Q&A with Alex Tōth of Rubblebucket
On Saturday night, Rubblebucket will make its long-overdue return to Ithaca to perform at the State Theatre. It’s the synth-pop band’s first show at the venerable venue after years of appearances at area festivals such as GrassRoots and the Big Mean BBQ and clubs such as The Haunt and Castaways.
Founded in 2007 and still led by founding members Kalmia Traver and Alex Tōth, the band just released a new single, “Teardrops,” which features a rare lead vocal by Tōth. That follows the band’s sixth full-length album, 2022’s “Earth Worship,” on which the duo drew on its longtime interest in sustainability and community development.
Ryan Yarmel, music director for The Route, spoke with Tōth this week in advance of Saturday’s show.
Ryan Yarmel: This is the first day of the fall run for Rubblebucket. And you're in New Hampshire now.
Alex Tōth: Yeah, we just got to the venue like three minutes ago.
RY: Thanks for taking the time. I wanted to ask you really quickly, just to get started. Do you dream in songs? Or do you wake up with music in your head?
AT: Do I dream in song? Yeah, that's a pretty funny question. Usually, if I'm dreaming about music, it's an anxiety dream. Like the most the most recent one I had. The venue was a classroom with everyone seated at desks and there was a stage — I was performing from a desk, but I couldn't find the music so I couldn't start. It’s like a recurring dream like that, where I’m just sitting in a school at a little schoolboy desk, but I can’t find my music.
RY: Wow. Like a desk like growing up in grade school?
AT: Exactly. So I'll have anxiety dreams occasionally leading up to certain performances, but nothing like that for this tour. It's interesting. I'll wake up with music sometimes. But, yeah, it's definitely hard to remember dream music.
RY: You're known for such vibrant stage shows – I personally have had so much fun seeing Rubblebucket over the years. What are some unusual sources of inspiration that someone might not think of?
AT: Well, I will say that I do believe that where my music comes from, and I think a lot of great art and writing and music comes from, is the subconscious and unconscious mind, which is the same place that dreams exist in, I guess? I think it is. It's the same source, you know? I think it's like the juiciest stuff. It can't really be thought of it has to be sort of allowed and received, you know?
RY: Do you mean just being open to experiences and inspiration, making you want to write?
AT: Yeah, I’ll put the guitar in my hand. But I just go without a plan. And all of a sudden it’s like my body's doing something, you know, where I'll just start writing stream of consciousness and words appear. I have a practice of making little birthday songs for my friends and family. I have over 100 of them and they're anywhere from three seconds long to a few minutes long. So I'm just constantly making like silly little songs and I feel that keeps the channel open, and just that muscle of accessing that stuff.
RY: I want to just get to this new single that you dropped today, “Teardrops.”
AT: We recorded it in the spring; right off of our spring tour we got in the studio.
RY: And you're on lead vocals on this one?
AT: For the first part I am and then it’s sort of like a duet between me and Kalmia.
RY: Is it the first time that a Rubblebucket song has been arranged in that manner?
AT: Yeah, I think it's the first time. This is why we're kind of treating it as “Rubblebucket featuring Tōth,” because there's my other project.
RY: Do you have a specific relationship with the Finger Lakes area? The New York State area the Finger Lakes in the fall particularly?
AT: First, I went to the University of Vermont (along with Kalmia), and our first sort of real job when we graduated as music majors was playing in John Brown's Body. And, as you know, they're from Ithaca and Finger Lakes. My first real gig outside of college was playing at the GrassRoots festival.
In Rubblebucket, our second or third gig ever was in Ithaca – at the Lost Dog Café, we played for, like, five people. But when we were about to play, there were zero people in the venue, which was on the second floor. There were 10 of us in the band, so we went out in the streets and paraded around Ithaca in the cold just to try to attract people to come. And then we had by the time our parade was over we had like five people there.
Note: this interview was condensed and edited by Jim Catalano
If You Go
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28
Where: State Theatre of Ithaca
Cost: $26.50, available online here and at the State box office