The Roots dig deep
Band keeps busy with TV show and new album
This year the Roots released two albums: their own grown and insightful “How I Got Over’’ and a collaborative, mostly covers R&B effort with John Legend brimming with energy, righteousness, and hope called “Wake Up!’’ Both albums were nominated for Grammys. Simultaneously, the Philadelphia hip-hop collective — who bring the heat to Showcase Live on Thursday — was holding down the beats on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,’’ playing with a cavalcade of artists including rock royalty like Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney. As if that weren’t enough, in the cracks in their schedule they toured. On the phone from New York last week, still jazzed from seeing Prince the night before, Roots drummer and bandleader Ahmir “?uestlove’’ Thompson, reflected on the group’s busy and bountiful 2010.
Q. So, are you exhausted?
A. Not really. I enjoy what I do and I can only imagine what’s in store for us. I mean occasionally I get tired. Last night’s a good example. Right after the Prince show [in New Jersey] I had to hightail it back to 42d Street to do a midnight show, and around 2:30 I just walked offstage. We could’ve played till 4, but we’ve got to get up at 9 in the morning.
Q. For “How I Got Over,’’ you seem to be continuing in the somewhat dark, reflective direction of predecessor “Rising Down.’’ Was that intentional?
A. “How I Got Over’’ represents a spiritual awakening. We wanted to have spiritual reflections on the record without necessarily, you know — it would be so corny for me to say “Oh, we’re going to do a gospel record.’’ But it’s unheard of for a rap group to even have 12 records so it’s like, what do you talk about when 40’s around the corner? It would’ve been cliche for us to make a “throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care’’ [type of record]. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, I wanted to see if we could actually make some sort of coming-of-age record where you have to reflect on what direction your life is going.
Q. Now that the show has settled into a groove, how has the “Late Night’’ gig met your expectations?
A. I enter no situation with high expectations. I’m not saying it’s so easy to get let down but, I just curb my enthusiasm. And I put in 110 percent with everything I do, that way it’s a way better experience. Now it feels like we’re definitely in the zone with the show. The fact that you have bigwigs like Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney, and we even had a few calls from the aforementioned short genius — [Prince] wants to do the show — so basically we couldn’t be happier. To me, it’s much more than a talk show. This takes me back to my childhood when there were musical variety shows. Like when I was a kid you had “Donny and Marie’’ and “Flip Wilson’’ where they mixed comedy and music. And if you notice, 95 percent of all the highlights of the show comic-wise definitely have to do with music and I’m glad to be part of that tradition. Actually, we got a call from Donny and Marie. If that happens I’m going to totally lose it because I love Donny and Marie.
Q. You’re an avid record collector and like all kinds of music, but I read that you felt the show opened your eyes to country music. How else has it surprised you?
A. I’ll definitely say that a lot of my knowledge of the hipster/Pitchfork side of the world has basically been from blogs and recommendations and that type of thing. But I have the best seat in the house. All I have to do is look to my right and I totally see groups that I probably wouldn’t have given five minutes to sit there and watch them perform their music; and as a result, this makes this the best job in the world because I’m now the world’s biggest Dirty Projectors fan.
Q. Do you have a dream guest?
A. I would like nothing better than to do a complete show with Stevie Wonder.
Q. Who’s been your favorite musical guest?
A. Before McCartney, I would say that the Bruce show was my favorite, but McCartney was probably the first time that any of us will ever admit to being close to crying, especially when he did the song for John Lennon. That just made it über-emotional.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.