Eric Rachmany, singer/guitarist of the reggae-rooted group Rebelution, is hardly old by calendar standards. Yet, he’s been around long enough to recognize that Rebelution’s approach to music may make him feel a bit dated. Fortunately, he thinks his group has found an audience that shares some old-fashioned ideas when it comes to how music is recorded and played onstage.
“I’m 29 and I feel young, but in regards to kind of the music scene out there today I feel really old school because we are still playing most of our instruments, whereas most of the music, at least the mainstream music, is a lot more synthetic these days,” Rachmany observed in a recent phone interview. “I do see a lot of young kids at our shows that I imagine listen to a wide variety of music, but it’s still very refreshing to see they’re still into live bands. That’s what Rebelution definitely brings at our live shows.”
The authenticity of the Rebelution experience – as well as the sheer likeability of the group’s music – probably are big reasons why Rebelution has become one of the leading acts in what has become a crowded genre of reggae-rooted acts.
Along with acts like Michael Franti, Slightly Stoopid, Pepper and Sublime With Rome, Rebelution has reached a place where the group headlines amphitheaters in many markets and the largest of theaters and clubs in others. The band has done it the hard way, Rachmany said, by grinding out tour after tour and building a word-of-mouth following.
“We’ve been a band for about 10 years now,” he said. “We went from building our own stages and buying our own equipment and renting PA systems to really just kind of growing. So fast forward to 10 years later, our production is just increasing every tour. Between just our stage sounds, the actual touring, the people, the crew that we bring on the road, this (summer tour) is going to be the biggest tour we’ve ever encountered. We have a couple of buses and a big box truck carrying all of the equipment, lots of cool lights, a new banner, new artwork onstage representing the album (the newly released “Count Me In”). So it’s been a slow increase, I guess is what I’m trying to say, just because we’ve played so many shows.”
The gradual path to bigger shows and greater popularity began in 2004 when singer/guitarist Rachmany met his future bandmates; Rory Carey (keyboards), Wesley Finley (drums) and Marley D Williams (bass); while attending college in the Santa Barbara, Calif., area. Saxophone player Khris Royal has been a touring member of the band for much of its history.
The group took a do-it-yourself approach to building its career, self-producing a self-titled 2006 EP and following up with its first full-length album, “Courage To Grow,” in 2007. The album was released through the California-based music collective, Controlled Substance Recordings.
Despite not having a high-profile record label, the album reached number four on Billboard magazine’s Top Reggae Albums chart. The group’s next album, 2009’s “Bright Side of Life,” did even better, hitting number one on the Billboard Top Reggae Albums chart. The group’s growing musical ambition showed through on its third album, “Peace Of Mind.” This time out, the group brought in a host of producers and engineers to mix the tracks.
In addition, the group recorded acoustic and dub versions of the entire album, creating a three-CD set for those wanting to explore different versions of “Peace Of Mind.”
Stylistically, the group branched beyond its reggae foundation, adding a rock edge to “Comfort Zone,” “Lady In White” and “Day By Day,” doing a gentle acoustic ballad, “Route Around,” and mixing a bit of a lilting hip-hop flavor into the ballad “Closer I Get.”
Rebelution continues to push forward musically on “Count Me In.” The group’s ambition is apparent immediately as the album opens with the two songs that depart furthest from the group’s signature reggae-rooted sound. The title track and “De-Stress” bring strong elements of soul into buoyant tunes before the group dials back in to its familiar reggae-centered sound on songs like “More Love,” “Hate To Be The One” and “Roots Reggae Music” (which features guest vocals from reggae veteran Don Carlos, the artist Rachmany considers one of his biggest influences).
Rachmany said deciding whether to open the album with those two songs was a big source of debate among the band members.
“That was definitely kind of a concern for us,” he said. “Do we want to start with something that’s totally different? Are people going to think the whole album is like this? I think when people listen to the whole album, they’ll kind of see there’s a different track for everybody, similar to ‘Peace of Mind.’ I don’t think there was just one kind of style for that whole album. So we just went for it.
“Here’s the thing. We always are looking to mix it up,” Rachmany said. “We definitely have that reggae sound, but we’re always trying to do something new and trying to mix it up as much as we can. But all in all, every song that we make, we really enjoy. We wouldn’t put out a song just because it’s suitable for radio or because our fans want to hear something.”
A major change from “Peace of Mind” was the band’s decision to self-produce “Count Me In” and use only one engineer on the project. That person is Errol Brown, who has worked either live or in the studio with a who’s who of reggae royalty (including Bob Marley and Ziggy Marley) and is Rebelution’s live sound engineer. This gave Rachmany and his bandmates more control over the project.
“I think the main difference between ‘Peace of Mind’ and ‘Count Me In’ is we were really there for the entire mixing process and the mastering process, whereas ‘Peace of Mind,’ we kind of gave it to different mixers for each track,” Rachmany said.
“I think on this album, you can really hear Errol Brown mixing the whole thing and being there for the mastering,” the singer/guitarist said. “I was there for every step of the way, from writing it, to mixing it, to mastering it. I really wanted to be involved. I felt like ‘Peace of Mind’ is a great album. I just felt a little less involved in the mixing stage.”
The process of making “Count Me In” was similar to “Peace of Mind” in one major way – it was recorded over a series of brief recording sessions rather than in a single, longer session. Rachmany sees a distinct advantage to this more piecemeal approach to recording an album.
“My favorite way to record is really just to record (a song) when it’s fresh and in your mind and you’re really feeling the song,” he said. “If I had 13 songs ready to go and we recorded them in one session, things could get a little stale. And once you’re in the studio for that long, you know, you don’t really see the light of day. Sometimes people start to go a little crazy. So I think the best way to do it is kind of in these little clumps, record while it’s fresh. That was kind of our mindset.”
“We definitely have that reggae sound, but we’re always trying to do something new and trying to mix it up…But all in all, every song that we make, we really enjoy. We wouldn’t put out a song just because it’s suitable for radio or because our fans want to hear something.”