Rubblebucket is waiting for the bus. Not the one to take them from their Brooklyn home to a gig across town, but the one they’ll happily cruise around the country in, mixing up dance floors with their quirky, memorable performances. Until then, the eight-piece band (plus tour manager/sound engineer) pile into a van whenever it’s time for tour.
“It’s pretty tight,” admits lead singer Kalmia Traver. “We have a few friends who are real warriors, who have done thousands of tours, and they’re like, ‘Trust me, once you get in the tour bus, your life changes for the better, big time.'”
Those days shouldn’t be too far off, thanks to recent accolades that include a nod from Paste magazine for their song “Came Out of a Lady” (from 2011’s Omega La La, their third full-length release) as a top 50 tune of the year. They’ve also got the advantage of understanding how to market themselves in today’s indie music world, offering Omega La La as a free download on their website before releasing physical copies, keeping up an active Twitter feed, and pairing each song release with a memorably off-the-wall music video.
“I don’t know when it hit, like, ‘Oh my gosh, we need videos and we’re already behind,'” Traver says. “Maybe it’s just because the culture of popular music has changed so fast I just can’t believe it. It makes sense to the human brain — I don’t just want to hear it. I don’t just want to see a picture. I want to witness it. So videos are now just a part of the way we communicate all the time.”
Their video for “Came Out of a Lady” serves as a perfect introduction. Traver acquired a sewing machine for the purpose of designing a giant Technicolor tent with head and arm holes for each band member. The resulting collage soars off into a black hole-like dark space as heads and hands emerge to play their instruments. For a home art project (and directed in-house by drummer Dave Cole), the final result is staggeringly impressive. Over 160,000 hits on YouTube attest to that.
Another music video for “Down in the Yards” features dancers from New York’s Juilliard School creating a choreographed graveyard montage that’s reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
“The video part of our craft has been so incredibly fun to build up, and challenging too,” Traver says. “It’s just really good to be forced into situations where you have to flex your creative muscle and move in directions that are new.”
Although the touring group makes decisions collectively (the live show includes three horns, guitar, organ, percussion, drums, and bass), Traver and her boyfriend/trumpeter Alex Toth lie at the band’s core. The couple, who met as undergrads at the University of Vermont, have toured and played together with reggae band John Brown’s Body for three years before forming Rubblebucket. Many members have made their way through the band over the last four years, an understandable shelf life for players in an orchestra-like ensemble hitting the road in a van.
“We’ve reached the point where the band we have sees the potential,” Traver says. “I like my band family.”
Toth plays de facto band manager, scheduling rehearsal and handling business. Somewhere amidst it all, he and Traver manage to maintain a romantic relationship.
“It’s a constant struggle,” Traver laughs. “When we first started touring with John Brown’s Body, we needed to learn how to be more private and not annoy people with PDA.”
Before hitting the road for a Southeast tour that includes their second trip to the Pour House, Rubblebucket were hard at work in New York on a new EP they’ll debut at SXSW in Austin in March. Their first Charleston stop last year only brought out a handful of people “who were already there drinking,” says Traver, but she hopes to turn on new fans to their sound with this repeat visit. Back home, they recently sold out the Bowery Ballroom in their first ever appearance there, a “symbolically huge” feat for the group. “We like to shake the floor,” states Traver, pausing for emphasis. “Then we know our job has been done.”