When jam rockers Rusted Root first formed in Pittsburgh some 25 years ago, the city’s music scene was characterized by its eclectic nature.
“There were a lot of different types of bands,” says singer-guitarist Michael Glabicki via phone from a tour stop in Wisconsin where he was “writing music right now in the basement of a huge theater.” “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.”
Part jam band, part world music act, Rusted Root has subsequently carved out a nice niche for itself, even if fans no longer bring food for a communal pot luck. The ensemble got national attention with its sophomore effort, 1994’s 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 and reflects the band’s willingness to embrace a range of musical styles.
“I listened to anything,” says Glabicki when asked about his childhood. “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.”
He cites Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon, who embraced world music respectively with So and Graceland, as influences. After self-releasing its 1992 debut Cruel Sun, the band signed to a major for 1994’s When I Woke. That relationship wouldn’t last long, however.
“The second album was a real pain in the ass,” Glabicki says in reference to 1996’s Remember. “They wanted it quickly and the band wasn’t prepared to move quicker.”
The band hit another snag after the release of 2002’s Welcome to My Party. Glabicki says he needed to “get off the grind,” so he did some solo shows and the band stayed out of the studio.
“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.”
And yet, the band successfully returns to form on The Movement, which the band self-produced and Glabicki says the band had already written the tunes for a new studio album.
“I feel this sort of pressure to create the foundation for the next 25 years,” says Glabicki. “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.”
Rusted Root, Burning River Ramblers, 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 17, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $20, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.