Alex Toth: Communion, New Music, and Rubblebucket’s Future
“We’re not a throwback band or writing with a formula. We’re constantly evolving,” Rubblebucket band leader Alex Toth says as he reflects on the band’s busy past and exciting future. The Brooklyn eight-piece made a name for themselves with energetic live shows and relentless touring. Lately, due to singer Kalmia Traver’s unfortunate bout with ovarian cancer, Rubblebucket scaled down their touring.
Now, armed with a clean bill of health and nearly 30 new songs, Rubblebucket is set to embark on the Communion tour, a multi-artist bill that takes on the feel of a community gathering rather than a concert. Started by Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett, Communion gives the artist the power and stylistic freedom to allow their music to grow, something Toth is very excited about.
So tell me about this Communion tour Rubblebucket is about to embark on in October.
Communion started out not as a label but as a bunch of friends that were helping each out other out to create a community in the U.K. A way for bands to get exposure and it formed into a label. I guess this is the way we got involved, they just started doing shows in the US and we did one back in April. That’s where we met Ben Lovett [of Mumford & Sons], who started the label and he just really loved it and wanted to put our EP out.
They don’t want to look at is a “tour” it’s just part of their monthly series that they’re starting. It’s unique that it’s “routed” around our tour for us. We’re doing non-Communion dates on the tour as well. It’s a really cool community to be a part of. It’s run by artists and there is a lot of personal attention. I know Rubblebucket has always been DIY, we’ve always put all our stuff out ourselves and making the music we want to make. it’s such an extension of our ethics and what we want to put out into the world. It’s not some big corporate vibe and they’re not telling us what to do. It’s born naturally out of what we’ve been putting out there. It’s really exciting to be a part of a wider, international community and be part of Communion’s breaking into the U.S.
Overall, what would you say attracted Rubblebucket to Communion? You mentioned the artistic freedom. Is that it?
We’ve been in some funny situations with label offers and stuff like that, people wanting us to change our band name, this and that. It’s like, it’s just who we are. You know? We need to be going into business with someone that’s going to help you get your art and music out there. We’ve put in the legwork over the years to build a fan base in a grassroots way, kind of fan by fan. It’s really important to us to be with people that just implicitly get us. [Communion] get us and loves it, just like our greatest fans do. That’s amazing.
As far as Rubblebucket’s model is concerned, what are some of the long-term benefits you foresee by joining up with Communion?
We really wanted to partner with a label to help our recordings get out there. We’re doing pretty well with touring and we really needed something on that side. Looking at their roster, it’s a lot of really rootsy stuff and there is also innovative stuff on there. Branding wise, and spiritually, its stuff that comes from the earth. It’s real bands figuring it out and a lot of it is even rootsier than Rubblebucket in some ways. But it’s all really sincere songwriting. They really seem to go after that experience, that honest songwriting and live show that is really ecstatic. It seems like all the bands they associate with are like that.
Part of Rubblebucket’s thing is constantly wanting to push boundaries and come up with sounds and approaches to writing and playing that feel fresh to us at least, hopefully we haven’t heard before, trying to carve out our own path. Maintain a kind of earthiness. This album really has that. That’s a big thing. I really love that we’re on a label with great folk and rock and roll. I want to be a part of that. It’s not “stuck up” music.
It sounds like you appreciate being around people who “get it” and get what you’re trying to do.
To be with working with people and artists who are running the label who do it their own way, like Mumford & Sons. They didn’t go through a major label, they had a lot of success, a lot of pop success with unique instrumentation for that world. They do it their own way. They go through all these small towns and make music for people. The whole thing, I really like it. It’s a really sustainable way to build and grow. For example, the full-length album we are working on; on the previous albums we’ve come off the road, jumped into the studio and recorded the songs we had to record. We never had extra songs to choose from, it was always ‘we have 12 songs so we are going to record 12 songs’. This year we have really taken the time to write a lot. We have like 30 songs that are contenders for the album.
Going on meetings with Communion and have them be really encouraging with the stuff we’re working on and encouraging us to continue writing. It’s exciting to give ourselves the time to totally discover our capabilities and not short change anything with overly touring. It seems like all the values are in the right place.
That’s what it sounds like. You spoke briefly about the music. How do you think something like Communion will affect your songwriting? Stylistically, do you foresee any changes when you enter this environment?
I think what’s been happening with this space away from constant touring this year, we get deeper into who we are. It’s not like getting pushed one way or another. When talking with Communion they want us to be, in their words, “Rubblebucket in a bigger way, more us than we ever have been,” if that’s possible. Reaching deeper in and it’s something I’ve come to on my own too. In terms of different writing processes, one thing that I’ve been doing is writing a lot of songs on a piano. It takes days to arrange a song for horns, bass, drums and guitar, but it really doesn’t take that long to write chords, verses, lyrics and melodies. That way I have 20 songs of me singing and playing piano and before I want to spend three days to arrange it I wanted to make sure it’s a great song through and through. In the past, I would make up these beats and then try to come up with stuff over the beats, but the beats take forever to make and the arranging take a long time. It’s really cool to let myself be a songwriter at the core and develop that as much as possible.
I can’t really speak to how it influenced us ascetically. Just that as I have this space, I’ve been more aware of who we are and reflecting on four years of touring and putting music out. A big thing for me is how to integrate horns in a way that feels fresh for me and that I would want to listen to as a trumpet player. That I would be excited about. It’s a funny thing. In the past I would write a song that I would think would be a great song, but then it’s like ‘where do I put the horns?’