Warwick's Rival Roots make reggae-rock seem like a vacation

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There’s no other kind of music that fits the summer season as perfectly as reggae does. The laid back vibe can perfectly accompany a walk on the beach – while social distancing, of course – or a day out in the bright sun with a cool breeze.

Since 2013, Rival Roots from Warwick have been bringing this sound to life while performing all over Rhode Island. They’ve also had the luxury of opening for acts such as The Skatalites, Ballyhoo, The Toasters, The Slackers, Bumpin’ Uglies and Dubbest, to name a few. During this current era of COVID-19 we’re all in, they’ve also been working on new music.

I recently had a talk with bassist Mike Moura about the band’s origins, this year being a bummer on various levels, supporting local businesses and feeling that live music itch.

ROB DUGUAY: Who in Rival Roots first had the idea to start a reggae-rock band?

MIKE MOURA: It’s been a crazy ride for Rival Roots for the better part of a decade. It started with myself walking into my former job and meeting our former singer and rhythm guitarist Jonah Summers. He had just mentioned he left his previous band, was bummed out and he said he played reggae. I told him that I played bass guitar in a punk band and I was very interested in playing reggae and ska. It kind of took off from there. For months we played covers in his apartment, it was just us.

We branched out and found another guitar player and a conga player, but we still weren’t getting much done. It wasn’t until Chris Netro, who also plays drums in my punk band Shore City, wanted to play for the reggae band that we started feeling like, “This is something.” After a few jams, I started thinking of who else could I bring this project together. We ended up dropping our second guitarist for reasons I can’t remember and now we have rhythm guitar, vocals, congas, drums and myself on bass, but to stand out we try every instrument under the sun (laughs). I’ve known our current lead guitarist, Tom Lupo, since high school, so I knew he could shred when he joined up.

Jonah found some kid who only lasted two practices on keyboard, and my friend Jim Cranham, who I also knew from high school, was our DJ. Yes, Rival Roots did have a DJ spinning at one point and I miss that (laughs). Eventually from frustration of getting practices to work with everyone’s schedule we lost our conga player, keyboardist and DJ. We moved from my frat house basement to Chris’s garage for practice and began thinking about the next chapter of the band. That chapter was a horn section, or as much of a horn section we could find.

After a few weeks of looking we found Justin Leclerc, who is a triple threat. He was able to handle the trombone, play the keys and sing, what more could you ask for? At this point we’re about a year in, I believe … for the good of the band we parted ways with [Jonah]. We made some ads on Craigslist and thank God we did because we found Joe Margres. He took over the rhythm guitar we needed while Justin completed his trifecta of musicianship and started singing lead vocals as well as trombone and keys.

The rest is really history. It’s been about seven years since the last lineup change and we’ve had countless bar gigs during that time while playing in the best venues in our little state. We love it and we finally recorded our first EP, “Environment,” last summer. Don’t even get me started on this year, but we’re still kicking, hopefully for another decade.

RD: That’s quite the story. Between playing bass in both Rival Roots and the punk act Shore City, while being the lead vocalist in the latter, do you find yourself making any adjustments between the two acts?

MM: Playing in a punk band has literally been my life. It’s all I’ve wanted to do for so long. I still do it and I can’t stop. It’s my baby, but thank God I did because it has given me such respect for styles like ska and reggae. In my older age, it’s the laid-back easy listening of reggae that really catches my ears now. Don’t get me wrong, I still play and perform the best punk rock I know of, but I can also sit back and relax in the background playing wavy jams with rivals.

The only adjustments from one to the other is my amp settings and my attitude. Being the lead singer in a punk band is a lot of work physically, but playing reggae is like a vacation. It’s great.

RD: Recently the band put out a snippet of the song “Etched in Stone,” which was recorded remotely via the program JamKazam. Was it weird recording a song that way or was it relatively seamless?

MM: I’m personally still battling trying to get myself on to the online practice bandwagon since I’m not that technically inclined. Because of that, I wasn’t actually on the “Etched In Stone” recording, but that song is one of our longtime originals. It’ll finally get recorded professionally later this year, hopefully, once this whole COVID-19 thing passes. What a bummer year, huh?

RD: Yeah, 2020 has definitely been a rough and strange year to say the least.

MM: Totally.

RD: Speaking of COVID-19, what’s the biggest thing that the pandemic has affected in your life outside of music?

MM: You know, the coronavirus has affected everyone differently. I bought a house during a pandemic (laughs), who does that? It’s a shame that everyone is going through this. No concerts and live events is a big one, but not being able to see family and friends when I can is the worst part. Also seeing all my friends with businesses affected is awful. Seeing all my favorite music venues, restaurants, bars, breweries struggling is terrible.

I try to support local businesses as much as possible. I buy band merch as much as possible and I watch live streams. I’m also hoping that takeout booze doesn’t go away (laughs). Just keep it local and wash your hands.

RD: That’s a great stance to take during this time. Is the “Etched In Stone” snippet a hint towards a new album? If so, when can we expect it to come out?

MM: “Etched In Stone” will totally be on the full-length album. Currently with the world upside down, we’re not sure when that will be out, but hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. We have a lot of great stuff in the works and we’re all anxious to show you all.

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