By Dave Hoffenberg
This Thursday, don’t miss Michael Glabicki at the Pickle Barrel Nightclub at 8 p.m. You may know Glabicki as the front man of Rusted Root. The band played the Pickle last February as part of its 25th anniversary tour. This time, he’s coming as a duo with Rusted Root guitarist Dirk Miller. I had the pleasure of having a phone interview with Glabicki, who founded Rusted Root. He said of playing there this time, “Playing as a duo allows us the freedom to play whatever we want. There’s a complete trust, and with me playing the kick drum, too, it gets pretty rocking.”
Glabicki said he really likes playing in Killington. “We’ve had some crazy times there. I would say we’ve only had crazy times there. We’ve played there four or five times in our history.” You won’t catch him out on the slopes, but he does like to ski. “Not when I’m touring. I’m too afraid I’ll break my wrist or something.”
Rusted Root was formed in Pittsburgh, Penn., where Glabicki grew up. After one semester of college, he realized he could start writing music and dropped out. After a couple of years of writing on his own and auditioning musicians, he created a vision for the band. At one point he was seriously auditioning people, and he invited Liz Berlin (vocals, percussion for Rusted Root) down to the studio. She recommended Jim Donovan (founding member) as the drummer, so they tried him out and he was in. Later on, Patrick Norman (vocals, bass, percussion) joined and he knew some of them from college. Glabicki writes 95 percent of the band’s songs, but he says they all get together and collaborate on the arrangement.
I asked Glabicki about how it was before they hit it big. He said, “We got started on our own. We played around Pittsburgh and did a lot of political-type benefits. Then we started circling out of Pittsburgh into upstate New York, Ohio and into West Virginia a little bit.” At that time they recorded their first album “Cruel Sun” which had future hits “Martyr” and “Send Me On My Way” on it. Those two songs would not become big hits until two years later on the album “When I Woke.” “Cruel Sun” was sort of a demo/first album. They sold 30,000 copies on their own which is very impressive and peaked some interest with labels. They got courted by Mercury Records, signed with them and released “When I Woke” in 1994.
We talked about how it was for him when they hit it big with “When I Woke.” Glabicki said, “It was interesting because we already felt successful before ‘When I Woke’ came out. We created a big buzz on our own and the word of mouth was happening pretty strongly. We felt like we really had something. When ‘When I Woke’ came out and we started getting on the radio a little bit, that was something we didn’t quite understand. It was foreign to our process. Before that we were just playing music and turning on crowds and a lot of audiences in a grass roots kind of way. When we got the big bump from the radio, it got a bit foreign getting on these big stages. People were showing up that weren’t quite aware of what we had been doing so it was a little bit of an adjustment.”
Rusted Root hit at a time when America was in a grunge phase. They were a very unique sound for radio at that time. I’ve been a fan since “When I Woke” came out and their music has been widely requested for me as a deejay ever since. I told him that I really like their cover of the Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” which is on their self-titled album. He replied, “That’s cool. I saw Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen who both played on that version perform that at last year’s Grammys.”
The band is currently working on a new record. I asked him what the fans can expect and he said, “There’s an intention to make it the first record of our next 25 years. I’m really spending a lot of time with it and the song writing process. I’m doing some songs you wouldn’t expect from us and some arrangements you wouldn’t expect from us. Right now I’m in the process of that. There’s a lot of funk but still has the African rhythms in it in some ways the band has played in the past.”
What’s funny is Glabicki didn’t listen to his band’s type of music growing up. He said, “I didn’t listen to that stuff at all actually. I liked the idea of it and the vision of the band was to use some African drumming and some Latin rhythms. It all came from the acoustic guitar rhythm and the tuning of the guitar and the chords and stuff … The vocal styling, I think I was listening to Toni Childs a little bit. That was a little bit of the influence but growing up I listened to anything from Black Sabbath to Cat Stevens to Van Halen to The Rolling Stones. I listened to everything growing up. But really, the idea for the band came from more of a meditational process. I said to myself that I wasn’t going to write anything that reminded me of anything else or felt like anything different than original to me, and that’s what came out. There were a lot of times that I would write a pretty good song and think this is so cool and it reminds me of … then I would stop and get rid of it. When something does come through and you write a song—basically I denied an obvious influence in my head—so when it does come through it’s like ‘wow.’ I just witnessed something come through this earth. It’s a really powerful time. To share that with the band and have them be in tune with it and put it all together is pretty magical.”
Rusted Root has played all over the world but Glabicki has a few favorites. “Some of the shows back in upstate New York were a lot of fun. They really took us in as their own.” I first saw the band play live on the H.O.R.D.E. Tour in 1994 which was third year of that tour. Glabicki remembers the H.O.R.D.E. Tour well and said they played that for their first four years of touring. He loves doing what he does and said, “I think so much of our process as humans is to deal with being influenced or affected by the people we know and by being ourselves. I love being on stage and completely letting go to what happens and not caring what anyone thinks. I love that feeling. It’s a real relief from the patterns in life where you’re dealing with the influence of other people.”
Last year’s show was something special and so is Glabicki. My favorite tune he did last year was covering Elvis’s “Suspicious Minds.” It was amazing and one of the best covers I’ve ever heard of that song. I can only imagine what he and Miller break out in this show. Do not miss this rare opportunity to see them in an intimate setting like the Pickle Barrel. If you have seen them before, then I know—like me—you won’t miss this show.
Photo by Dave Hoffenberg