ARCHIVE: Interview with Liz Berlin from RUSTED ROOT
Rusted Root has been turning their performances into sweaty, sticky joy since 1990. I’m convinced the group could get the guards of the Royal Palace bobbing their heads in unison with their infectious rhythms and happy melodies.
Still riding a huge wave of sustained popularity after their 1994 album “When I Woke,” Rusted Root is one of the few bands that guarantees an enjoyable, energy filled time when they grace the stage. After 22 years, 7 albums, 3 EP’s, and enough touring to make most long distance truck drivers weep, Rusted Root are true warriors of the road… They love what they do, and the proof is right there in front of you when you see them in concert.
That being said, their May 15th stop in Syracuse, NY is a must-see for eager fans, and arguably the best way you could spend a Tuesday evening in our fine city. I was able to speak with Liz Berlin over the phone prior to their performance to get some insights on the group’s extensive career, musical conceptualization, and how it felt to be the morning soundtrack for NASA.
G- Hi Liz and thank you for taking the time to speak with LIVE HIGH FIVE!
G- Are you currently on tour? Has the tour started yet?
L- Well, we just completed 3 weeks of touring on the west coast, and we’ve been home for a couple of days. We’re leaving tonight to start the second leg of the tour.
G- That’s excellent! And this is going to be another 3 week run of dates, correct?
L- Almost 4, yea.
G- So how were all the west coast shows?
L- It was amazing! We played a lot of towns we haven’t been to before, and a lot of towns we don’t go to nearly enough. The tour was 98% sold out, and it was really, really awesome.
G- Well, hopefully you bring some of the sunshine with you! What is going on after this next run of dates on the east coast?
L- Well, we’re gonna to be finishing up this run of dates on the east coast and then we are going to be heading into the studio to finish mixing our next album, and finish up on the artwork and just get that all ready for release.
G- Since 1990, Rusted Root has been playing shows, recording music, and logging in many, many miles… How does the group maintain such an active touring lifestyle? Any secret to it you’d care to share with us?
L- Well, you know, I think there is a balance to it. We do tour a lot, but we also have our time at home and time to work on other projects so that we don’t get totally overwhelmed with touring.
But really, we love it! The live performance is the highlight of our careers. Having that connection with the fans… Sort of that ritual of performing those songs and having all the fans come out… It’s wonderful!
I think, my personal secret for touring, is I try to bring a bike with me as much as possible. I love exploring all the different towns we end up in. If I have a bike with me on the road, it helps a lot with my sanity!
G- Right on. So, something I have wanted to ask you since my first listen… Where did your name come from?
L- Well, when we were recording our very first songs, we had the goal of entering into a contest called “The Rock Challenge” and we had to turn in a 4 song tape. We didn’t have a name yet, and the deadline was that night. So, we sat around just brainstorming words together and, you know, someone said “Root,” as in Roots music, and I sort of ended up putting the “rust” and the “root” combination together, and that’s where it came from.
G- Ok that clears it up for me! I’ve been waiting 16 years to ask somebody that. So, your last album release, “Stereo Rodeo,” came out in 2009, and you have been touring the album ever since. You are currently working on a follow-up to the album… Can we expect to hear any new songs on your upcoming tour?
L- Oh absolutely! The set list in our shows these days is about 50% new material and the flow throughout the night is wonderful. The new stuff mixes very well with the old stuff and the energy is very high throughout the entire night.
G- Alright! I’m looking forward to it. Can you tell us a bit about what is your writing process like? Who in the band typically comes up new music and how does each member contribute to the process?
L- Well, Michael Glabicki is the primary songwriter in the band. He comes up with the skeleton… The guitar and the vocals… and brings it to the band and we all add in whatever our area of specialty is, whether it be bass or drums, vocal harmonies.
And we’ve been developing the music a lot on the road in front of the fans, and taking a lot of input from the fans just based on how songs go throughout the night, from night to night. In that way, it is really like a collaborative process with the fans.
G- Cool! You have released 6 albums, 3 EP’s, a Live record, and a greatest hits compilation, but according to your Wikipedia page (notoriously the most accurate website ever), Rusted Root has over 40 tracks that only exist on rare bootlegs recorded between the years of 1991 and 1995. Is this true, and do you have any intention on releasing these tracks on a studio recording? (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT) I’d be glad to release them for you on Instant Classic Records!
L- Oh wow! That’s funny I’ll have to read the wikipedia page… I haven’t seen it in a while. It is true that we have a lot of songs that have never been released on albums, some dating back as far as 20 years to the beginning of the band. The cool thing that happens, though, is they stick with us, and sort of surface on albums from time to time.
For instance, on this next album, we’ll be putting a song on there called “Cover Me Up” which is a song that was written during the exact same time period as “Send Me On My Way,” “Martyr,” and “Ecstasy” and all of those songs that just never ended up on an album for some reason. But we’ve just brought it back in the last year and sort of revamped it and added a lot to it.
G- That’s very cool! So your song, “Send Me On My Way,” was selected by NASA to be the morning wake up music for the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity…
L- Haha how cool is that?!!
G- Insane! What was it like to get that phone call and realize your music was going to be in space!?
L- It was amazing! It’s still amazing! It’s mind boggling to imagine. We just feel extremely honored and blessed and really happy that we could contribute to a positive experience for the astronauts… Up there in space… It’s awesome!
G- If I was 5, 6, 10 miles above the surface, I’d want to hear it!
L- Yea hahahahaha!
G- What is your take on the different performances environments you have been able to perform? Do you prefer festivals, headlining gigs, acting as direct support? Can you tell us a bit about the difference between these forums and situations, and how you approach each performance?
L- Well, we’ve played in so many different types of venues and situations, and I can’t say that any one type is our favorite over another. It really all has to do with the energy of the people in attendance. Any situation… It can be the smallest, dinkiest pub in the middle of nowhere… If the vibe is right and the people are pysched, it ends up being the most amazing night for us.
That being said, Bonnaroo was pretty amazing, and so was Woodstock 99… From the stage looking out… I couldn’t see the end of the people! That was quite a rush!
G- I was at that Woodstock 99 show, and it was something else! Which leads me to the next question… I hope you didn’t answer it already, but, as I am sure there are many great tour stories, can you tell us a bit about your personal favorite Rusted Root show to date? Where was it and what was it like?
L- It’s not actually one particular show, but I’d say it would be the whole tour when we were asked to play as the opening act for the Robert Plant and Jimmy Page reunion tour. That was just mind boggling to me! I remember we were on the road with the Spin Doctors at the time, and I came out to the tour bus from my hotel and Jim (Donovan) said to me ‘Guess what the next gig is!’ I said ‘What?’ and he said ‘Led Zeppelin!’ I said ‘Stop lying! That will never happen!’
And just a few days before, I had been thinking about Led Zeppelin and how I wanted to find a really good cover band to watch because I wanted to see somebody play it. But it turns out we spent 3 months crossing the country twice with Page and Plant playing hockey arenas! I basically spent everyday sitting by myself in the middle of hockey arenas watching them sound check… That was just kind of a dream!
G- Yea well, I’m jealous hahaha! Well, obviously you’ve been on the road for a very long time, and the music industry is a very tough business. In your profession opinion, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands out here in Syracuse, and everywhere for that matter, who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
L- Well, you know, there is all types of advice that I could give, but really… Just focus first and foremost on the music and your playing skills. Try to write the most original music that you can, and make it solid. After that, it’s really just a matter of exploring your options and being proactive with the opportunities that you have and the resources that you have.
With the internet and social media and all of the different sites that there are for bands, there are so many resources now that we didn’t have when we were first starting. If you want to do music seriously, then you have to just decide that that is your mission and that’s your job, and treat it like a job. Just work very hard and stay focused!
I’d like to give Liz a huge “Thank you” for taking some time to talk with me today before she embarks on Rusted Root’s upcoming tour. They’ll be hitting Syracuse on May 15th, so go grab your tickets and go see more live music!