May 17, 2010
Buke and Gass (pronounced ‘Buke and Gase’) is not your average super-creative, instrument-making, Brooklyn-based duo. Er, wait, maybe they are. If the average of one is one…then yes, the average of literal uniqueness is… Anyway, point being, Buke and Gass IS a super-creative, instrument-making, Brooklyn-based duo and, luckily, they’re one that produces infectiously enjoyable music. Music that—because of bells strapped to legs, kick drums on the periphery, multi-purposed hot-wired stringed instruments, and, undoubtedly, a lot of talent—sounds like it’s being played by a small army, not a mere band of two. Their sound is hard to describe—it’s somehow mechanically rolling and rollicking and edgy but it channels a woodiness, a kind of wiry, rasping, somewhat deranged natural element. In their recent interview on WNYC’s quirky show, Radiolab, one half of the band—Aron Sanchez—describes the sound as, “the loudest miniature fuzz.” In the same interview, the other half of the band—Arone Dyer—gives a somewhat otherworldly and wholly descriptive analogy for the sound. You’ll have to check it out when you get a chance. In the meantime, you, dear reader, are here and, as luck would have it, the Aron(e)s also graciously agreed to talk to us here at KoR about making instruments, biking around NYC, and various forms of Tom Hanks. Take a look. Live photos by Dominick Mastrangelo.
Kindness of Ravens: So, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. We’re afraid we have to start the interview off with a question you probably get a lot—For those unfamiliar with you, can you explain the origin of your somewhat unusual band name?
Arone Dyer: The Buke was originally a baritone ukulele, that has since been rebuilt into a 6-string guitar… basically a miniature guitar, the Gass is a homemade hybrid between a bass and a guitar, with 4 guitar strings and 2 bass strings, hence the Buke and the Gass. We’re also a couple of highly opinionated individuals, and we simply couldn’t agree on any other names that weren’t automatically easy to dismiss.
KoR: Were you worried at all that the name might conjure up less than desirable images of gassiness and the like?
AD: Sure, but really, you’d be very silly to think we don’t make fun of the name, ourselves.
KoR: Fair enough, Buke. At the very least, there’s no fear of not being easily Googled. So, is there a particular reason you all sort of play double duty with the instrumentation, handling both percussion and your respective stringed instruments, rather than, say, getting another band mate or two?
Aron Sanchez: Well, we started out with another musician, but it wasn’t working out, and so we were left to fill in the empty space by ourselves. Both of our personalities make for good filling-out-ness.
KoR: Fat personalities. Nice. Aron, we read somewhere that you designed some of the instruments used by the Blue Man Group. How did that come about?
AS: A friend of mine was performing in the Blue Man band. He introduced me and after a few years of performing I migrated to the production department as their musical instrument designer. That lasted for about 10 years.
KoR: So you’re not really working with them anymore?
AS: I still freelance for them building instruments on occasion.
KoR: How about you, Arone? Any crazy moonlighting? Broom-making for Wicked or something like that?
AD: No, I’m a bicycle mechanic by day.
KoR: Right right! We heard you used to work for Recycle-A-Bicycle! We got our lovely wheels there, in fact. So, are all the instruments you play in the studio and on-stage designed and made by the two of you?
AD: Pretty much. Almost everything but the Whammy pedals.
KoR: Yeah, that’d be a tough one to do, I imagine. Any plans for new instruments you’d incorporate down the road? Maybe a tuba-harpsichord hybrid? Ooh, or a homemade keytar?
AS: There’s already been a homemade Bulbul Tarang incorporated in our local shows, which is actually really close to what you might think a keytar would be… surely there’ll be more along the way.
KoR: How did you all start playing music together? Was it tied up with the instrument design or did you rely on more conventional instruments at any point?
AD: Its been a long, treacherous road, my friend. A long and windingly dangerously hectic-ly musical road. (Ed. – They were actually both in a short-lived Brooklyn band prior to B+G named Hominid)
KoR: …I…see…. So, moving on, are you both from New York originally?
AD: I’m from Minnesota, Aron is from Maine. We’ve both been living in the city for more than 10 years.
KoR: Gotcha. So, your music really seems to invoke an almost mechanically rhythmic structure but one that—because of the instrumentation—arrives at that structure through a thick layering of what would almost be folksy sounds. Like a crazy wooden clockwork golem. Did you have that particular sound in mind when you started playing together or was it born more naturally?
AD: Natural. Like how water spills. Given our instrumental circumstance, we don’t go into the writing with anything in particular in mind as far as how we want it to sound, which may mean that we’ll have to make some instrumental changes some time in the near future in order to avoid becoming bored or musically monotonous…but we’ll see what happens.
KoR: Well, it’s a very cool sound, so don’t stray too far. And you all have your first full-length coming out soon, right?
AD: Si, claro.
KoR: ¡Muy emocionante! We know you recorded your 2008 EP, +/- (which, on a side note, is the name of another great Brooklyn band) at Aron’s home studio. Did you do the same for the full-length or does it involve more outside infuence or creative input?
AS: We recorded the full-length the exact same way as the EP, except that it took us almost 5 months to finish it, and we probably got the same amount of “outside” influence as last time. It’s mostly just the two of us in the basement everyday. Arone either nods off or makes wild sounding gestures while I geek out on the kick drum’s snap or decay.
KoR: Do you feel like the album explores any particular new realms, musically or thematically?
AD: Certainly, it explores a new realm of what the term “quality” means to us. We’re learning something new each time.
KoR: And it’s being released on Brassland, correct? The label started by Alec Bemis and the Dessner twins from the National? How did you all hook up with them?
AS: The Dessner twins have a sister, Jessica, who needs proper recognition for this. She somehow browsed her way to our myspace page, and invited us to play at her fantastic venue in Ditmas Park, called Sycamore. She invited her brothers, Aaron and Bryce… and they liked it. Alakazamwingboombam and history has it all recorded in 3D!
KoR: Very cool. I love that bar’s logo, by the way. Yeah, we went to one of the two surprise shows at The Bell House where you opened up for the National. And we noticed you’ve been playing quite a few shows with them lately. That must be really great, to be able to get your music in front of such a new, very large audience. Was it kinda nerve-wracking though playing for such a large crowd of people who were likely new to your music?
AD: It’s slightly nerve-wracking whether the audience is new to the music or not, however, (as we just got back from our tour through London and Berlin with them) hindsight is 20/20… regardless of the size (1500+heads per show!), I think we handled it pretty well. It’s been an extraordinary experience to support them!
KoR: I bet. Are those guys nice? They’re totally jerks, aren’t they?
AD: They’re so nice! Allofum! (jeez, don’t be so cynical…)
KoR: I kid, I kid. You know bloggers. Always looking for dirt. Like, “Oh, Matt sleeptalks in Dutch,” or “Scott thinks cats are huge racists.” So, any advice for the hard-working, little-heard bands out there?
AS: Isn’t that what we are? Um… I can’t imagine we’re that far along where we can claim to know what the best way to do this is…
KoR: Pish posh. Ya’ll are going to be on a Grey’s Anatomy episode before you know it. Alright, that’s enough of this substantive, meaningful talk. Lightning round time, ya’ll. Ready?
AD: Yes, ready.
KoR: Best city/town/village that isn’t New York?
AD: Well, aside from the weather, a toss up between Minneapolis and Berlin.
KoR: Are there any bands we may not have heard of that you’re liking lately?
AS: Hmm, probably none you haven’t already heard. Had I time lately to explore new music, I would surely tell. We should be asking you that question.
KoR: Have you heard of this band, the National? Favorite companion animal?
KoR: Arone, you’re totally trying to butter us up aren’t you? Best show on TV? …Ooh, you didn’t make your own TV, did you?
AD: I don’t watch TV, not even on the computer. Nothing on it makes any sense to me any more. Even the time spent watching it doesn’t make any sense.
AS: Bosom Buddies
KoR: The juxtaposition of those two replies is superbly profound. Nice segue though: If you had to re-enact a Tom Hanks movie, which one would it be?
AD: Pilot for Bosom Buddies
KoR: Aron, most admirable trait of Arone?
AS: Most musical ear of anyone I know, and she’s not afraid to use it. Good organizer.
KoR: Arone, for Aron?
AD: I really admire the way he finishes his work. Super clean, nice-looking work. Like on his instruments and pedals. I’m too impatient to finish things nicely, so my aesthetics are influenced by that, but I certainly appreciate that detailed part of his work ethic.
KoR: Funny nicknames growing up?
KoR: See, Macaroni & Skeet, THERE’S a band name… If you were a mythical animal, what would you be?
AD: A flying pet rock.
KoR: That’s extra mythical! Favorite vegetarian dish ever?
AD: The Falafel mit Haloumi from Mo’s in Berlin. YUM!
KoR: Best bar in New York?
AD: Where the fancy drinks are free.
AS: Sunny’s, of course.
KoR: Nice! A mere jaunt down from our neighborhood. What not-often recommended thing would you recommend a visitor to New York do? You know, besides going to a Buke and Gass show.
AD: Get lost! I mean that in a fun way. As in, borrow a bike, get on the subway and exit somewhere random, then take your time trying to find your way back home without asking for directions. HA! Fun.
KoR: Spoken like a true bike enthusiast! And, finally, if you had to choose another name for the band, it would be…?
AD: Math Debate! …okay, maybe not.
Keep an eye out for B+G’s debut full-length record, due later this year. In the meantime, you can listen to their EP here, and check out a superb track from said coming full-length as this week’s Song of the Week. Finally, if you’re in New York, you can catch their terribly impressive live performance June 1, at Radiolab’s Awe-Magedon (nice, right?), and then on June 27 at the Bang on a Can Marathon.