Recently hitting the road again, the Nashville-based reggae 6-piece Roots of a Rebellion cruised through a snowy Ohio last week. What happens when you corner half the band in their van for an interview prior to show? You get a fun chat with drummer Troy Wiggins, lead guitarist Marco Martinez, and trumpet player Justin Smith. In addition to each of these guys being phenomenal musicians, they are a fun group of guys to hang out with. Enjoy!
Jess360: Thanks for chatting, guys! Can you kick us off by sharing ROAR’s origin story?
Marco: Roots of a Rebellion formed in Nashville, TN in 2011. We all met in college. All of us were moving to Nashville to study music and/or music business at Belmont University.
Jess360: So, you just happened to stumble upon each other, and it all worked out?
Marco: Troy, was it you or Alec [our original bass player] who posted in a Belmont group looking for someone who was into reggae?
Troy: Alec found me. He was looking at our mutual friends on Facebook. He saw that I had similar musical likes such as SOJA and a couple of other bands. He hit me up saying, “Hey man, I’m coming to Belmont. You like reggae, I like reggae, let’s jam together.”
Jess360: When you find someone who also likes reggae in Tennessee… you got to stick together.
Troy: Totally. I’d never been to Tennessee. I didn’t know a single person in Tennessee. That initial connection immediately brought me into a circle of friends. That is kind of what started it all. We started jamming, and then we met Austin.
Jess360: Was everyone’s intention always to play reggae?
Troy: No. I was always into reggae, growing up in Florida. At the time, Austin was just starting to get into it. It became a foundation we could all agree upon. We added Jeremyck shortly after, then Justin, then Marco, then Adam. Reggae continued to be a common ground. It’s something we all love to listen to now, even though we all got into it at different points.
Justin: I didn’t listen to much reggae before we linked up. But, it opened up a whole world to all of us, from modern American Reggae to other world reggae artists from decades before.
Marco: I grew up only listening to the biggest names in the American Reggae scene. Since I was from a small town in Tennessee, I bought all my CDs at Wal-Mart. They had Sublime, Slightly Stoopid, and Bob Marley, of course. Outside of those bands, I didn’t know about traditional roots music until I met Troy, Austin, and Alec. One of the roots artists we all dug and connected over initially was Gregory Isaacs. As time went on, we developed our own sound: we’re really a modern rock band heavily inspired by roots reggae.
Jess360: Who would you name as some of your biggest influences as a band?
Justin: Prior to me joining the band, I pretty much only played classical trumpet. When our former sax player left, I felt like I needed to step it up. I needed to go outside my comfort zone and try new things. I needed to start really feeling the music, versus just playing what I was told to play or what people wanted me to play.
So, one of my biggest influences in that growing period was Eddie Henderson. He’s a jazz trumpet player who uses effects, which inspired me to start using effects. When I first got into reggae, John Brown’s Body, as well as Streetlight Manifesto and bands like that with heavy horns, also inspired me. As I became more comfortable, I started gravitating more towards R&B. Soulful stuff resonated with me, and I could infuse my own flavor rather than being a “reggae” trumpet player, necessarily.
Jess360. What about everyone else? What do you think inspires your sound as a band as a whole?
Troy: I think it would be…I don’t know. It’s just so individual! We all come from different places, different backgrounds.
Jess360: Do you think that is a defining factor for your sound? It’s a culmination of what everyone brings to the table and creates, basically, a fusion of styles?
Troy: Yeah, and that’s what some of the “Rebellion” part of the name is about to me. We weren’t trying to fit in any mold or write music in a particular way; it was whatever came out naturally, and we would try to put it together as a group. That’s what we play.
Jess360: That’s interesting. So, Roots of a Rebellion. It’s more a reflection of the musical style versus being, say, socially charged?
Troy: That can also be a different answer for different people!
Marco: It’s somewhat about our city. Playing reggae in Nashville isn’t common. It’s also about the content of our lyrics. We’re trying to present something that shines light on the human experience. I know a lot of people characterize reggae music as just overtly positive and happy-go-lucky, but I characterize reggae music as positivity through struggle. A lot of our music and our lyrics are about that. Some of our songs, like Fixman and Stronger, resonate with so many people because it’s a positive outlook on a tough situation. Everyone struggles. Music helps.
Jess360: So, what’s coming up next for ROAR? At the time of this interview, we are in Ohio freezing our butts off. Where are you heading from here?
Troy: After Ohio, we are heading east through New England. Getting colder, but then it warms up just in time to link up with our buddies Tropidelic. We’re hitting VA and NC with the Trop gang. We’re super stoked.
We’ve also been writing a bunch. We all write music individually, and we have some new songs that we are stoked to share in due time.
Jess360: Before this run, you guys took some time off. What gets you most excited to be back on the road?
Marco: I miss the adrenaline rush of playing live so much when we’re off the road. I feel like with every show we’ve played in the last year, our communication gets tighter and we do new things every night. It feels like the show is a living, breathing thing.
Jess360: Right on. I’ve definitely noticed an evolution over the past few years. It seems like you went from some easy listening to jamming out harder and harder every time!
Troy: For me, it really comes down to all the bands that we’ve played with over the years and feeding off of the energy that is with our whole “reggae/ rock” community. We see so many bands all over the east coast/southeast that are constantly raising the bar and that pushes us to get better. It’s one of the great things about this scene: it’s always bands helping each other; we’re trying to elevate each other.
Jess360: Well, this has been great. I know you have to play soon, but is there any parting thoughts you want to share with Reggae 360 followers?
Marco: Yeah! For the first time, we are playing CaliRoots on Saturday, May 25th! Then, we will be on tour throughout the west coast after that hitting the Pacific Northwest (for the first time), California, and Colorado. Those dates coming out soon.
Troy: I also want to shout out the MoRoots Festival in the St. Louis area April 25-27. Aaron Kamm and the One Drops are headlining. They have been putting on this festival for years, and we’re stoked be a part of it!
Jess360: Nice! Ok, Justin, you get the last word.
Justin: Oh man….
One of the things that bring some of the guys in the band together is…well, sometimes you got to get humbled in a game of NBA 2k19. Certain people come over to your house and play on your system and then you still lose. You’ll get frustrated at the time, but it’s humbling playing with those guys. It’s a form of stress relief.
Jess360: Who would you say is the best?
Justin: Of course, I’m going to say I’m the best…
Jess360: Ok, who is really the best? You said it’s humbling which means you’ve definitely been “humbled” before.
Justin: You know… tomato-tomahto.
Be sure to check out Roots of a Rebellion wherever music is available, and be on the lookout for these guys coming to a city near you this year! Enjoyed this interview? You can hear more from the Roots of a Rebellion guys at Reggae 360’s podcast For the Vibe, episode 5, coming soon!