For the nine members of the Roots Rockers Club, reggae isn’t solely music—it’s a culture that brought them together. The group of friends, most of them Columbia students, started playing music together, and after requests for live performances kept coming, they recorded an eight-song demo. The nine-piece band combines classic Jamaican and West African sounds with their individual outside influences.
Now working on a full-length album, the Roots Rockers Club is bringing a new face to Chicago’s reggae culture. The Chronicle caught up with the band’s founder and bass-player Dane Foltin and drummer Jeremy Carlson to talk about the local reggae scene, collaborative songwriting and free music.
The Chronicle: How did the band start?
Dane Foltin: The whole group started as a club. I thought, “I’ll start this club and see what kind of people come.” I wanted to make it a cultural celebration club where you don’t have to play—we [could] just watch movies and talk about them. I wanted to get the people interested in the same things I was into in the same room. It was in the music building [at Columbia], so they were all musicians. We all just became best friends, and now it’s a band.
The Chronicle: What have you guys been doing musically since you decided to become a band?
DF: We got offered to play something in Lincoln Park by a friend. So I called up the musicians we’d been playing with and said, “All right, now we have to pretend to be a real band. We’re doing a show.” We just kept getting offers after that. Some of the members have left the group, but that’s cool [because] we were really big. There were [more than] 12 people. Some people graduated, so we’re a lot smaller now. But the sound is still good.
The Chronicle: What’s the sound like now that you’re smaller?
DF: It’s still kind of big. It has sort of an ensemble group feeling because you don’t see the same singer the whole time. It’s three different people doing three different songs in three different styles. We’re not trying to go down the same path every reggae band has gone down.
Jeremy Carlson: It’s a good thing to be able to interact with a bunch of different people in the same set. Each different vocalist we have kind of has a different style; they fit well together, and they also do well separately. They each bring a different energy and vibe, so it’s cool to be able to mix it up.
The Chronicle: Is there a reggae culture in Chicago that your band fits into?
DF: There is a reggae scene, and I guess we fit into it. [It’s] all about [the] deejay. It’s all about dancing at the club, spending your money and looking good for your girl and we’re not about that. That’s not the purpose of our music.
The Chronicle: What’s the process of songwriting like with a large band?
JC: It was tough when we started. At first, someone would bring an idea, and we’d expand on it and learn it, or someone would bring a fully written song and teach it to everybody. Sometimes we’ll have an instrumental [part already written] we like and we’ll collaborate and figure out where we want to go from there and what kind of lyrics we want to use.
DF: There are definitely points from every person. It’s a super multicultural, collaborative experience.
JC: Our guitar player loves the blues, so he’ll throw his blues licks in there. Our trumpet player and myself are jazz majors, so he throws kind of improv jazz sounds in.
The Chronicle: Are you currently working on recording anything?
DF: We’re putting out a 10-song album probably in April. It’s going to be free. The music business is so weird right now. Why would I put it up for $5 and make $10 and nobody hears it? It’s kind of silly. The reason we made the music is for people to hear it. I want them to hear it. That’s what every artist should be doing right now.
The Roots Rockers Club will be playing at “Columbia’s Got Talent” on March 11. To download their demo, visit