Rubblebucket's Kalmia Traver talks Halloween candy, onstage theatricality and the allure of marching bands
Rubblebucket had a great experience at Bonnaroo 2012, despite playing one of the most unenviable time slots of the weekend.
“We played two sets on the solar stage, and then we played the Cafe Stage,” said singer and saxophonist Kalmia Traver. “We were the only other thing besides Radiohead performing at the time. We were really bummed. We were like, 'Oh, god, no one is going to come. We would prefer to be at Radiohead.’ And that ended up being the best show of the whole set.”
Once you see Rubblebucket, it’s tough not to enjoy them. Vermont-bred and Brooklyn-based, the eight-piece dance-rock troupe blends horns, guitars and funky beats to create a fun, sweaty party vibe. This summer, they played Jimmy Kimmel Live in support of their 2011 album Omega La La, and they’ve just released a follow-up EP, Oversaturated.
Rubblebucket is one of the biggest national bands on the bill for Saturday’s inaugural Guavaween Music Festival at venues in and around Ybor City. (Click here for details.) We spoke by phone to Traver about Halloween, theatricality and the allure of marching bands.
Did you have a favorite Halloween costume growing up?
My mom made us the most amazing costumes. She’s an amazing, amazing seamstress. One time, my sister was a slice of pizza, and my mom made a full, detailed pizza that fit around her whole body. She still has it — it’s a big pillow on her bed. I was a mosquito one time.
It sounds like you grew up in a pretty creative household.
We had a wild time, definitely. We always had a big dress-up box for the rest of the year. At the end of Halloween, our costume would go into the dress-up box. That was our play inspiration for the whole rest of the year.
What else was in the dress-up box?
Probably a lot of our Nana’s old business-casual outfits. But they’re from the ’70s and ’80s, so they’re crazy, wild, floral, ridiculous ’80s patterns. And there’s a bunch of wigs and crazy old high heels. That was my first experience of wild fashion, because in my normal life at that point, I was just a normal kid, and I didn’t really get into fashion until way later. But whenever I look back on it now, that dress-up box is where it all went wild.
There’s certainly an element of dress-up theatricality to Rubblebucket’s live shows.
Oh, definitely. It’s definitely been a journey from the beginning to now, in figuring out how far I really wanted to go with it. And I still want to go even further. But I’ve always had a sense that since it’s a show, you see it with your eyes, and that’s a whole huge element of the expression beyond the music.
Did you always feel that way? After five years, have live performances evolved that much for Rubblebucket? Do you feel more in control of your stage shows? Or do you feel they’re more spontaneous?
I think I’ve grown a lot. In the very beginning, I was standing up there with my sax and a mic, and slowly, it sort of pushed me up front and center, and I really started to see myself as a frontwoman. I feel like so much of what I’ve learned on stage has informed my own growth as a human being, too. It’s made me a lot more safe and fearless in social situations — throwing myself into the fray like that, having all these people looking up at me for entertainment.
You guys are mostly on the road during Halloween. Do you dress up?
We’ve always tried to do something. Last year, we were in Olympia, Wash. We were shopping at thrift shops the day of the show, spending more money on our Halloween costumes than we would on our normal clothes. It was definitely a little thrown together. I wish we could do one of those big band costumes; we just haven’t been that organized yet. But maybe someday. One time, one of our friend bands dressed up as Oompa-Loompas.
What did you go as?
Mine was the most boring, although it was funny. I just found this crazy huge shirt — it was like a Southwest print from 20 years ago, with turquoise triangles and purple and orange and it was really the loudest shirt I’ve ever seen. I painted my face and body to go along with the pattern, so I was the shirt.
Do you have a stance on “sexy” costumes? Sexy nurse, sexy kittycat, sexy undertaker?
It doesn’t offend me the way it does some other people. Some girls really have been craving to dress like strippers all year, and they have their chance!
What’s the best outfit you’ve seen at one of your shows? Halloween aside, I can imagine people probably get dressed up or go all-out for some of your shows.
One year we played a zombie party in Portland, Maine, and they had a zombie costume competition. My cousin lives in Portland, and she got dressed up as a zombie bride, and it was so detailed, so good. Everyone else just put some paint on their faces, but she she went and bought the wedding dress at a thrift store and ripped it up and everything. Then she forgot to enter the competition. But she was by far the best-dressed.
Were all of you guys in marching bands?
I know all three of the horns were, definitely. We actually met in a marching band. Alex (Toth, trumpet) and I were living together, but when we were in Boston, there’s this thing called City Band, and it’s just a big, giant listserv of horn players. You show up, they give you the little hat and suit, and you walk around and make $40 or $50. And on the Fourth of July, Alex and I were in three of them, and so was Adam (Dotson, trombone), so we just drove all around the outskirts of Boston all day long to these random parades in these tiny little towns, and it was a good bonding experience. We formed Rubblebucket not too long after.
Is marching, like, in your blood? Being in a band is one thing, but being in a marching band is something else entirely.
Yeah. I always loved whenever I did any marching band, even the ones where I just met the people that day, I love the silliness of it, and the camaraderie that just pops up totally organically from the moment you all look at each other, and you’re like, “Wow, we are so silly right now.” We just love it.
When’s the last time Rubblebucket played a house party?
We played a ton of them back in the day. ... We played a bunch of weddings, and that’s always been a lot of fun. It’s fun to invite people to the dance floor, because that’s what we always do, no matter where we go. It’s always, “Come here! Come hither! Come dance with me!” In a way, that sort of intimate thing is really fun and inspiring. It’s so different from the big clubs we’ve played, where there’s a barrier between us and the crowd, and there are all these people, and they’re densely packed. That can be fun, too, but I really love it when there’s no expectation of grandeur — we’re all on the same level, in a dirty, nasty basement, and we’re all making it happen.
Best Halloween candy to receive?
I’m really not much of a sugar person. Never really have been. But we always go to Whole Foods when we’re touring, and Whole Foods has these all-natural sweetened gummi bears that are gourmet and way too expensive, and I suddenly became addicted to them.
I have to say, that wouldn’t make a very entertaining episode of Behind the Music.
Yeah. Not an exciting answer. (laughs)
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo: Shervin Lainez