Choices, choices. We should all be resting up to rock out at (and brave the dangers of) the Treasure Island Festival this weekend, but it's hard to resist the double-octopod charm of the Vermont-via-Brooklyn ensemble Rubblebucket. They're flying all the way across the country for a two-night residency at the Boom Boom Room, celebrating the release of the winning Triangular Daisies EP (October 19th on Sin Duda Records) before hitting the road and studio once more. Check them out on Friday or Saturday night if you're into smooth-riding horn arrangements and exuberant covers of melancholy Beatles songs, or just want to know what it sounds like when eight different freak flags fly in perfect unison.
We distracted founders Alex Toth and Kalmia Traver from preparing for their cross-country trip in order to discuss the East Coast-West Coast rivalry, how they won the Boston Music Award last year for best live act, and whether all the triangles really mean what we think they do.
What are the logistical issues of touring with eight people?
Kalmia: Last time we came to the West Coast we drove all the way, so we had all our stuff, but having a big van with everything is pretty crazy in its own right. Our keyboard player has the most equipment of all of us -- he has a Hammond organ and Leslie speaker, and a bunch of old, really cool vintage keyboards, and that takes up a lot of space, a lot of carrying in and out...
Alex: What we did was three of us drove across the country, four days straight, and the other guys all flew out. That actually evened out with saving money on hotel rooms and stuff. This time the Boom Boom Room actually has an organ and Leslie there, and they have a drum set and a bunch of amps and stuff like that, so it just worked out.
Are you just doing San Francisco, or are you doing a whole West Coast tour?
Alex: We were originally gonna do a whole tour to follow up on our first West Coast tour this summer, but we realized we really just need space and time to dig into songwriting and recording this album. We'd been going basically non-stop since February, and it gets really intense when you're on the road that much with nine people. New music is what it's all about -- that's what keeps the energy going through the band.
Kalmia: We decided to just pop over there and do these two dates. We're doing this because we had such an awesome time this summer out in California, and we want to keep that energy going. We started at the Boom Boom Room and headed north from there, played festivals like the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, then went up north to Seattle and Portland and Idaho. On the way back we hit High Sierra, which was definitely one of the highlights.
Are you all East Coast people?
Kalmia: Everyone except for our drummer, who grew up in the Bay Area.
So what's your collective feeling about the West Coast?
Kalmia: Uh... we want to move there.
Alex: Yeah, we were really, really considering it after our experience out there. I feel like 70 percent of the band would want to do it if we just decided to do that some time next year. We all love it so much.
Kalmia: I grew up in Vermont my whole life, and I really love plants and everything, but it seems like out west the plants are so much bigger and more beautiful and more voluminous and happier. I really like the spirit and the attitude out there.
Alex: San Francisco melts me more than any other city. Kal and I used to be in a band called John Brown's Body, and I've been out there for a few shows with them. Every time I'm there, it just feels like the best day of my life, or something. I don't know what it is. There's something in the air.
What's the secret to your allegedly kick-ass live show? Or what's your philosophy?
Kalmia: I feel like I'm not there yet -- I guess the live performance for me is such a powerful part of my life that's started to emerge since I've been out of college. I think, on the most fundamental level, it has to do with the drum and bass and the vibrating -- the vibrating! I know that sounds sort of funny, but when you have things amplified that loudly, it brings everyone together instantly. It's a meditative state, at the most fundamental level, and then everything after that is just crazy... social explosion.
Alex: For me, there's some fairly deep psychological stuff that I don't even know if I should go into, but at times it feels like everything's on the line, every minute of every show, and I have to put every ounce of my being and time into every moment, and try to hold that focus. It's something I think we're all still cultivating, working with those fast waves of emotion and energy, keeping that spinning the whole time.
Kalmia: Just being free to be ourselves on stage is a big thing too. Every performer has to break through the stage fright thing -- I feel like that was a long time ago for me, but still at every show there's a little bit of breaking in that we have to do, and I've really enjoyed finding those ways to feel completely free, like running out into the crowd. If there's anywhere to start a dance party, this is the place. Could be on the street, in front of the Empire State Building or in the middle of the woods, but this is the most perfect place to do it, and people are in the mood. You can really look people in the eye and smile and they smile right back, and it's... fun.
What's on tap for this next album you're recording?
Alex: It'll be our third studio album. We're releasing this EP on October 19 -- we should have hard copies of it at the San Francisco shows, if DiscMakers does their job right. That's got a song called "Came Out of a Lady" on it, which we had the opportunity to record in one day for this web series. We were about to record backup vocals and some other stuff, and they were like, "nope, we have to shut the studio down" -- so it'll be really fun to rerecord that one and really dig into the percussion. And we have seven or eight songs that we haven't recorded yet, that have been just growing and growing, and it'll be cool to record those. We're gonna debut at least two new songs in San Francisco this weekend.
I just think it's really important to play songs live -- it's not crucial, but I think it's really helpful to let them grow and develop that way before you record them. Songs grow a lot in the studio; when you lay it all out you can really start to tweak the arrangements and the production and stuff like that. The process of recording our last album really changed us as a band; we came out of it with a much stronger sense of our identity, and I feel like it's gonna happen again with this album, more so.
What are your songs about?
Kalmia: I feel like my songs are always about the same thing, things I experience in the world -- my own personal struggles mixed with the world being on the brink of... like, environmental destruction and humanity collapsing in on itself or something. Almost every time I sit down to write words I find I'm thinking about those things.
Alex: My songs are just about people, what we're doing here, and that we're going to die at some point. I'll just be sitting on a subway train thinking about different people and the struggles they're going through and what we're all doing here -- it's pretty wild.
Frankly, from the tracklist of the EP, I kind of thought all your songs were about vaginas.
Kalmia: It's very possible.
Alex: We're having T-shirts designed by an art collective some friends of ours just started, called Hack Interactive, and we're doing some big collaborations on a few shows out east with them. We just did a couple of sketches, and one of them that we worked on was actually a cubist vagina.
Kalmia: And cubist boobs.
Alex: Yeah. So that might tie it all together.