Roots Asylum is a good time roots rock band based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. They draw from a deep well of life experience and inspiration to create original music. The members of the band are:
Jimmy Mac: Guitar Vocals
Shawn Toth: Keys, Vocals
Carrick Craig: Bass Vocals
Aaron Miller: Drums
Aaron Kowalski: Percussion
MTVRock: When and why did you start playing?
Carrick: Our family had a band called “Ice 9”, named after a solid form of water from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Cat’s Cradle. This was a metaphor for the social and progressive nature of our band. I was the worst guitarist in my family. My brother bought me a bass and said, learn how to play this or find another band. We were the house band at the Bellcrest in Detroit for a few months. We had gone through a lot of drummers. We had one gig and our drummer walked out between sets and never came back.
Shawn: I grew up in the country in a close family. My dad had bought a guitar for himself but didn’t have time to use it. My older brother taught himself how to write songs at 15 and was very creative at his own compositions. We shared a room together and almost every night he would strum at bedtime and put me to sleep. Music has always been with me since then. When he found out I had a really good voice and my brother taught me how to sing. Our family belonged to a camper club and there we had our first performances. People quickly found out that I was also part entertainer during the non-singing parts of the songs. As a child I was always pushed to the front to do some sort of singing or entertainment.
Jimmy: When I was sixteen years old. My friend Sam and I were cutting through the back parking lot of the Lamplighter Lounge in Coldwater, Michigan. We were on our way to the arcade to play Moon Patrol and Asteroids. This day was different because we heard live rock music coming from the upper floor of the nearby house which was fondly nicknamed “the ghetto”. We stopped and listened for a good 10 minutes. It was exciting and they had no singer, and I turned to Sam and said, “I’m going to sing for them.” Sam replied , “I know Aaron lives there and I’ll talk to Lonnie. He knows Aaron and will get you in”. Weeks passed and I continued to ask, “Hey, Sam, did Lonnie hear from Aaron if I can come over?” Finally, the day came, Sam said, “Yes, Aaron is cool with you coming over.”
The following Sunday I cut through the neighborhood to his house and got up the courage to knock on the door. My lifelong friend Aaron was a stranger at the time, he opened the door and looked at me then said, “Come on up”. As I ascended up those stairs, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was beginning my journey into a lifetime of music. It was not until 20 years later I learned that Aaron never had a conversation with Lonnie. The reason he invited me in was because I was standing out in the freezing cold with holes in my shoes.
MTVRock: Were you influenced by old records & tapes? Which ones?
Shawn: I have always liked David Gilmour and Richard Wright from Pink Floyd because of their creative music writing skills and even more so for their ability to transfer emotion into their music. They make it so powerful that you feel it and think it at the same time. Other musicians that I have admire for their piano and keyboard work are Billy Joel and Elton John. They are amazing songwriters and musicians as well as entertainers. I was greatly influenced by my dad’s music collection and his stereo. When my brother left for college he left me a bunch of records and 8-tracks and a Lloyd’s stereo. The albums I remember the most were Don McLean’s American Pie, The Rolling Stones’ Live album, Foghat Live and a Leo Kottke album. I had played the Don McLean 8-track until the tape totally wore itself out, and that was after I had put the casing back together three or four times at least.
Carrick: My dad played guitar and loved Woody Guthrie, Pete Seger, Peter, Paul and Mary among others. Folk music was all the rage when I was a kid. I heard Crosby, Stills and Nash when I was 12 or 13 and it was very compelling, like nothing I had heard before. Prior to that it was all 45 records and pop music. But this was real music. I evolved into more sophisticated folk rock and Richard Thompson is an idol to me. CS&N were kind of a gateway drug into real rock and roll for me.
Aaron K: Hard hitting music from bands like Filter, AC/DC and Metallica.
So why are you in a roots rock band?
Aaron K: I’m not limited to that scope and I enjoy many different genres of music.
Shawn: The kind of music we’re making is so well suited for my taste and style. It’s a kind of a feel good music usually starts with a strong Melody and develops into a song that is usually a story. We like them to be intellectually expressive and also carry a feeling so that people can feel what we’re saying through the music while we’re telling them about it.
Jimmy: In high school I was heavily influenced by the punk rock of the late seventies and early 80’s. I was turned on to punk music by my friend Sam. He was manic and would arrive early in the morning at my house on school days. I had a crappy little record player with a built in speaker and he would put the album “Flogging a Dead Horse” by the Sex Pistols. We proceeded to pogo dance, yell random things out the window at passers-by and wrestle; all the silly things that kids do like that. My brother John would go to the circuit box and shut off the power to my room and there was never a shortage of dramatics. Roots rock is really just punk rock with an acoustic guitar, slower tempo and a singer who can actually sing.
MTVRock: What is the history that led you to this band?
Shawn: About 5 years ago, a friend who was my mic partner from high school, told me about an event his band was playing at a record store. He asked me to video tape it and the next thing I knew I was being asked to join the band and sing harmonies to his music. One of the founding musicians of the band died of alcoholism and to keep the band from dying my friend sought a replacement. And this is when we came across our friend Jimmy Mac who had much of the same ideas about music as me. He brought a solid skill set to the table and immense amount of confidence, positivity and creativity that was flowing out of him that I truly identified with. And he made it really natural and easy to join in with his music and bring my own Magic to the band. And we became close friends. Together, we drove this band and Jimmy promoted it and we made it on to the national radio charts with our first and only album. It was like a brotherhood in this band.
Later on, when the dust settled from that band, Roots Asylum was born. Jimmy called me and told me he would like to do a recording project with one of my songs that we never recorded. I jumped right in and said yeah how come we’re not recording the other three of yours too? And he said well I’ve been thinking about starting another band. And I looked at him and my jaw dropped and I was about to say something and he said would you be interested in something like that? And he beat me to it because I would have asked humbly. So we got the most talented drummer in our friend Aaron, who was wanting to record those songs with us anyway. I was on the keys and vocals and harmonies and Jimmy was on the guitar and vocals and harmonies and we knew almost immediately we wanted to add a bass player. Somehow magically we almost immediately found a perfect fit in our friend Carrick. He is a good fit because he is also a blend of intelligence and heart and creativity much the same as we are. Not to mention Aaron Kowalski who is our newest and freshest talent on percussion. I believe this band has more promise than any other group of musicians I’ve played with because of the strength of the character and creativity. As much as the skills and abilities. Our best work is yet to come. And probably will be until we fail to exist anymore. That is how I feel about Roots Asylum and how this all got started from the beginning for me.
MTVRock: What are the plans for the future?
Jimmy: We have a dozen songs written and we will be releasing one a month for the next year. Songs like “Girl in a Tower”, “In Her Smile”, “Gypsy Band” and “I am her Fool”.
MTVRock: Let’s Talk about your music and your last work…
Jimmy: The song sort of weaves together a thread of ideas. A couple year ago, I took a new job in Detroit after I had made a pact with myself that I would not ever drive a 2 hour commute like that again. When my son was 7 years old, his mother moved to Grand Rapids from Kalamazoo. My son said, “Dad, I’ve been crying for an hour straight, whatever you do please don’t sell the house”. I told him, “It’s not my house, it’s yours.” He loved his friends in the neighborhood and it would not be right to take those experiences away from him. And he has since lived with his mom up north, enjoying most weekends and holidays here in Kalamazoo with his friends. That’s one.
The next is about what my mother told me. About a month after I was born, I was crying and arching my spine in the crib. I was diagnosed with Spinal Meningitis after being rushed to the hospital. My life was truly hanging by a thread, they did not know if it was viral or bacterial and they filled me with antibiotics. I was at the mercy of the heavens and spent a month in intensive care. When they handed me back to my mother they said, “Little Jimmy is not going to be like the other kids, he is special child now.”
Then, when I was about 17 years old I traveled to Indianapolis to visit my father. I had never known him to be a psychic, but he had a deck of tarot cards sitting on his dining room table and a crystal ball on the shelf. It was a bullshitters profession and that was his thing. He even had business cards and little old ladies coming over on Thursday evenings for readings. He then offered a reading for me and I accepted. The first card from the top of the deck was “The Fool” and he told me something along the lines of this; “You have no cares and you carry your life in a bag on a stick. You can walk off the edge of a cliff and nothing bad will happen to you because of your ingenious naivete.” Of course that made an impression on me, coming from my father. I really identified with it, and it was true.
When I took the job in Detroit, I had to pinch myself, cause life is complicated enough already then makes us do the things we wished we never had to do. All of these memories came back to me that day and I wrote the song, “I am her Fool”. It is an anthem about how our foolishness gets us through sometimes. And we really don’t have control, it’s like were just living with our lives in a bag on a stick.
MTVRock: Any final words for your fans reading this interview?
Jimmy: Keep checking back on our social media sites for more new music, we’ve got some fantastic music coming up.
Contact: Jimmy Mac