“Count Me In,” the fourth album from California reggae band Rebelution, released on June 10 as a joint venture between the band’s 87 Music label and New York City’s reggae independent Easy Star Records, is their second consecutive debut in the top 15 on the Top 200. It entering at No. 14 for the week ending June 28, their best selling debut week to date: the LP moved 17,201 copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan. Produced by Rebelution, “Count Me In” also premiered in the top 5 on several tallies, including the Independent Albums Chart (No.2) and the Digital Chart (No. 4) It’s also the band’s third successive release to debut atop the Reggae Album chart.
Keyboardist Rory Carey, drummer Wesley Finley, bassist Marley D. Williams, and lead singer/guitarist Eric Rachmany formed Rebelution in 2004 while attending the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara (a fifth member, singer/guitarist Matt Velasquez, left the band shortly after the release of their first album “Courage to Grow”). In the decade since, Rebelution has evolved from a college band performing cover versions of Jamaican hits in the seaside town of Isla Vista to a touring powerhouse, crisscrossing the USA. Their dynamic brand of original music weaves hypnotic threads of alt-rock and pop, retro-funk, blues, dub, even traditional Middle Eastern strains into their bubbling, one-drop reggae groove. Rachmany’s expressive voice wraps his soul-searching lyrics in beguiling melodies.
In the months leading up to the release date, the band made the album tracks “De-Stress” and “Lost In Dreams” available for free download.
The title track released as the first single on June 17 was serviced to AAA and Alternative formats.
Rebelution’s manager, Dean Raise of Austin’s C3 Management, says the band’s involvement in all aspects of their business has been essential to their success. “They are not just putting music out there, they are very smart and very researched in how their music and brand comes across, their marketing, who they are doing deals with, their artwork and social media,” he tells Billboard. “Wes, the drummer, is responsible for the band’s Facebook page and that started the building and spreading their message.” Boasting over 800,000 likes on Facebook, 16.5 million views on Youtube, and 9.7 million plays on Soundcloud, Raise says Rebelution has digitally “bridged the gap between fan and artist, making the fans feel like they are the same kind of people.”
One of the last remaining U.S.-based reggae labels, Easy Star Records, known for its longstanding championing of Jamaican and American reggae acts, whom they have juxtaposed on their successful reggae adaptations of classic rock releases (including “Dub Side of the Moon”, which has sold 136,087 copies in the U.S., according to Soundscan, and nearly 300,000 [total] worldwide), was recruited to broaden Rebelution’s reach internationally, particularly in Europe. Easy Star CEO Eric Smith, who co-founded the label in 1996 with Lem Oppenheimer, Remy Gerstein and Michael Goldwasser (Goldwasser did the dub remixes on Rebelution’s “Peace of Mind”) said marketing campaigns for “Count Me In” will be launched in Germany and France to coincide with the band’s appearances there later this year.
They have also targeted significant U.S. territories for reggae, including Hawaii, the only state with a reggae-formatted Clear Channel station, KDNN-FM (Island 98.5 FM). “We have released two albums by (Hawaiian reggae band) The Green so we understand the importance of the Hawaiian market and think Rebelution has been underestimated there,” Smith noted. “Basically, we will empower the operation Rebelution has established, as one of the reggae genre’s best selling acts now and spread out their story beyond the numbers: every song is a sing along at a Rebelution concert, their fans are their greatest marketers, their greatest soldiers.”
Recorded at Miami’s Circle House Studios and Burbank’s Steakhouse Studios between September and December 2013, Rachmany says “Count Me In” successfully captures the vivacity of their live shows. “The hardest part is getting your live sound on record but I definitely feel we did that with this album,” he tells Billboard in a mid-June interview at the offices of New York’s Easy Star Records. “I was really comfortable throughout the recording, in the mode of the music, and not thinking about I am wearing headphones, playing guitar through a cable and, like, 10 dudes are looking at me. Our engineer [Jamaica-born] Errol Brown being there played a big part in that.”
Brown, who was handpicked in 1979 by Bob Marley to be his engineer and has worked on several of the Marley children’s Grammy-winning albums, mixed “Count Me In,” co-mastered it (with Bernie Grundman in Hollywood) and now tours with Rebelution. He says the band’s humility and willingness to accept constructive criticism has helped them develop the formidable drum and bass groove that is mandatory for any authentic reggae outfit. “For reggae, the drum and bass has to sound right. When it didn’t, I would talk to them, and they tweaked it until they got it right,” said Brown, whose deep musical roots extend to Jamaica’s mid-60s rocksteady period, when he was trained by his uncle, the notoriously demanding producer Duke Reid. “I love Rebelution’s sound — rock mixed with reggae — and I am happy to be part of it, because I want to see reggae get back to the Bob Marley days when you could look into an audience and see 100,000 people,” added Brown.
“Count Me In” also brought an opportunity for Rachmany to collaborate with Don Carlos, the veteran Jamaican singer he cites as his primary inspiration (and an influential figure to many American reggae bands) on “Roots Reggae Music,” a tribute to Jamaica’s signature rhythm.
The oft-used designations — hybrid reggae, reggae rock, surf music etc. — ascribed to many US reggae bands doesn’t convey the powerful synergism and sonic nuances of Rebelution’s musical brand. “Reggae is the greatest part of our sound, but some people say this isn’t reggae they are used to because it is a mixture, so I am not sure I will ever find the right term for it,” acknowledges Rachmany.
For their current 33-date “Count Me In” summer tour, playing venues averaging at a capacity of 4,500, the band has added saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Khris Royal, trumpeter Zach Meyerowitz and guitarist Evan Hawkins. The tour, which commenced in Hawaii on June 5 at Maui’s Arts and Cultural Center and includes an Aug. 2 appearance at Lollapalooza in Chicago, has already sold out several dates in advance. Their album release party/concert originally scheduled for June 11 at The Gramercy Theatre in New York City (rescheduled to June 16, due to an issue with the club’s faulty alarm system) sold out within a week of its announcement. Before the year’s end, Rebelution will have played more than 100 shows throughout North America, with 15 European dates scheduled for November.
To date Rebelution, has moved 304,359 units (excluding “Count Me In”) in the U.S. according to Soundscan. Their critically lauded three-disc set “Peace of Mind” has sold 81,000 copies and debuted at No. 13 on the Top 200 — impressive stats, particularly for an independent act, that far surpass most (Jamaican and non-Jamaican) reggae acts.
Rachmany attributes their strong sales to the band’s deep connection to its fans.
“People want to feel like they are part of the Rebelution community and support our positive uplifting messages, so that’s why they buy our music when they could get it for free,” he says. “That means a lot, because it’s hard to sell records in these times. But we also give music away because it brings people out to our shows and then they want a souvenir of their experience so they will buy a CD.”