We had a chance to catch up with Marley D. Williams while he and Rebelution were gearing up for the 5th Annual California Roots Festival and their release of Count Me In, their latest studio album. Not surprisingly, we had a really honest and humble conversation with one of the hardest working bass players in music. We talked about working with reggae legends, being an entrepreneur, and his simple advice for other musicians out there. Check out the full interview below!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us here at Top Shelf Reggae! I just wanted to start things off asking what are some of your early musical influences?
Well, my parents named me after Bob Marley, so generic as it sounds; I was raised by Bob Marley's music, Israel Vibration, Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru and other greats such as that. You know, I’m obviously not just a person who only listens to just reggae. I really appreciate the rap artist Dr. Dre, he’s really made an incredible impact with his music and everything. It's more of an attitude kind of thing, but I think his music is tremendous. Sometimes you need a little bit of an edge and stuff. It's kind of like watching an action movie or something. It’s not necessarily you believe in it, but it's kind of fun. You know, it's like a persona, and so I really appreciate that side thanks to rap. I also really like grunge music from way back in the day. I just like good music in general. A good song is a good song. It doesn't matter what genre it is, and you know, you can adapt different times of year, of life, to what the message is.
Well, was there anything in particular that got you interested in bass guitar in general or is it just something you happened to pick up?
I like bass guitar in reggae music because it's a lead melody. It's very unique to have a bass be such a busy part of the song and have the lead melody going on, whereas in other genres sometimes the bass is more in the background and subtle.
You've got this new album coming up, Count Me In. We got a preview at Top Shelf Reggae, and it sounded really killer! Can you tell me a little bit about the process and maybe if there's anything different that you've been doing on this album?
Yeah, I mean we're always trying to bend the genre or bend whatever our sound you can classify our sound as, in different ways. We always have to make an effort to give our fans something new so that we don't become stale or over-the-hill to them. At the same time, it's a fine balance because if you try too hard to change things up, they get a little mad because they want to hear the classic sound. And so, we try and do some songs that are different, and then we also try to keep it original. Keep the sound that we would like to stay that original Rebelution sound and make songs from that formula for all the die-hards.
It's really just, like I said, a fine line. I think you just try your best to please everybody and also please yourself. It's our art. You know? Some of us have different styles and tastes and desires. We're just all trying to work it out together. Not just Rebelution, but everybody who knows about Rebelution and supports us. We're all in this together. We're not making music without all these great people coming out to our shows all the time, buying our albums and showing us so much love and support through their messages and social media, and just in word-of-mouth when we meet people who are “Rebelutionaries”, as I like to call them. So, that's kind of what's going on with this album. It's that culmination.
Do you have a favorite track or any interesting stories from the making of the album?
I really like “Roots Reggae Music”. The bass line and the drumbeat I came up with one day at my house, just practicing some bass. I didn't really think much of it and I emailed it to Eric, and he sent it back with a really cool horn line. And shortly after, he sent it back with a really cool hook. And then from there, it just came together really quick and obviously we have Don Carlos, he's on that song. He's one of my favorites and also one of Eric's favorites. So, you know, I'm kind of more biased. It's like every song on our album is created a different way, you know.
Sometimes I don't even write the bass line. Eric will. I know on “Against the Grain”, I don't know if you had a chance to listen to that off the album, but Rory made the bass line for that. So everybody has different melodies and ideas, and we all just pop in an out, and you never know. We just like to write good music together and do it as a team. You know, that's how Rebelution started. Us four guys grinding it out. We're just trying to put out a good product, but you know, that was the song that just came from a late night, practicing bass, and it turned into a really cool song.
When it was first recorded, I thought, “Oh, this is just a cool reggae song. You know, it's not too genre bending. It's pretty safe. You know, kind of more “traditional,” but the people have been really reacting to it in a really strong way. It started from some idea on my own one night instead of jamming out with people or anything. I really like the song Eric had pretty much predominantly written on his own, called “Fade Away”. It's a really genre-bending song. I think a lot of people gravitate to it.
And then there are kind of more the traditional groovers that everybody got involved with, like “De-stress” and “Count Me In”. So, it's hard to say. I kind of like them all because it's a fresh album, but I'll get sick of it at some point.
It's got to be an honor to work with someone like Don Carlos and have him on that track. Well, you guys have had a really impressive career. You guys are celebrating your tenth year and as an independent band. No major labels. We were wondering if you had any advice for any of the up and coming bands out there?
Absolutely. I think it's all about keeping it really simple. And my simple thing to always live and die by, and what I've really pushed as a motto for myself and for other people who want to do this is, don't let anybody stop you from doing what you want to do, and always remember the only person that can stop you from what you really want to do in this world is yourself, so don't let yourself stop you.
That's awesome advice. Thank you! For the bass heads out there, what's your rig on stage like?
I've got an 8×10 Ampeg stack and actually at Cali-Roots I’m going to be playing two 8×10 Ampeg stacks because I decided that it was time to be really cool and macho! I play with one 8×10 out now and it actually does really help to have that extra bass. SVT full pro head, Avalon Pre-amp and I play a Sadowsky bass, handmade in Brooklyn, New York. Flatwound strings are super crucial. I guess it's about five elements. Oh yeah, and pick up Bob Marley's old sound engineer, Errol Brown. He'll always help out with everything too. Super blessed to have that guy doing our sound. It's just one of those things where every day I give thanks and praise for having him on our team and just knowing the history and everything he's been through. You can't really ask for more than that out of life; to have a legend engineer with you, your friend and your coworker, you know?
Well, you guys are continuing that legacy with your music.
Thanks, brother. We're trying. We're trying our best.
I ask this to a lot of the Cali Roots artists when I went the other years. What does California roots music mean to you?
California roots music means that there was a genre called reggae and it was spawned from Jamaica, and it was songs that were inspired from the environment of Jamaica. And they were so powerful and they came from such a small place and an Island of the world that got through a lot of hardships and they still remain positive in their lyrics. And now that genre will always live on forever. And California reggae or “Cali roots” reggae is just a different version, and we're using elements of reggae from Jamaica or we're putting our own interpretation of our environment that we grew up in. And basically you hear the elements of reggae in the building blocks, but you also hear the expression of, you know, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dr. Dre, and Nirvana and R&B. You know, there's so many great Hawaiian reggae bands and basically reggae music is world music. It's universal and everybody is welcome, and that's how beautiful reggae is.
You don't have to be a certain person. You know, in some other genres, you almost have to dress a certain way or have a certain edge or whatever. Anybody can play reggae music and be respected and spread on the message of “One love”, that whole spirit. And I think that Cali roots reggae is pretty much that, but it's a bunch of people from a different generation and they're singing songs about what they're seeing in their environments. Some of them are love songs, some of them are political, some of them are hardships, some of them are talking about how just great things are and how happy they are. So, it's really just a modern wave of interpretation of our environment and our take on what the world is right now.
I love seeing bass players kill it, both on stage and off the stage, and I know you're branching out into the entrepreneur field with your new company, Hill Kid. I was just wondering if you could take a minute to just talk about that, how that came about and what your mission is.
Yeah. Well, thank you for mentioning it. Hill Kid is a passion to integrate art, athletics, and nature through versatile music and apparel. The slogan of Hill Kid is “Active Art”. Basically I was born in the woods in a house built out of our own trees on our property. No electricity, indoor plumbing, four-wheel drive to get to it. A really, really basic lifestyle. That was the nature side of it. I played baseball up until college. That was the athletic side of it. Now I'm a musician and that's my artistic side of it. I experienced those three waves of what the clothing line represents – art, athletics, nature. I've met a lot of people who relate to that who are artists, who are athletes, and who are down to earth and love and appreciate nature. I just really wanted to focus on making a brand and a logo for people to wear and be proud of being balanced, incorporating these three different elements of their life. Whatever specific art they have, whatever specific athletic thing they do, and everybody is down with earth, you know?