The Rusted Root Interview
Rusted Root is perhaps one of the most revered bands to come out of the PGH in the past 20 years. While they haven’t had a major release since 2009’s Stereo Rodeo, they’re still alive and kickin’ and continue to play shows both locally and elsewhere, continuously writing and building their repertoire as they evolve as a band. They’re also currently running a “Fortunate Freaks Unite” campaign to raise funds for their new album. We had a chance to sit down with Liz Berlin, a very recognizable and involved member, not only in the band, but in the PGH in general. Mad props to this talented individual who in addition to enjoying great success during her career with Rusted Root and as a solo artist, also partly owns Mr. Smalls and is the point person for Creative.Life.Support, a non-profit offshoot of Mr. Smalls, which aims to bring advanced technologies & opportunities in media arts to the hands of aspiring artists, musicians & creative professionals.
No strangers to the road, Rusted Root has been doing a lot of touring over the past few years and working on new material for their next album, debuting songs along the way. “The new album is going really well. We’re at the point now where we’re pretty much done recording, we just have a few finishing touches to put on before we can start mixing it. The “Fortunate Freaks Unite” campaign has been very, very helpful in the process. We decided to do a campaign like that because we’re totally independent now. We’re not on a label. We put this campaign together for people that would want backstage passes and other perks. Even the lowest level, at $20 bucks people are getting their name and a thank-you in the credits. We’ve raised quite a bit of money.”
As the industry changes, more and more artists are using methods such as fundraising campaigns to engage their fans and raise money to record and promote themselves. I asked Liz what she thought about this pivotal shift in the industry and how the recording process has changed now that the band is entirely independent. “The industry has changed an incredible amount in the past several years. We’ve been independent now for a while. We came into this crossroads with our label after Welcome to My Party album because we owed them a couple more albums. They were actually cool, and went look â€“ you can do another album with us and we’ll give you the same level of money and support that we gave you for the last album, which wasn’t very much, or we’ll just let you out of your contract. So that’s what we did. Being independent has been so much better because when you’re doing it yourself, you’re creating your own images and packaging. We probably made a lot more off of our independent albums than we did off of major label stuff that we’ve done. Even though we’re not selling as much as we did when we had this huge label push, it just works out better for everybody. The recording process especially has become a lot more DIY. When we were on the label, they would ship us off to California to work with so and so producer at some studio, and that’s not happening anymore. We’re making albums, producing and recording them in Pittsburgh. It’s a lot more independent and focused as a sound because we’re honing in on what we really want the music to be like, and not about the interference, though sometimes producers can be helpful.”
After being a band for over 20 years, touring and recording across the entire country, I wondered why the band’s roots remain in tact in Pittsburgh. Liz is involved in many projects here that contribute to a thriving cultural scene and has truly made her mark on a city that’s been under appreciated for decades. “When I first started traveling the country with Rusted Root, I thought â€“ great, now is my chance to see the country and figure out where I want to live. The more I traveled, the more I saw the country, the more I just wanted to be home. I feel that Pittsburgh is a really great city to live in, in comparison to most of the other cities I’ve been to. The level of opportunity that there’s been for myself and my family I don’t think I would have been able to find anywhere else in the country.”
As they embark, as Liz would say, “full speed ahead” on their next tour, she’s most looking forward to “getting out into some towns that we’ve never been to before like Montana and all these random places, such as Yellowstone. I think there’s pockets of really big fans that are hungry for a live show. It’s definitely shown in the few dates that have sold out already.” In terms of what to expect, especially for those who haven’t seen a Rusted Root show before, Liz says, “Be prepared for a community experience. It’s not going to be seven people on stage playing music standing still. There’s a lot of energy in the shows and a lot of energy circulates through between the band and the audience.”
As for Rusted Root’s future – they don’t plan on slowing down any time soon. “We just keep making great music, keep playing shows, keep dancing, keep creating a good experience and enjoying ourselves.” We’ll certainly keep coming.