Nick Lowe wasn’t kidding when he asked “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding” back in 1974, but every time I try to talk to someone on the street about Rusted Root, a group whose music and message are built around those very concepts, all I get are laughs. Someone either recalls the scene in which Matilda Wormwood dances around the house to the tune of the band’s 1992 hit “Send Me On My Way,” or writes them off as yet another musical outfit clinging to the hippie idealism of a forgotten era.
That kind of myopia is typical whenever outside forces desire to discredit a movement around values that have become antithetical to the twenty-first century way of life, because the divide-and-conquer nature of the American political system thrives on such things. The same can be said of the mainstream American music scene, which is why the fact that Rusted Root has managed to persevere for a quarter century on the fringes of that scene should inspire all artists to keep fighting the power. They’re living proof that if the music is meaningful and an emphasis on maintaining an intimate connection with the fans is placed from the very beginning, people will always gather around.
I caught up with singer Michael Glabicki while the band was in town for a show at Buffalo Iron Works last month and his unbridled passion for what he does left me with little doubt as to whether or not Rusted Root can remain vital for another 25 years.
MNOD: What does it mean to you that Rusted Root continues to be a vital musical force after 25 years?
Glabicki: I think our longevity speaks to the uniqueness of who we are as a band. My personal quest has never been about financial success, so I never focused too much on that aspect of what we do. One of the things I learned from Carlos Santana is that music is really about evolving along the journey and that’s always been important to me. I feel as if I’m just starting to realize where our music can go, because I’ve learned so much in the last year or so. I mean, I’m glad to be here after 25 years, but I’ve always found it interesting that some bands start out with success as the only option. Some of them make an immediate impact and then disappear, which has never been a part of my thought process.
MNOD: Where did the title for the last album, “The Movement,” originate from?
MG: The making of that record felt like a movement out of our old material. I think we’re figuring ourselves out now, because people have always had an image of this band as being only about the energy and the excitement of our live shows. Now, we’re able to slow it down and place just as much creative emphasis on the quieter moments of our material. New worlds and universes have opened for us in a sense, because our next album will follow that same path even further. The best songs, for me, are those that focus on being creative, revealing, and honest. Considering how the Internet and Google have shortened society’s attention span, I feel like we’re masters of the process when it comes to putting together a set that mixes new music with the classics people want to hear while still keeping it fun.
MNOD: You guys are certainly no strangers to the western New York area. What inspires you to keep coming back?
MG: It’s kind of our backyard. The surroundings are familiar and we’ve developed a lot of our music there. Buffalo and Rochester were a part of the first layer outside of Pittsburgh to embrace the band, so we’ve always felt a connection to the area. Plus, the crowds there are always frantic and responsive to new material, which gets us even more excited to perform.
MNOD: Given how volatile society becomes year after year, the band’s message of peace, love, and understanding has never wavered. Has that positivity taken on an even greater significance as of late?
MG: My lyrics are positive, but I think they’ve always come from a universal spot. I try to speak the truth to our collective consciousness and the end result is always from the heart. I’m never out to steal moments for myself, because that wouldn’t work within the context of the band. My writing has always had an “Across the Universe” vibe that anyone can relate to.
MNOD: How has the current tour been going so far?
MG: Fantastically. Our last show was in Asbury Park at the Stone Pony, which is one of Springsteen’s legendary haunts. The crowd was nuts and screaming along to every song. When it was over, we all looked at each other and said, “That was the best show ever!” We even ended up surprising ourselves at certain points, because the old songs begin to come off in a new way every time we play them. I think we’ve finally achieved the ability to translate to wider audiences without forcing it, so it’s probably the best time for the band right now.