Amidst all the trouble with Mercury Records and that phenomenon known as merger-mania, Rusted Root continues to survive and prosper. They have a new, self-titled release out on Mercury Records and are currently on tour. The music of Rusted Root is magical indeed, as their fans all over the world already know.
We spoke with drummer Jim Donovan not too long ago, so read on to find out about the mystique known as Rusted Root.
Highwire Daze: Introduce yourself, what you do in Rusted Root and tell me how long the band has been together.
Jim Donovan: My name is Jim Donovan and I play the drumset and do some singing as well as a couple of other things. We've been together since 1990.
HD: Where is the band based out of now and what is the music scene like there?
Jim: We're based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and there's a very nice music scene as a matter of fact happening there. There's a couple of very notable bands, one of them called The Viral King -- superfunk is what I call these guys -- they are just major funky guys. And there's another band called Crisis Car -- they are a very improv oriented band and very super-cool people. All kinds of good stuff is happening.
HD: You have a new Rusted Root CD that has just come out. What are some of the songs on the new album about?
Jim: I don't write the lyrics, per say. Mike (Glabicki) writes most of the lyrical content. I'd say most of his lyrics are very freeform, poetic experiments. He hears random lines and syllables and he puts words to them. I don't know what they actually mean in a direct way, but a lot of it has implied meanings and are very much open to having your own interpretations of the songs.
HD: How much input does each member of Rusted Root actually have when the songs are written?
Jim: When we sit down as a band to create Rusted Root music -- Mike has brought in a lot of different parts, really good progressions, different melodic ideas. And we sift through the stuff and paste it together and tear it apart -- put different grooves to it and different instrumentations -- and we come up with the sounds that you hear on the record and you hear live. It's a very collaberative thing.
HD: How do you think your music has developed over the years?
Jim: Well, we started in 1990 as very super-organic, just acoustic guitars, bass and drums and a female vocal. We were just a four piece at first. Then we added our multi-instrumentalist John Buynak -- he plays flutes and guitars and different percussions. We had another female vocalist at that time too, and I think she left in '95. In 1993, we added Jim DiSpirito who is our percussionist -- he also plays a myraid of different instruments. Each time a member was added, a huge sound evolved from it as a big change. From record to record, we've constantly strived to make different music than anyone else is doing. And continually push the envelope to what sounds are acceptable in popular music. We've got instruments from all over the world that we use. We'll use anything -- whatever we can get our hands on, we'll play it!
HD: You've actually opened for a few really big bands. What was it like to tour with The Allmand Brothers?
Jim: You know what -- it was really fun. Those guys are top rate professional people. I got to talk a lot with the drummers in the band. They are just some of the nicest people. They are just regular guys. They sit and talk with you about stuff -- they'll come up and play with you and they ask you to come up and play with them. It was just a really wild experience to be playing with such legendary people. If you have your eyes open, you could learn something every day.
HD: And how long did that tour last?
Jim: About two and a half months.
HD: I understand you did some shows with a few of the members of The Grateful Dead?
Jim: Yeah. They called themselves The Other Ones. And it was just everybody except for Bill Croisman and Jerry. And they played all Grateful Dead music.
HD: What was it like playing Rusted Root music to a Grateful Dead crowd?
Jim: It was more perfect than I could ever imagine. The audience were just very warm and receptive and dancing. We had heard all of the horror stories about folks opening for The Dead and no one being in there. When we played all across the country, we had lots and lots of people in the venues listening to it and dancing. It was just a very nice, warm response. The folks were very open to hearing what we had to do. And I think we gained a lot of new fans because of that tour.
HD: Did you get to meet Bob Weir?
Jim: Yes, I did.
HD: And what was he like?
Jim: Most of those guys were very to themselves. They were super-professional, excellent musicians. We got to watch them every night. It was a very intense time for them to be on tour without Jerry, and I think that they pulled it off with grace. And it was a real pleasure to watch.
HD: President Clinton invites Rusted Root to play two songs for her daughter Chelsea's birthday party. What two songs would you play and why?
Jim: (laughs) Oh man! That's a hillarious question! Wow! I think we'd end up playing "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Send Me On My Way" -- our one big hit thing that happened -- we always have to play that at every show. We're bound to play that at every show.
HD: If there was one thing you'd like someone to remember after hearing one of your albums, what would it be?
Jim: The most important thing to me is that they felt emotion and that they had a reaction to it -- that it moved them in some way and it was something that they would want to listen to again. And in twenty years they'd still want to listen to it. I'd like it to be one of the records that's timeless.
HD: Do you have any other projects that you're working on?
Jim: Yes. I have a record called INDIGO that is a record of drumming and chanting. The way I describe it is "percussive, altered state inducing music." It's very geared towards using music as a tool to gain altered states of consciousness, whether it be very relaxed or whether it's a tranced kind of state. It's something that has interested me for a long time and it's something that I'm going to keep delving into and doing more of. It's been extremely rewarding to do this recording. I've learned so much and so many doors have opened because of it. I've just met so many interesting and educational people. I'm just going to keep doing it.
HD: And a final question here. Do you have any messages for Rusted Root fans?
Jim: I always like to take time out just to say a huge thank you to everyone for always being there to support us. Because when we play live shows, the audience is as much a part of what we do as what we're doing. They feed us energy and we give it back -- the energy goes in a big circle. I just want people to understand that it means everything to us.
Check out the new RUSTED ROOT album and the Jim Donovan INDIGO album, out now from Mercury Records.