A rehearsal space adjacent to the Burbank airport is almost as far away as a band can get from the rigors of the road. It's also miles away from the last big SoCal date we saw them play, strumming stoned eighth notes before a massive crowd at the Cali Roots festival in Monterey, with a sea of cute blondes in Jamaican beanies and smiling flip-flop-wearing college dudes shouting along to every lyric from the mouth of front man Erick Rachmany. Wherever Rebelution decide to tour, a relaxed tribe of faithful suburban reggaeheads are sure to follow. That includes their upcoming back-to-back stint at the OC Fair this weekend.
When it's time to take a break from their sweaty inner sanctum, its walls adorned by Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen posters, Rachmany and group members Rory Carey (keyboard), Wesley Finley (drums) and Marley Williams (bass) put down their instruments and head outside to grab a seat on a nearby bench as planes scream overhead.
They act as though they're old friends who haven't seen one another in a long time–there's good-natured ribbing, backslapping and smiles. The members of Rebelution live up and down the California coast, from San Francisco to San Diego, but they have an intricate understanding of one another dating back to their college days.
For their fourth studio effort, Count Me In (released June 10), Rebelution say, they used a variety of methods to craft their songs. They sometimes used soundchecks as impromptu jam sessions, usually resulting in a lot of their new riffs. Despite the physical distance between them during their off time, they're still able to flesh out songs, some of which started as jams a few years ago.
"We have so many shows per year that whenever we can try to build on new material, we do it," Williams explains. "It can be like, 'Hey, remember that idea?'–and all of a sudden, Eric will have a bunch of lyrics, and we'll put something together."
While prepping this record, Rachmany zapped song ideas to his band mates via email or other file-sharing methods as they came to him. The band members agree the making of Count Me In was less stressful than that of their earlier work. They recorded the album at two studios, including at the Florida studio of fellow reggae outfit Inner Circle. "We're constantly learning how to be more comfortable than the last show or last album," Rachmany says. "We went in and enjoyed ourselves without any deadlines. Being yourself is when magic happens."
Rebelution's cult following started while they were students in Isla Vista. Formed in 2004, they would rigorously practice and hash out the songs that would become staples of their early years at a place they coined the Tiki Garage. Though they enjoyed playing shows and jamming together and had an overall good vibe about their musical direction, Rebelution were mindful of the importance of their education. By the time Rachmany, the youngest member, got his diploma in 2007, the others had quit their day jobs and were ready to move forward.
From the outset, the group were all about the idea of giving their music away for free–something they still do today on their website–and relying on friends and word-of-mouth to spread their brand of California reggae. Whenever the guys play in their home state, they're bombarded by requests for tickets and backstage passes. Though a minor annoyance at times, the members feel it's the least they can do to thank their legions of early supporters and friends.
One of Rebelution's proudest moments came when they headlined the Santa Barbara Bowl last year. As longtime students of reggae, the group beam when Rachmany says they were able to play the same stage Bob Marley once graced. They rattle off the setlist and date of the show without flinching. "That was the goal back when we started," Finley says. "It's an Isla Vista band's dream. The first time playing there was amazing, but being able to headline it and sell it out? It was something we'd talked about for years, and for it to happen was incredible."
As with their previous albums and EPs, Count Me In was released on the band's 87 Music label. They pride themselves on being a DIY operation, on being involved with everything from artwork to T-shirt designs to stage production. While they wouldn't dismiss the idea of joining forces with a major label, they say they'd have to get the proverbial Godfather offer to even consider giving up the creative control and freedom they have now. "Rebelution have always been about people rallying around the energy, even if we didn't have a big record label behind us," Williams says. "We have so many people who have been with us since the beginning, and that grassroots commitment has been incredible."
As twilight begins to settle in, Rachmany looks at his watch, then at Williams, signaling it's time to resume rehearsal. Their first shows of the tour are on everyone's mind, their flight to Hawaii only a couple of days away. Rebelution's members know there's still some work to be done to ensure a tight performance.
"It would be cool to be old dudes rockin' the stage together someday and still just having as much fun," Williams says. "But for now, we're having a good time out there, and it's only getting better."
Rebelution perform with Iration and the Green at the Pacific Amphitheatre, 100 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-1500; www.pacamp.com. Sat.-Sun., 6:30 p.m. $29.41-$54.51. All ages.