LEAGUE OF OPTIMISTS Rubblebucket

Brooklyn indie rockers aim for the ultimate song.

 

BY
ANNAMARYA SCACCIA

 

“Brooklyn’s so incredibly green and gorgeous right now, so
it’s actually nice to stay home,” says Rubblebucket’s lead vocalist/saxophonist
Kalmina Traver of the beautiful splice in the drab weather that’s pummeled the
east coast for the last few weeks.

 

Talking
from her home on the borough’s Bushwick-Bed Sty border, Traver is taking this
day in early June to soak in some relaxation. It’s a much-needed break for the
hyper-excited, quick talking 27-year-old, who, along with her band mates Alex
Toth (trumpet/vocals/hyper-kinetics), Adam Dotson (trombone/vocals), Dave Cole
(drums), Darby Wolf (keyboards), Craig Myers (percussion), Jordan Brooks
(bass), and Ian Hersey (guitar), spent most of the “dark and depressing” winter
working on their latest record, Omega La La, which dropped late June on
Sin Duda Records. According to Traver, in addition to the multitude of album
work that needed attention, the Brooklyn-based outfit drove excessively through
the sleet, snow, and cold of winter between their homes and the studios where
they pieced Omega La La together – those being the Manhattan-located
Plantain/DFA Studios and DFA producer Eric Broucek’s studio in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint section.

 

What
resulted from these nearly three months of craftsmanship, which included
writing (some of which took place before landing in Brooklyn
in March of last year), artwork, and “all the technical stuff,” is an
overwhelming and audacious record that diverges from their projected musical
norm. The record is an outpouring bombast of exceedingly optimistic rhythms,
one that ameliorates the waves of electric harmonies and eclectic art-rock
chords from 2010’s self-titled effort and Triangular Daisies EP. It’s a
difference in sound that Traver openly acknowledges – according to the
Burlington, Vermont native, Rubblebucket traversed news lands, ambitiously
searching uncharted rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic territories that extend
beyond “the standard rhythms you’re used to.” It’s magical, if nothing else.

 

In
a way, such exploration seems effortless when the pretense of stringent
practice is removed from the equation. The band barely rehearses because,
Traver says, tranquility and errand-running take precedent during downtime from
their busy lives and hectic touring schedules. Plus, she adds, they only really
get together for shows and recording since they all reside in different cities:
New Jersey native Toth; Dotson,
Calif., native Cole; Brooks, Hersey, and
herself all live in different parts of New York City;
while Myers lives in his Burlington, VT hometown and Wolf lives in his hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts.
Except for “Worker,” every track on Omega La La was played extensively
on the road for over a year before they were recorded (“Worker” manifested
during post-production and after partial recording). So the stage is really
their practice space, where their “music comes to life.”

 

This
musical turnabout is also thanks to Broucek’s golden touch. According to the frontwoman,
the seasoned producer, whose repertoire includes LCD Soundsystem, Cut Copy, and
Hercules & Love Affair, brought to the record a sound that beholds his
heart – evident most, she says, in the drums and “the way he produced them and
the choices he made.” It also didn’t hurt, at least metaphysically, that his
studio was equipped with an outboard mixer that didn’t save presets. So when
they mixed a track, which took a little less than a day for each, that was
that. The only way they’d revisit a song, she says, is if they absolutely had
to and, if that was the case, it meant back at square one. “That was actually a
little nerve-racking but that’s the way he works. That’s what he really wanted
to do and I ultimately am really happy with how it came out,” says Traver,
adding that Broucek “brought a sense of continuity to the album” she thinks may
have been amiss otherwise.

 

His
influence on Omega La La could be heard in another way as well: the
consuming presence of synths. The amount of synths used for Rubblebucket’s
latest was more than ever before, a product, Traver claims, of both
self-intention and a great deal of instruments at the DFA compound. “[It]
literally had more synths than I can count,” she says. “They are all these
incredible, really hard-to-find, vintage, beautiful, in pristine condition
[synths]. That in itself was a certain sound to our record.”

 

But
Omega La La‘s variants expand beyond lack of rehearsals and legendary
producers. It also has everything to do with Rubblebucket’s evolution. Whereas
previous records Rubblebucket would draw from their Afro-beat influencers,
particularly the burgeoning American Afro-beat movement of recent years, Omega
La La
leans more towards hard-lined art-dance and electro-noise funk taking
hold of the east coast. Plus, she says, the troupe purposely focused on
writing songs that, while still “people-friendly” and “dance worthy,” could
also be potentially radio-friendly. It’s a calculated change, asserts Traver-a
band phylogeny they’re excited to hear.

 

Even
though this sonic shift is deliberate, its title, Omega La La, was delighted
mishap. While brainstorming, Traver decided that “la la” needed a place in the
title somehow. And, in the process of jotting down her ideas, her finger
slipped on the keyboard, unintentionally typing out the symbol for the Greek
letter “Omega.” So she threw “omega la la” into the hat. The consensus was “it
sounded really cool.”

 

What
was mere happenstance, however, turned out to be far more symbolic beyond
initial comprehension. According to Traver, the troupe let “omega la la” simmer
for some time before deciding its permanency as the album’s title. And it was
during this time that Omega La La‘s veritable truth revealed itself – they
learned that, among the many synonyms attached, “omega” can mean “the
ultimate.” Couple that with “la la,” which Traver translates as “singing a
song,” and you have “the ultimate song.” “I think that kind of fits because I
think [Omega La La] is the furthest we’ve gone in a song direction
rather than just long jams or instrumental stuff,” she says.

 

While
this is, of course, just another manifestation of Rubblebucket’s ecstatic,
off-beat creativity, you can’t help but wonder if a little spiritual
intervention was involved. All things considered, doesn’t the true meaning of anything unveil itself most when one’s open to possibilities rather than desperately
seeking an answer? “There’s so many different ways that cool ideas can come
into your life and it’s good to just be open to all of them,” offers Traver,
preferring to let those “cool ideas” develop on their own, in their own terms,
instead of doing everything with “big intention.”

 

Really,
these happy accidents seem to be a part of the collective’s core existence.
After all, they chose the name Rubblebucket because of pure chance too. Myers,
a veteran stone mason, would always ask for the rubblebucket, an oversized
vessel used in construction to collect – you guessed it – rubble. He found the
term to be “the funniest word ever” and amusing for a band name, so when he was
offered a random gig at an art show one night and needed an appellation, he
used Rubblebucket. And, according to Traver, that not only was the night she
first met him but also when the band really started, so it stuck.

 

But
these unforeseen but deeply emblematic occurrences transpire even without some
semblance of intent. Take this for example: According to Traver, what inspired
the lyrics on Omega La La is nature, be it the environment itself or
humanity’s connection to it (she wrote most of the songs with Toth, while
Dotson penned a couple as well, including “Raining,” originally titled “Raining
in Brooklyn.”) For her part, she admits she finds herself continually drawn to
apocalyptic themes, particularly the fear of the world ending, pointing to
“Rescue Ranger” and “Breatherz (Young as Clouds)” as audible evidence. “To put
it more rationally, global warming and everything freaks me out. Our world as
we know it is sort of ending, and that’s a [point] of inspiration for me
because it’s constant. It never ends. I feel like I’m seeing more things every
day that [are] exploding, mind-numbing, and scary. You can definitely hear a
lot of that in our music,” she explains, all the while loud, bombastic sirens
blare beyond the windows, almost silencing her voice.

 

***

 

But
there’s another element present on Omega La La that happened to be absent on previous outings – the sound of Brooklyn,
of which Traver says Broucek helped add to the record. Before the bulk of the
crew moved to the flourishing borough over a year ago, Rubblebucket was
absorbing its exciting musical acumen. It’s part of the reason they moved from Boston,
where they lived for two and a half years, to be close to the artists that
truly inspire them, like Dirty Projectors, Sufjan Stevens, and MGMT. “I don’t know if actually I can say there’s this
dividing line [of] all of a sudden we’re here and our music has changed but I
have heard a lot of people say our record sounds more Brooklyn-y,” she says.

 

What exactly is the Brooklyn sound, though? For the leader of the eight-piece,
it’s a fusion throwback of 1980s electronica, disco, and synth-pop with threads
of avant-garde, noise and drone, which she expresses love for with elongated enthusiasm.
“What
excited me about Brooklyn is the quality of
music and musicianship around here,” she says. “There’s so much of it, and even
though it can be so diverse and so different, it almost always got something
really cool. I can tell people are really passionate about working on their
craft.”

 

“For
me, it was just to be in a city in general because I’m from Vermont
and it’s so different,” she adds, noting that, while she loved both Vermont and Boston,
Rubblebucket was on a “trajectory towards New
York City, where everything is larger than life. We
just wanted to be in this really dense musical and art scene and try to throw
ourselves in to the thick of it.”

 

For
Rubblebucket, relocating to Brooklyn was just a natural progression from what
they achieved as a band in Boston.
And so far it’s proven to be a smart move. While the Northeast is where they
laid the general groundwork for the collective, focusing on non-stop touring
and fanbase build-up, it’s in New
York where they have access to a swarm of resources
that allowed them to kick their work into high gear. Since moving further down
the east coast, Rubblebucket has landed “a lot of cool opportunities” including
recording sessions, and has started creating music videos. Last summer, they
filmed the video for their single “Came out a Lady,” and recently premiered the
video for “Silly Fathers” on Stereogum (the one for “Down in the Yards,” which
will feature New York-based dancers, is set to release this month). She
considers videos to be an “awesome” creative outlet; an extension of the
artwork she crafts for Rubblebucket’s screen-printed t-shirts and DIY album
covers.

 

 

 

“It’s
so easy [in Brooklyn]. Everyone here is so
game to be creative, and I think there’s a real hunger in general to get
involved in things,” says Traver. “The video as an art form is becoming more
important than it ever has been. I’m just witnessing this happen [for] the past
couple of years with these crazy big montage videos that Lady Gaga has been
putting out and MIA. It’s really so exciting.”

 

Their
videos are also a translation of their rumbustious live shows. With a minimal
budget, Rubblebucket has procured different visual elements and techniques to
experiment with on stage, including props of the neon and comical variety
(yellow streamers, forest backdrops, and ghost outfits for
fans-turned-dancers). It’s just the beginning, she says, but they’re thrilled
to flesh out. “It’s just a whole new element to the creativity. It’s your job
but it basically makes it more fun.”

 

As
Rubblebucket’s frontrunner, Traver embraces the possibilities of a phenomenal,
visually-invested live show. It’s important for her, and her deep-rooted love
of music, to turn a simple gig into a literal “departure from the world”
because, she claims, only a handful of professions have the purpose of
spreading happiness. So channeling that energy, that exodus from the material
sphere, and turning it into an all-out sweaty dance party where people “leave
the room just wanting to make love” is the ultimate goal. “I think that really
enables people to believe it more and get invested more.”

 

No wonder, then, that Encore magazine has compared
Rubblebucket’s music as something akin to yes-wave , which it described as “an
opposition to the ‘90s ‘No’ wave, mainly consisting of people who are virtuosic
on their instruments and focus on harmonious creations.” And for Traver, who’s
heard the term thrown about but can’t pinpoint the first moment it went from
lips to ear, it means encompassing and appreciating positivity and silly
gestures without fear. “It’s not a very descriptive category but from
everything I’ve heard, yea. I’d be happy to call myself that if an actual
movement emerged,” she says.

 

“That’s
who I am. I’m such an optimist and it pisses people off sometimes but I like it.”

 

 

Rubblebucket
kicks off an east coast tour this weekend. Tour dates at their official
website
.

 

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