Michael Gablicki of Rusted Root:
First off, can you tell readers what you’ve been up to lately and about your new album and upcoming gigs?
We just finished with our new record – we went to Philly to do that. I think this will be our best record yet. We’ve been touring on it for about a half-year – playing the new stuff live. We got feedback from the fans on what songs they love – as we play, we get a feel from the audience on what they latch on to. We can see what they like -which songs – and then we picked the songs for the record that way and continued to develop them and work on them and revise them every show.
Isn’t that backwards from how most bands tour? Don’t most make the album then tour?
People do it both ways I guess. Doing it this way works well for us because we try to bring so much live energy to the record.
How did you get started and what advice would you give other local musicians who want to make it as well?
The 90’s were a different time. It was all about live shows. Nowadays, it’s about the internet – people recording albums in their houses and putting it out there online and through social media.
It’s a bit of industry hype that’s dying down now. People catch on that the bands can’t play live. They see the shows and know something is missing – they can’t play or there’s no connection to the audience.
It’s always about the live show first. If a song can kill it live then you can bring it to the album.
So, I’d tell people to go live first. Develop the song and connection to the audience. That’s your audience. You have to move them – there’s no easy way around that.
Many see the life of a musician as all bright lights and glamour, but it’s a tough business. What’s been the most difficult aspect of the music business for you and how have you been able to overcome it and stay active for so long?
It’s a lot of work. It’s not for the faint of heart. A lot of travelling…a lot of tours.
The hardest part is travelling most of the day, then you get those few hours on stage – that’s what you live for. Those few hours. But we have great people and a great crew that we like being with.
Who were some of the artists that influenced your music today?
As a young kid, Cat Stevens got me started. I listened to him constantly. I liked the more artistic music like Jim Croce – even Zeppelin and the Stones. I liked the acoustic aspects. When I heard Michael Hedges on guitar – I saw the capabilities for that kind of stuff.
I got into harder stuff later – Black Sabbath, Van Halen…that kind of stuff when I was in my teens.
Later, in Pittsburgh, there was a lot of world beat music going on. Entering college, there was a lot of African music at CMU and Pitt – the world beat took over.
Have you ever considered touring Africa to absorb more of that sound?
I went to Nicaragua in high school. It was an inspirational lifestyle – there was music on every street corner. It was a huge inspiration and I came back to re-create that revolutionary thought in the states. Why isn’t it like that in the US? Why is music so hard and expensive – why does it cost $50 to go to a concert?
It was a different way of thinking. It was about creating a family of fans more than marketing. Our first concerts we had in warehouses after that. We sat, ate and drank together, then said, ok, let’s go play some music now. It was that kind of mentality for us.
This new record – we’re going to tour more internationally to keep that mentality. Europe, Japan, Australia…maybe Africa and South America too. It’s tough for us to travel – we’re a big band and crew and will probably lose money. But this time we’re just saying “F*ck it, we’re doing it”.
The Pittsburgh music scene has been growing in prominence but hasn’t launched that huge local artist recently. Is anything missing from the local scene to foster more musical talent?
It needs more of a way to develop bands. More venues for local musicians to just come together. The Thunderbird and Graffiti are doing a good job and the Artery just took off….
What would surprise fans/readers most about you and the band?
Probably, that we’re down home people. Pittsburghers. Eight years ago – people all thought we’d be going to LA. It was hysterical to hear them say that. We’re in Pittsburgh. We’re working as hard as we’ve ever worked. The success we’ve had only made us have a more working class vibe. There’s not any band that works harder than us.
For two weeks, from 10 am to 11;30 at night, we were mixing this latest record. Leaving the studio at night, I hoped I didn’t get picked up for intoxication, not because I was drinking, but because I was so zoned out. it was five months of pounding out material – the old school way of going about it. Then capturing that live feel in the recording.
Most people now get their computers out, record the record once or twice, edit and shape it and they’re done. We’re the opposite. It’s not easy going against the grain of technology today. It’s a lot of work and strain on the vocal chords. You leave the studio beat up – your ears, throats and hands…they all hurt.
How does the band stay together and avoid the in-fighting so many bands suffer through?
We all have a good time. You have to have a good sense of humor. Humor’s a big part of it. That, and a horrible short-term memory. You just have to stay focused on the music and friendship.
On to sports….are you a sports fan -and if so, what teams to you follow most and just how avid a fan are you?
Yeah…I’m a big Pens and Steelers fan – and we have a lot of Pirates fans on the bus too.
Have you had any experiences playing for/around some of the area athletes or hanging out with them? If so, what were those experiences and players like?
We played at half-time of the Steelers-Browns game last season. That was a lot of fun – many of the players came up to us and said it was great. It was really cool standing on the sidelines and getting close to the down and dirty action.
The Yo Gabba Gabba show isn’t a sports venue, but there were a lot of Steelers players there when we played. Lots of kids sitting on their parents laps and dancing too….it was surreal.
At the Chili Peppers concert, me and my son got to hang out in the Pens locker room and see that whole setup which was cool.
I’m a huge sports fan. The problem on the road is that you watch the games, and it’s hard to recover from watching the game to go and play the show. You have to get yourself out of that mindset.
If you could be the GM or player for any local team, which would it be and what would be the first thing you’d do?
I played football in high school. I love watching hockey and baseball, but definitely getting in to play for a bit at quarterback at some point. You know Ben will get injured at some point…
Any last thoughts for readers?
The album is coming out late September so keep an eye out for that. You can go to http://www.rustedroot.com/ and they have fan packages you can buy too – back stage passes, you can go on stage with the band, help with sound checks…you can even have us perform at your house (laughing).