Rob Marscher : Addison Groove Project to Matisyahu

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Rob Marscher is best known as the former keyboard player for Addison Groove Project,  a Boston based outfit that was one of the east coasts most prominent acts in the then burgeoning jazz/funk/jam scene of the late 90’s and early part of the current decade.  Although they held comfortable success in the northeast, things dwindled down when the band tragically lost bass player John Hall to cancer in late 2004 – AGP soon parted ways.

As one of the dominant players in the band, Marscher has collaborated his keyboard talents with a variety of the scene’s brightest names: Trey Anastasio, Umphrey’s McGee,  Marco Benevento, DJ Logic, Charlie Hunter, Tea Leaf Green, Disco Biscuits and Soulive.   These days Marscher is a proud member of Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu’s touring band. Although laying down dub reggae grooves is a bit of a departure from Marscher’s improvisational/jazz routines, he’s keeping active and relevant to a new beat. Glide’s Melissa Brodeur had a chance to talk to Marscher about his musical upbringing, joining Matisyahu’s band and keeping healthy on the road.

You went to the Longy School Of Music for seven years and won an award for excellence in piano performance. What doors has this education opened for you?


Longy is modeled after the French conservatory system.  Plus my teacher was from the St. Petersberg Conservatory.  So my style was heavily influenced by late Romantic through Modern periods of Russian and French music.  This is still my favorite music of all time.  I also studied composition and was exposed to many different types of contemporary 20th-century music at a young age.  
 
After studying computer science at Boston University and working in that field, at what point (if any) did you realize  – Hey I can make music for living?"

I actually have maintained a double path of computer programming and music throughout the last ten years.  It’s allowed me to not always have to rely on using music to make a living which I think is a good thing.  I never had to perform music I wasn’t passionate about just to scrape together money to pay the bills.  Plus, my band never had to get someone else to make our website.  I worked at IBM out of college since the rest of AGP were still working on their degrees.  I quit my job when John Hall graduated and we could finally start touring.  Then we found out he had a tumor the day before we were going to leave for the tour.  After he died, I went back to programming full-time.  Right now I’m totally music full-time.

In May of 1997 you joined Addison Groove Project, how did that come about?

I had a high school band and Addison Groove Project was in the same high school battle of the bands hosted by seminal Boston radio station WBCN (which recently announced it’s going off air!).  They won.  My band came in second.  My band was breaking up since members were going off to college.  AGP didn’t have a keyboard player and I was impressed when I found that singer Brendan McGinn was also into Debussy, Prokofiev, etc, and sax player Ben Groppe was writing 12-tone funk horn lines.  They had only formed basically for that battle of the bands, so I’m essentially an original member.  In fact, we would later wonder if we should have changed the band name, which is admittedly a bit odd/cliché.  The other guys had quickly picked it during a brainstorm the night before they had to submit the sign-up sheet for the battle of the bands.  On the other hand, "groove"/funk/jazz music was pretty happening in the late 90’s… I’m guessing this may have been brought about by Phish’s emphasis on funk during those years and they also brought Medeski, Martin, and Wood out as an opening band, turning a lot of their fans onto the downtown NYC jazz scene.

Ironically, for me, I had been a pretty big fan of Phish in ’95, saw 4 shows, but sort of stopped listening to them around then and got really deep into the J.B.’s, Bootsy, and learning how to play sparsely, consistently and lock into different parts that formed a collective rhythm.  Some friends played us tapes of a Phish show in ’98 and I remember actually being somewhat annoyed to hear their extended "cow funk" jams because I felt like that’s what we were trying to do to differentiate ourselves from sounding like them and other Northeast bands that extended from the leftover Grateful Dead scene.  Anyway, that was back when I was still searching for my original musical style.

What is your favorite memory of being with Addison Groove Project?

Honestly, I got hung up on this question for a while.  These guys are like my brothers and there were a million amazing times that we had together.  Pretty much every time we played Boston or Burlington was an event.  We played the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival (Berkfest) five times and those were all great and I met my future wife there.  I can’t say the time Trey and Fishman sat in with us wasn’t awesome because it was totally spontaneous, unplanned, and energetic.  However, all of my memories from after the time that John Hall got sick are pretty bittersweet.

When meeting Matisyahu at a party and you were discussing being in his band, did you say yes right away or was it something you had to think about?

I met Matisyahu because my college friend was his manager.  There was some talk of him sitting in with us back in 2004.  He ended up opening a couple shows in Boston and Baltimore and we did some co-bills in New York.  AGP stopped touring at the end of 2004 and our sound engineer and lighting director ended up working for Matisyahu so I stayed in touch with him and Aaron Dugan (Matis’ longtime guitar player).


Dub Trio – who are currently on tour opening and as the other half of our band – are old friends of mine.  Their old band, Actual Proof, did several shows back in the day with AGP and we used to play parties and side gigs in Boston pretty frequently in 1998-2000.  I moved to Brooklyn in the fall of 2004 and Joe and Stu and myself played a gig as "The Future Impressionists" at the Blue Note.  Our set focused on arrangements I made of 20th-century classical music with bass, drums, piano, and synths.

I went to the Dub Trio CD release party at the beginning of 2008 and ran into Matisyahu there.  We had also played together on Purim in 2007 with Aaron Dugan’s Booby Trap band, basically a giant two hours improv set with over a dozen musicians.

So Matis gave me the call about being in the band a few weeks later.  I wasn’t actually expecting to be part of the touring band.  I was more expecting to work on some writing or studio stuff.  So I did have to think about it for a while because I was married with a 10-month-old daughter and wasn’t sure how this would work out with me touring.  But we decided it was worth the try to help get me more immersed in music.  Plus I felt I had a lot to contribute to Matisyahu’s music.

What are some of your favorite bands that you have shared a stage with?

Hmm… I’m probably going to forget some good ones…  Phish.  The Flaming Lips.  Umphrey’s McGee.  Maceo Parker.  Those come to mind off the top of my head.

I read that you are trying to be healthy on the road, in what ways is this most challenging for you?


Getting enough good sleep is difficult because we roll overnight on the bus a lot of the time.  As the tour wears on, the lack of really good REM sleep builds up.  Additionally, we have 12 people sleeping in the bunk area of the bus so there’s obviously potential for sickness to spread pretty quick.  Some people like to turn the air conditioning way up to keep it cold in the bunk area thinking that would help from people getting sick… but air conditioned air has it’s own problems.  The other main challenges are getting exercise and eating well.  I’m not really one for using hotel fitness rooms… I was always a team sport person growing up playing ice hockey and lacrosse.  I did get into a pushup/situp routine on this tour… I wasn’t terribly dedicated with it but I’ll keep working on that.

What are you doing to be healthy that is most effective?



Definitely making an effort to eat right is the most effective thing for staying healthy.  On this tour, the band and crew were, for the most part, pretty into getting healthy foods.  I never had any fast food (well… did get some fries at In-N-Out one morning) and there was always a good supply of healthy snacks – fruit, granola, tofurky, etc.  Matisyahu is into being healthy.  He drinks a ginger tea concoction every day for his voice (grated organic ginger brewed in a french press, squeeze of organic lemon, and some organic, preferably local honey).  He also has a juicer and we get avocados, apples, bananas, celery, carrots, etc pretty much every day on our rider which has been great.

I managed to not get sick throughout the whole tour despite other band members fighting off bronchitis and strep throat.  I partially got lucky, but every little effort I made to stay healthy probably added up and helped.

What are some of your favorite places on the road that help support your healthy lifestyle?

Definitely the whole West Coast is pretty hip to eating well and being healthy.  I like the nice music festivals that have quality catering and massage therapists (Rothbury was one example of this that we hit up this summer).  Dub Trio came directly off a Europe tour right before they joined us for our tour.  They looked and felt quite healthy, so I’m looking forward to touring over there.  Apparently most of the music promoters also have a big love for quality food.

In three words or less what is the best part of being in a band?

Music With Friends  — meaning it’s the interaction with the other musicians and people that makes it great to me.  Otherwise, I could just be making music in my basement.

I describe myself as……..

a musician, father, husband, programmer, and ice hockey goalie.  Basically a Renaissance man

 
Glide contributor Melissa Brodeur  writes and works within her three passions: alternative health, music and bees by providing off-beat, creative healing methods to musicians and artist and creative minds alike.  Check her out at beewellmassage.com.

 

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