My experience with Rubblebucket goes way back – to the summer of 1987, when I wasborn and first met lead singer and baritone saxist Kalmia Traver, then four. Kalmia wasalready well on her way to being a multi-instrument prodigy (penny whistle, recorder,alphabet burping), and I was already drowning in the ginormous shadow that she cast justby breathing. When she put our brother in a dress, blonde wig and heels, let me put on hislipstick, then forced his elastic micro-limbs into a diva pose, I knew she was a natural performer.
Kalmia met Alex Toth (band leader, trumpeter, guy, brother-from-another-mother, Jersey)in a latin jazz combo in Burlington, VT. I’m assuming she also dressed him in drag,because he liked her and they became friends, painting the town with their loud hornplaying. In 2006, they moved to Boston, where they did respectable things for money.Kalmia nude modeled for art classes, and Alex was hustling marching band gigs at $50 apop, for which he was required to wear a black shirt and march around for six hours at atime OR NO PAY NO WATER NO DINNER. It was like that scene in Oliver Twist.Naturally, out of this hot, tarry, magical, broke-ass time, Rubblebucket emerged like ahuge, slippery, post-afrobeat baby. Alex had met trombonist Adam Dotson at one of thesemarching gigs, and the three began composing and playing the first songs inRubblebucket’s repertoire. Soon, they were joined by three more friends – guitarist IanHersey, drummer Dave Cole, and 15-seater van Puppy – and started taking theRubblebucket show on the road.
The first time I heard Rubblebucket perform live, two things happened: I realized thiswas the coolest thing on earth, like the lovechild of a unicorn and the Tom Tom Club, andI asked them if I could sell their merchandise at shows. You know what they say – thosewho can’t do, sell merch. Night after night, standing behind that table of CDs, thongs andbeer cozies, while Rubblebucket transformed the crowd from a skeptical wall of peopleinto one big, happy, silly, jiving, open-hearted mass was an unforgettable experience.Their music does that – it just does. You can’t know it until you see it. And everyone whosees it, knows it. Like Paste, who said it best: “music that will make anyone with a pulsedance.” (I’ll annotate this by extending it to you pulse-less readers. You, zombie. I knowyou’re out there.) The Rubblebucket condition has spread, melting cares in its way. Itbarges in like an escaped rhino and triggers everyone, everywhere, to let loose and feel. Arm-crossing be damned!
I’ve been to many Rubblebucket shows. But it wasn’t until I was mid-crowd in NYC’s Bowery Ballroom and heard a guy in front of me say to his friend “the singer looks so hot tonight” (but? Gross? That’s my sister?) that I knew Rubblebucket had made it. Theexperts will tell you that, actually, this was when they released their 2011 album OmegaLa La, with its headlining tracks “Came Out of Lady” and “Silly Fathers,” and reached awhole new, larger audience. Or, when they flew out to LA to play on Jimmy KimmelLive, and got free pizza and Alex almost puked backstage. Or, when their song “Cameout of a Lady” appeared in the movie Drinking Buddies, and I was suddenly one giantleap closer to meeting Anna Kendrick (that’s when I knew I had made it). Or, when theirgreen rooms started stocking guacamole. Or, when their 2012 and 2013 EPsOversaturated and Save Charlie introduced fans to the next and the next evolution ofRubblebucket, and more and more people fell in love. Now, much to my drool and direimpatience, the band is hovering on the knife’s edge of their next highly anticipatedalbum release, Survival Sounds (Communion Records, Aug. 2014). Prepare yourself, universe.
Rubblebucket is many things and nothing at all; it’s a mindset, a legend, a feeling, a mystery; a mischievous, playful, boundary-smashing blast of sound that you can sit still and wonder at, or turn off your mind and move wildly to. Or both at the same time. As Kalmia said, when she handed me one of her now-famous peanut butter, cheddar cheese, cabbage, honey tacos, “This is the weirdest, most delicious thing you will ever taste.” And if you won’t take it on my authority, take it on the authority of a small, but reputable publication called Rolling Stone, reporting from Bonnaroo: “Rubblebucket revved up likean indie-rock Miami Sound Machine, dancers, horns and all.” And if you won’t take it on Rolling Stone’s authority, cleave to the words of guitarist Ian: “Our music is like being at a raging party, but in the center of it, there’s this beautiful painting that you’re staring at, trying to wrap your mind around.” Or the words of our dad, Tim Traver: “Kids these days.”