Rootz Underground

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Rootz Underground hits their stride with releases and starts tree-planting program

:: Rootz Underground ::
:: Fox Theatre :: January 27 ::
::  Oriental Theater ::January 28 ::
:: Hodi’s Half Note :: January  29 ::

By Brian F. Johnson

Up in the hills above Runaway Bay, on the northern coast of Jamaica, Charles Lazarus laughed as he started a recent phone conversation with The Marquee. “All of the telecom companies are battling down here, so it’s actually cheaper to call you there in the States, than it is to call my friend next door,” Lazarus said with his thick accent.

That’s a fact of life that’s got to sting for a man from a tight community who now lives in his childhood home, miles away from the tourist destinations over in Ochos Rios. Lazarus is a founding member of Rootz Underground, but the band is more of an extended family than it is a group.

“We’ve all known each other since we were kids, but we all started playing music at different times within a couple years of each other,” Lazarus said. “But, Jeffrey Moss-Solomon, our rhythm guitar player, and Stephen Newland our vocalist, their mothers are best friends, so they grew up literally from the time they were in diapers.”

Long before Rootz Underground ever took shape, the members of the band were already making music together. “There used to be a time when there was really no live music in Kingston. It was all soundsystems and there wasn’t any place where you could see stuff live, so we would all get together on a Friday night and just play, you know? There was no underground scene at the time, so we made our own, and it sucked. It was terrible all the time, but we thought it was cool and we were having a good time. Friends would come over and have a smoke or a few drinks before going out. We were the pre-party. And eventually it got big. Really big,” Lazarus said.

The next logical step for the band was to begin playing proper gigs and a friend who had a local bar gave them their first show. From there, Lazarus said it was a series of small steps that now, when they look back on them, looked like giant leaps at the time — possibly the biggest of which was their 2008 album that a band member’s father bankrolled, under certain conditions. “His condition was that his good friend Wayne Armond would produce the album, and that was a real tug of war for us, because we were young and he was old and didn’t know shit, right?” Lazarus laughed.

It took two years for the album to be finished but in 2008, Rootz Underground released Movement. Each track on the 19-song set tells a vivid, nuanced story. The album carries a rich sound, full of careful layers, which incorporate serious rock sensibilities with breakdowns into hard hitting grooves, intense builds and smooth transitions back to the one-drop reggae rhythm. The album is also peppered with interesting vignettes which help to make listeners feel like they’ve entered the underground realm of the band.

The album gave the band enough of a boost that following some touring, they returned to the studio to work on another album, and earlier in 2010, the band released Gravity, which Lazarus said is a heavy album, hence the name. “Gravity is a very deep reggae album with some fierce lyrical content. It was an intense time recording it — spiritually with all the vibrations we feel traveling around. It’s a very serious time in the history of mankind, especially doing this type of work, and Gravity on a lyrical level, and an energy level, is a way to talk about some very serious shit,” Lazarus said.

While it took a long time for Rootz Underground to release their first album, the second one followed less than two years later, and Lazarus said that the band plans to continue on this prolific track for some time. “We’re already more than halfway finished with the next album,” he said proudly.

While he wouldn’t give details like the name of the album, he did say that some of the material pre-dates their Movement album. “The older material that we have from before Movements is stuff that we just never had the skill to pull off at the time. We couldn’t do some of these songs justice. They were more challenging songs, so now we’re going back to do them the way they should be played,” he said.

While they may spend a lot of time in the studio these days, the band is also involved in some good outdoor activities as well, focusing mostly on their Rootz Program. In more than 30 countries, more than 250 trees have been planted in the name of Rootz Underground. In a fun program where fans are given cards embedded with seeds, fans are asked to plant the card, take GPS coordinates of the site and send them off to the band, which tracks the growth and offers the participating fans free tickets to shows. “It’s really a metaphor for what we do when the band plays, and trees allow fans to be soldiers in the reforestation effort,” Lazarus said.

:: Rootz Underground ::

:: Fox Theatre :: January 27 ::

:: Oriental Theater ::January 28 ::

:: Hodi’s Half Note :: January 29 ::

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