“(Music) is definitely a lifetime commitment, for sure. It’s very rewarding and very risky. But I’m so glad that I took this career path, it’s been so amazing.”
Fans around the world would agree that Annakalmia Traver made the right career choice. This commitment to music started at the University of Vermont, where the band Rubblebucket’s founders, Alex Toth and lead singer Traver, met. The pair was very involved with the arts on campus and, as music majors, Toth and Traver spread their musical net far and wide.
“We just played tons of music together … Burlington, Vt. has an awesome music scene and we really grew up as musicians there,” Traver said during a phone interview with The Michigan Daily.
After their time in Vermont, Toth and Traver took their talents to Boston, where they combined forces with future bandmates Adam Dotson and Ian Hersey. It is there that the group was able to put down its roots and grow, gathering inspiration and getting situated in the musical world.
“Boston is where Rubblebucket really became a thing,” Traver said.
The group spent much of their time in the Northeast touring — leaping at every opportunity to play anywhere and everywhere, to codify their soundscape. This extensive touring allowed the band to become accustomed to, and learn to love, the routine rhythm of the road as well as to make treasured human connections with fans and fellow musicians.
“Between the core four of us, our taste is universal, almost,” Traver said. “I started out, when I was in middle school, with Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton — the pop of that era — which has really come to stand up strong over time.”
These pop influences show themselves in the group’s dance-friendly sound, as well in their resonant, stick-in-your-head-for-days choruses. Taking these pop basics and running with them, Rubblebucket manages to take the best elements of dance music and infuse them with a more quirky, indie sound — creating a vibe entirely their own.
“One of my family members gave me a jazz tape, I think it was John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. And that was really transformative for me, and for the other guys too. Jazz is an extremely huge foundation for the spirit of improvising,” Traver said.
The implications of this jazz fixation on Rubblebucket’s music are obvious — the horns, the complex layering of different instruments, the soulful, honest intonation of Traver’s voice. This jazz-inspired element puts a syncopated swing in everything that the group does, something that many indie bands lack.
“Through knowing the guys, my band mates, I got into more rock ‘n’ roll, which I really couldn’t have told you anything about when I was in high school. It has been a cool education.”
Drawing on their mirage of taste, training in brass instruments and other inspiring artists, Rubblebucket crafted their distinct genre-bending sound. This rock influence comes into play in the form of the band’s swagger — their attitude. Their music is dance-friendly with a touch of punk, hip with an edgy essence.
“We are definitely suited to the indie world, particularly the dance side of things," Traver said. "There is definitely an element of DIY, that sort of punk spirit, in everything that we do. ”
Taking a turn off the beaten path, Rubblebucket incorporates horns into much of their work — a choice that many modern pop musicians shy away from. But this group erases the brass-instrument stigma. (Check out “Came Out of a Lady.”) The horns add a level of depth unattainable through any other musical means, helping to create the group’s dynamic sound. The brass pieces act as another voice of sorts, further expanding the range of human emotion conveyed through song.
“On a human level, there’s the voice and then there’s drums, the next level up, because you can express yourself on a drum with just one stroke. Then I really think horns are the next in line in terms of an instrument that’s really close to humanity and the body. People respond to it so strongly, it’s very evocative of this primal thing.”
This evocative primal nature seems to be resonating strongly with fans, as the group has graced the stage on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and has taken an extensive European tour — exposing them to an even broader range of listeners. Traver, who studied abroad in Paris during her college years, felt especially connected to the audiences there and felt that it was “profoundly special to be able to bring (her) art back to the city of Paris.”
Rubblebucket is kicking off another U.S. tour in October, making a stop at Ann Arbor’s own Blind Pig on Saturday, Oct. 3. For Traver, the appeal of touring has always been about connecting with others — through making music, through sharing music, through self-expression.
“It’s amazing to be in a world where you get to look at people every night and touch them and feel this net of humanity. It’s really exciting.”