Heart of a lion: an interview with Arise Roots

Heart of a lion: an interview with Arise Roots
Photo Cred: Elizabeth Brito

There are times when you are introduced to music that makes you feel as though you are floating while you listen. It’s just pure goodness to your soul…and makes you feel so damn good! Since 2010, Arise Roots from Los Angeles, California has brought true reggae into a genre (and a country) that is constantly changing. But, they also have stuck to their roots with their evolving sound that is worldly and very musically diverse, traveling thousands of miles for years to reach every performance destination and always leaving it all on the table. Their dedication is astounding and truly inspiring! 

Sharing the stage with these rootsy heavy-hitters has been big names in both hip-hop and reggae like KRS-One, Public Enemy, Redman and Method Man (of Wu-Tang Clan), Steel Pulse, Capleton, Don Carlos, The Wailers, Matisyahu, The Aggrolites, Stephen Marley, Rebelution, Slightly Stoopid, Fortunate Youth, Nattali Rize, Dirty Heads, Tribal Seeds, HIRIE, Iration and so many more! Collaboratively, they have put out songs with some of the greats in the reggae rock community, like Kyle McDonald (of Slightly Stoopid), Eric Rachmany (of Rebelution), Nattali Rize, Turbulence and Lutan Fyah… just to name a few.

In 2010, the band released their first EP titled ‘Lay Your Guns Down’.

Then, in 2013, Moving Forward. In 2014, Arise Roots linked with E.N Young at Imperial Sound Recording Studio to record their full-length album Love and War. In 2016, they released “Rootsman Town”, featuring Capleton, which currently has over nine million views on YouTube! In June 2020, in the heart of the pandemic, they released Pathways via Ineffable Records. Additional fan-favorites include “One Life To Live” and “ Stepping Like A General”. Spanning their entire discography, listeners can hear many great songs about love, respect, unity and strength — the pillars of reggae music! Arise Roots has also been featured on Sugarshack Sessions and performed at many festivals all over the country!

Arise Roots continues their success and humble state of mind, sending their music across the globe on a never-ending journey of constant strength and gratitude for what they do.

And, they’re such fantastic and talented individuals!

I recently had the chance to chat with Todd “Rootsbubbler” Johnson, performing keys and harmonies for this six-piece band of brothers. Other members include Rudy Covarrubias (bass), Hashim “Scorpion” Russell (drums), Chris Brennan (rhythm guitar and harmonies), Robert “Sloedub” Sotelo (lead guitarist), and Karim Israel (vocals). These guys all work so well together to bring those sweet reggae sounds to your ears and here is what Todd had to say about it:

How has this summer been for you guys? I know you have been traveling and touring like crazy!

  • TJ: Yeah, we’ve been staying busy. In the Spring, we did a run through the southwest with Kyle Smith and this summer we went out to the Northeast. It just feels good to be touring again after a couple of turbulent years, but the gas prices were not particularly kind to us. 
  • We almost got caught up in a tornado in Nebraska! We had a warning come in on our phones, the sky turned black and the clouds were dark and menacing. We were all debating what to do, as it kind of looked like a cone was forming and a swirling wall of dirt was forming in front of us. Luckily, those two things didn’t ever connect and we ended up deciding to drive through it. [There was] intense rain and wind, but ultimately we were fine… and, then we were treated to one of the craziest lightning shows I’ve ever seen. 
Photo cred: Todd Johnson

Any funny tour stories you can share with us?

  • There’s always a good amount of messing around on the road, but I always enjoy starting a good meme war with the other bands we’re touring with. A couple of memorable meme wars were with Iya Terra and DUBBEST — some funny people! I fancy myself a bit of a meme maker. Karim has also gone viral as a meme a few times; we were calling him ‘Karim the Meme’ for a while. It’s mostly inside stuff, but I made a bunch of memes during the pandemic when we were on lockdown, when we were all going crazy… just to maintain some level of sanity.
Photo cred: Ashley Beliveau

Can you tell us how you do the day-to-day music life? Is it hard sometimes being away from family and loved ones all of the time? 

  • Yeah, it’s definitely not the easiest balancing act. We all have to make sacrifices to go out on the road and push our music and so do all of our families and loved ones. It means sometimes not being there when we want to be and it’s even tougher for the guys who have kids, which is more than half the band, but we keep it pushing and try to make the most of our time when we are home. Several of us fly home between shows just to put in the time, even if it’s only for a few days.

What is your music process like? Do you guys all write together?

  • There’s not necessarily a set music process, but the majority of the time, we write together in a very organic way. We usually start with a small idea brought forth by anyone in the band and then we just start adding to it as we go along… growing, shaping and molding it through repetition, but most of our music is birthed through a single idea.
  • There are, of course, plenty of occasions where people show up with completed songs, completed rhythms, chorus fragments or any number of other things that can sprout a song, but by the end of it, we’ve all sculpted the finished project together as a group and that’s where our chemistry as a band has proven to be crucial.

How do collaborations with other artists contribute to your creativity? 

  • I think all artists are inspired by other artists. We all influence each other. A lot of times when we write a song that we think should have a feature, we try to match the feature to the song. Who would fit with this style? Other times, we just really like an artist and we will try to design a song specifically for that artist. I think it’s important to match the right song to the right artist, in order to get the best out of them. It’s always fun to have collaborations, because it’s almost like adding another instrument to the band that’s not in the regular lineup.
Arise Roots w/ HIRIE

Can remember when music really came into your life for the first time?

  • I grew up playing the trumpet through elementary and middle school. That turned into my high school ska band ‘Legends of Brass’, which included fellow bandmate Chris Del Camino, who currently plays sax with HIRIE. We were heavily influenced by The Skatalites and traditional ska of 60s Jamaica.
  • Then, I eventually moved on to tuba, where I took a scholarship to play at Cal State Long Beach. [I] kind of burned out on that whole thing and fell back into my first musical love which was roots reggae. I was playing trumpet in another ska band with our founder, Ron Montoya, around 2009 and he wanted to form a roots reggae band with a bass player he had met on Craigslist. I ended up moving over to keyboards and now Arise Roots is pretty much my bread and butter.

Your band looks like you get along fantastically, like a band of brothers! Do you guys live near each other?

  • We all live in Los Angeles County, with the exception of our drummer Scorpion, who lives in Ventura. But, despite being all in LA County, I wouldn’t say we live ‘by’ each other — we live on all sides of the county. We’re all driving up to 90 minutes at times just to get to rehearsal, but that’s Los Angeles. We definitely are a band of brothers… and we fight like brothers, too, but that’s all part of the creative process when people care. We get over it just as fast as it starts, too. So, that’s another place where chemistry is really important.

What is your favorite song to perform?

  • I don’t know that I have a specific favorite to perform, but if I had to choose, I’d say “Rootsman Town” — that one’s a banger. In reality, though, my favorite has to be anything that’s drawing a reaction from the crowd. It always feels good when the people in front of you are on the same vibration as the band.
Photo cred: Elizabeth Brito

Are there any bands that you want to give a shoutout to? 

  • Really, just all the bands that are out there doing it. This is such a tough industry and it’s not easy to make it. So, big respect to everyone that keeps it pushin’. Specifically, though, our good friends The Expanders: their attention to detail and playing traditional Jamaican roots music has always been inspiring. 

Congrats on being signed to Ineffable Records!

  • Thanks. We released our first album with Ineffable Records at the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, at a very strange time when we couldn’t go out and tour. On one hand, people needed music and things to help keep them from going crazy, but on the other hand, it was a pretty big bummer to not be able to tour on the back of that album’s success. Overall, though, it was nice to be able to release a significant amount of material when people needed it most during what would be a turbulent year — socially, economically and politically. I think it actually helped our message shine through a dark time and I hoped it helped some people through it all.
  • We also got to do a really cool livestream album release party too, since we were not able to tour. The whole two-hour Pathways album release party is up on our Youtube channel. If you haven’t seen it yet and want to know more about the band, it’s a great place to start. We played some live music, did some Q&A, talked about our favorite songs and premiered some music videos. Shoutout to everyone who helped make that happen — that was pretty special!

Where is your favorite place to tour? Any sneak peeks for the next year with touring?

  • My favorite place is dependent on the weather, but I’m quite fond of Colorado and the Pacific Northwest. We are looking at a winter tour across the South out to Florida and back, but nothing is confirmed until it’s inked. We thought we were going to be going up to the Pacific Northwest this fall, but instead, we jumped on some dates with the homies Fortunate Youth out into the Midwest. You can always check to see where we’re playing at our website!

Can you tell us some words of wisdom to other musicians in this community that are grinding hard out there? Maybe some words of encouragement?

  • Invest in yourself and your project. It’s like any business: you have to spend money to make money and if you don’t save to do that, you’re going to miss out on the tools you need to help push you forward.
  • Also, build a team. We couldn’t do it without the people in place that help us plan, have our back and push us forward. Shoutout to everyone that’s helped us along the way: Silverback Management Group, Matt Phillips, Jon Phillips, Brendon Davis, Jared Segawa and Christian Brandemeyer. Also Steve Donovan, Ineffable Records, Adam Gross, Max O’Leary, Mint Talent Group and David Limentani, who we just started working with. And, most importantly, thank you to all the fans. We couldn’t do any of this without your support. Hope to see you all at a show soon!

At the end of the day, you just want to listen to great music that brings a smile to your face. This band will do that to you. All walks of life, all ages… this band hits every demographic. Your parents and your kids will both enjoy this music. I cannot wait to see them out here in Florida! They are all over the country, so pay attention, my friends. You do NOT want to miss Arise Roots in action! Their music is soulful; it grabs your heart, is lyrically fantastic and, musically, has such a great vibe!! Arise Roots has the heart of a lion!

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