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Published: 2017/09/29
by Matt Inman

Rubblebucket Plans their Dream Picnic

You were talking about how you were excited to have Alexander F and Kalbells both at the same place, with Rubblebucket as well, to show your fans the different sides. Could you talk about what was behind the ideas to both pursue solo projects outside of Rubblebucket and what the differences are between Rubblebucket and those projects?

Alex: Yeah, Rubblebucket has always been a bunch of major music heads, like kids who went to school for music and can’t exist without it. Kal and I were in jazz school together, and our musical imaginations are very wide. I don’t know what the exact breaking point was… I remember I went on an 11-day meditation retreat towards the end of the Survival Sounds tour at the end of 2014.

Kalmia: That was it. That was the window where we both wrote our different albums. During that same period.

Alex: Kal was going through the medical thing, and that was in remission, and we had this really long, trying period. After that, I went on this retreat in Canada, and they take your phone away during the retreat. You give your phone to them and you’re completely disconnected from the outside world, and you’re going inward. When I was on the retreat, these crazy punk songs starting coming into my head in this really visceral way. And I’m not a punk guy, so I was like, “Woah. What is this?” It was really trippy. I wasn’t there to write a record; I was there to find some peace. Part of that was this loud and intense music, with a vaguely Buddhist theme. I’d never had such a striking experience of music just banging me over the head. So when I came back from the retreat, it didn’t really feel like a decision as much as something that was just happening. I sent one of the songs I’d demoed to Delicate Steve, and two hours later it returned to my inbox with thrashing guitars on it. He said it was his favorite song I’d ever written and was like, “Let’s play a house party!” But the other part of this story is that I was so deep in the woods in Quebec, and when I got to Montreal to drop some kids off from the retreat and connected to wi-fi, in my inbox were 11 emails from Kal. She had written a song for every day that I was on the retreat. So while I was on the retreat and Alexander F was coming to me—she didn’t know that this music was coming to me or anything like that—Kal had simultaneously written her record. It was this cosmic thing.

Kalmia: Yeah! It was just a really natural tipping point, where we’d been working so long with Rubblebucket to say a certain thing, to make an expression with that tour. I think it was a natural thing where we had traveled a certain distance so that our minds were either at ease, or the opposite—like, “Okay, now it’s time to take a bite out of a new thing.” And we both had that feeling at the same time.

Was there ever any discussion at all about writing solo stuff before that, or did it just pop up in that two-week span?

Kalmia: I think for me it was definitely on the tail end of that huge, seriously hard push with Rubblebucket and Survival Sounds. We had done the Europe tour and then went straight into the album release and a six-week tour throughout America. It was really physically taxing. And through all of that, even since cancer, I still hadn’t had a truly big writing session. I was pretty sick during most of the Survival Sounds recordings. I still recorded on it, and it was amazing, but I had a lot of shit to say in my gut. So I kind of had the mirror image to Alex’s silent retreat—he was in Canada being quiet, and that meant our whole house was quiet since he wasn’t there. So I decided to shut myself in and didn’t have any social interaction. I basically had my own retreat at home. I didn’t do anything other than write all day, eat well and sleep. So maybe it was a decision, but not so much by the brain as by the body.

So during the genesis of these projects, you were very separated, but once you started recording or fleshing out the songs, did you two send them to each other?

Kalmia: We definitely shared a lot, but they were super separate processes besides that.

Alex: I think Alexander F came to fruition as a physical entity in the world before Kalbells. The turnaround from writing the record to experimenting with a live show was pretty quick for Alexander F. And Kal was there—she was my biggest fan, really supporting me from the beginning. For me, it was really scary, because I think I had this inner belief that I’m not a singer and can’t be a front person. Those thoughts even popped into my head as I was writing it. My brain would be like, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, buddy? You’re a trumpet player. You can’t sing in a punk band. This is ridiculous.” And I would just notice the thought, but I wouldn’t let it grip me. Some of those types of thoughts I was able to turn into poetry and lyrics on the record. But I really needed encouragement, and Kal made me feel good about it, and that was so cool.

Can you talk about some of the differences are between the music that came out of those two projects and what you guys do together with Rubblebucket?

Kalmia: Well, the first time I heard Alexander F, I was like, “Holy shit.” It was so much like Rubblebucket, but turned up to 11—or 15, or 20. A lot of what I love about Rubblebucket’s music being so bouncy and fun and danceable, I was perceiving that from Alexander F, but in a different language, like through the language of punk rock. It just really made me bounce up and down, and I really like that. But I think it’s funny, because Alex and my partnership has always been super yin and yang: I was very quiet, dainty, delicate and free-floating, and he was more like, “Ah! Go get it! Make it happen!” It was always really infuriating to me, because I’m a tomboy and don’t want to just be the dainty girl. But it’s hilarious if you listen to our two albums side by side—they’re so yin and yang. His is bright, shiny and in your face, and mine is kind of dark, brooding and moody. It’s uplifting too, but in a way, I think we both had to get something out that had been in there for a while.

Alex: When Kal and I are working on Rubblebucket, I’ll come out with these sort of direct, hit-you-over-the-head things, and she’ll want to balance that out with a quirkiness and push the envelope aesthetically. And I think that that combination is what you’ll hear a lot in Rubblebucket—the clear, melodic statements and directness mixed with this totally unique quirkiness.
Both of us have strong melodic ideas, and both of us have a large dose of quirkiness and weirdness. We’ve both learned a lot from each other in that regard. I think you can really hear that—the spacey, artistic, quirky and hypnotic element in Kalbells and then the bop-you-over-the-head stuff of Alexander F. And then when you hear Rubblebucket, it’s really a blend of that.

I’m also working on another record right now for my solo project. It’s like a softer side.

Will it be under Alexander F?

Alex: It’ll be under Tōth, like with a line over the “o.” And I just released a live video of it. I’ve just been really prolific in writing tons of songs, yet not really knowing what to do with them. I started this other thing because it feels better to have defined outlets for expressions I want to do, rather than trying to squeeze everything in the kitchen sink into one thing. It feels really exciting, because certain things that I’ve written for this new thing turned into Rubblebucket songs. And I remember two of the Alexander F songs on the record were Rubblebucket seeds that I couldn’t figure out. And then they finished themselves as Alexander F songs.

Speaking of Rubblebucket, you guys released the If U C My Enemies EP earlier this year. What was the timeline for that? Because it seems like right after the Survival Sounds tour finished, you went right into your solo work.

Kalmia: I think “Forlornification” was even written before all of that. I think that was in the summer of 2015.

Alex: We wrote that stuff over the course of 2015 and recorded it in that year as well. It just ended up taking a while to solidify it. Part of all that work we did in 2015 we still intend to release—there’s a bunch more material. And then there are also three new songs that we just wrote and finished this year, and that’s almost done. So we’re gearing up for a full record to be released in 2018.

And as far as live shows go, what has Rubblebucket been up to this year?

Kalmia: It’s been fun. We’ve been having these opportunities coming in pretty steadily. No big tours or anything, just keeping it moving.

Alex: The EP came out at the end of January, I think during the inauguration. Because we were in Boston playing Paradise, and there were all of these people in the audience with these signs like “Rubblebucket Trumps Trump,” all of these funny things. It was a very politically charged, intense time, especially for an EP called If U C My Enemies. It was like, “Holy shit.” It wasn’t intended as a political song, but it ended up taking on this more timely context. And the next day, on our way to play somewhere in Connecticut, we stopped in Hartford and participated in the protest. We marched with our horns and stuff like that. So we had done some Northeast Coast touring in January and February, and then in May we did a West Coast run with Rubblebucket on the EP. It was really invigorating. It’s so amazing and trippy to go from being home and less active, thinking, “I don’t know what’s going on with life,” to getting out there on stage to see the 10 years of work and all of the fans and the love and exchange that’s there. It’s stronger than ever—just like, “Wow. This is so cool.” If there was ever any question, you get up on stage and realize, “Oh yeah. This feels good.”

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