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Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root talks music that spans multiple decades ahead of Boathouse show

By Roger Yale, For Sun News

On Sunday, April 9, The Boathouse Waterway Bar and Grill will play host to Pittsburgh-based band Rusted Root as part of the venue’s Sunday Concert Series.

Rusted Root’s music can be described in many ways, depending on who you ask – world music, jam-based rock with cultural influences from Africa, the Middle East and India mixed in for good measure – from surprising time-signature changes in “Back to Earth” to a markedly modal feel in “Blue Diamonds.”

Founded in 1990, Rusted Root has been delivering this sonic mélange to audiences of all stripes, from arenas and festivals to the bar down the block.

Many were introduced to Rusted Root by its joyful 1995 single, “Send Me on My Way,” which was featured in the films “Matilda” and “Ice Age.” A rough version of the song was included on the album “Cruel Sun” in 1992, but really caught on after the new version was released.

The band has sold more than three million records worldwide.

Songwriter, front man and founder Michael Glabicki said in Rusted Root’s bio that the 2012 album “The Movement” represented a new work ethic for him, shifting from the industrial age to the spiritual age.

Learn the songs you need to know for this summer’s Boathouse Summer Concert Series.

Glabicki recently spoke with The Sun News by phone from Pittsburgh.

Q: Your publicist referred to you as the shaman behind Rusted Root. Does that work for you?

A:  I have heard other people say that before. I think that the music is ritualistic at its core. it’s community oriented, and that it expands the consciousness of everybody at the concert including myself.  I tend to focus on that – so if it’s shamanistic or whatever you want to call it, I don’t know – but I would say that I would agree with that if someone put that upon me.

Q: By any standard, 27 years is a testament to longevity. Barring personnel changes, what would you say is the glue that holds everybody together?

A: I think it’s just being honest with the music and moving forward with the music. It’s different time, and every night it’s a different place and a different audience. You have to be able to adjust to that energy without trying to sound like the record every night. If we did that, I think I probably would have shot myself by now.

We are playing some of the same songs every night, but they sound different every night, and people bring their own energy to it. I’m talking about the audience and the band together. It might be the same song we have been playing for 25 years, but it sounds completely different – has a different meaning – a different vibe to it, and you just kind of go with it.

Back to the shaman thing – it’s kind of like doing that kind of work. You just sit back and pay attention to the work, but at the same it overtakes you.

Q:  A lot of younger people may have found out about Rusted Root from hearing “Send Me on My Way” in the films “Matilda” and “Ice Age.” Do you see this as a jumping-off point for them to discover your music on a deeper level?

A: It’s cool that these kids come out. They have heard “Send Me on My Way” in those films, and they remember that. They bring that memory to our show. Each night there are kids out there watching us, and I know they have never been there before. They are experiencing the rest of it that night. They might be overwhelmed at times or they might be right there with it. It’s really a beautiful thing to watch.

Q: Perception about Rusted Root can vary. How diverse is the community that makes up your audience?

A: It’s unusual. It’s anybody and everybody. It’s different every night –  older people, younger people, rich, poor, republican, democrat –  not that any of that really matters. Looking out there I think it’s interesting that there are people having a good time together from all different walks of life.

Q: “The Movement” was released in 2012. When will we see a new Rusted Root album and why has it taken so long?

A: I don’t know – I think we are kind of taking our time with this one and not really trying to rush into it. We’re trying to find some different avenues and get something completely refreshing for us with different types of arrangements – and just put some more thought into it.

What I’m doing is writing songs and making sort of arrangement blueprints – and from those blueprints, kind of making something that I know we haven’t done before. And then taking the songs and the blueprints to the band to see how they expand upon that framework.

It’s taking a while – but it’s been some good work to transform into something a little different here – and being forced to make some different decisions is really good.

Q: Can you address changes in the music industry in the digital age? Are CDs still a staple of your merch sales or do you pair that with a digital package?

A: I think it changes all the time, and we will probably start bringing a little more digital in. We’re printing up a lot less CDs at this point. I don’t know – we’re still making CDs – and we’re going to make vinyl and all of that. I mean, we’re going to cover all the bases – but most of it is digital downloads, for sure.

Q: What are your thoughts about the resurgence of vinyl? Do you see it lasting?

A: I hope so. God, it’s so good – especially in comparison to what people are listening to now. [With MP3s], I still get my message across, but I think in a diminished kind of way. You spend a lot of time putting all of this energy into it and how it’s coming across – and in that format, it’s disappointing. Vinyl is king in my world, man. If it all moved to vinyl, that would be great.

Q: I heard you say that Rusted Root sold 40,000 albums out of the trunk of your car before you got the attention of record labels.  How long did this take?

A: Not that long – maybe a couple of years. We were kind of taking off on our own, so we were just exciting the crowds live and selling records after the show. That’s how it happened, and we probably sold a couple hundred a night.

We were playing a lot at that time, and that’s pretty much where it all came from. I don’t think [the] labels knew about us until they heard that we had sold that many records. Someone told them. And that’s when they came out and started kind of looking at us.

Q: You went indie first – then the label route – and then full circle back to more creative control now?

A: Yeah – which is good. I never felt really that comfortable with the whole label thing. But it was what happened.

Q: Do you guys still live in Pittsburgh?

A: We all live here. That’s where I almost got into a car accident a minute ago.

Q: The name Donnie Iris usually comes up in conversations about the Pittsburgh music scene. You guys are both songwriters with hit songs. Do you know each other?

A: We know each other. We are good friends and we are very fond of each other’s work.  As a kid, I listened to Donnie Iris. My sister was a big fan so I got all of the second-hand records and listened to those. It was cool to meet him, and he was into our music. It’s a Pittsburgh thing.

I think what I would want to say about him is that he kind of gave us the green light. There really wasn’t much coming out of Pittsburgh – and he said it was possible.

Q: If people haven’t been to Pittsburgh, what are they missing out on?

A: I’m different. I don’t really know the whole tourist-type things, because even when I travel, I look for dive bars and old disgruntled men to talk to at the bar. That’s what I have fun with – but the downtown area and the Point [Point State Park] bike trails. You can go kayaking down there on the river now. It’s really cleaned up, and it’s a beautiful city

Q: Is there anything you would like to add?

A: Keep an eye out for new material. We will be releasing some singles in the next few months. We’ll see you down there.