Article By: Marco Alvarez | Photos By: 613 Photography
Reggae sensation Rootz Underground continues its mission of inspiring listeners and providing you some much needed â€œreleafâ€ with their deep-minded euphony!
Let your head absorb all their elements: classic and modern reggae sounds, intelligent lyrics, powerful live performances, and their Releaf Project, a noble plan to replenish the worldâ€™s forests.
The members of Rootz Underground are: Stephen Newland (Lead Vocals), Charles Lazarus (Lead Guitar), Colin Young (Bass), Jeffrey Moss-Solomon (Rhythm Guitar/Vocals), Paul â€œScubiâ€ Smith (Keyboards/Vocals), and Leon Campbell (Drums).
In 2008, Rootz Underground toured North America, Hawaii, and the Caribbean; and in March of that year, they released their debut album titled â€œMovement.â€ They performed with other notable acts such as Dean Fraser, Anthony B, Tarrus Riley, Gregory Isaacs, Israel Vibration, and the Wailing Souls. After their debut album, they released their live album appropriately entitled â€œAlive,â€ which was recorded during their Reggae Train Tour and is available on their websiteâ€™s store. In 2009, they released their next studio album, â€œGravity,â€ and toured Europe and South America. Their latest and second live album is â€œLive in France.â€
As part of their Releaf Tour this year, theyâ€™ve played 17 shows all along the west coast throughout California, Oregon, and Washington. On June 10th, they jammed at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa alongside other names like Primus and The Flaming Lips. Rootz Underground also recently appeared in a few major reggae festivals: L.A.â€™s Reggae on the Mountain in Topanga on July 9th; and the 27th annual Reggae on the River on July 17th in Garberville, Ca.
â€œSecret that my momma used to hide from me. I man must have been born in a herb field.â€ Rootz Undergroundâ€™s lyrics, such as these in the song â€œHerb Fieldsâ€ off the Movement album, often incorporate a connection with nature, with cannabis, with oneâ€™s origin and consciousness, and with others. The vivid lyrical compositions and thoughtful arrangements of songs are of the kind that one finds in poetry. Their song â€œUnknown Soldierâ€ honors all the soldiers in history who have given their lives for rights and freedom without any recognition. It is a recognition of the soldiers who we overlook, and every line seeks to empower people through awareness and love. The video for this song stylishly greets you when you visit the website.
The blog section on the Rootz Underground website reveals some disheartening statistics on the worldâ€™s depleting forests, but then follows with a useful tip for planting a tree: line the hole youâ€™ve dug out with potatoes to provide moisture and nutrients as they decompose. This aspect of the bandâ€™s activism distinguishes them from all the other bands in the business just trying to make a name and some money for themselves. Their Releaf Project demonstrates not only environmental activism, but social and economic activism as well. By being actively involved in several communities, they add another layer of significance to the messages in their music because a materialization of the words and concepts makes it more real.
A short documentary film, â€œThe Rootz Reggaementary,â€ can be watched on the website and reveals quite a lot about the band, ideologically and musically. To a similar effect, I hoped to capture a direct and personal glimpse of the band by asking some questions that had popped into my mind:
Where did each of you grow up?
We all grew up in Jamaica â€“ itâ€™s small enough that we wonâ€™t differentiate areas, but diverse enough that we all experienced the full range of city-country life.
As for the beginnings, when and how did the band come together?
We basically grew up together and came to play music together over this time, but we collectively decided that weâ€™d be a band in the summer of 2000.
So how did you guys decide on the name â€˜Rootz Undergroundâ€™?
A friend (Shana) gave it to us. She said weâ€™re â€˜rootsyâ€™ yet still new and edgy enough to be considered â€˜underground.â€™
How did you guys go about finding your sound? And how has your sound evolved since the band first started playing?
We didnâ€™t find our sound. It grew, as we grew as friends and musicians. It continues to grow and evolve in that same way, like a tree with a good, healthy root system.
Did any of you ever take formal playing lessons?
All of us at various times and levels.
How do you guys handle the writing of the lyrics? Does Stephen write all the lyrics?
Stephen has been the most prolific writer among us to date. All of us do write, however.
Whatâ€™s the bandâ€™s recording process like?
More or less academic â€“ record first with drums and bass as the primary goals, then move onto overdubs then vocals â€“ mix & master.
What albums have you guys released?
Our first was Movement, then we followed that with Alive. After that was Gravity, and lately, Live in France.
What excites you about your latest album aside from your individual instrumental parts?
Our latest album is well underway in production. Weâ€™re all excited about it as an entire project. It represents a fullness of our musical experiences of the past 11 years.
Who have been some of the bandâ€™s musical influences?
With six members, our influences are too numerous to mention. Suffice it to say that there is almost no genre that hasnâ€™t made some form of impact on each of us as individuals.
What are your shared priorities and common values as a band?
We share a need to see universal upliftment for all mankind. Our common priorities are to constantly extend the reach of our music, and therefore message, to this end.
Tell me about the Releaf Tourâ€¦What is it all about?
The Releaf Tour is the physical, travelling incarnation of our Rootz Global Releaf program. Itâ€™s a movement geared towards bringing life-conscious individuals together in a real, growing, living global forest. All we ask is that each one plant a tree â€“ itâ€™s REALLY THAT SIMPLE! Take a pic of you and your new tree and geo-tag it, or just send us the address to Releaf@RootzUnderground.com and weâ€™ll add it to the online map of our growing global forest.
Do you find it hard to carry a relationship or have a family while youâ€™re on the road or making music?
No. Relationships (family and friends) carry their own challenges. It is these challenges, and overcoming them, which form the core of what inspires us to make our music and travel to take it to the world.
If you guys werenâ€™t doing the music thing, what would each of you otherwise be doing?
Trying to get out of whatever weâ€™re otherwise doing to get into the music thing!
Now letâ€™s touch on cannabis. How often do you guys smoke, if at all?
Some of us â€“ not at all â€“ some of us 3 times a day. Each man is mutually respected in his personal space, as good friends always do.
If each of you had to pick a favorite strain of cannabis, what would it be?
A friend of ours (Noel) grew a strain of Headband crossed with Sour Diesel called HBSD – PRIMO!
Imagine a table in front of you with a bong, a rolled up joint, and a vaporizer all ready to go. What does each of you reach for first?
Spliffs are most commonly smoked amongst us, but a vaporizer is a treat when available too â€“ and better for your lungs!
Why do you guys think cannabis draws so much controversy?
Because itâ€™s illegal (mostly), yet still it is such a versatile and efficacious plant â€“ useful in every conceivable way.
What would you guys say to someone who thinks cannabis is bad because itâ€™s a gateway drug?
Cannabis is a drug?!?! WTF!?!?
Do you guys ever smoke on stage during a show?
Itâ€™s been known to happenâ€¦
Zooming out a little now, whatâ€™s next for Rootz Underground?
New singles â€“ a new album â€“ a new tour. Constant work on expanding our fan base and delivering our music and message to said fans.
Lastly, what advice would you guys give to a new band just starting out?
Be persistent. Be true. Be diligent and be organized.
Rootz Underground will be back in California in September on the weekend of 9/23 â€“ 9/25 for the Earthdance Music Festival! For more information on the Earthdance Music Festival, check www.earthdancelive.com. And for more information on Rootz Underground, be sure to check their website @ www.rootzunderground.com