Rusted Root Frontman Michael Glabicki Talks New Projects, Past Lives, and Finding His Mantra in a Colorado Ashram
Rusted Root founder and frontman Michael Glabicki recently sat down with Sensible Reason to chat about the band’s evolution over the past two decades, the healing powers of music and mindfulness, and their headlining set at the 2nd annual MAYfest in Cold Spring, NY later this month.
When a young Michael Glabicki got lost during a road trip through southern Colorado, he followed a light in the distance into an empty Crestone ashram. Although the pitstop was not a part of the plan, Glabicki had a sense that he stumbled into the very space he was meant to be that night. During his stay on those sacred grounds he received a mantra that he continues to carry with him today.
“Om namah shivaya really stuck with me.” Glabicki shared. “I have been singing that chant for probably 18 years now. At some point, I added ‘Ram’ to the end and gave it a melody that just felt like it came really naturally for some reason.”
That theme of allowing things to just show up and flow naturally has been a guiding force in Michael Glabicki’s life, as well as in the life of his multi-platinum five-piece Rusted Root.
The Pittsburgh-based band is known for their unique sound that fuses world rhythms, eclectic vocal arrangements, and melodies that float and transform as if they are breathing. When asked where the inspiration to experiment with sounds from such a wide range of cultures comes from, Glabicki admits that he did not necessarily set out to recreate or channel any specific sound or style.
“Realistically, I think a lot of my world influences come from past lives. A lot of those sounds or rhythms or melodies just sort of come through…But I did want to find people that knew about the traditional rhythms and styles. So, when I started the band I went out and looked for people that knew a lot about African drumming, or Latin rhythms, or Indian sounds. Our first percussionist had studied Tabla in India, so I did really want to gather people that had that kind of background.”
Similarly, inspiration for his unique vocal style draws more upon a dynamic movement of energy than any specific vocalist.
“I think when I started out I was more inspired by female vocalists like Toni Childs or Natalie Merchant…and then people like Cat Stevens and Mick Jagger. But I tend to not think about those things when I’m writing. I try to keep the focus on the energy that’s coming through my body and what that feels like. The styles of singing tend to go along with that. It is almost meditational. I will do things over and over again until they start to develop into something and finally break through. Everything falls away, and you are left with a really pure feeling. Some of my best nights singing on stage have been where I don’t even hear my voice as a thing. I just feel it as pure emotion. And that is the goal – to get to that point.”
Rusted Root has been channeling that energy into creating and performing music for over 25 years with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The band is currently working on their eighth studio album, set for release later this year. They are also gearing up for a summer tour which includes a headlining spot at New York’s 3-day music, yoga and art festival, MAYfest on May 26-28th.
Yoga has always been a part of Michael’s life, and in turn Rusted Root’s. When asked about his daily practice he shared,
“To me, music is yoga. I write every morning for about an hour, and I like to walk and chant. I practice yoga here and there, as well as chanting and meditation before going onstage. That practice has always been important for me.”
He continued, “Even learning music was very much a practice. I’d find one chord that felt good, and keep playing it until I found the next chord, which might be an hour or two away. It was very naïve, but I knew that if I meditated with the music, used it as a meditation, I’d find the next thing; Even if it took a while and I sounded like an amateur for a day or two. I was never very interested in learning music in the sense of going out and studying it. I wanted to find something that was unique; Something that was me and felt right because there was some connection with something else. So that’s how I got started – Just locking myself up in a room and playing and playing until I found something that had a spiritual spark to it.”
It was in the middle of working on music for his upcoming yoga/meditational album that Michael got the call to join MAYFest.
“We had been working on this [yoga and meditational] album with a keyboardist and vocalist and there were questions of how should we do this, or what makes the most sense. There was just a lot of energy going out around it , so when the call came to do MAYfest it felt like it came to me and I came to it mutually. I am really looking forward to being a part of it and having the opportunity to come together with this community where we can all learn from each other. I am excited to see how I can connect in that moment, and I really feel a strong sense that there is a purpose there for me. It’s one of those things where I find that I am able to heal myself and bring people back to themselves through music and have it be a healing, communal thing. I hope everybody feels that from our concerts.”
Anyone who has attended a Rusted Root concert can attest to the joyful, communal vibe that fills the air when Glabicki and bandmates Liz Berlin, Patrick Norman, Zil Fessler, and Dirk Miller perform. When asked about his relationship with their most popular song, “Send Me on My Way”, the Pittsburgh native admits that while there have been times when the song’s fame has been a distraction, it is more often than not a blessing.
“95% of the time it’s a really positive thing. The song has such a life of its own at this point, which is really fun. I can interact with it in a different way now, because everybody knows it and sings along. It’s a different style of creativity when people are singing or clapping, and we can play off of that. It has definitely become a ritual song at this point. Everyone brings something to it so we always have a good time. It’s also been in a lot of soundtracks, so it brings new people to the shows who might have heard the song in Ice Age or Matilda.”
In addition to their headlining set on Sunday evening. Rusted Root will be providing live music for a special yoga class with SkyBaby Yoga on Sunday afternoon.
For more information about MAYfest, including tickets, lodging information, and schedule, visit the Official MAYfest website. Details about Rusted Root’s upcoming tour can be found online here. You can stay up to date with album release details on Twitter and Facebook.