It’s been a long time coming for Syracuse roots soul reggae group Root Shock to finally lay down some tracks in the studio to produce the record fans have been lustfully longing for. Their self titled debut is an authentic embodiment of the magnetizing performances that have continued to draw in larger crowds wherever they go. The Root Shock fam is: Jessica Brown (vocals/percussion), Bill Eppel (bass), Nick Kaczmar (keyboards/electronics) Dan Valvassori (guitar), Phil Grajko (guitar/vocals), Fafa Fain (drums/vocals) and Jason Randall (percussion/theremin).
Root Shock has also attracted a diverse fan base because their identity cannot be pigeonholed into the reggae genre. Their varied blend of soul and funk guided by the potency of Jessica Brown’s weighty vocals sets them apart from the droves of white boy reggae groups offering little variation from one another.
Feeding off the hype from a radio spotlight on 105.9 The Rebel with Dave Frisina, and artist profiles in two separate Syracuse publications in the same week, Root Shock gained plenty of momentum going into their December 17 album release party at Funk ‘n Waffles Downtown. Now, with the album officially out, the band is standing tall and branching out to share the fruits of countless long hours spent in the studio. Curious about the new album, I posed a few questions to shed some light on the inner workings of the thirteen-song compilation.
Ally Dean: Jason “Jocko” Randall who produced your record at More Sound Recording Studio in Syracuse is now performing percussion with Root Shock during live performances. Is he a long-term fixture? When Root Shock branches out into more extensive touring will Jocko be part of your entourage or is he more of an added spice for local ‘Cuse shows?
Phil Grajko: Jocko has not only been a huge asset to the band as a producer/sound engineer, he’s also become a close friend and collaborator, both on and off the stage. Having him come on board as a percussionist felt totally natural and easy. His involvement with the band is totally voluntary, and while he’s definitely busy running a successful recording studio, he’s expressed that he loves playing with us and will continue to make himself available as often as possible. He’s already signed on to play several out-of-town gigs with us, so we certainly welcome his presence and count him as a member.
AD: To follow that up, is it ever weird having your record producer performing with you? Obviously the members of Root Shock have been playing together for several years and know how they want the band to sound but Jocko also has an incredible ear for how he thinks music should sound. Is it ever a contentious issue?
PG: I think an important point to make is that the band has managed to stay in a pretty steady state of evolution. We’ve had lineup changes from the beginning, and an addition or subtraction of a member is always going to affect the overall feel. Root Shock functions very democratically, so when someone voices an opinion, it’s always heard and respected, often implemented. Having Jocko on board has forced a lot of us to sharpen our attentiveness to some of the finer details of the production/songwriting process. It’s been great having his input, but ultimately decisions are made collectively. There have certainly been some differences of opinion, but the mutual respect we all share for one another has cultivated a really easy environment for those differences to be reconciled.
AD: The opening of both “Freedom” and “Babylon Tree” contain this echoey chorus that is stylistically reminiscent of classic Jamaican reggae group The Congos. Is it an intentional nod to them?