brent johnson chats with up-and-coming New Jersey rock band Root Glen …
Two things you’re bound to find at a Root Glen show: funk-tinged rock and a dancing bear.
The New Jersey band have been making a name for themselves the last few years around their home state and beyond. Not only for their groove-laced music and the bear-costumed mascot that shimmies through the crowd. But for songs with such striking titles as “Detective Porn” and, yes, “Dieting Bears.” Other tunes are about relationships … and chocolate cake … and fortune cookies.
Their sound goes beyond funk, too. There are touches of reggae, jazz, even hard-rock guitar.
Root Glen — Ross Griswold (guitar, vocals), Eric Blank (drums), David Moroney (guitar, vocals), Andres Felipe Gonzalez (bass) — are about to release a series of four EPs. They’ll play a free record-release show at Rolf’s in Warren, N.J., on Saturday, June 4 to celebrate the first one — a summer-themed collection.
Pop-Break’s Brent Johnson spoke with Griswold about funk, their band name and, of course, bears.
Pop-Break: So in a world where Lady Gaga and King Of Leon rule the charts, what draws you to funk music?
Ross Griswold: [Laughs] Well to start, I can safely say I didn’t expect to be hearing about either of those two … But in terms of funk, I think it’s the fun and the movement of it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone sitting still and frowning their way through a funk song. You’re gonna move, you’re gonna end up with a smile on your face, and at the end of the week, both of those are much needed. Also, it’s a genre of music where you can add even the slightest bit of another style (latin, hip hop, rock, etc.) and end up with a pretty interesting derivative. Plus, Eric and Andres, our drummer and bassist, can really throw down, and our style of music gives them plenty of space to play with.
The short answer, though, is that it’s just what came out. This is the direction the music just seemed to go, and we’re certainly not going to stand in its way.
PB: What music inspires you?
RG: We’re all over the map in this department, which makes writing a bit of a trip, the songs rarely go where you’d expect from the initial idea that one of us brings in. In terms of inspirations, I tend to pick up little pieces from whatever band I’m obsessed with at the time being. The ones that have stuck around though are Neil Young, My Morning Jacket and Pearl Jam. Dave grew up idolizing Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, and listening to Dark Side Of The Moon on repeat. Andres was heavily involved in the local punk/metal scene, and grew up listening to his grandfather’s salsa band, Los Bobby Soxers. Eric is a Carter Beauford/Chad Smith disciple. As a band though, we’ve been getting more into a little bit of Motown, and some Talking Heads and Stones recently.
PB: How did you guys form? Something about a zoo? And bears?
Ross Griswold: I see you’ve done your homework. To be quite honest, the events were a bit hazy, but I do remember there was a hummingbird involved, some partial nudity, and a breakdancing bear … so essentially it was just like one of our shows.
There’s also a possibility that Eric put up flyers and I called him up to jam, we brought my college buddy Dave in to sing, and then picked up Andres when he and Eric were both sitting in with another band … but that seems too far-fetched. I’m pretty sure it was the first version.
PB: Tell us the story behind the band name.
RG: Root Glen is a big arboretum right in the middle of the Hamilton College campus [in Clinton, N.Y.], where Dave and I went to school. We actually wrote our first song, “Dieting Bears,” right on the edge of the glen when we were up there leading Adirondack Adventure trips in August ’09.
In general, though, we just wanted something that didn’t have much outside connotation. Hamilton people recognize it, other people just think it’s a weird name … or that we’re called Rufelin. Trying to eliminate that last part …
PB: And apparently you have a bear mascot?
RG: Yes, sir. Glen even has his own Facebook account, like everyone else. We’re actually a little bit surprised he’s still single, though. He always does well with girls at our shows — the dude can move. Just hasn’t been able to turn it into anything long term. It might be because he smells a bit, which isn’t entirely surprising given that he’s covered in fur and spends most of his time dancing. If you know anyone that might be interested, though, let us know.
PB: Does this at all go along with the song ‘Dieting Bears’?
RG: I can’t answer that here, Glen might read it later. He’s sensitive.
PB: You say you like to get the audience involved in a Root Glen show. What is a typical concert like?
RG: I tell terrible jokes, and then we play music. Sometimes the other way around. But yeah, we feed off the audience, so if we can get them singing or dancing along, we play better and have more fun. Our shows are usually upbeat, loud, funky, sweaty, and for us at least, over too soon. We’ve seen more people singing along recently, which is one of the coolest feelings I’ve ever experienced. It’s a bit surreal seeing people connect so strongly with something you made.
Also Glen gets a lot of people up and dancing. Last Thursday, we got the chance to play with Yarn, one of my absolute favorite bands, and Glen was right up front with about six girls for most of the show. They even brought him up on stage for a little bit. He has more game than the rest of us put together.
PB: I don’t think there has ever been a song called ‘Detective Porn.’ Where did that come from?
RG: [Laughs] That’s a first that we’re proud to own. The grind and beat of that song conjured two distinct scenes: old-school detective movies and porn. We couldn’t escape either one of those when it came time to write, so we married them in the lyrics. We wrote it as a detective movie that a detective would watch to get his rocks off instead of watching a porno. Same way a guitarist looks at the Guitar Center catalog …
PB: What are your favorite venues to play?
RG: Rolf’s, in Warren, N.J. It’s really a bar/restaurant, not a proper venue, but it’s still my favorite, hands down. It’s right down the road from where Andres and I grew up, so the crowd is always familiar, and it’s without a doubt the most accommodating place I’ve ever played. Their whole staff and especially Tim, the manager, are really helpful and always seem happy to see us. Also, we get to play for three hours, instead of just a 45-minute venue spot. Can’t beat that.
Other than Rolf’s, we love The Grape Room down in Philly. We’ll be there this coming Friday, May 20. And The Court Tavern in New Brunswick. They’ve let us organize shows there recently and bring in bands that we really enjoy, so we get to catch a full night of music we like in addition to playing. Fans really seem to enjoy that, as well. It makes for a more cohesive night than your standard mixed bill would.
PB: What’s next for you guys?
RG: Shows, writing new stuff, and releasing the first of four EPs that are going to be coming out seasonally over the course of the next year. This first one is our summer-themed one, and we’ll be throwing a release party for it June 4 up at Rolf’s. It’ll be a free show and we’ll have a long set like we usually do up there, so if you haven’t seen us yet, this will be the perfect time to check it out.
Also, for the Shore crowd, we’re doing a little caravan this weekend. We’re playing The Grape Room in Philadelphia on Friday night, and then carting ourselves out to the beach the next morning to hang for a while before our show in Seaside Heights, N.J., that night. We’re playing at Jimbo’s at 9 p.m. as part of the Seaside Music Festival. It’s another free show, and there are a bunch of other ones in town that night as well. Come check us out, and then hit up some of the other bars afterward to catch the other bands.
Anyway, other than that we’re just going to keep playing, try to get on the road more, and have fun. It’s been working out so far, so I’m optimistic.