Alex Toth, the trumpet player and bandleader of Rubblebucket, is riding in a van somewhere in Iowa on his way to Nevada while the rest of his Brooklyn-based octet is in Vermont - the band's other home - playing at a hot air balloon festival. It's one of the only times Toth has ever missed a show, but with big booking opportunities arising, like the High Sierra Music Festival this summer, some tough choices had to me made. And that's essentially why Toth found himself accompanied only by a sound engineer, cruising across the country to get things in order for the band's West Coast tour.
It's hard keeping this many people in order, which is why Toth is explaining the reason he keeps eight (or sometimes as many as ten) people in this band.
"When I first started this band, I wanted a medium to express the wildest ideas of my imagination while rocking the shit out of dance clubs," says Toth.
Since forming the band two and a half years ago, Rubblebucket has explored his imagination, and also rocked plenty of dance clubs... and theaters, basements, at least one old dairy barn, and festivals like the Bite of Bend where the band is playing a free show on Saturday evening. With an afrobeat foundation, a full horn section, the delectably creative vocals of Kalmia Traver and indie-rock flavorings present in their sound, the band is beginning to catch on thanks to increasing press and buzz that began earlier this year and accelerated with the release of Rubblebucket's new single, the bouncy "Came Out of a Lady."
That single, with its punchy horns and fuzzy bass line, gives you pretty much everything you need to know about Rubblebucket - the African influence, the parade of layered horn sounds and the party-starting capability of this buzz-friendly band. It's also worth noting that this song was tracked in about two hours as part of a one-day recording project. Apparently, you can do things like this when you've got as much talent as these guys.
Rubblebucket is a band about which it's tempting to say something like, "There's no one else doing anything like this." That's not necessarily true, however, because there are bands making similar sounds - but if they are, they're not making it live onstage. Toth has been tempted by the lure of the laptop and says he's not adverse to electronic sounds, but for now he and Traver want to keep this family together. And it's a big family.
"Every time we lost a band member along the way, they were like family. Its devastating when somebody quits the band, but that's a necessary part of a band this size," says Toth.
Rubblebucket's musical scope is just as sizeable as its roster, reaching out to almost every popular musical genre while keeping a focus on West African beats and intonations. The band is comprised of college-trained musicians in addition to drummer Craig Myers, who spent several years in Africa studying and playing music. While Toth and Traver obsess over the sounds of Radiohead and Bjork, Myers listens almost exclusively to African music. Toth says the divergent musical tastes of this band create more musical innovations than they do band arguments.
While the buzz continues to build around this band, Toth says that there was a time when they almost disbanded. It was around the end of last year and the band was weary from being on the road and, like so many other independent bands, they were doing most of the promotional and organizational groundwork on their own.
"Last year was a year when we got all these accolades and the band had to ask if this is working and is it something that means enough to the world, or is it something where we should just close up shop and try something different?" says Toth.
But they didn't quit. Rather, they started writing like mad, and the result was a battery of songs that includes "Came Out of a Lady." Their sales and show bookings doubled around that same time, leading Toth and company to realize that Rubblebucket does, indeed, mean enough to the world to warrant their hard work.
As Rubblebucket continues to work toward finding a home in the indie rock stratosphere where it seems they'd be better suited than in the appreciative yet shrinking jam band world, Toth isn't too concerned with how the band is interpreted. He just wants the band to be relevant- - and be able to make people dance.
"We're in such a noisy global atmosphere culturally and musically right now that I'm just trying to keep myself open to the sound and energy that's coming in and not trying to think about it too much," Toth says.
6:30pm Saturday, June 26. Bite of Bend main stage.
All ages. Free.