Artist Q&A: Rubblebucket


Brooklyn eight-piece experiemental rock act Rubblebucket will be in Macon February 9, playing the Cox Theatre with Jubee and the Morning After and Baby Baby. We’re big fans of the band at The Cluster, and so to promote the show, I sat down with Rubblebucket trumpeteer and vocalist Alex Toth. Read it.
Eric Brown: So, for starters, tell me a little bit about the band for people that may not be familiar with you guys.
Alex Toth: Well, we’re from New York City in Brooklyn, but I guess we’re all from different parts of the northeast. We met in Vermont, and then we were all in Boston for a couple of years, and now we’re in Brooklyn. Our sound has gone through transformations during each of those moves, and we keep evolving musically. I don’t know. I guess we have a reputation for a really fun and powerful live show and for writing kind of weird, funky pop songs. We’re an eight-piece band, fronted by Kalmia Turner. There’s horns and percussion and synthesizers. Yeah, it’s a fun time.
EB: So how would you say your sound has evolved over the years?
AT: We started out sounding more like a wide-open, tribal, rhythmic dance-jam. From that very large block of wood, we’ve been trimming things down and making them more dynamic. We’ve been getting more and more into rhythm and melody and lyrics and recording aesthetics. There’s been a phase of combining riff-based rock with Afro-beat, and that was interesting. And our last album Omega La La, which we’ve done a couple tours on, has a sound that is a more experimental mix of pop and dance music. Sort of a dance-punk direction.
Now we’re working on a lot of new music, and another really cool project. We’ve been working on these large, 13- or 14-foot-tall robot puppets. One human can man one puppet, and I’m hoping these make it down to Georgia. The problem is that we’re touring in a van with a trailer, and they might get crushed. We’re hoping to make them transportable.
EB: Who made those for you guys?
AT: This kid Neil [Fridd]. He’s in a band called Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt. They opened for us back in the fall. Are you familiar with Luaka Bop?
EB: I’m not.
AT: Luaka Bop is [former Talking Heads frontman] David Byrne’s record label. So, this band signed to Luaka Bop, and we met him through that. He’s just a really crazy kid, and he makes all sorts of amazing stuff. He supplied us with some other props, too. But yeah, hopefully the robots fit. It depends on the size of the trailer and how high the ceilings at the venue are, too. But Neil made us some other fun stuff too, but I don’t want to give it all away.
EB: Of course not. So it sounds like you put a lot of work into creating a really theatrical live show. What kind of work and thought goes into creating these shows?
AT: We’ve developed so much on stage, musically and performance-wise. We love connecting, and for me, I feel a really deep connection with the audience, knowing that we’re uplifting people, inspiring them, and causing them to rethink certain things. Plus I like getting really sweaty.
Ideally, we blow people’s minds, like everyone’s minds, all the time.  We’re reaching for that and putting everything we have into every show.  It’s cathartic for us, night after night, to get to do that, and the theatrical element is something I’d like for us to get more into.  Right now, there’s interesting visual stuff happening, and I want to make it even bigger.  To be more experimental, to mess with the medium of the audience, to mess with that wall between the audience and the band, to make it one continuous thing.
EB:  You mentioned more experimental songs, more experimental performances.  Do you ever consciously think, We need to make this song weirder or more different, or is it a natural process that grows out of song writing?
AT:  It’s a totally natural process of following what sounds interesting, and at the end of the day, we all have to believe in it.  I could write a Lady Gaga song.  I could study the format of that song and the melodic and rhythmic properties, and I could replicate those same song styles.  Artist do that — they understand what someone else is doing, what makes a song successful.  However, it’s hard to do that and then play those songs night after night and actually believe in what you’re doing.  For us, we have to believe in what we’re doing.  It has to be something mysterious, fresh, something we haven’t heard a million times before.  That’s what we naturally do.  That’s how we keep it interesting.
EB:  There are eight members in your band, right?  [Yes.] Is it difficult writing songs, to hold that many elements together at once?
AT:  There are a lot of difficult aspects of having eight people in your band [laughs], but we’re very diligent, and we all really believe in what we’re doing.  But sometimes, I’ll say, “I love this chorus” or “I love this beat,” and then I’ll think, “Oh shit, I didn’t write the horn part or the percussion part.” And if that happens, then that person’s just going to be standing on the stage.  It can be challenging because you don’t want to bring in an instrument just for the sake of including a certain instrument.  You want to write those parts because the song wants it to be there.  It can be challenging to have that tension across the board.  We have to be cautious.
EB:  What would you say your major influences are, as far as song-writing goes?
AT:  It’s hard to say because I’m not really modeling our sound after any one thing.  I’m trying to dodge a specific artist field and to just write songs that I really like.  Actually, I’ve recently been listening to a lot of gangster rap from the late 80s.  The Dre productions and the Bomb Squad stuff.  Old jams.  I used to not listen to jazz or funk, but now, I look at the way they mash their music up, and that makes me think more about lyrics, expanding my songwriting vocabulary.
EB:  Tell me about the tour you’re going on.
AT:  Every tour is a big production, and we haven’t done a full-on stop; this will be the most comprehensive show.  We’re playing in the Grassroots Festival — not sure if that’s the right name — in Miami for the first time.  There are going to be some really cool bands there, like Tune-Yards.  We’re releasing a live album, too.  It won’t be out when we come to Macon.  But on this tour, we’re really just excited about bringing Omega La La to the southeast.
EB:  Are you premiering new songs?
AT: I’m pretty careful about playing too many new songs that haven’t been recorded, but at the same time, I want to work on them, and it helps to play them on stage before recording, which we’ll be doing soon.  I’m working on a Blondie-Master Flash mash-up cover right now.