RUBBLEBUCKET: Attacking the Stage with Silver Robots and an Army of Horns

by | Nov 2, 2012 | Interviews and Features

Rubblebucket has embraced the wave of YES that is crashing onto the shores of New York’s music scene. Just a few years ago the eclectic group could still be seen, although with smaller audiences, jumping off stages into the crowd, dropping onto the grass, and billowing wildly into their brass instruments. Since then, saxophonist and front woman Kalmia Traver has come into her own, embracing the kinetic, interactive live show that Rubblebucket swears by. If you thought they were fun to dance to well before the release of Omega La La, you’re in for even more of a treat now.

Traver used to keep her idiosyncrasies hidden behind a mass of hair and horn. Today, those characteristic quirks are the driving force behind a refined artistic vision that has turned Rubblebucket into an act that can entertain main stage festival crowds and late-night TV audiences just as easily as a basement full of kids. Their live shows are known to unleash an entire team of party facilitators, led by Neil Fridd of the band Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt!, complete with giant silver robots, light tunnels, light up vests, and much, much more.

It’s been a crazy summer. I think I’ve seen you at every festival I’ve been to! Somewhere in there you guys were also on Jimmy Kimmel, which is exciting. I remember when you used to play basement shows and small festivals. What’s a favorite moment from back in those early days?

The very early days in Burlington [Vermont] seem like magic now, looking back on them. Just really getting to know each other and hanging out, while walking around town and having eight hour rehearsals in people’s living rooms, cooking dinners together. Sadly, I feel like those times are behind us. I think that there was this crazy sort of chaos that we were just jumping into and excited to be doing. And something about that made everything feel scary and awesome at the same time. That totally describes right now as well, but maybe now we’re a lot more jaded. And that’s fine. That’s just where we are. I think [for] any musician who tours, the road loses its glamour.

How has being on the road so often affected your creative process?

The whole shebang has been shaping me as an artist. Playing on stage in the live setting has deeply informed who I am. I think I’ve learned so much from it, so far beyond the music I want to make, although it really does inform [that], as well. The last time I sat down to write a song I thought, ‘What would I want to be playing on stage night after night? How would I best be able to look everyone in the eye and say LETS GO PEOPLE!’ That’s the song I want to write right now. Being on stage is really special and it has taught me a lot. I think I never had been so brave and bold before then – to just look people in the eye. I’m an introvert and I didn’t real have that much confidence.

I have a tendency to isolate myself a little, but you just can’t do that [on stage]. Your job is the exact opposite of that when you’re up there. I feel that by necessity I’ve gotten a lot closer to humanity, what it means to be human, all the different shades of it.

Do you see Rubblebucket as more of a live act or a studio band, or is that too narrow of a definition?

We’ve really grown to embrace the studio, but we definitely started out as a live band. That was just what worked at that moment. But we love the studio now and recording this last EP, I think, was one of the most powerful studio experiences we’ve ever had. It’s funny because it wasn’t…second nature? It wasn’t first nature! [laughs] I guess the most original nature we had was just to be thrown into it and do it live, do it live, yeah do it live!!! [But] the studio is really fun and really…it’s really powerful. I think that’s when you can sit back and look at yourself a lot more, and really choose the path that you take instead of being thrown down it.

Did you choose your studio and engineer for Omega La La and for Oversaturated?

Yeah, we did. We had basically self-produced a lot of our stuff before that and we really wanted to work with a producer and see where that would take us. So we found Eric Broucek, and he basically introduced us to the studio, but it was his space and he loved to work there – Plantain Studios – and then in his own spot in Brooklyn. And for [Oversaturated] we actually met Ryan Hadlock and Jerry Streeter, they’re the production team at SXSW. They heard one of our sets and they kind of…I don’t want to say they flipped out, but they were really excited and came right up to us. And they’re really accomplished producers so it was pretty amazing to be able to meet them.

They also invited us to come crash at their studio if we ever needed a spot in Seattle, so we took them up on it, and that’s kind of what did it…’cause man, that space is so freakin’ gorgeous! It’s like the most perfect, fertile womb of a studio. It’s this giant beautiful old barn, and there’s so much spirit in that barn. Apparently James Brown’s ghost haunts it because he never paid his bill there or something. So many people have recorded there. It’s right at the fertile valleys of Seattle, and there’s a stream – the Bear Creek – that runs right by it. I spent every day I wasn’t recording walking up and down the creek, picking berries. It’s my ideal recording situation. Not to mention we vibed really well. They brought so much to the project, and I can’t wait to work with them again.

How much is the sound and production shaped by you (the band) in that kind of a situation?

We brought the music in. It was pretty much written and arranged, except for one [track]. “Oversaturated” was actually the one that we hadn’t. We had it basically arranged, but that was crafted in the studio more than other tracks, and the whole band, the core members of the band were all present. In terms of production, Jerry and Ryan engineered it, and then helped us conceive our vision and helped us get really crazy sounds that we wouldn’t have been able to find. You know, they have such a huge array of crazy old vintage boards and synths and amazing microphones and pedals and different rooms to get different reverberations.

Did you have a favorite piece of equipment or part of that studio?


I really, really loved the mic that I was recording on. A Vintage AKG c24 with a Neve 1064 mic pre and a vintage [UREI] blackface 1176. Super money butter, so much fun to sing into.

I’ve never ever come up with a mic that sounds as good as that. It was like looking into a mirror but you’re all Photoshopped or something. Every note was perfect. He had some crazy mics and really fun ideas, like, instantly [snaps]… he’s just such a Yes Waver, going with the flow, but he had fun ideas of how to use all of his equipment. One of the mics was apparently the same model that Hitler used to give his speeches. Yeah. He had all these crazy vintage mics that we used for the background vocals on “Pain From Love Reprise” because they had this really tinny [shaping her hands around her mouth] “auhh” sort of sound.

You describe yourself as Yes Wave. What is Yes Wave?

Yes Wave to me, or at least what it has been to us, is basically when you’re driving around Brooklyn and you get a green light, and then, like, the rest of the lights turn green…and they’re all just turning green. That’s [snaps] what a Yes Wave is. We’re not claiming any musical descriptors.

You used to be in Boston. How do you compare Boston to New York City as a working musician?

It’s funny because before that I actually lived in Burlington, and they’re all different sizes. Burlington is the smallest, and they all really have their merits. In some ways I really miss living in Burlington or Boston because it’s a more tight-knit community and it’s just a little bit more manageable. New York can get so overwhelming, and you have to work a lot harder, and it takes more time to find your social spot and to not get swept up in the insanity. Just being in the industry, though, there’s so much opportunity. Not necessarily for gigs, per se, because when we were in Burlington we had gigs every single night. But it’s not really about the gigs, I guess.

For me, being in New York is about all these amazing people. All different kinds of talented people. I mean there’s artists, and poets, and filmmakers, and fashionistas, and everyone’s on the ground level just wanting to make something pop, and wanting to collaborate. And they can hop in on a project at the drop of a dime; they’re just ready to go.

What was it like working with Marco Benevento on his new album?

It was just a lot of pure fun. It was so uninhibited. Awesome happiness. We got along really well and we were able to embrace each other’s ideas really easily on the fly. In “This Is How It Goes,” [Marco] wrote all those words in the melody and just wanted a voice to come sing it. It ended up being a really fun recording experience.

He had Stuart [Bogie] and I come out to his house for “Limbs of a Pine” and that was just a crazy writing night! We stayed up all night, and we had a million different sweet mics, and all these crazy amps, and we just tracked over and over. By the end of the night we were like, ‘We know this is sick. We don’t know what it is, but we know it’s fuckin’ cool.’ And then Marco mixed it all and arranged it. Lo and behold it’s pretty cool. We just did the video for that a few weekends ago.

You and Alex [Toth] do most of the writing, but do you send things back and forth between your band members or do you all get together and flesh it out?

Alex and I are a writing team and we’ll do a lot of work individually. But almost always it passes through the other person. We do a lot on GarageBand. I just got Logic and I love Logic, but GarageBand is easier. So, sometimes he’ll send me a demo in GarageBand that’s like a perfect jewel and it’s done. And other times it’s not so perfect and we’ll just go back and forth, the two of us. And usually whenever we reach a certain state of done-ness, we’ll send it out to the band, and then have a rehearsal and we’ll learn the parts.

In the rehearsal we’ll really just feel out those parts and see if they work, and maybe we need to write more, or maybe we need to take something away or change something.

What does the future of Rubblebucket look like?

I think that we’ve really, really come into our sound. It has been an evolution, but we’re really excited about where it is now. We just want to keep working with these sounds, and these people, and these producers, and just make it better and better, and hopefully more and more valuable to the universe.

I think that with time off these days I just crave writing more than anything. Even though it’s hard to make it work in this day and age because there’s no such thing as making money off records – the heartbeat, I think, is writing and recording beautiful music.

photos by Eric White