Rebelution with STEEL PULSE, DENM & DJ Mackle at Coffee Butler Amphitheater on June 5th, 2022.
Over the past 16 years, Rebelution has had nearly everything a band could ask for: chart-topping albums, hundreds of millions of streams, a GRAMMY nomination, even their own festival in Jamaica. The only thing they haven’t had, it seems, is time. “When COVID hit, we found ourselves in uncharted territory,” says frontman Eric Rachmany. “Suddenly we were just sitting still, which was a completely new experience for us.” Difficult as it was to leave the road behind, pressing pause proved to be a blessing in disguise for the band, one that led to their captivating new album, In The Moment. Recorded remotely in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the collection is deliberate and wide-ranging, infusing the quartet’s soulful, exhilarating brand of modern reggae with addictive pop hooks, alt-rock grit, and hip-hop grooves. The performances here are bold and self-assured, and the production is equally ambitious, drawing on swirling reverb and trippy delay to create an immersive sonic universe that’s both futuristic and vintage all at once. Strip away the intoxicating atmospherics, though, and what remains is a work of profound reflection, a probing, revelatory meditation that balances joy and introspection in equal measure as it contemplates the meaning of time and how to spend what precious little of it we have. “Some people will tell you that life is short and you’ve got to take risks to get what you want,” says Rachmany. “Others will tell you to be patient, that slow and steady wins the race. To be honest, I don’t know who’s right. All you can really do is trust your gut and follow your instincts, and that’s what this record is all about.” Founded in Isla Vista, CA, Rebelution has followed their instincts to remarkable success since the release of their breakout 2007 debut, Courage To Grow. In 2009, the band topped the Billboard Reggae Chart for the first of what would be five consecutive #1 records; in 2014, they boasted the highest-selling reggae release of the year; and in 2017, they garnered a GRAMMY nomination for Best Reggae Album. Relix hailed the group as “a leading voice in their scene,” while Billboard raved that the band “weaves hypnotic threads of alt-rock and pop, retro-funk, blues, dub, [and] even traditional Middle Eastern strains into their bubbling, one-drop reggae groove.” Rebelution’s transcendent live performances, meanwhile, took on legendary status, earning the group sell-out headline shows everywhere from Red Rocks to The Greek Theatre along with festival slots at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, ACL, Glastonbury, and more. By the time the COVID-19 pandemic brought things to a screeching halt, the band had been grinding it out on the road for more than a decade-and-a-half. “After 16 years, we definitely needed a little time off,” says Rachmany. “We had no idea it would be this much time off, though.” Rachmany had no idea just how profoundly life-changing his time away from the road would be, either. During the band’s extended hiatus, he got married and welcomed his first child into the world, and for the better part of a year, he and his family lived in his wife’s native Guam, diving deep into the culture of the island and embracing the local pace of life. “Living in a little village on an island with my wife and newborn son, I was just soaking in the vibes,” says Rachmany. “I found myself drawn to a lot of island-sounding songs during that time, a lot of slow-tempo, major key, lovers rock kind of stuff.” As he learned to slow things down, Rachmany found himself struck both by how far he’d come and how quickly it had all flown by. It felt like just yesterday he was starting a band with his UCSB classmates, and now here he was almost 20 years later with a family of his own and one of the most successful reggae groups of the 21st century. “Whenever I started to write, this notion of time kept coming up over and over again in the lyrics,” Rachmany explains. “Getting older, seeing the next generation be born and start to grow up, it can feel a little scary how fast everything moves, but you have to just keep reminding yourself to be present and make the most of every moment.” With COVID safety precautions preventing the band from gathering together and capturing the album live as they had in the past, the quartet decided to record In The Moment remotely from their respective homes around Southern California. Operating with a hub and spoke model centered around touring guitarist Kyle Ahern, who took the lead producing the collection and fleshing out many of its arrangements, the group pieced together tracks one layer at a time, carefully crafting each song from the ground up with a wide variety of electronic and analog sounds. In addition to all their collaborative work, each member of the band teamed up directly with Ahern to quarterback particular tunes throughout the process, putting their own personal stamp on the ever-evolving Rebelution sound. Drummer Wes Finley, for instance, introduced a hard rock edge to the hypnotic “Simply Captivating,” while bassist Marley Williams injected a hip-hop vibe into the rousing “All Or Nothing,” and keyboardist Rory Carey embraced an old-school roots reggae feel on the pensive “Future Depends.” Rachmany, for his part, brought the lessons he learned in Guam with him to tracks like the celebratory “Old School Feeling” and mesmerizing “Satisfied,” which find fulfillment in appreciating the little things. “We all worked together with Kyle to bring our own individual visions to life,” says Rachmany, who also collaborated with GRAMMY-nominated producer Flict (Wyclef Jean, Sublime with Rome) on the explosive “Heavy As Lead.” “We wanted to make this the most diverse sounding record we could.” That sonic diversity also gets a boost from the album’s all-star cast of special guests, which includes Jamaican artists Kabaka Pyramid, Keznamdi, and Busy Signal, as well as American soul singer Durand Jones. Ultimately, though, the record is pure Rebelution, a powerhouse collection of songs that challenge our perceptions and push us to live each day to the fullest. “Time’s changing faster than I thought,” Rachmany sings on the infectious “To Be Younger.” It’s a bittersweet recognition, to be sure, but in Rebelution’s capable hands, it’s not so much a lament as it is a rallying cry. Consider it an invitation to sit back, slow down, and live In The Moment.