It's no secret: Mystic Roots' reggae rocks
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Derek Paiva
Long regarded as one of Southern California's best and hardest-working indie reggae bands, Mystic Roots returns to Honolulu on Saturday for a Pipeline Cafe show.
The concert will be the nine-piece band's first headlining gig here, following Honolulu gigs backing reggae legend Pato Banton last November and May.
Known on the SoCal music scene over the past decade for its extremely energetic live show — mixing roots reggae with dancehall, hip-hop, rock and funk, ska and jazz — Mystic Roots won a permanent gig as Banton's de-facto touring band earlier this year.
Saturday's headlining show at Pipeline has been a longtime goal for the touring band, which has played more than 200 gigs this year solo and with Banton.
"Hawai'i is the reggae capital of the United States of America," said Mystic Roots vocalist Cootdog, with a laugh, phoning from a tour bus between Ventura and Marin County gigs. "We are big fans of Natural Vibes, Ooklah the Moc and Marty Dread — cats that have been putting it down out there. ... We're very excited. It's about time."
It was also about time for Five Questions with Coot about the band's music, lessons learned from Banton and the benefits of being an indie band in the MySpace era.
What drew Mystic Roots together?
Originally, we were a bunch of college students with a common love of music. Many different kinds of music. ... Some of us came from a hip-hop, R&B, urban background. Some of us came from more of a rock 'n' roll background. Some were just straight-up reggae fans. Some (played) ska (and) some Latin. ...
The music that tied everyone together universally, though, was reggae. We got together and started playing some parties as a college band — garages, backyard parties, some local bars. Slowly but surely, the sound just became really tight. And the fans started demanding more and more.
The band is known for taking roots reggae as its base and judiciously mixing in other genres. Given the backgrounds of the members of the band, was that the plan from the start?
In the beginning, it was just a reggae band. I was a hip-hop artist when I joined the band three months after its inception. ... So immediately, there was a cross-pollination of hip-hop and reggae. Then when we needed a new guitar player ... our new one was definitely a rock guitar player. ... So it's like we've been cookin' a slow, good stew. We've added each ingredient, and it's kind of taken its own root into the band. ...
A lot of reggae bands take it very seriously to be pure roots and (say), "How dare you taint the sound of roots." But that's not really what Bob Marley was even about. He was always progressive. He went from R&B to ska to reggae. His kids nowadays are obviously continuing his legacy by adding in hip-hop and funk. It's just a natural marriage of music.
What have you learned most about pursuing music from Pato Banton?
We've definitely learned (to be) more disciplined as a whole. ... When Pato steps in, there's an immediate respect that he's gonna command. So the discipline kind of fell into place. We're definitely a lot tighter now, in terms of our show. We take very seriously ... how we look on stage, how we sound, how we present ourselves. We've always tried to stay positive. Pato definitely helps us stay on that path. He really is a great guy ... just letting things bounce off. Nothing really gets Pato down. He's always really positive.
Musically, his heavy tour schedule has enabled us to play more. And that's got us to be tighter musicians.
Could Mystic Roots have gotten as far as it has without the Web as a means of marketing yourselves and distributing your music?
Without the Internet, we'd really have no fan base right now. We only just started touring the nation and abroad about a year and a half ago. For about eight years, we were just playing in California. Yet now we get on the road with Pato or on our own, and — boom! — everywhere we go, people know the words to our songs.
That's not because they bought the CD, because our CD sales aren't phenomenal. That's from Limewire and these free download sites. ... When MySpace came out, everything changed as well, because now there (was) a network from that. ... Every day, we get about 50 new MySpace adds.
Without the Internet, we couldn't have been touring. And if wasn't for touring, we wouldn't have gotten Pato's gig. We caught Pato's attention because ... of how much we toured.
Any lessons from experience to offer other indie bands who want to get their music out there the way that Mystic Roots has?
I've got the best advice you can ever get: Finish college. We recommend (going) to school and getting your degree, because if music does not work out for you, then you're fortysomething years old with no college education and it'll be very hard to re-enter the workplace. ...
As soon as you're done with (college) in your early 20s, hit the road. Do not get a job. Do not start getting into debt or financial commitments. Don't buy a new car, or anything like that. Get a van and hit the road.
The hardest problem we've had is we did it too late. By the time we did it, people already had jobs, and it was a big transition to get time off from work or get enough money on the tour to pay rent. If you don't have to worry about rent, and all you have to worry about is just living — making sure you're fed, clothed and have a place to sleep that night — that's how you succeed in music.
We've been fortunate. But we're an exception to the rule.
Reach Derek Paiva at email@example.com.