“Reggae has been always about cannabis,” says Marley D. Williams, bassist for the Santa Barbara reggae band Rebelution, who headline the Greek Theatre tonight.
We're speculating about whether marijuana legalization will in any way change reggae culture in California. Williams doesn't think so, although he's hopeful the marijuana industry will continue to grow in ways that emphasize the plant's medical properties over its recreational ones. “Cannabis is more than just a substance to get high. I see it as a product that can be utilized as raw material for many products and of course as a medication. I’ll be surprised if [Proposition 64] didn’t pass.”
When people think of popular reggae bands from Southern California, Rebelution is not usually the first name that comes up. But maybe it should be. The group, which has nearly 900,000 Facebook fans, started in 2004 in Santa Barbara, where its original five members met while studying at UCSB. They are known for catchy party jams with lyrics that often range into the political. Their best-known songs include “Safe and Sound” and the optimistic, upbeat “Bright Side of Life.”
Currently, Rebelution has four members: Eric Rachmany (vocals/guitar), Rory Carey (keyboards), Wesley Finley (drums) and Williams. A second singer-guitarist, Matt Velasquez, left the band before they made it big. At the time, they were in debt to make their debut album and, according to Williams, Velasquez had simply grown tired of the rigorous touring life. “Not many people realize we had two singers,” he says.
Before he left, Velasquez wrote the song “Ordinary Girl,” which became one of Rebelution's most popular tracks. But they never play it live. “Eric doesn’t feel comfortable to sing another person’s song,” Williams explains.
The band's fifth album, Falling Into Place, came out in June, but Williams confesses that it nearly didn't happen. “Falling Into Place is a combination of a lot of things coming together.” he says. “We felt like we didn’t have enough material to make this new album.” The title is a reflection of how the album finally coalesced. “Some songs were written really quickly, some took a couple of years. … It wasn’t written in one session, it came from different sessions, working with many producers. We wrote some songs in Jamaica, some in SoCal and some on the tour bus.”
Although there are a few sonic experiments, such as the poppy “Lay My Claim,” Williams says Falling Into Place stays true to the unique sound that the band's fans love.
“There are a big chunk of songs that are the Rebelution sound, and some sound like cousins from past albums. It’s not until you make several albums that you realize this,” he says, adding with a laugh, “It makes me feel old. Sounds are like colors, you like certain sound combinations, certain chord progressions.”
One of the standout tracks on Falling Into Place is “Know it All,” a catchy, horn-catalyzed jam with political lyrics that seem directed at a certain presidential candidate: “You're never gonna win this race/Despite your negativity we'll keep our pace/Positivity will trump them all.”
Although the lyrics never actually use Trump’s name, instead just playing on the word “trump,” it seems pretty clear that it's an anti-Trump song. Or is it? “That's what I thought, too,” Williams says. “But when I asked Eric, he wouldn’t give me a direct answer. Eric is a very mysterious writer; he likes to make people think. He wants to leave that for the audience to decide.”
As for the other most talked-about thing on this November's ballot — Proposition 64, which if passed would legalize marijuana in California for recreational use — although Williams is skeptical that it will have much impact on the reggae scene as a whole, it might have a more immediate impact on Rebelution. The band has been approached to lend its name to cannabis products, but they've been reluctant to get involved because of marijuana's current semi-legal status. But if Proposition 64 passes, they'd be more open to the idea — with the right, non-shady partner.
“We want to make sure everything checks out,” Williams says. “Last thing we want is to be caught in a sticky situation.”
Rebelution's Falling Into Place summer tour hits the Greek Theatre tonight, with The Green + J Boog, Stick Figure, Through the Roots and DJ Mackle. Tickets and more info.