Eric Rachmany, founder and lead singer of reggae group Rebelution, isn’t shy about with his feelings on marijuana legalization. Channeling a quote from Bob Marley with roots in the Bible: “Cannabis is the healing of the nation.”
While Rebelution pairs perfectly with the legalization movement, there are also plenty of sunny, party vibes, despite the fact that Rachmany currently lives in San Francisco’s often foggy Sunset District.
Evidence of these good vibes can be heard on Rebelution’s fourth studio album, Count Me In, the focus of a 32-date U.S. summer amphitheater tour that stops at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre on August 16.
We caught up with Rachmany to ask about his first experiences with reggae and his views on the growing movement to legalize marijuana.
Obviously ganja is a big part of that scene. Are there massive amounts of weed at all of your shows?
It depends on the city. If it’s a California show, there is definitely a copious amount of marijuana being smoked in the crowd. If we’re in some places in the country with stricter laws, you probably won’t see that too much. It depends. If you go to Denver, Colorado or Washington, it’s there for sure.
What are your thoughts on the New York Times’ new stance on legalizing marijuana?
I feel thrilled to be a part of the movement. Ten years ago when Rebelution was getting started, there’s no way over 50 percent of the population wants to legalize it.
When I was growing up, I was told it was a drug, it was forbidden and to stay away from it. And then I started listening to reggae music and smoking weed and said, “Wait a minute, there’s way more to this that what people were saying.”
I thought being high was just being in an altered state of mind and it was dangerous and that it was bad for you. Then I started listening to reggae music. When they’re talking about getting high, they’re saying getting to a higher level of consciousness. I found that to be completely true in my experience with cannabis. I think that’s very true for most people.
I feel like we’re educating people through music. I don’t see ourselves as a political leader in this movement, but I just want to make sure people know there’s more to it than cannabis being a drug. There’s way more to it than that. I think people have been lied to for years and years. Slowly, the information is getting out and there’s more to it than what they see.
An interesting thing: Going back to reggae music and how it’s a spiritual tool for them—they were talking about the medical benefits of cannabis long before it was available to the public [as medical marijuana] in this country. The Rastas were talking about that stuff for years, the medical benefits of cannabis. Who would think that you would learn that from a style of music? It’s a cool thing.
You worked with Collie Buddz on the new record. Who smokes more: him or Rebelution?
Haha. You know, that’s a good question. It’s probably just a tie. It’s not a competition. It’s more just like after being around it and understanding that it’s not a drug. You don’t even think about it when you see someone smoking or using cannabis. The cool part is you don’t even have to smoke it. There’s so many different ways to utilize cannabis.
Collie Budz does the exact same thing, talking about the medical benefits. He’ll tell you just like I’m telling you that he learned that cannabis is the healing of the nation. He learned that listened to reggae and dancehall music growing up as a kid. That’s another good example of an artist that’s trying to educate people. There are a lot people out that are doing that and deserve a lot of props for taking on legislature that’s tough in different parts of the country.
What do you miss most about San Francisco?
Well, actually, I live in San Francisco now. I moved back here maybe two and a half years ago. I grew up here. I love the food in San Francisco, and my favorite spots are all over the Bay Area, actually. I grew up right around Golden Gate Park, but I now live in the Sunset.
You also have ties to Isle Vista, where Rebelution started. Have you been back since the tragic shooting there earlier this year?
Yeah, I was actually just there this past weekend visiting some family. When driving through Isla Vista, it was definitely in the back of my mind what had happened. It’s interesting because my memories of Isla Vista were all great things and great times. That was definitely a tragedy, but I think Isla Vista will carry on and continue to be a pretty joyous place to be.
How did you decide on working in Miami to record, Count Me In?
We actually recorded in two different spots: one studio in Miami and one in Burbank, California. When we were on tour in Florida and had a couple days off, we decided to pump out a few tracks for the album.
We had heard about this great studio called Circle House in Miami. It’s run by the legendary reggae group Inner Circle. We gave it a try and it was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had. Not to mention, we had our sound engineer Errol Brown to engineer both live on the road and in studio.
You can look him up. He’s basically recorded almost anyone you can think of out of Jamaica. He was Bob Marley’s sound engineer and recorded his last few albums. Just having his energy in the studio was pretty amazing.
Tell me about your first experiences with reggae?
I actually saw a show at the Ashkenaz in Berkeley. Don Carlos was playing there. I went with my sister, she had heard of Dan Carlos and she was into reggae music. I went just for the heck of it and I ended up leaving there – it changed my life. I was just so blown away by his performance.
I started looking into reggae after the show and I just got so into it. Ultimately, when I got to Santa Barbara, I was looking for other people that were into reggae music and found this niche crowd. There was a band called Iration, they are on tour with us. They started in Isle Vista covering these roots reggae songs at parties in Isle Vista.
I couldn’t believe it. I had just seen Don Carlos, I just graduated high school and I thought I was a lone solider down in IV that was into reggae. I didn’t think anyone else was into it. I found there was this scene down there, kept on exploring it, met the band, formed Rebelution and it took off from there.
You cite roots reggae vocalist Don Carlos as a major influence. What is it about his approach that you like most?
Man, there’s something about his energy on stage. The way that he moves, his positive lyrics really got to me. I think overall, it’s the melodies that he chooses to sing over these instrumentals. I was thinking to myself: these are some melodies I would do naturally. Naturally, I fell in love with the music he was making.
He was definitely a huge influence on my music and is definitely someone I look up to [Don Carlos] as far as a live performer. If anyone gets the chance to see him, I recommend it.
What else can you share about the new record and your upcoming show at the Greek?
Going back to Don Carlos, we have him on our album. The song is called “Roots Reggae Music” and it’s basically a tribute to our love for roots reggae music. It’s a cool experience for us and particularly for me because he was the guy that got me into reggae music. It was cool to get him on that track. Having him and Errol Brown in the studio at once was a pretty special experience.
I’m definitely looking forward to the Greek Theatre show because it’s kind of a hometown crowd for me. It’s one of my favorite venues in the country to play. Everyone should come early and check out the other bands. They’re all independent bands trying to spread positivity, doing it all together. It’s a nice family going on here.