Isla Vista reggae rockers Rebelution were pretty much made for late-afternoon chilling. You know when you buy a wristband for a festival and you know you should probably arrive early to get your money’s worth, but you don’t want to leave yourself too tired to enjoy the headliners you’re most excited to see? Rebelution is the band that will lure you to show up at just the right time. (It’s probably no coincidence that there’s a Rebelution IPA, produced in Florida with Mosaic and Centennial hops.)
On the strength of 2018’s expansive Free Rein, the Central Coast five-piece is on its Good Vibes Summer Tour, and they’re stopping at the Greek Theater in Berkeley this Saturday, June 22 with support from Protoje and Durand Jones and the Indications. SF Weekly spoke to frontman Eric Rachmany about the place of reggae in Rebelution’s overall output, their recent collaborations, and the role of positivity. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
You guys are pretty much made for the 3 o’clock hour.
This would be pretty insane if this were the weather.
You need to drink a Rebelution IPA. That’ll get you through.
There you go.
It’s been 15 years since you formed, and a lot has changed: five albums, a little personnel switch. Obviously, Rebelution is still going strong, but what are one or two of the biggest things that have changed?
We learned to be better performers. I’ve been playing music my whole life, but I never knew what it meant to be a good performer. Every year I get a little better, the band gets a little better, and we come up with better ideas. I think we’ve learned to put on a thematic show from start to finish — whereas back in the day we only had one album or two albums and we didn’t really know how to design a set list and put on a thematic performance.
Can you elaborate on what you mean by thematic. Is a show tailored to the venue or the date or the mood?
What I mean by that is dynamics. Taking the listener on a journey from the time the show starts — and that includes the tempo, the lights, it includes solos, the works. Back in the day, we didn’t have as big enough of a catalog, and now that we do we can really choose and design a setlist. There’s a lot of room for improvisation in our sets. We started out without a horn section or another guitar player, and now we’re a seven-piece band, that’s only been the case for the last two or three years, so it’s really exciting to see how our sound has morphed live compared to the recorded album
Are the live versions markedly different from the record?
They are. The first thing we try to do is establish that we can sound like the record, which I think we do pretty well, and then after that, throughout the set we kind of showcase the differences. We want people to say, “That’s cool. I never heard this version of that song.” The fact of the matter is after 15 years, we have a lot of fans who come back over and over. We have fans who travel with us. We’re not like Phish or The Grateful Dead, but we have fans who catch all the California shows. So we want to mix it up and give them something they haven’t seen before.
You’ve worked with some huge producers in Jamaica, and I imagine you’ve been there many times.
Obviously, reggae music is a huge part of our sound. I don’t consider Rebelution a reggae band. I consider us reggae-inspired. But we never know how to characterize our music. If you go on iTunes and under the reggae category, you’ll find Rebelution, but if you look at our catalog you’ll find songs that don’t sound like reggae at all.
Free Rein, especially.
Yeah, it’s really tough to categorize the music, but you always tell people that reggae is the biggest influence. I actually worked with Don Corleon and Winta James in L.A. of all places. Winta James was a touring artist for the longest time before he was a producer. He did a couple tracks on the album and Don Corleon did one, and I worked with Don Corleon on the previous one as well. They’re producers I look up to. Don Corleon was producing tracks in the early 2000s — a lot of songs that were soundtracks to my younger years, songs that got me into reggae music. Winta James was a guy who’s really come up in the last five or six years, a notable producer from Jamaica.
When you’re working with someone who was so influential on the formation of your musical taste, obviously it’s going to be intimidating. But is it difficult to get them to do what you want, or did you come up with something that made all parties happy?
Ninety-eight percent of our recorded music has been self-produced. There’s only been a handful of tracks that we’ve had producers on. Even the tracks that we’ve had producers on, we’re hands-on with the music — but really, it’s a vibe thing. When you get in the studio with anybody, whether you’re bandmate or a producer, you just want to have fun and enjoy what you’re doing. If it’s not someone who makes you feel comfortable, you’re not going to come out with quality music.
Tell me about how you crossed paths with Protoje.
I listen to a wide variety of reggae music. Reggae has a lot of subcategories, and Protoje is one of those guys who’s newer out of Jamaica. I was a fan before I met him. We asked him to tour with us a few years back, and we asked him to be on one of our tracks on the last album, “Falling out of Place,” and this is the second time he’s going to be with us. I think we’re mutually fans of each other’s music.
I hate to get too bogged down in the endless proliferation of genres and sub-genres, when reggae is an umbrella term. But for you as a reggae-influenced artist, is there one misconception where you’re constantly correcting people?
Yeah, I hear people say reggae all sounds the same. That’s one thing. And then people associate reggae with a certain genre of reggae that they’re used to hearing and they don’t know that reggae came from ska music or how modern reggae was influenced by hip-hop from here, or how dancehall influenced hip-hop. Once you start listening to reggae, you start hearing what reggae sounded like in different generations and you see the progression.
Leaving reggae to the side, what are you listening to the most these days that’s outside of that tradition?
On Free Rein, there’s a lot of tracks that are Pink Floyd-inspired. I’m a huge David Gilmour fan, [and while] I’m not a fast ripper on the guitar, I enjoy the spaciousness of Gilmour’s guitar-playing. There’s a track on our last album, “Trap Door,” and it ends with a guitar solo that was definitely Gilmour-inspired, so I’ve been going back and listening to the great songwriting of that generation.
Positivity comes naturally to some people, while other people make a concerted effort at it that can feel almost ideological. Where do you fall in that camp? Is Rebelution naturally positive?
I think people can hear an instrumental and be like “This is positive music. It hits me in a certain way.” But then when you make it up lyrically, it can really create a vibe that can really be substantial to somebody. For me, I have always felt that Rebelution’s lyrics are always trying to motivate people. That’s definitely a common theme throughout the albums that we’ve produced. Lately, what makes Rebelution a positive sound is the theme of acceptance. I think we’re in a time right now when people are labeled a certain way, and I just want people to feel accepted in their own skin.
If you’re not comfortable in your own skin, you’re not going to be able to tackle things in this world. The first track on our new album is called “Celebrate,” and that’s what it’s about: celebrating differences. I grew up in a Persian Jewish household in San Francisco, and all the Persian Jews are in Los Angeles — as you might know. So for me, I felt a little out of place in San Francisco, one of the most diverse cities in the world. But I feel like I have a story to tell, and it took me awhile to be comfortable in my own skin and I just want people to have that same experience and do what they do best feeling comfortable.
Rebelution, Saturday, June 22, 7 p.m., at the Greek Theater, $45, tickets.