Originally published in the official guide to Launch Music Conference 2012.
Not every band can say its music has been played in space.
But, then again, Rusted Root is not your average band.
Formed in the early 90s, Rusted Root has built a name for itself on its unique blend of the world and rock genres. Its music has been played during television shows and movies, including “Ice Age,” “Ally McBeal,” and “Twister.” In 2003 the band’s song “Send Me on My Way” was chosen as wake-up music for the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity by NASA engineers.
This year marks the release of a new album and a 20th anniversary for the group.
“Honestly, I feel real blessed to be making a living 20 years later from this band I started in college,” said Liz Berlin, percussionist and vocals for Rusted Root.
Berlin had always been involved in music, having grown up with two classical singers for parents. She started the guitar at 16. Her love of percussion would come later, when she was attended a class at the University of Pittsburgh on African drumming.
It was around that time that she and Michael Glabicki decided to join their musical forces together and form a band.
The result was Rusted Root, which released its first album, “Cruel Sun,” in 1992.
Success would come after years of hard work and juggling of time, work and school for all the band members.
“Some people would work and I went to school,” Berlin said. “We’d do that all day and then we’d start practice at 8 p.m. and go until 5 in the morning.”
Most of those hours were devoted to writing music.
“We worked really hard on just developing the initial group of songs,” Berlin explained. After developing a handful that met their expectations, Rusted Root began playing anywhere that would take them.
That ‘will play anywhere’ status landed them in some unusual locations, like a biker bar in the southern part of America.
“It was this little bar filled with these hardcore motorcycle riders, and we were like ‘Oh my God, what are we doing [performing] in front of these people?'” Berlin recalled. “We got on stage and circled up our energy and did what we did hardcore. By the middle of the show they were really into it.”
That, in Berlin’s mind, is how you build up a fan base. “Just be the best you can be in what you’re doing, regardless of how intimidated you might be by the circumstances,” she said.
Being gutsy isn’t enough though, according to her. She advises all those striving to “make it” in the music scene to first build up a solid catalogue of songs.
“Create music that will appeal to people and will have the kind of power to create the kind of career you have envisioned for yourself,” she said. “You have to make sure you’re creating something special.”
Once a strong song list is made, Berlin advises booking gigs as much as possible as well as delving into the online scene. “Put a lot of energy into your social media,” she said. “Try to create an awareness of yourself and your music.”
Rusted Root is already leveraging their social media presence through the “Fortunate Freaks Unite: We are Rusted Root!” fundraising campaign. Modeled after Kickstarter, the band is asking fans to help with the production, recording and marketing costs of a new album on its website (www.rustedroot.com). In return, those who donate will receive various rewards such as copies of the album, concert tickets and private performances.
“It’s definitely made it possible for us to make this record,” Berlin said of the campaign.
The album is nameless at the moment, with a hypothetical October release date. But those at Launch Music Conference can catch a sneak peek at the Rusted Root performance on April 26.
“We have about half a set right now that’s all new stuff,” Berlin said. “It’s a really cool mixture too, it’ll go from old to new to old to new seamlessly and the energy will stay right there.”
While performing the new songs, the band will be keeping an eye out for fan responses. The making of a Rusted Root album is a collaborative process that includes not just the band members, but the fans too.
“A lot of the way that we prepare for recording an album is developing the songs on the road and playing them for the crowd,” Berlin explained. “It becomes collaborative with the audience because of the way the audience reacts and participates. [The fans] totally contribute. If they don’t like it, it doesn’t feel good and if it doesn’t feel good it doesn’t go on the album.”
A consistent crowd pleaser is “Food and Creative Love,” from the band’s major label debut, “When I Woke” (1994). It is also Berlin’s favorite from the band’s repertoire.
“It starts off like a slow reggae thing and then it speeds up and goes into this really rocking – it’s just awesome,” she said. “And the chorus is like ‘All I want is food and creative love,’ it’s just such a great line I think. The whole band is singing in harmony at that point in the chorus. The energy in it is always huge; the crowd is always singing and dancing to it.”
That crowd interaction and relationship is a key part of Rusted Root. Without their fans, they would not be reaching their 20th anniversary, Berlin said.
“It’s really because the fans are really, really loyal and they stick with us to the point that we can go to a city like Lancaster, or any number of cities in the country, and draw a great crowd and have a good experience,” she said.
And that is what keeps Rusted Root going.