Roots of Creation just released their latest album “Grateful Dub: A Reggae Infused Tribute to the Grateful Dead” which hit #1 on the Billboard Reggae charts. The album is loaded with special guest appearances from Melvin Seals, G Love, Stephen Marley, Haley Jane, Marlon “Ganja Farmer” Asher, Dan Kelly of Fortunate Youth and Jesse Wagner of The Aggrolites. We caught up with them before their Maine show at Portland House of Music as they were wrapping up the East Coast leg of their Grateful Dub tour. They’ll be back on the road starting April 12th at The Java Barn in Canton Ohio, with full Midwest and West coast dates to follow.
Reggae 360– Obvious first question. Why a Grateful Dead album, are you Deadheads?
Tal Pearson (Keyboards/Vocals)-Not originally, we kinda got into it all through different avenues. The band had been playing in the jamband and festival scene for a long time which obviously the Grateful Dead was a big part of and there’s Dead tribute bands all throughout that. But we were doing the reggae thing, trying figure out how to be a reggae/jamband so we were doing our thing. Anyways a couple Halloweens ago we did a couple Grateful Dead songs in a reggae style and thought, this is really cool. Maybe we should do a record of this. The genesis was really our singer Brett who’s a true Deadhead.
Andrew Riordan (Saxaphone/Dub FX/Vocals)-He started it and he brought these tunes to light with us. For me, I didn’t grow up a Deadhead but as I started to play the music more and delve into more. I think all of us have a huge appreciation for the music through Brett showing it to us and getting into it ourselves and really finding not just the music itself but the scene it has created.
360– This is beyond just a Grateful Dead album though. It’s all Jerry tunes, no Bobby songs. Was that intentional?
T-We noticed that actually after we put it all together, so now we decided we gotta do a Bobby tune and we’re working on some.
A– Yeah we’ve been working on a Bobby tune and working on a Phil tune too, but this one we’re calling a tribute to Jerry Garcia. I think the next one will be a little more inclusive of all the Dead members and hopefully dig into the deeper cuts they have.
360– How did you decide on which songs to pick?
T-I always tell people we just picked the ones we were good at playing. Honestly though a lot of them were songs Brett had in his solo, acoustic set so he already knew how to play them. So started to give those songs full band arrangements and figured out which ones were cool and which ones weren’t. Not all of the songs are in the live set yet. There’s a couple that are only on the album.
A-When we went into the studio we had some tunes we wanted to accomplish. However once we got into the studio it was like ok, drums and bass, what do we want to do and kind of built the songs from there. So it was thought out, but it wasn’t a full idea yet until we got into the studio and started to work them. Then they evolved into what you hear on the album.
360– So some of them were pretty obvious choices like Fire on the Mountain. Others like Black Muddy River for instance, I don’t think people were expecting that one.
A-Honestly recording vocals for that song, for me and Brett and it was emotional. Just the vibe in the studio, working late at night and getting down to it was great.
360– How did you connect with all the guests you have on the album? Did you have a wishlist or is it just Deadheads you’ve met over the years of touring?
T-We were shooting for the stars you know. We had a few people in mind and had few more people in mind we wanted to shoot for. We’ve had Melvin Seals on a previous record and we were hoping he’d be a part of this one too and he was happy to do that. We had wanted to get G Love on a record. Brett had met him somewhere along the way and they were like we gotta do a track together
A– It was bound to happen at some point with G Love
T– Haley Jane is a friend of ours and we’ve played a lot of shows with her so that was an obvious choice. For some of the others it was just reaching for the stars.
A– It’s management too. We let our management know who we’d love to have of our album and let’s see if we can get in touch with their management. See if they like the tune and if they want to do a verse or 2 and see what becomes of it.
360– You got Dan Kelly from Fortunate Youth who I wouldn’t peg as a Deadhead. There must be a lot of Deadheads in the reggae scene.
A-Yeah we played a couple shows and became good friends with him. When we presented the idea to him he was way into it.
T-We are finding that there are. It wasn’t obvious at first, but they’re there. We had been doing a couple Dead covers in our sets even before the Halloween show and we would notice how people would come up and be like oh dude that was a sick cover.
A-I think in general in the reggae scene, with Slightly Stoopid doing there thing and getting into the Dead thing. I think there’s a lot of crossover in the tunes where you’ll have dubs that are jams and jams that are dubs and they’re starting to intertwine.
T-Heady music, you know.
A-Yeah, heady music
360-So was there anyone you really wanted on the album that you couldn’t get or you’re hoping to get on the next one?
T-Trey (laughs) I think someone called him about it but he was busy. Of course there’s tons of people we’d like to get on there, but as they say it’s all about who you know and we haven’t met those people yet.
A-We had some people talk to us about what we’re doing next and it’s definitely a project we’d like to continue doing as well as our original music. And there’s just been a little talk with people since the record just came out, but we’re trying to find some new things for the next one.
360-I noticed that on a lot of the songs you stay true to the original in the beginning and you put your spin on it later. Like Standing on the Moon for instance. You play it pretty close to the original arrangement and then mix it up at the end. Did you try a bunch of different arrangements before you found what you liked.
T-(laughs) On that song it took a while to find the right combo. It’s such a beautiful song that you don’t want to do too much to it.
A-That song was kinda cool because we recorded a lot more instrumentation and stuff than what made it to the song. When we were mixing it we went back and I think it was Errol Brown our engineer and producer for the album who really spearheaded it. He was like let’s take some things away. It’s beautiful song and we’ll let his guitar shine through and we’ll give it a little bump at the end to tie it all together. There’s actually drums in the recording that no-one hears half the time which I thought was cool.
360-And the obvious reggae ones like Fire on the Mountain and They Love Each other, you really did some nice things at the end of those with the guests.
A-Haley killed that
T-The end of Fire on the Mountain is one of my favorite parts of the record. Everyone is rocking with Stephen Marley and Marlon Asher doing their thing and Brett’s just shredding guitar and the band’s jamming.
A– The real goal that Brett brought up in the beginning. What we all tried to take into consideration when building this project was that Deadheads loves the Dead. That’s the reason we’re Deadheads. They want to recognize the songs and know the songs a certain way. We wanted them to be able to sing along and recognize the songs while having our personal take on the reggae style. So reggae heads are like that’s sweet reggae and Deadheads are like I can hear the songs and it’s true to what the Dead were doing. That was our hope that people were able to feel that.
360-So what was it like to work with Melvin Seals on a project like this. He was in the trenches with Jerry all those years.
T-He’s amazing! He recorded his parts in his own studio and sent them to us. We talked about the project because we did some shows together. He played a whole set with us when we did a Grateful Dub set last year, where we had a bunch of musicians playing with us. The process of getting his parts back and putting them into the recording and hearing what he had done. We were like holy shit! He really added a vibe to this. He’s incredibly expressive on the organ and it was really cool to hear what he was able to bring to the tracks. To know that he played alongside Jerry and nows he’s added to our album.
A It’s pretty meaningful
R-Do you guys get to see any of the bigger Dead bands like JRAD or Dark Star Orchristor playing the festivals?
T-I’ve seen Dark Star and they’re sweet. Haven’t crossed paths with JRAD yet. Playing shows all the time your always on the go. You’re at a festival for 1 day out of 3 or whatever.
A-That’s the toughest part about music is you’re always playing your own and rarely get to go enjoy other people’s music. Besides records when you’re driving in the van or tour bus.
360-Well there’s always the tapes.
A-The cool part about the Dead for me, is also the hard part about the Dead. It’s not only the amount of songs they covered and wrote, but the amount of years they spanned and the changes within years and the shows. To really understand and cover and do things appropriately. It’s like what were they doing this year when they played this tune and it’s always different. And the real fans will know like this show, this song, this year and that’s amazing. It’s a special thing and it’s hard learn and know all that stuff, but it’s also very cool.