“Too blessed to be stressed,” is one of many key song lyrics from Rebelution’s new album Count Me In. The California band’s fourth full-length release on its own label 87 Music, and partnering for the first time with Easy Star Records, marks its tenth year together. And while surely every band has its share of stress, Rebelution feels they have been “too blessed” to have much time to worry about it.
Said guitarist/singer Eric Rachmany about the band in its decade milestone, “we still have the same energy as we did as a young band, if not more. The more experience we had doing this, the more inspired we became.”
The songs on Count Me In show that as they combine ever-youthful energy with a mature perspective. For every hopeful “Count Me In,” there’s a worldly-wise “Counterfeit Love.” For every message of positivity, as in “More Love” (“You’re in a dream, wake up and now gear up/Come on”), there’s a look at the hard edge of history: “Invasion” recounts the plight of the oppressed as Eric sings, “No time for questions/Don’t ask for reasons/Washed of their faith/Thrown in the fire.” “Every song has a story,” the singer explains matter-of-factly. The acknowledgement of injustice that deepens some of Rebelution’s stories draws on the roots-reggae tradition that inspired the band in the first place. Indeed, their love for the inspirational roots of modern Jamaican music have culminated in a collaboration with Don Carlos himself, on the jam-anthem “Roots Reggae Music.”
The seeds of Rebelution germinated in Santa Barbara’s college town of Isla Vista in 2004. A student named Marley D. Williams had recently switched from baseball to bass guitar when, walking to choir practice one night, he heard strains of roots-reggae coming through a door. The fellow reggae enthusiast turned out to be Rachmany, a devotee of roots-reggae and dancehall, and especially the music of Don Carlos and Black Uhuru.
The nucleus of a new and innovative “California Reggae” band got rock-solid when Marley heard percussionist and drummer Wesley Finley’s impressive solos on a big African drum in a World Music class. At the same time, the bassist had befriended a local band featuring keyboardist Rory Carey, who soon became another cornerstone of the budding Rebelution.
Fate? Good luck? Some combination of forces had stirred in Isla Vista to bring these boys together. Guerilla-style cover gigs led to bigger local shows, original songs, and a homemade five-song EP that surprised everyone by becoming a radio hit in Hawaii, quickly leading to a tour there. The eye-opening thrill of headlining a show in front of 600 fans, all singing along, told the young musicians that even though they were still college kids, they were onto something big there on the Big Island.
Back home, it was time to invest in recording a full album. After a few growing pains, Courage to Grow hit the airwaves, and of course the internet – it was the heyday of Myspace, and the band took full advantage. The album’s title expressed their fearless energy, and the same kind of organic underground surge that had created their early Hawaiian fan base propelled Courage to Grow to #4 on the Billboard Reggae chart and earned it the nod as iTunes’ Editors’ Choice for Best Reggae Album of 2007.
Bright Side of Life, released on their own 87 Music label in 2009, hit #1 on the iTunes Reggae chart, and was the third most downloaded album in the U.S. in all genres while reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Top Reggae Albums chart and #34 on Billboard’s top 200.
As if that weren’t enough, their third LP, Peace of Mind, released in 2012 with additional acoustic and dub versions of all twelve songs, marked an even higher chart debut: #13 on the Billboard Top 200, not to mention #1 on the Reggae chart and #1 on the Independent chart – and it was the #4 iTunes album overall.
All very different, but always musical brothers, these tireless pioneers of California Reggae now play 100-120 shows a year. Tours have taken them to South America, Guam, Aruba, New Zealand and Europe. They’ve performed at Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, and Austin City Limits. They’ve headlined and sold out Red Rocks and the Santa Barbara Bowl, and done all this with no backing from any major label and very little media support.
Marley explains: “Our music is meant to move people physically and mentally at the same time. When people are really dancing and really thinking, that’s a double threat.” Among other things, he adds, it evokes “It’s a ‘one love’ spirit and we’re doing it in our own style, influenced by the diversity in California and the people we were surrounded by growing up.”
Still, at heart, the story of Rebelution is a pretty easy one to understand. As the band embarks on its second decade, Eric explains, “Rebelution is a great example of four friends who got together to play music for the fun of it, and still do that today. We just play music that we really enjoy.”