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September 07, 2023

Questlove explains how becoming a late-night show house band reinvigorated The Roots

Speaking on Conan O'Brien's podcast, the drummer says friendships among the group had become strained after years of success

Music The Roots
Questlove Conan Podcast Billy Bennight/AdMedia/SIPA USA

On Conan O'Brien's podcast, Questlove explained how he realized The Roots were no longer friends, but merely business partners. Becoming a late night show band reignited the group.

The Roots evolved from a friendship that Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter formed as Philadelphia high schools students in the late 1980s. 

The Roots have gone on to release 11 studio albums and win three Grammy Awards, but over the years the personal relationships within The Band became monotonous, Questlove recently said on comedian Conan O'Brien's podcast "Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend." 

It was during an overseas tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, around 2006, that Questlove realized his bandmates were no longer friends, but business partners.

Questlove recalled watching the Red Hot Chili Peppers routinely huddle up during their concerts as 80,000 to 120,000 people waited for the next song. 

"By the fourth time they do this, I'm thinking like, 'Oh, they're gonna call an audible and change up the setlist,'" Questlove tells O'Brien. "And then, I had the setlist in my hand, I'm like, wait, they didn't change anything. … Why do they keep having these little meetings every five songs, and nothin' changes from what I know the show to be? I see Flea in catering, and I'm like, 'Dude, what are you guys talking about when you go into that huddle?' And Flea is like, 'Yo, man, it's like, I don't know, man. We're just so full of gratitude.'"

Initially, Questlove said he didn't buy the RHCP bass guitarist's explanation. But then his manager offered more perspective, telling the drummer that it was clear that the Chili Peppers liked one another and that The Roots were just business partners. 

"I realized, Ah, s***. We're really not friends. We're just nine strangers that play the same songs every night, and that's it," Thompson says. 

On the podcast, Questlove joked that The Roots needed a Celine Dion-like situation to rectify their relationships, referring to the Canadian singer's concert residencies over the years. In actuality, Questlove said, serving as the house band for Jimmy Fallon's late-night shows helped The Roots rekindle their friendships.

The podcast episode came out days before Rolling Stone published a story Thursday alleging Fallon created a toxic work environment on "The Tonight Show." Former and current staffers said Fallon has an unpredictable temper that caused them to work in a constant state of fear. They said they had experienced nightmares, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

The podcast episode, released Monday, was recorded June 30. 

The Roots became the house band on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" in March 2009 and transitioned with him to "The Tonight Show" in 2014.  

Fallon once talked The Roots into assembling a human pyramid. Questlove said he knew the band was made of friends when he saw Trotter, who loves to wear nice clothing, on the ground with his outfit messed up – but enjoying the moment. 

"What wound up happening at Fallon is Jimmy has a way of disarming you," Thompson says. "At least for the first six years, we were 13-year-olds in adults' bodies; we could do silly things and not feel like we're gonna lose our street cred because we're doing silly s***."