Far from the tree: Michael Glabicki grows his sound with Uprooted
IF YOU GO
When: Friday, Sept. 7, at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Silverthorne’s Rainbow Park, 430 Rainbow Drive.
Cost: Free to attend with beer, wine and food available to purchase. Alcohol proceeds will help eliminate school lunch debt for Summit School District
“It’s about progress. It’s not about success.” Those words, spoken by legendary guitarist Carlos Santana to Michael Glabicki, are a motto that Glabicki tries to follow every day. As one of the founders of ’90s multiplatinum band Rusted Root, now on hiatus, he wants to simultaneously develop a fresh sound with his group Uprooted while remixing the songs that made Rusted Root popular.
The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native always had a love of music and live entertainment. When Glabicki was a child, his father, a construction worker, played polkas on an accordion while Glabicki would play the drums. Additionally, Glabicki looked up to his musical cousins and his grandfather, a steel mill worker who played guitar and banjo. Seeing the polkas performed live invigorated him.
“For being a little kid and going to these polka dances,” said Glabicki, “and seeing people like really party heavily and dancing and going crazy and stuff … looking at all the suits and the glittery dresses and walking around and hearing the music, that was like a huge rock show to me as a kid.”
When he was older he’d also see concerts and drumming ensembles at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, which inspired him to jam as a drum and guitar duo with a high school friend. Yet it wasn’t until Glabicki dropped out of La Roche College in 1987 that he became more serious about music.
The summer before dropping out he went to San Isidro, Nicaragua — a sister city of Pittsburgh — for some volunteer work. When he returned he became disillusioned with school and depressed. “When I came back I was really charged up to kind of change everything that was wrong with the world. Being 17 or 18 years old that’s what you think you can do,” he said laughing. Writing songs improved his outlook and so he rented out a studio to lay the foundation of Rusted Root.
Along with Cat Stevens’ “Greatest Hits,” which his family frequently listened to growing up, — “Moonshadow” is Glabicki’s favorite from the record — the most influential album for Glabicki was Peter Gabriel’s “So” that came out in 1986.
“When I heard all the different instruments, I was like ‘Oh yea this is possible. It’s possible to do this and be successful and I don’t have to sound like anybody else. I can go to this, bring in these influences and make it my own.’”
Paul Simon’s “Graceland” released the same year and while that album didn’t have as large of impact on Glabicki, having the worldbeat sound prominent in the zeitgeist certainly didn’t hurt.
“For us, it was a totally different thing. I could appreciate what they were doing but I felt like I had a lot of room to do our thing. I didn’t feel like we were infringing or taking from them.”
A year later he formed Rusted Root with Patrick Norman, Liz Berlin and Jim Donovan. They got their big break in 1990 when they came in fourth place at Pittsburgh’s Graffiti Rock Challenge. In 1994 they signed with Mercury Records and released their second album, “When I Woke,” which climbed to 51 on the charts. The band remained based in Pittsburgh and Glabicki still lives and records there today.
“You look at the geography and the way it’s set down in the valley,” said Glabicki of his hometown “and you kind of get this feeling that you’re in this little bird’s nest. It’s like a nice little place to incubate an idea that’s original … It just always worked with me.”
However, things change in over two decades of music making. Glabicki doesn’t want to speak for other band members on how the group fell apart, but Rusted Root’s last show was on New Year’s Eve in Rochester, New York. “I’m not sure how big (the hiatus) is yet. There’s a lot that needs to be worked out and I’m not sure it will come back together. But we’ll see.”
Uprooted formed in the wake with Rusted Root touring members Dirk Miller, Zil Fessler, Bobby Schneck Jr., and Daise Ghost-Flower. In addition to playing as a whole group, Miller and Glabicki perform shows as a duo — Miller on electric guitar and Glabicki on drums — where they play re-envisioned Rusted Root songs.
Uprooted’s first gig was on May 17 at Rochester’s Lilac Festival, a festival Rusted Root usually headlines, and the audience reaction was mixed. But when Glabicki informed them that Rusted Root was on hiatus and this project would include new work, the public became more understanding. After the shows people came up to him and said the new act is progress.
That supportive fan base has been present since the beginning of Rusted Root playing in neighborhood warehouses and with it comes a communal vibe that’s reminiscent of the community polka performances Glabicki attended. Since Rusted Root and Uprooted pride themselves on the quality of their live shows, Glabicki says that the audience connection is a major factor for him as a writer.
“It’s kind of like this give and take when you’re in a room by yourself and you suddenly realize, at least for myself, I realized my understanding of the music and what it does to me … to my mind … to my body and … to my soul, is completely one with the audience,” Glabicki said.
“So you start to struggle a bit in the studio but once you actually hit it, you realize none of it matters because you are one with them.”
Since Uprooted is so young, roughly three-fourths of their live performances include remixed Rusted Root material. They’ll release their first single “Heartache” soon and hope to have a full album next year.
“I realized when Rusted Root went on hiatus, all of these ideas opened up,” Glabicki said. “It was more about my personal connection with the audience as opposed to Rusted Root’s connection to the audience. … Rusted Root’s trajectory doesn’t necessarily represent my personal trajectory so if I want something personal for the music it’s easier to go solo. … Rusted Root would maybe be one emotion for each song and Uprooted has more depth of character within a song.”
Eventually the concerts will have a majority of Uprooted tracks, but, as hinted in the group’s name and staying within the multicultural genre, Glabicki doesn’t want to turn his back on Rusted Root entirely.
“Even with those songs that are older, there’s a lot of experimentation and new meanings to find within the music because they’re kind of written for that. So I’m going to keep doing it and hopefully people will keep coming out.”
One of those older songs that concertgoers will likely hear is “Send Me On My Way,” their most notable tune that has been featured in car rental commercials and films like “Matilda,” “Ice Age,” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” Glabicki wrote the song in five minutes.
“It’s cool because that song is like a baby,” said Glabicki. “At the time it needed a little bit of work but it kind of grew up over the years. It did its own thing, took on new meaning for people and it goes way beyond what my original thoughts were on it.
“Now you just kind of sit back and watch it grow and it sends me a postcard every once and awhile.”
Glabicki still enjoys playing it years after writing the song and filming the music video in the cold, but stunning, landscape of South Dakota’s Badlands National Park.
“It is a ritual for people and I’m a big part of that ritual. It’s alive. It’s not like some dead song that you just kind of put yourself in and move it.”
Having already performed in Denver as Uprooted, Glabicki is eager to return back to Colorado.
“The crowd really loved it and I think there was something especially charged up in Denver. I’m just really excited to get out and get back to Colorado and get that energy going.”
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