Interview: Rebelution

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It is no big secret that we live in a world where our music is being dumbed down. We listen to beats, we listen to melodies, and if ya toss a little bass into the mix, maybe sample some shit recorded 50 years ago, you’ll have yourself a Top 40 hit. I hate to be the “Get Your Damn iPads Off My Lawn” kind of old man (I’m only 24, for Christ’s sake…) but lyrics are hardly relevant in a world saturated by sounds and not music. Gone are the days when people are supposed to hear the music they listen to. We are a world of listeners, and your message — if you even have one at all — has been forever lost in a sea of synthesized piano noises and punchy bass notes, mixed in with one-line-for-five-minutes rap songs and country music about red solo cups.

Don’t get me wrong! There are songwriters, bands, and artists who still want you to hear their music and understand their message. The world will always have its Guru’s (Gang Starr) and its Cobain’s, and if you’re feeling super nostalgic, its Bob Dylan’s and Woody Guthrie’s. But largely, we are a world of casual listeners, and the main message blaring from the speakers on our radio stations goes something like this: “Just keep dancing and forget about changing the world; everything is fine.”

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And then there are other artists. Artists who want the best of both worlds for their fans. Artists who want their fans to groove to the music and enjoy the positive energy, but also want to provide substance with and provoke thought. And that’s where bands like Rebelution come in.

Now in their 10th year, Rebelution just released their fourth studio album, Count Me In, and recently took off on another coast-to-coast U.S. tour. As a band, they place a lot of emphasis not only on the quality of the music they release, but also on the messages they send. What I enjoy about this band is that, rather than adhere to the stereotypical So. Cal. frat-boy-party-reggae dynamic that’s been popularized by so many of their contemporaries and predecessors, this crew understands what roots reggae music is all about: the message.

I was given the opportunity to chat with Rebelution front man, Eric Rachmany, about the band’s new album, their summer tour (which brings them to our backyard, The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ on Friday June 13), and why you’ll probably never hear that they’ve come out with “This Summer’s Top Party Anthem” songthing. Oh yeah, and he told me which state has the best weed. Enjoy!

LEFT TO RIGHT:  Marley D. Williams, Rory Carey, Eric Rachmany, Wesley Finley. Photo Credit:  Rob Andrews
LEFT TO RIGHT: Marley D. Williams, Rory Carey, Eric Rachmany, Wesley Finley. Photo Credit: Jason Siegel

Pop-Break: Count Me In came out on June 10. From what I gather, the goal of this album isn’t really to rock the boat or break out with crazy new shit, but rather combine the mentality of a more seasoned, wiser Rebelution, with the energy and melodic ferocity that your crew has blown fans away with for the past decade (Happy anniversary, by the way!). Is this correct?

Eric Rachmany: Honestly, we just make music that we enjoy, you know? We all like different types of music, and while reggae has always been the foundation of our music, we always like to mix it up. I couldn’t really tell you what the next song or album will be like, but I think this album, Count Me In, is probably our most diverse album to date.

We had this desire to mix it up as much as possible and try to do something we haven’t really done. I think you’ll find a song that has a more R&B influence, and a song that’s a little more folky, and a song that’s a little more progressive rock. There’s kind of something for everybody on this one.

PB: Rebelution has always been a band that, in my opinion, spends a lot of time focusing not only on how your music sounds, but what it’s saying. You place a lot of emphasis on the messages your band sends with your lyrics.

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ER: We’ve always felt like we’re in a position where people are not just soaking in the music, but they’re actually listening to the lyrics and paying attention to what we’re saying. Music is such an amazing and universal power to really get to people, and we recognized that from the beginning. When people started coming out to our shows over and over again, we just felt this great sense of community and family that would join together to enjoy the experience of live music.

I think that our main goal has really been to try to just motivate people and help them in any way that we can. Although it may mean something different to every listener, I think all in all, people walk away from the music in a better place than where they were before.

PB: So how do you help your fans reach that “better place?” How do you decide what you’re going to say and what kind of message you’re going to send?

ER: Well, I also think you were right before. I have a choice to write whatever lyrics I want to. Usually, I come up with music first, and I’ll kind of think about what this music is telling me. And I’ll ask myself, “How do I want to write to this music? What emotions is it bringing out of me?” And sometimes it’ll be very upbeat, happy, and positive from the get go, sometimes it’ll tell a story, and sometimes it might even be a serious issue. Overall, the main goal has always been the same, which is to put out music that will encourage people to think and feel better.

PB: And how much of that mentality played into the song writing on Count Me In?

ER: Like you said before, I think that this is now our fourth full-length album, and we’ve definitely matured a bit in our musicality, and I personally think my lyrics are getting stronger every day. I also feel like we’re all becoming better performers. You know, ten years ago, we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were kind of just a cover band, and I feel like we’re just getting better and better every year.

I think the main word is “comfortability” [sic]. We’re becoming more comfortable, in the studio and performing on stage.

PB: Would you say you’re trying to reflect that growth more and more with every album? That idea of coming into your own, as a band?

ER: Exactly! I really think it’s all just about becoming comfortable. And we touched on that idea on the last album, too, with a song called “Comfort Zone.” And it really is just about being comfortable with the mindset that crowds are getting bigger and things are changing, but you still have to be able to relax and get into the art, and let yourself go.

There’s not just one sole message. I just hope the music gets to people and that they take what they want from the music to better their own lives. Music has really done that for me, and I hope that I can help them do the same.

Every song really tells a different story, which makes it really difficult to try and say that there’s just one message. Something I’ve really been thinking about lately is a lot of the music out there today touches on the notion that you have to make money to be successful, and you have to have a job, and your job is your measurement of success. The more I’ve been thinking about it, the more it’s starting to sound so wrong. It’s really all about how much love you can produce in your lifetime. Life really is short.

And to reflect that, I wrote a song on this album called “More Love.” Instead of being distracted by everything around us — that we need to make money and be successful and set an example with our wealth — there’s more to life than that. I just want to remind people that we’re here for such a short amount of time, and that you need to do what you can to spread love to your peers, to your family, your friends. I want it to serve as a reminder — one that even I need, sometimes.

Photo Credit:  Kurt Hudson
Photo Credit: Kurt Hudson

PB: What about politics? What I enjoy most about Rebelution is that you cater to what people expect of you, and every other So. Cal. reggae outfit, with peppy party tunes, but you also don’t stray away from many of the fundamental topics roots reggae music has always focused on — poverty, struggle, injustice, adversity, etc. How do you personally try to touch upon such serious subject matter in such light-hearted, melodic, fun music?

ER: I’ve definitely taken those things from a lot of reggae music. One thing I really took from the lyrical content of reggae music is really to just look out for one another. There is a system around us that isn’t there for you and me, and really the only way we’re going to strive in it, and live on, is if we look out for each other.

I felt a really strong sense of community with reggae music, and so I kind of wanted to do the same thing with Rebelution. I still feel like we’re building that community.

But I definitely don’t see myself as some kind of political leader, and that’s why I feel fortunate to be able to speak my mind through music. It allows people to listen to it and analyze it for themselves. It’s interesting because the melodies and the vibes are very groovy, and I feel like Rebelution has a certain groove to our music that just comes very naturally. After that, I just try to fit the lyrical content in.

PB: Alright, so let’s get down to brass tax. The record is being put out by Rebelution’s label, 87 Music. What the hell is 87 Music?

ER: Our first album Courage to Grow, we folded out of our apartment complex. We ordered a bunch of CDs and put it up on CDBaby[.com], so people could buy physical copies of the album. CDBaby put it up on iTunes and had all this digital distribution, and it was a great way for independent bands, like us, to get heard.

The album did pretty well and we just decided it was time to create a label and bring more attention to everything, so we decided to put the next album out under our own label. Along the way, we met a couple people who helped out 87 Music, and we released Bright Side of Life and Peace of Mind in conjunction with another label, [Controlled Substance Sound Labs].

Every single album we’ve put out has been an 87 Music release, along with another independent label to help us out with funding and distribution. You know, we always like to do this ourselves. We like the whole “grass roots” thing, and we like being able to choose who we work with, and being able to write and own our own music. We love being a part of the whole process.

Especially me. For this last album, I was really a part of every process, and it felt good, man. Just having my hand print on everything — from writing it, to mixing it, to mastering it — I was involved in all of it. We named the record label 87 Music because we all used to live at a place called 6587 Del Playa Drive. It was a place where we kind of gathered, we played our first show there, and we used to live there, as well.

Photo Credit:  Rob Andrews
Photo Credit: Rob Andrews

PB: So how did you guys get hooked up with Mike and the cats at Easy Star Records? They’re helping you with Count Me In, right?

ER: We knew about him for a long time. He has done some great, epic dub albums, and he’s just a very talented dude. We decided on Peace of Mind that it would be cool to send him a couple tracks to see if he wanted to work on them, and he’s just a scholar who knows his music from front to back.

And [Michael Goldwasser’s] not just into reggae, he’s into world music, which I really like about him. And he also did a dub album for Peace of Mind. All those guys are really cool, and everybody at that label puts out conscious music. Plus a lot of them are our friends! The Green are on that label, Cas Haley is there, and there are a few other great artists on there. We’re just happy to be a part of that family, and we’re definitely stoked to be there.

With Count Me In, they were just involved on the label side. They have a lot of experience with the music coming out of America, particularly with reggae and roots music. They know what our core group of fans are, and they know where to market this album, not just in this country, but all over the world. They’ve really been doing a great job with it.

PB: As far as we’re concerned, and we think a lot of your fans would agree, Count Me In has some pretty big shoes to fill. We’ve enjoyed the stuff posted on the official Rebelution website. How are you hoping your fans are going to receive this record?

ER: I don’t know, because I feel every song is pretty different. Overall, I think that the band was really honest with these songs. We enjoyed them a lot; we enjoyed listening to them, we enjoyed recording them, and we had a great time doing it. I think that because we had such a great time doing it, our fans will like it, too.

It all goes back to “comfortability.” I think the more you can be comfortable and relaxed doing what you’re doing, the more you really can connect with the audience. We’re still learning how to do that, so I still feel like the best is yet to come, but I’m very proud of this album. I think people will really like it, because there’s really a song for everybody.

And I also think that our core fans listen to not just reggae music, but a lot of different types of music. The main reason why Rebelution has been somewhat of a success is because we’ve never just been traditional roots reggae. We’ve taken reggae and really found a unique sound out of it, and I think people really appreciate that we mix it up.

PB: Let’s talk about the tour you guys are embarking on this month. It started June 5, in Maui, and you’re trucking all the way through the summer, up until the end of August. How does it feel to know that you’re going to be on the road for the best chunk of the summer? Are you stoked, are you nervous, what’s going on in your head?

ER: I’m stoked. I love performing, and I’m getting better and better at it. I just feel a lot more comfortable on stage, and that’s huge. When you’re playing in front of a lot of people and just feeling good, and you’re into the music — that’s what I live for.

Photo Credit:  Jason Siegel
Photo Credit: Jason Siegel

It’s also a time when I get to express myself fully. I don’t feel like I’m truly able to express myself unless it’s through a song. Music really is my first language, and it has always worked out that way. And once I get on stage, I get an hour and a half to be able to express myself freely, which is a really great feeling.

There are some things about the road that are tough, but when you get on stage, it makes it all worth it. Plus, I’m not going to complain about going to Hawaii (laughs). I’m excited.

PB: Okay, we’re at the home stretch! This is just a national tour, but y’all have definitely been to some pretty awesome places all over the world, so I want to ask you a bit about that.

Where’s your favorite place to play in the U.S. and internationally?

ER: My favorite place to play would have to be the Red Rocks [Amphitheatre], in Colorado. It’s right outside of Denver. It’s a natural amphitheater, and it’s just beautiful.

But, I don’t know, we play a lot of cool places. I’m from the Bay Area, in California, and I love playing San Francisco. It’s a great place, the Bay Area.

Photo Credit:  Rob Andrews
Photo Credit: Rob Andrews

Internationally, I’d have to say Portugal, at this point. We played there last year, and it was sick. We didn’t know what to expect, and all of a sudden, you get in front of a big crowd, and they all know the words, and we were just completely shocked.

PB: Best Crowd?

ER: Oh man… Philly is a good crowd. New Jersey is great too, and we’ve had some awesome shows at The Stone Pony. It’s one of my favorite venues in the country. I’ve come to know that place pretty well, because we’ve been there several times. Denver is a great crowd, too.

But even places like Salt Lake City are great. Last time we were in Salt Lake City, it just went off. I don’t know. When we got there, they looked like they were ready to party for three months! They were really energetic, there were no fights, and the people there were really looking out for one another.

PB: Best Food?

ER: San Francisco. I’ve been all around the country, and there’s nothing quite like the food here.

PB: This is an important one. Who has the best weed?

ER: I think Oregon does. I’m going to put Oregon on the map for that (laughs).

PB: Alright! Last question! This is one that I ask to every single person I interview, and you absolutely have to answer it. If you were stuck on a desert island — forget food, forget survival, forget everything — and you only had one beer to drink for the rest of your life, what would it be?

ER: (Laughs) Well, have you ever had Pliny the Elder? It’s an IPA from Russian River Brewery, and that’s real good. I would probably choose that one. Our keyboard player [Rory Carey] is like a micro brew fanatic, so he taught me all the good stuff, and I always take his word for it.

Rebelution performs at The Stone Pony Summer Stage on Friday June 13th along with Iration, The Green and Stick Figure. Click here for tickets.

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