If you love reggae, you love Rebelution. Scratch that. If you love good music, you love Rebelution. Hardly able to be boxed into one genre, the reggae-inspired rock band came into fruition in 2004, and has since catapulted into one of the biggest touring acts in the world.
Hailing from Isla Vista, the group consists of four members: Lead vocalist Eric, keyboardist Rory, bassist Marley D. Williams, and drummer Wesley, each contributing their talents into what makes Rebelution live up to their well-respected name. Having been nominated for a Grammy with their 2016 effort, “Falling into Place,” the band returned this year with their sixth studio album titled “Free Rein,” an ode to self-love, peace and positivity.
Rebelution’s top five tracks have accumulated more than 100 million spins on Spotify alone. Beyond music, they even launched their own cannabis line with a customized cannabis oil battery pen, herb vaporizer and oil — fitting with their almost coveted laidback Cali vibe.
And what better way to ring in the new year than with a full-blown festival with some of the biggest acts in dancehall and reggae? Going on its fourth year, the 2019 One Love Cali Reggae Fest will take place Feb. 8 through Feb. 10 at the Queen Mary Events Park in Long Beach. This year, the annual festivities extend to three days instead of two, with Rebelution headlining day one, Slightly Stoopid day two and Sublime with Rome on day three.
In addition to the explosive lineup, fans can party all night long on the water with after parties by Don Carlos, Collie Buddz and Fiji. Irvine Weekly caught up with Eric Rachmany, the lead singer of Rebelution, to preview the band’s highly anticipated performance Friday evening.
For those who don’t know, who is Rebelution?
Rebelution is a band that’s been together for 14 years. We’re definitely reggae inspired, even though we cover a lot of different genres of music. We’ve got a dedicated fanbase that’s been with us from the beginning and it just keeps on getting bigger and bigger. It kind of feels like a big happy family.
Why “reggae inspired” versus reggae?
Because we have a lot of songs that just don’t sound like reggae. It’s hard to classify our music. We all got together because we were all listening to reggae at the time. We were a cover band playing reggae music, but as we started writing original music, we ventured into different categories of music. I would say reggae is the biggest inspiration of our sound, but it certainly isn’t everything.
Being from Isla Vista, how does that play into your life and career?
It definitely was a great training ground for us. There were tons of people out and about on weekends. We would set up in backyards, garages and driveways. There would literally be thousands of people walking by, so immediately we had to get used to playing in front of a lot of people. In that regard, it helped me be a better entertainer in a very short amount of time. I was the kind of person that never wanted to be a lead singer. I never enjoyed being the center of attention, I just wanted to be a guitar player. But performing in front of all those people made me have to mature faster as an entertainer and a performer.
Can you talk about the nostalgia that ensues from this little town?
A lot of people that have been to Santa Barbara have seen Isla Vista. It’s crazy, at least back then. There were no rules really. You would set up and just make as much noise as possible until midnight and just hope that it didn’t shut down. Often times, it did get shut down. We would have to find another place last minute or set up in the living room. Looking back at it, it’s pretty cool that the music spread the way it did. A lot of it has to do with the characteristics of Isla Vista. It has to do with friends visiting friends and bringing it back to whatever town they live in, and just spreading the word about Rebelution. I really feel like Rebelution got spread by word of mouth. A lot of that has to do with the way Isla Vista is set up and how music can spread very fast in an environment like that.
How important is it to come to L.A. as an up-and-coming artist?
It’s not as important as it used to be. Back in the day, it was a place to showcase your music for industry people and try to get a record deal. For any artist coming up today, you have the ability to put your music online for free. You can send a link for someone to listen to it. You don’t have to have a big record deal in order to have your music heard. I do think it’s important to go to L.A. for the sake of just playing. I always tell up-and-coming artists to just play as much as you can, give away as much free music as you can and perform live constantly. The fact that L.A. is a big area with a lot of people makes it important. But as far as it being a music industry central location, historically, it’s not as important for up-and-coming artists.
At what point did you realize this music thing was for real?
Honestly, in Isla Vista from the very beginning. It felt like there was something special and magical about it. We became this big hit in the community, and it just got bigger and bigger from there. Even playing for five people, it turned into 10 and 20 and 100. It kind of just kept growing exponentially. There was no point where I was like, “Oh, I made it.” We’ve had this gradual increase in our listeners. It’s slow and steady, and it’s kind of nice. There’s a lot less pressure when you grow slowly but surely.
Eric Rachmany, Rory Carey, Marley D. Williams and Wesley Finley, what’s the dynamic within the group?
We have spent the last 14 years playing with each other constantly. Touring and playing over 100 shows a year. I see the other three guys in the band more than I see my friends and family at home. The fact that we’re still together after 14 years means that we all get along pretty well. We enjoy each other’s company for the most part. [laughs] We have six and a half albums out, so it’s a real testament to how much we’ve gotten along as a group.
You guys are crazy touring artists. Talk about what goes into your live performances.
We take it really seriously. I know I personally try to give the best possible performance I can. I always give 100 percent. In order to do that, I take very good care of my voice. I make sure that I warm up. I just take my vocals very seriously. I try to keep my health as good as possible to make sure that I’m able to give 100 percent. We’ve done thousands of shows now as a band, and they just keep on getting better and better. We become better musicians, better performers. I become more of an interactive performer as time goes by. The fans can always see us getting better and better, and it keeps them coming back.
What does it mean to be part of the One Love Cali bill, which is dedicated to reggae.
The line-up is amazing. There’s so many bands that have become our friends and we’ve considered family over the years. It’s a great place for us to get together and collaborate with other artists. A lot of the artists on the bill have songs together. We’ve all toured together at certain times. It’s something that the fans really look forward to. They love seeing all their favorite bands at one location in one weekend. This is the first year that it’s a three-day festival and not a two-day festival. Just hoping for good weather, that’s the only thing.
Can you talk about performing in Orange County/Long Beach? In my opinion, it’s reminiscent of IV.
We’ve been coming there a long time. We used to perform at this spot called the OC Tavern. We were kind of like a house band — we played every other week or so. Besides Isla Vista, that was a spot we would come very frequently to try to get our music out there, sell merchandise and spread the word about who we were. That whole area has always been good to Rebelution. It continues to be a great spot for us. Long Beach definitely has an Isla Vista vibe to it. Long Beach has always kind of been a hot spot for reggae music. Anywhere along the coast really kind of gravitates to reggae-inspired music, so no wonder we do pretty well up there.
Favorite song to perform in a set?
My favorite song always changes. Currently, it’s a new song called “City Life.”
You guys dropped “Free Rein” earlier this year. Talk about the creative process and how long it took you.
This one we put a lot of effort into because we went back to producing it ourselves, for the most part. It was only a couple tracks that we didn’t produce ourselves. We were more hands on with this album, wrote everything ourselves, chose who we wanted to work with. Definitely took at least a couple years from the writing process to recording it and putting it out.
“Celebrate” is such a great record. Why is it so important for you to promote positivity in your music?
Honestly because I’m in a position where people are listening. I don’t want to put out something that has no use to humanity. [chuckles] I feel like people are looking up to us. From the very beginning, people were coming up to us saying, “Hey, your music got me through a tough time. I really owe it to you, thank you so much.” It just makes me want to do that more and more. I wouldn’t want to stop doing that. There’s no better feeling than when someone comes up to you and tells you that. I’m just gonna continue to try to make positive music, try to encourage and motivate people. Just help people out with music, that’s what it’s all about for us.
I love the message in “you’re one of us.” How has music been a form of therapy for you?
It’s certainly been a form a therapy. Music can be a form of therapy for everybody. I don’t know anybody out there who doesn’t pray to the universal thing that we have in common. Music has got me through tough times, that’s for sure. As far as saying “you’re one of us,” I just want people to feel like we’re unified. I don’t want anybody to get down for differences they have from me or from you, or from anybody. The goal “Celebrate” is to say, “Hey, I got your back. We’re behind you. You’re one of us. Let’s do this together.”
“Falling into Place” actually won you a Grammy nomination for best reggae album. Can you bring us back to your initial reaction?
I think it was cooler for our fans because they really feel like they’re a part of this band. They want to see us get some recognition after watching us put out five albums by that time. It was cool. I’m happy that I’m able to see what everybody else is doing, but it’s not a goal of mine to win a Grammy. The coolest part really about that whole process was putting on a tuxedo and feeling like a big shot.
What are some goals for yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
Honestly, I just want to do what I’ve been doing for the last six albums. I just want to write music and record it. I want to play shows. That’s worked so far, I feel like it’s still working for us. Our listeners have such a great connection with us. Personally, as an artist, I just want to make honest, positive music, and that’s good enough for me.
Cali obviously has the best weed. Talk about your how your cannabis brand (customized cannabis oil, battery pen and herb vaporizer) is going.
It’s good. We enjoy it. We teamed up with Flav (they used to be called FlavRX). The whole cannabis industry is kind of in a weird place in California. Nobody really knows exactly what the regulations are or what they’re gonna change to. It’s a whole big scene that people know nothing about. I know a lot of friends and family that have used the products as an intro to cannabis and really enjoyed it. For me, I’m just trying to be an educator in cannabis. I grew up thinking it was something forbidden and it was a drug. Though our music, we’re trying to educate people in saying, “Oh, there’s more to the story to that, so be careful of what you have been told.” It’s going well. I wouldn’t put out a product I didn’t enjoy myself.
Have you noticed a shift since weed has been legalized?
To tell you the truth, I don’t see much of a difference. People were using cannabis just as much before it was legalized. It kind of always felt like it was legalized in California. As far as business, it seems like there’s a ton more companies out there. So many players in this movement now, it’s getting really kind of cluttered. There’s just such an abundance of cannabis here in California that it doesn’t feel like it changed that much.
Any thoughts on Jamaican reggae artist Buju Banton returning home?
I’m happy about it. It’s great, I think people in Jamaica are thrilled. He’s a staple there. I certainly like a lot of his music. I don’t really like a lot of the gangster stuff, but Buju Banton has a lot of positive music too with everything going on. I’m happy about it. I feel like we spend a lot of money on the war on drugs. Particularly putting people in prison. It really bothers me how much money we spend locking people away for drug offenses.
What’s the best encounter you’ve had with a fan?
When people come up to me and tell me that I saved their lives. Although I don’t go into specifics with them, I really have to believe them when they tell me that. That’s a pretty amazing feeling when someone tells you that. It makes me feel like this is bigger than me. Like I said earlier, why would I want to put out a message that’s negative? I have the ability to affect people’s lives and keep somebody alive, that’s such an amazing feeling. It’s not just one person, I get it all the time. I get messages almost every day from people. It’s more motivation for me to keep doing what I’m doing.