By Mat Weir
It’s almost impossible to talk about Santa Cruz reggae rock without bringing up Pacific Roots. This five-piece ensemble has been at the forefront of the local, Cali sound repping their hometown on stage with the likes of The Expendables, Tomorrow’s Bad Seeds, Steel Pulse and many more in the reggae community.
But what sets them apart from similar acts is the various punk, metal and hip hop influences they bring to songwriting. Of course Sublime is a clear connection, but to say that’s the only similarity would just be lazy journalism.
“Kyuss is a huge influence for me,” says singer Maximilian Masluk. “I’m really into desert rock and belting strong vocals. And our drummer [AJ Aguayo] is a metal drummer where he does these crazy fills you don’t necessarily hear in Cali reggae.”
Originally formed in 2013 with different members, Aguayo and bassist Jake White are the only two original members from that first version. That incarnation dropped a self-titled, full-length in 2017 but nearly broke up the next year with the departure of the singer and guitarist.
White and Aguayo decided to hang on to the name and kept going, first recruiting Masluk through the help of their mutual friend, Shawn Yanez, from Santa Cruz’s other up-and-coming reggae band, Santa Cruda.
“He was like, ‘Dude, these guys hit me up. It’s not really my vibe. It’s a little more punk rock but I think it would be perfect for you,” Masluk remembers. “So I had him take a video of me playing the ukulele on the beach right then and there.”
After he was recruited, Masluk brought in guitarist Derek Haynsworth, who he had worked with in a previous band. With second guitarist Matt Booher joining soon after, Pacific Roots began to grow and flourish throughout 2019.
Then the 2020 global pandemic happened.
“We had just gotten tour tight and were performing live better than ever before,” Haynsworth says. And then everything just dropped.”
At the beginning of the year the band had won the “Reggae Rise Up Discovery Contest” and were scheduled to play the massive festival in Las Vegas that year.
“It was going to our first, big festival,” laments White.
But instead of letting the state of the world give them negative vibes, the Santa Cruzans kept things irie and quickly adapted to the changing times.
While other artists went on hiatus, Pacific Roots busily got to work and recorded three new songs, “Some Kinda Way,” “Run Dem Trees,” and “Kooks on The Loose.” It was an exercise in resiliency as they learned how to build song structures without the ability to play off each other live.
“We learned it works better when we’re together,” White says. “When we can bounce ideas off each other.”
“Our individual riffs just turn into something much better when we can all bring them to the table,” agrees Haynsworth.
With that knowledge in hand, Pacific Roots brought their live sound to six legit, socially distanced and Covid-safe shows. From appearing on Santa Cruz’s surf, skate and music podcast, Off The Lip Radio, to playing Felton Music Hall’s 2021 Roaring Camp Railroad series, Pacific Roots found ways to keep the music flowing.
They even defied all odds by cutting a live album at the Felton Music Hall to an audience of seated diners, which is currently streaming on Spotify.
“It was definitely different playing to no audiences for the live streams or people having sit-down dinners instead of mosh pits,” Masluk says.
“It was good for us because it gave us a whole different perspective,” White agrees. “It gave us a new appreciation for people coming together.”
The band also gave back to their beloved community in one of its greatest times of need.
During the CZU Lightning Complex Fire which displaced thousands of Central Coast residents and destroyed 900 structures, the band played an Off The Lip benefit show that raised over $500 for the Santa Cruz Community Foundation, along with donating a percentage of the profits from their merch.
“Five hundred and twelve dollars,” recalls Masluk with certainty. That’s because he threw in an extra challenge to donors that he would do a pushup for every dollar raised.
“And I did, but not all at once,” he laughs.
Now that summer is over, society has reopened and 2022 is around the corner, big things lie on the horizon for this squad from Santa Cruz.
For starters, the boys are currently rounding out a mini-tour, playing the Catalyst Club in their hometown on September 3, the same room where they had their very first show years before. In October they will have a second shot at large reggae festivals with the rescheduled, two day Reggae Rise Up finally happens.
But the thing the boys are most looking forward to is the release of their second studio full-length. While the exact date isn’t necessarily on the books quite yet, they say it should be out sometime by the end of this year or at the beginning of 2022 at the latest. And to show they’re serious and not just stringing fans along, it already has a most appropriate name.
“It’s going to be called, Still Standing,” White says with an acknowledged smile.
Catch Pacific Roots at the Catalyst on September 3, 2021.