Rebelution’s tour in support of its latest album, “In the Moment,” brings it to Key West for a show Sept. 19 at Coffee Butler Amphitheater. PHOTO BY YANNICK REID
Bassist Marley D. Williams feels Rebelution has always been first and foremost a live band.
That notion had always transferred somewhat to the making of Rebelution’s albums, where the band did a good bit of live tracking together in the studio and worked together in person in writing the group’s songs.
With the pandemic, that all changed. Not only was Rebelution unable to tour, the band members decided getting together in person to write and record their new album, “In The Moment,” wasn’t an option.
They will perform material from that album in a concert Sept. 19 at Coffee Butler Amphitheater.
“We were on the more cautious side with COVID,” Williams said in a late July phone interview. “To each their own on that one, but we decided that we just wanted to be spaced out (physically), being around only a certain amount of people, so it made it a little different.”
One outgrowth of the COVID situation was the songwriting approach for the new album shifted somewhat. In the past, singer Eric Rachmany has generally taken the lead in songwriting, but the entire band would work on material together and generally received co-writing credits as a result. This time around, the writing was predominantly done by Rachmany and touring guitarist Kyle Ahern, who since coming on board in 2016, has increasingly become an integral contributor to Rebelution both on stage and in the studio.
“I’ve definitely got to tip my hat to Eric and Kyle,” Williams said. “They had this flurry of creativity, and they ran with it. We all got behind it.”
Ahern, in fact, produced “In The Moment,” working remotely with the band members in developing arrangements and individual parts and allowing each band member to have moments where they flavored the direction of certain songs.
“I’m really proud to be a part of a band with Eric and to see someone like Kyle Ahern have the opportunity. He seized his opportunity,” Williams said. “He’s just an amazing musician, multi-faceted, can play different instruments.”
Williams expects Rebelution will buck any trends toward writing and recording over the internet as things return to normal. And the group intends to eschew the growing use of backing tracks and other technology meant to augment and perfect live performances. They want fans to continue to see authentic, genuinely live music at Rebelution concerts.
“Obviously, you’re seeing the rise of Auto Tune singers and rappers and DJs. I mean, we’re talking about total plugin things, all of these different things to make your voice or your instrument sound perfect,” Williams said, noting that this technology is transferring from the studio to the live stage. “You can go with it or you can be traditional or you can try to find a happy medium. I think that’s what we’re kind of doing because we still don’t want to play with pre-recorded tracks. I’m slowly starting to think we’re becoming a rare breed, which is weird. We go to a lot of festivals and different venues, and I’m like this is almost like karaoke now.”
The live show has been a key component in fueling Rebelution’s rise to becoming perhaps the most popular band to come out of the California reggae/ pop scene that began percolating in the ’90s.
“We really are a live show predominantly centered band,” Williams said. “We love making albums, and that’s all fun. But playing live is, I think, where we excel, and I think that’s where our fans enjoy it the most.”
Rebelution began building a career that shows no signs of slowing in 2004 after Rachmany met his future bandmates — Rory Carey (keyboards) Wesley Finley (drums) and Williams (bass) — while attending college in the Santa Barbara, California, area.
The group took a do-it-yourself approach to building its career, self-producing a self-titled 2006 EP, followed by its first full-length album, “Courage To Grow,” in 2007, which was released through the California-based music collective, Controlled Substance Recordings.
Despite not having a high-profile record label, the album reached No. 4 on Billboard magazine’s Top Reggae Albums chart. The group’s next album, 2009’s “Bright Side of Life,” did even better, topping “Billboard’s” Top Reggae Albums chart, setting the stage for the next two albums, “Peace of Mind” and “Count Me In,” to not only extend the string of No. 1 reggae albums, but debut in the top 15 on “Billboard’s” overall Top 200 chart.
“Falling Into Place” became the fourth straight Rebelution album to reach No. 1 on the Top Reggae Albums chart, and stayed on the chart for 60 weeks. It didn’t fare quite as well on the Top 200, debuting at No. 32. Still, the Grammy nomination confirmed that the 2016 release was yet another success for Rebelution.
The next album, “Free Rein,” again went No. 1 on the Top Reggae Albums chart and produced four singles, “Celebrate,” “City Life,” “Healing” and “Patience.”
“When You See Yourself” falls comfortably within the musical style Rebelution established on previous albums. The group’s sound is still firmly rooted in reggae, with songs like “Satisfied,” “Old School Feeling” percolating along cheerfully at an easy-going pace. But the band also aimed to bring musical variety to the album. “Heavy As Lead” uses a big beat to put some rocking thump into the lilting reggae pulse of the tune, while “To Be Younger” brings some sprightly pop into the album. There’s some snap to the beat on “All or Nothing,” a tune that has a toasting style vocal from guest Busy Signal. “2020 Vision” mixes reverb-ish reggae with hip-hop (thanks to guest vocals from Kabaka Pyramid), while the acoustic- tinged ballad “You and I” merges dub reggae and soul.
Thematically, the new album deals with time in several forms — that time is precious, that it passes more quickly than one might expect and the need to make the most of the time each of us has left.
While this summer’s return to touring gives Rebelution an ideal chance to showcase the new songs, Williams said the band won’t go overboard in playing the new songs, with maybe 25 percent of the show devoted to songs from “When You See Yourself.”
“I think it’s just finding that perfect recipe where you add new ingredients, but you still feel like you’re at the same restaurant,” Williams said of the band’s set list. “You don’t want to change up the menu too much because you have these amazing fans who keep on coming back to your restaurant. You don’t want to do anything to (alienate) them too much.
“We like to have ups and downs,” he said of the flow of the live show. “We like to make sure our major and minor songs are spread out, or ones with horns, distortion guitar, beats per minute. So it’s really like we want to tell a story and take the fan for a whole ride, like an adventure movie. You’ve got to have a good beginning, middle and ending to tell a story.” ¦