Pittsburgh-based Rusted Root, who are 20 years into their musical career, are currently on tour with the Wailers. RR will take a break from their tour this weekend to play at the 10th anniversary Wanee Music Festival. (Special photo)
Michael Glabicki laughs at the question.
“Man, you don’t know how many times I’ve said that,” he says in reponse to a question about being born at the wrong time. “Sometimes I think if we’d come around during the Woodstock era, in the ’60s, we’d be kicking ass right now.”
Glabicki is frontman and the primary singer/songwriter for Rusted Root, the Pittsburgh-based tribal collective that’s been together now for two decades. The band has sold millions of copies of the eight albums it has released, and one of its songs — “Send Me on My Way” — is perhaps as ubiquitous a tune right now as there is in popular music. It’s been prominently featured in the films “Matilda” and “Ice Age,” on TV shows such as “New Girl”and in a string of Enterprise Rent-A-Car ads that are a staple of college basketball’s March Madness NCAA tournament.
“I was worried about (licensing ‘Send Me on My Way’) at first, but I think each song has its own life and purpose,” Glabicki said. “It’s like having kids. You want to protect them, but you have to let them live.
“I just wanted to make sure it didn’t end up like Carly Simon’s ‘Anticipation’ (which was famously used in a popular Heinz catsup ad). I didn’t want people thinking of catsup when they heard that song.”
Glabicki founded Rusted Root in 1994 with a group of like-minded musicians from the blue-collar Pittsburgh area, something of a surprise for fans who note more than a trace of the hippie vibe from the collective, which now includes Patrick Norman on bass and vocals, Liz Berlin on percussion and vocals, Preach Freedom on drums and Dirk Miller on guitar and vocals.
But the frontman says being from Pittsburgh actually played a role in developing the band’s work ethic.
“As free as we might sound, we’re more of a working-man’s band,” Glabicki said. “I personally am not a studied musician, I’m self-taught. It takes a helluva lot of work to do things that way. The work ethic that’s common to a town like Pittsburgh helps. You’re around people who work hard.”
Glabicki says he’s excited about playing the 10th anniversary Wanee festival after a three-year absence. Rusted Root has played Wanee three times before.
“It’s like you’re a part of an outlaw community from around the country, and everyone comes to Wanee to party together,” the singer said. “As much as we enjoy playing at the festival, we love having the opportunity to see everybody again and say hi.”
Glabicki said he and his bandmates in Rusted Root, who are touring now with The Wailers, are in the arduous process of writing a batch of songs that could turn into their ninth album. The band’s last release, “The Movement,” dropped in 2012.
“The process is actually a lot of work for us,” he said. “We might write 100 songs to get the 12 we need to put out a new set. The songs we write are stepping stones; we may need to write six to get us to the seventh, and that’s the one we’re looking for.”
Glabicki took a break from tour preparations to talk with The Albany Herald about Rusted Root’s past and its plans for the future.
ALBANY HERALD: I’ve heard your music described many ways, and critics tend to focus on your African, Latin, acoustic, dance, rock, Americana and world music influences. I think the best way to describe your music, though, is fun. Was there some master plan behind forming Rusted Root?
MICHAEL GLABICKI: There was no real plan. What evolved came out through the meditation of playing our music. (In the beginning), I’d sit in a room for days and days with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and think about what made sense to me musically. I was looking to find something earth-shattering, something kind of vast. There was time to consider the meaning of life and where we’d been in past lives. It was an attempt to connect with the collective consciousness.
AH: That’s pretty deep. Was planning the band something that deep?
MG: When I write songs, it hits me deep, in a different, far-away place. I think people are most creative when they’re little kids. When you’re a kid, you’re not of the earth so much, you’re in a weird, spacy place. When that mood visits me, it kind of takes over and I fall into it. It’s a very joyous experience.
AH: You’re touring now with the Wailers. That’s got to be a pretty cool experience, given their history. When you tour with a band like that, do you learn from them and maybe even — consciously or subconsciously — incorporate some of what they do into your music?
MG: We’re real excited about going on the road with the Wailers. They tend to encompass that joyous side we take on, and we learn a lot from that. When we go out with people like the Wailers and it takes us to different continents, we tend to pick up stuff that makes its way into our music.
AH: Your last album came out in 2012. Are you constantly working on that next album, or is getting a certain amount of new music a priority for you?
MG: For the most part, I’m constantly writing. If I take too long a break, I get nervous and start to feel “I’ve got to get back in there.” I’ll sometimes get three or four new songs and bring them to the band when they’re not fully formed. We’ll work on them during sound check, and sometimes the reaction (of fans in attendance) can give us a new direction to explore.
AH: “Send Me on My Way” (from 1995) is still a great song, and it may have one of the longest shelf lives of a song ever. It was featured in “Matilda,” “Ice Age,” “New Girl,” the Enterprise commercials. I’m sure it’s quite lucrative, but did you ever have doubts about licensing the song for these projects?
MG: I’ll admit that I was a little worried at first, but we kind of made the decision to go with the flow. It’s certainly been a big song for us from a business perspective, but I was concerned about how it would be used in these outside projects. Then I took my son to see “Ice Age,” and when the song came on in the movie, he jumped up and started dancing and pointing at me. That’s when I knew it was all right.
AH: Your music appeals to so many generations of music fans: I have kids from three generations — ages 36, 20 and 11 — and they love your music, and I’m from the Woodstock Generation and I’m amazed by it. Frankly, I think your music would have fit in better in the ’60s. Do you think maybe you were born at the wrong time?
MG: Man, you don’t know how many times I’ve said that. Sometimes I think if we’d come around during the Woodstock era, in the ’60s, we’d be kicking ass right now. At least from a business sense, it would definitely be different. There have been times in the last eight years that were not condusive to the word-of-mouth and grassroots energy we rely on. I feel like there’s a shift happening now, though, where things are coming back around.
AH: Wanee is something of a throwback to the Woodstock era. You’ve played the festival before, what’s it like for you guys?
MG: Wanee is kind of like getting back to the land. I spent the first seven years of my life growing up in Florida, so a lot of my childhood is tied to the nature there. We’ve toured with the Allman Brothers in the past, and doing anything with them is like you’re a part of an outlaw community from around the country. But at Wanee, everyone comes to party together. As much as we enjoy playing at the festival, we love having the opportunity to see everybody again and say hi.
AH: Do you listen to much current music? And who?
MG: We all listen to a little bit of everything, there are such varied musical tastes in the band. I like just about anything, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to My Morning Jacket to Neil Young and Dylan.
AH: You’re 20 years in now. That’s a long time for a band. Did you expect to still be doing this after two decades?
MG: I never really thought about it from a time element. The thing that’s kept us going is that the music always seems fresh to us. We’re able to create some things that allow us to be in the moment. That’s pretty nice.
AH: I appreciate the time, and it’s certainly been a pleasure talking with an artist who has brought me lots of joy over the years. But I have to ask you this. You guys played a show here in Albany a few years ago (at the State Theatre), and if what I heard is accurate, y’all left one of the band members behind and had to come back to get him. True?
MG (laughing): It probably is. There are so many of us, it’s hard to keep up with everyone.