Olivia Foster: Alrighty, hello, my name is Olivia Foster and I’m here with Radio UTD, speaking to Kalmia Traver from Rubblebucket. Do you wanna introduce yourself and Rubblebucket?
Kalmia Traver: Hello airwaves of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, my name is Kal, Kalmia Traver, and I sing with Rubblebucket, and we’re playing tonight at Tulips.
Perfect. So, when I was researching this interview, I was trying to find which genre you guys were technically classified as, and there were some really interesting options coming up. I think one that I saw a lot was “yes wave.”
I know. But you and—it’s Alex Toth, right?
So you guys both have a bit of a brassy jazz background if I’m not mistaken, like sax and trumpet.
Yeah, definitely. We totally grew up loving jazz music—I mean, loving all kinds of music, but I was obsessed with jazz from a really young age, and I just wanted to be like Charlie Parker, or like Dizzy Gillespie and pop my cheeks out really big on my instrument. And I just loved the sounds of it and the warmth of the harmony, and I love Ella Fitzgerald. And then Alex and I met at the University of Vermont in the jazz program, so that was definitely one of our biggest influences musically.
Yeah, you can definitely hear it. I don’t know, I’m a “Lemonade” fan—
—and my sister is so done with me trying to play it for her constantly, because she’s a big trumpet girl. But, it’s so nice to be able to hear that you guys have a lot of multi-genre influences in your music. Because, you guys were originally called Rubblebucket Orchestra, right?
How many band members did you start off performing with, and how has that changed over time?
Well, it’s definitely gotten smaller. In the very beginning, we had I think at some certain points like twelve or even fourteen people onstage, which seems absurd now. Those were really fun shows, but it’s definitely not sustainable from a financial standpoint, or even mental health, to tour with that many people on the road. So now we’re down to six onstage, and it’s kind of been hovering there. Which still feels big in these days, y’know. There’s not so many big bands out there.
Yeah. What does everyone play? Because, I know you and Alex do vocals, right?
And then you play sax and he plays trumpet. What does everyone else do?
Well, we’ve got Sean Smith on trumpet and keyboards, and we have Steven Beckhert on bass and Ryan Dugre on guitar, and Rebecca Lasaponaro on drums.
Nice, okay. And did they record Earth Worship with you guys, or are they just touring with you?
Well, Sean and Ryan both performed on the record and the other two, we just added to the live band for this tour.
Nice. Speaking of Earth Worship, it’s been out for a couple months now, right? Like, late October, 2022?
Okay, what was the creative process behind that like? I mean, especially with you guys coming from a jazz background and everything. In a lot of interviews I read from you guys, you talked a lot about your creative processes. So, what was Earth Worship like?
Well, for the first time—I’m trying to remember back—we did a “song a day” process, Alex and I, where we set aside seven days and each wrote a song a day. Actually, we did that with a bunch of our friends. It was, like, thirty people. This was during the pandemic in 2020. We organized it so that every day, there would be a SoundCloud in the morning with everyone’s new songs. It was just a way to have accountability and community around creating. It was really, really fun. We ended up with about fourteen songs, and then Alex and I, just the two of us, did a second week-long process of taking each other’s songs. We also used some songs from the past, and adding to them and kind of finishing them, building them up, helping to finish the writing. And all of that was finished by around December, 2020.
So then we went into the recording studio in February of 2021 and recorded everything with a live band, with Sean and Ryan and our other drummer, Jeremy. And so yeah, it was actually pretty direct, I would say. Like, whereas in the past it’s taken more left turns, this time it was kind of just like “boom, boom, boom,” all the ducks in a row, and go forth and finish it.
That’s actually amazing. Was there any kind of burnout with how quick that was?
I’ve definitely been experiencing burnout this past year, I think. We actually did take a big break in the middle. After we finished the recording, it was the summer of 2021, and it felt very much like we had been so isolated and cut off for so long. I just needed to spend as much time with my family as I could and do some traveling and feel all the feelings. We picked it back up at the very beginning of 2022. But 2022 has just been—the past, whatever, 14 months—has really truly been a grind. It’s just felt like we’ve been working this as a day job. Y’know, a full-time job to get everything finished and ready, and now we’re touring. It’s been very exciting, but burnout is real. [chuckles]
Yeah. I was speaking to someone in a line to go see Flor, and they were talking about how the last live concert they had seen was Rubblebucket—
—and how just thinking about it made them more excited to go out and see more live music. So I guess my question is, coming into something burnt out and maybe just feeling like you’ve been on the grind for so long, is touring more a relief, or is it just a different kind of beast altogether?
Oh, you nailed it. It’s a different beast for sure. It’s so different. It’s such a full-body, full-spirit immersion of work. It really feels like, when I’m on tour, I’m pretty much either working or sleeping. But luckily, the work is so fun and so social, and I get to see so many beautiful faces and meet new people, and of course, play music, which I love, and dance, which I love. And it’s super creative. But yeah, it’s very immersive. And it feels like a release. It gives back a lot of energy too.
That’s amazing. So you guys are on—correct me if I’m wrong; I knew this on Friday and I don’t know anymore—your fifth day of tour?
Oh great question. Oh man. It’s all flying by. I think so, yeah. This is our fourth show, but yesterday was a drive day.
Gotcha. You were telling me you guys have kind’ve been all over already.
We really have. It’s gone by so fast. And we’re gonna be on the West Coast by the end of next week.
Wow, that’s amazing.
Oh, this week. By the end of this week—by Friday, we’ll be in LA.
How does that feel? Getting, I guess, to hit everywhere so fast?
For me, now, I think in the past I’ve been jaded and a little bit unappreciative or something. I’ve just been like, “Oh, whatever, this is my job and gotta show up to work,” which is silly, because it’s such fun work. But this time, because of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to tour at all. I only truly played a handful of shows in the past few years. No, I would say more than a handful. I played plenty, but mostly local groups in New York and a little bit of regional stuff. I just really have missed touring. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. And I am feeling so grateful for this opportunity in a way that I’ve never experienced before, except for maybe in the very beginning when everything was new and fresh.
That actually sounds really nice, I’m not gonna lie. It got to be nice to explore so many cities through the lens that you guys get to through touring and everything.
It’s special, it really is.
I bet. Going back to, as I’d mentioned earlier, your guys’ creative process on Rubblebucket, does touring in general make it harder to sit down and solidify any kind of writing? Is that something that you focus on when touring, or is it really just about more so focusing on performances?
Some people are good at multitasking like that, but I’m not. I mean, it’s not that I’m not good at it, it’s just that I kind of prefer to just be in the moment, and there’s so much going on around you at any given time. I’ve tried that in the past, even watching TV or something, watching a show in the van. I can’t even do that, because there’s just so many interruptions, and questions are being fired around. I just gave up trying. And now I pretty much just get to the venue and don’t even leave until the end of the night. I just stay here. I’m very meticulous about the show and my health and my voice warm ups, and making sure that I do my best for the show, and stay positive for the whole group.
That’s nice to know. So, speaking of groups, I’m a big NPR Tiny Desk fan, and I’ve seen both you and Alex’s more solo, independent projects, on NPR Tiny Desk. So, Kalbells for you, and then Tōth for him. What is it like balancing solo projects, and then coming and writing and performing together?
It’s an interesting sort of balancing act, but I think overall it’s really added a lot to the Rubblebucket energy field, if you will. I’ve learned so much from doing two Kalbells records, producing them and mixing them, and being in a band with Kalbells and playing and touring. I feel like I’ve brought all that to the Rubblebucket world, and I’m a much stronger performer and band leader and person because of it. So, it’s tricky with scheduling, and we have to use extra good communication, but it’s definitely a net positive.
That sounds awesome. With you and Alex specifically, you’d mentioned obviously you guys traded songs for Earth Worship. What is your guys’ writing process like? How has it changed in—it’s been over a decade, hasn’t it? Like, 2009, 2010, you guys formed Rubblebucket?
Yeah. So, how has your guys’ writing process evolved over time?
I think in some ways, some of the main ways we’ve written together are the same. Often, we’ll work on the songs separately and then email or dropbox each other what we’ve worked on. Just thinking about it now, all the different steps to stay coordinated. But we do really well remote, and maybe a little less well in-person, because we’ve been through so many phases of our friendship and relationship. Sometimes, having that distance actually allows for more opening up and more creativity and more sharing. But yeah, we both work in Logic mostly, although now we’ve started working in Pro Tools as well for the post-production side of things. Once we have all the tracks from the studio, then we’re chopping them up, we’re rearranging a little bit—we use Pro Tools for that.
Wow. Okay, I know you guys have a lot to get finished for tonight, so I just have one question, and it might be a little silly. But I heard that you guys used to have robot puppets that you would pass out to the audience. Is that still a thing? Will that ever be a thing? Because, I love that.
Yeah, oh my gosh. We talked a lot about that for this tour. The puppets were at the top of the list on our brainstorm of how we wanted to build out the liveshow and inject it with magic. We ultimately decided not to do them, I think partly because we are already doing so much. And for this album in particular, we love these songs so much, and we think they stand on their own. Not that the other ones didn’t, but we’ve done so much pageantry and wild showperson stuff. Those puppets were disassembled, but we do still have the frames. They were built off of old hiking backpacks and PVC.
Oh really? Sorry, they’re just so fascinating to me. I heard that you guys did that, and I was like, that is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard, ever. If the robot puppets ever make a comeback, I will drive to see you guys again, I don’t even care. I’m just obsessed with the idea. I’m really hung up on it.
It’s fun. I mean, I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due, which is to Neil Fridd, who is our lighting person and party facilitator extraordinaire. He was the one who built those puppets, and he’s also built our current light show, which is the best light show we’ve ever had. Neil really outdid himself. And we have huge cherry blossom hats and helmets and tutus, and all kinds of fun stuff. It’s a journey.
Yeah, I saw the hats on your guys’ Instagram. I can’t imagine how long those took to make, but I’m so excited to get to see them tonight, if the roads aren’t too bad. So anyway, as I said, I know you have a lot to get done for tonight so I will let you go, but thank you so much for being here and speaking with me.
Thank you so much for loving the music and playing us on the radio. We really appreciate it.
Yeah, of course. Your guys’ music is so good, so again, thank you so so much.
Yeah. Hopefully see you tonight!