“Hi!” said Kalmia, swinging the door wide open and swapping handshakes for hugs. The last time I’d seen her, she was arched backwards over an amp at Baby’s All Right with confetti on her tongue, soaking up a sultry brass feature, shimmering in the summer heat by her discarded shirt. Now we were wearing sweaters. “Hi,” I said.
A rush of icy air beat Alex to the door as he escaped the chill of the balcony with a grin. The teapot purred on the stove. I peeked at the books on their shelves as we made introductions, sinking helplessly deep into the warmth of Rubblebucket’s home. The flowery aroma of Kalmia’s concoction was already drifting into the living room, cozying up next to me amid paintings and plants. We settled in close and talked about music and love.
“We know a lot about it. We’re like experts,” said Alex, when asked about performing together as a couple. “You could be a roommate with your best friends and then hate them afterwards, you know, so it’s a lot just to be in a relationship with somebody, period. Then add being around them 24/7 and trying to write songs and get onstage. There’s this pressure.”
“The interesting dynamic with it is, if things get really bad, but the band is doing really well, it’s not as easy to just be like ‘Fuck you, I’m outta here!’” he laughed. “You’ve gotta be like, ‘Okay, how do we fix it? What do we need to do to make things work?’ So it’s really deepened our relationship. Even though it adds a lot of stress, it forces us to be extra communicative and work through stuff in a way that I think, probably, a lot of people give up on. I feel like we’ve really studied love and studied relationships. We’ve made it like a craft; something to get better at.”
“So you kind of approach it the same way you do music?” I asked. “Yeah, totally!” said Kalmia. “I feel like this is what all of my poetry, and art, and everything is about. Trying to understand how to be in the same room with someone, let alone just be, and share yourself.”
With all the great things Rubblebucket has shared of themselves, there’s been a tangible shift from album to album. While 2011’s Omega La La tumbled through uncertainties like “We’re not safe, we’re not secure,” and songs like “Pile of Rage,” 2015’s Survival Sounds embodied its name and came out unscathed. Lines like “On this ride, I’m the captain” and “Please don’t shake me around” are delivered with uncompromising strength. And there’s a reason for that.
“Survival Sounds was made in a really vulnerable moment when I was going through, well, cancer,” said Kalmia unflinchingly. “I didn’t write a lot of the lyrics on that. Alex did. But it was just a pretty major step up in maturity – from being kids to adults, I think. I was pretty incapacitated for a lot of the writing process, so I was just so glad we could be working during it.” “It was our struggle together that inspired all of it,” explained Alex. “Sometimes I would write lyrics channeling Kal; channeling her experience.”
“I would say that a life-threatening obstacle like that was like a major wakeup call,” he said. “I mean it’s crazy how like the biggest, scariest thing can happen to you in your life. Like, that’s the worst that can happen, or near it. In that moment you can either completely fold, and be like ‘Alright, I’m just gonna die, fuck it all.’ Or you can stand up straighter. Reevaulate everything. Throw away all the things that are totally unnecessary. All the little stressful things. But it’s not like an instantaneous thing. It’s a daily practice to keep things in perspective.”
“For all of Survival Sounds, there was like this ground zero kind of moment,” said Kalmia. “It’s like a month-long moment surrounding the diagnosis, where it was either fold and give up, or just decide to survive. And then once you go from there, it just transforms your whole life. I’m sure that’s a really common story, but just choosing to live and applying that to every aspect of life – for me, I definitely felt that decision spreading outwards to my family members, and to Alex, and our band members. All of our fans were so supportive, it just blew my mind. It was like 5,000 times more love than I thought existed in the world.”
“So I think that just gave us a lot of courage, and then I think art became a little more life or death,” she said. “And I think that maybe, that’s what it should be. Art should be life or death.” We all went silent while her words danced in the air. Then the tea started to bubble. She giggled and sprinted the six steps to the kitchen. Alex smiled.
“It’s hard to put into words the kinds of extremes that happened,” he said. “It focused us. It cleaned away a lot of the distractions. It just forces you to have acceptance. Every single day, good and bad things happen to everyone. Like, parking ticket…raise…lose job. New sexual partner…lost sexual partner…whatever it is. I can’t find my hat, fuck fuck fuck fuck! Oh, I just found a 20-dollar bill on the ground – you know? And you start to realize, what seemed like a bad thing in the moment, it turns out that it led to even greater things that happened to you.”
“It’s good to talk about it,” Kalmia added as she returned with the tea. She placed her hand on mine. “It’s all I ever want to talk about.”
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley