Upstart bands often find themselves begging club owners for the opportunity to play, but Through the Roots has always taken a more resourceful tack. A few years ago, the reggae-inflected San Diego quintet was literally building shows out of nothing.
"I've had some carpenter skills since I was young," says frontman Evan Hawkins. "We would actually drive to Home Depot, buy a lot of wood, build a stage, and go play shows in the street. A thousand kids would come. It was crazy, but that's how we built our following."
The band formed in the fertile, friendly SoCal reggae/roots scene, and arose to put a positive bloom on misfortune. When his college friend Charles Amaro died in a 2008 drunk-driving accident, Hawkins felt compelled to remember in "Man Down," a song whose snappy reggae rhythm and guitar parts support lyrics about the unfairness of it all. The positive response of friends further encouraged him to keep writing.
"He was always the one I was listening to music with," says Hawkins of his late friend. "He'd told me I had a voice and could sing, so I wanted to write him a song just to show my respects."
Through the Roots' original members hooked up while attending music theory classes and hanging out at music shops. Before long, they forged friendships with like-minded acts such as Iration and Rebelution, who brought them along on early tours. Over the course of their those first three years, the band moved up to headliner status and released two EPs.
While reggae is undoubtedly at the core of its sound, a lot of other elements also filter through. The reggae track "Fight" features hard rock guitar breaks reminiscent of Living Colour. "Weekend" evokes the sunny, singer/songwriter-ly dub-pop of San Diego's favorite son, Jason Mraz, while "Take Me Back" mirrors the infectious, ganja-smoking ease of Sublime.
Last year, Through the Roots made their full-length debut with the nine-song Take You There, which finds the band pushing away from its reggae roots without forsaking them. There's a modern-rock vibe to "Higher," while the title track blends two-tone sway with seductive jazz-soul sax. "Dancing in the Rain," another album highlight, melds a pretty pop melody to rubbery dub bass line.
"We like to experiment and kind of make it our own sound," says Hawkins. "We're mixing reggae with roots music as our foundation, but putting the icing on the cake with different genres."
The band has also undergone a couple lineup changes since Take You There's release, most notably the departure of Hawkins' high school friend, guitarist Chris Cruz. It was his playing that first inspired Hawkins to pick up the guitar himself, and his departure last October was deeply felt. But Hawkins eventually found an able replacement in Scott Goldberg.
"Scott just jumped in and took it to the next level with his playing," says Hawkins, who shares a love for the road with his bandmates. They know recorded music isn't the way to people's hearts, so the band is now on the 14th multi-week tour of its six-year existence. Playing live has been in Through the Roots' blood ever since those early Home Depot days.
"That's why we tour a lot," says Hawkins. "We're really excited to be out here."