out to see you. Surely touring gets grueling, but how does it feel to be able to play the music you love with the people you love?
It’s really exciting and special! We recently played the Grassroots Festival in New York. It was one of our best shows. Young kids were out, along with pretty much the same crowd people that have been [coming out to our shows] for 23 years, and it’s amazing to have that community. It’s really awesome.
What’s next for Rusted Root?
I have about five or six songs put aside for the next Rusted Root record, and I have about 20 songs that I’m working on for a solo album that will be out next year. Other than that we’re doing a lot of video and recording shows for a “rockumentary” film on the band. It’s just tour, tour, tour!
We’ve added about six new songs from The Movement to our setlist. The fans are really connecting to the new material and starting to learn the lyrics of the new stuff, which is pretty exciting. We’ve changed up the songs and put a lot of new stuff in there, which is perfect because we wrote this album with the live show in mind. Fans are responding really well to it.
Rusted Root are playing Aug. 12 at the Ocean City Music Pier in Ocean City, NJ. For more information, go to rustedroot.com.