Photo Courtesy of Buke and Gass
Buke and Gass is a New York duo that sounds oh so much larger. Using homemade (yet professional quality) instruments, the “Buke”(pronounced “byouk”) and the “Gass”(rhymes with “pace”) in the band’s name stems from the actual names of the instruments they use (the nature of those instruments will be explained below). Their 2008 EP, “+/-” combine sonic landscapes, outstanding vocals, and a “wait, this was only done by two people?” instrumental complexity that makes a truly unique and exciting listening experience.
Band members Aron Sanchez (Drum and Gass) and Arone Dyer (Vocals and Buke) formerly coexisted in Hominid, an all-too-brief sort of shooting star of the early aughties. They released an EP, and had scheduled a tour with The Fall, before things fell apart and the band disbanded (also, see below). A write up I did of their EP, “All Accidental All The Time” got me a call back for a pitchfork writer position I didn’t get, as chronicled here (self-congratulatory high five!) Hominid was, to me, the Indie Sasquatch of my life. Their empty allmusic page more or less says it all. Their old webpage has long since gone down, and the one picture I could find of the band was blurry. Like I said, Indie Sasquatch.
“Jack’s Links Presents- Messing With The Hominid”
But, now that half of Hominid has reunited to continue making kickass music, I caught up with Aron and Arone with a few questions about their new project (as well as some desperate pleas for Hominid demos, which garnered lucrative, glorious results). Do yourself a favor, and give B&G a listen on their myspace page, you’ll thank me later.
JEFF: Okay, so I’m going to get those standard questions that you always are asked out of the way. I know the answer already, but many of teh internetzors might not know this, so what was the origin of the Buke and the Gass? If you can, try to describe your instruments both technically, as well as in terms of what mythical creatures each would be, if they were mythical creatures instead of instruments.
ARON: The Gass came to life for two reasons. One, I’m an incessant tinkerer/problem solver, and I’ve worked professionally for many years as a musical instrument designer. Two, as a bass player, I always wanted to create more sound than a standard bass. The Gass is a hybrid between a bass and a guitar, 6 strings with alternating bass and guitar strings and pickups. But it’s sort of mutating as I add more electronics to it, it’s a work in progress. The first version of it appeared in my last band, Proton Proton. The Buke is Arone’s instrument, we developed it together. It’s a baritone Ukulele modified to hold 6 strings and pickups. Basically a miniature guitar, she likes the ease of playing it.
ARONE: The Buke was designed due to pain in my wrist from playing guitar, and also after having played for so long (18 years) I’d begun to feel bored of the same style instrument. I felt that I needed something different; smaller and lighter than usual, with a different tone, and this seemed to solve the dilemma efficiently. I bought a four-string baritone ukulele, and Aron turned it into a 6-string, added a pickup in the sound hole, and we played with another piezo pickup for the best tone. It’s become a beloved instrument, and inspirational to invent on.
As a mythical creature I think it could be compared to a new-age Griffin; some mix of sleep Black Panther and fancy-feathers Bird of Paradise. It has that varied tonal ability to mimic both a bird’s familial protective screech or hot-to-trot mating song, and kick or growl much like some jungle cat with a nasty fresh-kill hangover.
JEFF: I’ve seen a lot of people try to describe your sound. It usually ranges from, “Um…*insert incorrect band comparison*” to, “Uh, I give up, just listen to it, okay?” How would you guys describe your sound in your own words.
ARON: One of the great things about being in this band is that I don’t really have to think about that too much. There’s something about our instrumentation that somewhat un-defines us, if that makes any sense. Not that the sounds me make are so unusual, but I feel the role of those sounds is being put in a new light, or given more weight than usual. We create a pretty big sound with two stringed instruments, a bass drum, ankle bells and vocals. And we try to create as much rhythm as we can because we don’t have a drummer. That’s how I would describe it.
ARONE: I usually give up, myself. But perhaps I’ve been lazy. Here’s my first poetic attempt: it’s the exuberant heartbeat of a newly retired schoolhouse janitor (no offense) riding the back of a strong and determined racehorse as it gracefully hurdles through scenes, such as a serene rose-petaled puddle, or a group of surprised topless sun-beat-beach-goers, or a pitchfork and flame-bearing mob blood-hungry for the rabbit who stole all their carrots and cabbage the day before some big holiday. Musically.
JEFF: Are there any band comparisons you guys get that you’re sick of hearing at this point?
ARON: Actually, no, not yet, not really. I’d like to hear some though, got any?
ARONE: I haven’t heard the same thing twice as of yet, that I know of. To me it’s nothing to get uppity about, we will be related or compared to whoever the relater or comparer feels relates or compares the best. It’s out of our control, and rightfully so. There’s no one we’re trying to sound like, so I don’t have any personal connection to, or distaste of, another band.
One Part Buke, One Part Gass, Shaken, Stirred, Garnished With Awesomeness
JEFF: Now, you guys get an incredible wall of sound from just two people. But you’ve both been in bands that have had more of a traditional size. How do you feel the creation process of Buke and Gass differs from working with a three or four member band?
ARON: Oh, the creation process is great. I mean, it’s great working with Arone anyway, she has so many ideas and talent which is a luxury in itself, but with two people it’s a lot more efficient of course. Less personalities. We still argue about song parts and arrangement but you can’t really get too hung up on a disagreement, it’s a 50/50 deal. When there are more band members there are more variables of disagreement and things getting off balance. It’s nice, the two of us can really sit down and write a piece of music together at the same time, and our instrumentation requires us to be in the same room to create. It would be difficult for me to write a B&G song without Arone, and vice versa.
ARONE: Fewer cooks in the kitchen and more ingredients used makes for a tasty dish.
JEFF: Quick! Each of you, tell me one really corny knock-knock joke that will make me groan!
ARONE: Knock knock!
JEFF: Who’s there!?
JEFF: Ya who?
ARONE: I know! I’m excited too!!!
I just made it up, like it? (But apparently there’s another (almost) just like it…)
JEFF: So, let’s get some of the music background out of the way. You guys were together as Hominid back in 2002 (please correct me on any factual errors I might have, it’s impossible to google anything about Hominid other than finding out about Harvard hijacking your website). That band disbanded- deportation had something to do with it I believed you mentioned to me after your Schuba’s show in July. Then, Aron, you made instruments for Blue Man Group? And Arone, you did vocals on “What is Rock” for the Blue Man Group’s second CD. Then Aron first rocked the Gass with Proton Proton. And you guys met back up and rocked out. Please help me fill in the blanks.
ARONE: Oh dear, this one’s a doozie! And I guess Aron has left me to do the talking, so he’ll just have to deal with what comes out here…you’ve started only a third of the way into Aron’s and my current musical history. My personal musical history is even longer still, as is his, but we’ll leave those deets to another time and space.
The First Third of Three Parts As Of Yet: We met in 2000, and promptly collaborated on a series of 10 songs or so that have barely, if ever, seen the light of public day. Aron was already working for the BMG as a magician in the back room so-to-speak, designing and building their intricate PVC instruments, and developing crazy new sound/performance technologies for their shows. Somehow our music got to the powers-that-be at BMG and they asked me to vocalize on their second album, and join them on their tour (in 2003?) During this time, Aron was also experimenting with a couple of heavily talented musicians, Ian Savage and Rami Gabay. I would be upstairs listening and loving it, humming or singing to whatever they were doing, and in time I ended up in the basement with them, the four of us in collaboration.
Thusly beginning the Second Third of Three Parts As Of Yet. We collaborated well enough to gain recognition during the time when the up-and-coming Yeah Yeah Yeahs were our closest competition. I believe I can speak for the others that are not sitting next to me when I say that Hominid was our biggest and most successful project, and it was fun and top priority while it was. We were asked to go on tour with The Fall, but when our dearest percussive entity, Rami, wasn’t allowed back into our not-so-awesome-during-this-time country, we had to act fast to find another fancy drummer, who turned out to be Jarrod Ruby, who joined us on that tour.
Skip ahead of the drama like a child clumsily jumping through a field of wasps nests, and for personal conflicting reasons (as is usually the case), we broke up, figuratively and literally, as well as bandily. I left the country for a short time, left music for serious, and meanwhile, Aron formed Proton Proton with Jarrod and Paul Fuster. Almost four years slog by, and, within the same month (if not week) of my deciding it was time to get back to my musical roots, Aron contacted me.
Henceforth, the Third Third of Three Parts As Of Yet was set into motion. Which is in progress and can be described in part by my previous answer. See above.
And then they were on TV and then the bassist had to join the Marines and the drummer wore shades and… this is probably too obscure of a movie reference, isn’t it?
JEFF: Your names are homonyms of each other. You two were also involved in a band called Hominid. Were the Illuminati involved?
ARON: Yes, but we only just found out. Harvard-Illuminati.
ARONE: Thanks. You should be thankful you don’t know as many Jeffs as we know Aarons.
JEFF: What is your general songwriting process to get the most sound out of your instruments? Is it a calculated approach, or more trial-and-error?
ARON: A little of both. The most consistent thing we do is improvise while recording, listen back and use bits of improvs as the building blocks for compositions. We then juggle these around until we have an arrangement we’re happy with. We’re not consciously to make things sound bigger in the compositions, but we do like to use dynamics, so maybe we’re getting the most out of our instruments that way.
ARONE: It’s kind of like grocery shopping. Sometimes we walk to the corner to pick up some T.P. last minute, and other times we drive the pickup to do a complete revival of the kitchen cupboards. Does this make any sense to you? Probably not…Oh well…
JEFF: Are there any plans to get a full length album out any time soon?
ARON: Yes, the full length is underway.
Does that joke from earlier make more sense now? How about now? Indie Sasquatch?
JEFF: Arone, compared to Hominid, with B&G you really seem to sing with a different range of vocals. There are B&G songs where you seem to be dancing all over the vocal spectrum, using your voice for percussion emphasis, etc. Does that difference arise more out of the desire to use your vocals almost as an extra instrument for you guys to utilize, or is that just something that happens as you guys are writing music that is more outside a traditional rock and roll structure?
ARONE: Thank you for the question, Jeff. Well, if you’re comparing B&G solely to Hominid, which was relatively limited as far as “breaking through the status quo” rock, I would say I have much bigger shoes to fill in B&G. With Hominid I was sort of icing on the already decadent cake, but I was not really in any position to lead or direct with whatever melodies or tones I came up with. With B&G, my vocals have a huge impact on where a song may or may not fun off to, and I have every intention of bringing a story or sensation into it at each moment that passes by. I’m a songwriter in the simplest of terms, and this project allows for four limbs and two vibrating vocal chords of physical songwriting and performance participation. I give it almost all I’ve got. (Gotta leave room for a perfectionist’s improvement)
JEFF: What is the best food dish where potatoes are the primary ingredient?
ARON: Potato Leek Soup
ARONE: Mom’s summer potato salad, hand’s down
Sorry Arone, only one of those was easy to find on google images
JEFF: Now, I remember reading that you guys recorded +/- at Aron’s studio. Did that offer you more freedom than you had experienced in other studio environments, or were the changes pretty much minimal?
ARON: Well, we rehearse in the studio, too, so really this band (aside from playing shows) exists primarily in a studio environment. That’s where we practice and write music. It’s safe to say we’re pretty comfortable and free-feeling there.
ARONE: Minimal changes as far as I had experienced. We both recorded Hominid albums in the exact same place and manner. On our own time, pace, ease…yes, quite free, I suppose. The only challenge this time seemed to be when it was Aron’s turn to play and I needed to engineer. Since I don’t spend nearly as much time behind his console as he does, a lot of “what button did you say to push?” went on.
JEFF: Do you guys have any specific influences that you try to emulate through B&G? What sort of artists or bands are you listening to nowadays?
ARON: Another nice thing about this project, I don’t really think much of other bands/artists when working on the music. One of the perks when limiting the instrumentation I think. That said, I just went through a deep Arthur Russell phase (doesn’t everyone?), the Stax/Volt singles, Smiths, and getting back into the Grinderman record.
ARONE: The only time I listen to music and enjoy it is while I’m working and we’re not listening to NPR. I listen to a lot of reggae, big band, vintage R&B, funky whatsits…predictably, good organic music that I don’t have to think much about but can learn the words and sing along at whim.
(This is kind of run on and perhaps not necessary)
I love me some Fela Kuti energy, Lungfish drone and thought processes, Proton Proton, grind and the words and melodies of Paul Fuster, the souls of Etta, Ella, and Billie, the funk and feel of Sly and Stevie Wonder, the tangible Fugazi and Shellac, et fucking cetera. I’m not out to be them, or to beat them. Just to express as best suits me as they did themselves.
JEFF: When I met you guys after the Schuba’s show in Chicago, I mentioned my theory that Hominid is my musical Sasquatch (see above. and above. etc). Well, though I could barely find stuff about that band online, but I did find a SECOND picture of Arone singing in Hominid. And this was was ALSO BLURRY. See? See? This can’t just be a coincidence. You must have been going through a rebellious phase where you decided to only exist in the 4th dimension. What I’m trying to ask is, do you guys still have leftover Hominid t-shirts lying around, and can I buy one?
Do you think that just fucking HAPPENS? I’m pretty sure Steven Hawking has written books on this shit.
ARON: Hominid was a pretty fuzzy band, I don’t think we ever developed the clarity we could have. Though were once featured in Anthem magazine with 4 very in focus, albeit terrible, head shots of us.
ARONE: That could be simple. I had sliced a stencil out of cardboard, spray painted a bunch of patches, and sewn them into Salvation Army T-shirts. I wouldn’t beat you up if you decided to do it yourself, but I would charge a small labor fee if you wanted me to do the work.
Oh Hominid being blurry: perhaps we weren’t really as focused as we needed to be at that time.
JEFF: When fans come up to you after a show, how often are they saying, “That was a really good show” and how often are they coming by to say it was a good show before promptly geeking out about your instruments.
ARON: We don’t get geeked out at as often as you might think. I hope that the music is visceral or powerful enough, most lay people seem to react well to what we’re doing without getting bogged down with the technicalities of it. Also our instruments don’t look that strange, they appear to be some acoustic guitar derivative, but they don’t necessarily sound like it. Of course there’s always at least one musician that comes up to me and says, “How are you doing that?”
ARONE: I’m not an expert on our fans’ geekery. Out of those who come up to chat after the show, some praise and geek, and others just praise OR geek. Maybe 50/50, I don’t keep track. However, I have yet to run into someone who’s willing to give us some credible criticism. Takers?
JEFF: Your band name is the name of your instruments, almost as if you’re personifying the Buke and the Gass. How much of your band’s identity do you attribute to the instruments you play?
ARON: Hopefully none. In fact we’ve been talking about writing some music without the Buke and the Gass. We had a hard time coming up with a name in the beginning, and as weird a title as it is, it’s the one that seemed to make sense to us.
ARONE: I’d like a blindfold hearing test to take place. I’d be interested to know what the statistics are, how much the visuals influence the interest in the music, and further yet, how much the knowledge of how those instruments and amps came about effect one’s interest in the music. Although, if I were to actually answer your question, I’d say that our band identifies greatly with its instrumentation, and the instrumentation greatly influences our sounds and therefor the music could be directly attributed to our instruments, but I, as a band member, only identify with 50% of the whole. Yet again, an answer that doesn’t do the trick…I’m good at those.
JEFF: Finally, what is your favorite aspect of this band, compared to others you’ve played with in the past.
ARONE: That it’s in the present participle. Happen-ing.
And there we go, one lengthy three-thousand word interview later, hopefully you have a better notion of what these two are all about. If you haven’t checked out their myspace linked in the intro, do yourself a favor. Or you can see youtube performances of them HERE and HERE.