An Interview with Alex Toth of Rubblebucket

Rubblebucket is playing Monday, March 28 at Gabe’s, 330 E Washington). I asked Alex Toth, trumpeter for Rubblebucket, some questions.

Your music is very original and eclectic. Which were your most influential inspirations? The ones that you can look back and determine a definite “before/after”?

Massive question! Would take me pages to answer it thoroughly! The first song I fell in love with that took over my life was “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. There’s a home video of me singing and pretending to drive my parents’ old Beetle convertible when I was about 3 years old! In middle school: Abbey Road and Sgt. Peppers. In high school: I was really into Jefferson Airplane’s After Bathing At Baxters, and I loved that they supposedly spent six months in the studio on acid to make the record.

What about those artists was so influential?

As a trumpet player, learning to play a few Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis solos had the most instant noticeable impact on my awareness of space in music. I instantly had more freedom as an improviser and a much stronger sense of my own voice. It was an incredible sensation.

Bitches Brew (Miles Davis) scared the shit out of me when I first heard it, it might have affected me more than any other album at the time. It’s weird how I loved pop and psychedelic rock early on, had a phase where I listened to and studied nothing but jazz and now I’m fully back into songs and aesthetic.

Do you find yourself imitating your influences, or do they inspire you to create something different?

I’m always experimenting with slightly different processes when I write so it isn’t one thing but I rarely directly imitate. Definitely more of a distillation of my inspirations and what I hear out there. I get a lot of energy from friends and current community in Brooklyn actually.

You lead the band with your horns and are front and center on stage. Is that a conscious reaction to the role horns tend to play in pop music?

It’s not conscious but I like the idea that it could be reactionary! Bring the horns back to the front like the good old days when jazz was popular! Argh! Hahaha. Nah, the main songwriters (Kal and I, and Adam writes some) just happen to double on horns, as well as sing and play percussion/toms.

Your album art and website design is also very unique. Is it done by someone in the band?

Yeah its all DIY. Kalmia is the main visual force; she is sewing a backdrop for our stage set (will attach photo) as I type which is why I’m answering all the questions! She also just finished designing and sewing her own stretch pants. She loves that stuff.

Do you see visual design as an integral part of your music? The video of “Came Out of a Lady” makes me think yes, but I’d love to hear your words on it.

Personally the visual implications of sound are huge. Synesthesia, baby. I want us to get further and further into our visual thing for sure. Our drummer, Dave Cole, has an amazing visual mind. The “Came Out of a Lady” video was his concept and he directed/edited it. He says there’s a lot of parallels between drumming and video editing. He must be right because I know three amazing video-heads who are also drummers.

Thinking about writing music, is Rubblebucket very collaborative? Or, does one person–not necessarily always the same person–write parts for others?

Kalmia and I are the primary forces; but, Adam’s definitely got stuff to say and has written songs. We’ll write most of the stuff on our own–though Kalmia and I often collaborate pretty seamlessly–and develop with the band. Everyone is really sharp and creative, so arrangements and new parts are born live or in rehearsal quite a bit.

Your music is also very complex rhythymically. Does this present a challenge? Are you ever tempted to simplify?

Challenging music is good. It keeps us all on our toes. But, yes, when I compose I’m always thinking about how I can simplify ideas as much as possible, while still staying true to them. I constantly strip things down. Would love to get to the point where I can say what I mean with utter clarity and simplicity.

You tour extensively and play both festivals and small venues. Do you prefer a more intimate space, or a big crowd? Could you highlight any venues or events that were idyllic?

Both have there place and can be great. Big energetic and attentive crowds still get me pretty damn high, though. High Sierra Music Festival in CA last summer was a dream. We had a wild love affair with thousands of fresh ears–never heard us before–including crowd surfing, virgin west coast shows and lots of costumed, Burning Man type folk.

At your Iowa City show in January, you had John Manning, tuba professor at The University of Iowa, play with you on “Came Out of a Lady.” Might you have more guest musicians with you at your upcoming Mission Creek show?

Yeah, we might have one of his students up–or him again. I love the feeling of playing with someone you’ve never met, and they nail the music, and their presence brings the whole show dynamic up a notch. We want to do that more.

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