Primary Instrument: Band/orchestra
Gutbucket is a free-range band. The seven-year-old New York quartet is not only equally comfortable playing in front of 900 sweatily pogo-ing teenage skate-punks, a crowd of stoned jamband freaks, or on an anarchist German art collective houseboat, but most importantly, their music fits right in.
Flitting from hard rock to Latin to thrash to klezmer and back, often within the space of a few bars, the group veritably attacks their music with the kind of ferocity usually reserved for punk, despite having earned their jazz bona fides. We’re all pretty serious about rock, says saxophonist Ken Thomson, and not just a token throwing-in of some different tunes. It’s something intrinsic to who we are as people. We’ve all had training in jazz, but we’ve moved outside that world into the rock world, to try to actually bring something new to that.
Though the band might seem rooted in the genre exploding of avant-squonk (their 2001 debut, InsomniacsDream, was released on the Knitting Factory house imprint), their shift to louder sounds began with their controversially-titled Dry Humping the American Dream (released in 2003 in Europe on the legendary Enja label and in 2004 in the US on Bang on a Can's acclaimed Cantaloupe label). It was an easier move than it might at first seem • bassist Eric Rockwin claims to have learned every Paul McCartney bassline by heart before his father humbled him with a Ray Brown CD. Guitarist Ty Citerman was into everything that was Hendrix and Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. And drummer Paul Chuffo learned to play by mimicking The Who’s Keith Moon.
It’s only fitting, then, that the band initially came together as Ty, Ken, and Paul looked to expand their musical horizons at Columbia University’s WKCR, where Ty had a late-night radio show and Paul was the self-admitted crazy guy in the corner smoking cigarettes and writing papers. After playing together for four years in the soul-jazz Ex Caminos, the three split off in 1999 to form what would become Gutbucket. Introduced through a friend, Eric and Paul found an instant rhythmic rapport, and the band was born. Four months later, they debuted before a packed house at Manhattan’s Baby Jupiter.
Gutbucket set to work building their all-important live rep, gigging first throughout Manhattan, before spreading across the collegiate markets of the east coast. The release of Dry Humping the American Dream and their full scale US rock club/art gallery/bar touring introduced them to their new favorite places -- San Francisco, Santa Fe, Hattiesburg, MS, and Wichita, KS. The band also hit the US festival circuit, including Seattle’s heralded Earshot Jazz Festival, New York’s Winter Jazz Festival, and played the colleges of Brandeis, Colgate, U. Missouri, and more.
This US effort, which the band speaks of proudly, follows what was • starting with the release of InsomniacsDream • their primary touring outlet • Europe. Through an eager German manager, they continued their love affair with the region after the release of their second disc, amassing performances in sixteen West and East European countries, over ten tours. They think we’re jazz over there, Ty says of the idyllic trips. Over there, we stay in hotels and get fed. We like to go there. We’re art over there. I’m not sure what we are over here.
If Gutbucket themselves don’t know, it can be forgiven. In seven years, they have engaged in numerous projects • many of them more akin to the art-rock stage antics of The Flaming Lips or even Phish than the somber-minded blowing of the downtown atonalists. While their shows are legendarily frenzied (Keep all limbs, drinks and small children well clear of manic sax dervish Ken Thomson, Time Out New York warned), they are also events unto themselves.
For special gigs, the band frequently presents its scores to classic cartoons, including the vintage Superman Vs. The Mechanical Monsters (1941) and the French animation Johnny the Giant Killer (1950). It’s about a bunch of little kids who go looking for this giant that they read about in a fairy tale, Eric explains. Ty jumps in, It turns into this revolutionary theme, where they join forces with a band of bees and take over the giant’s castle • after fighting off a wasp coup d’etat, Paul adds. Eric finishes, After that, Johnny suppresses his sexual attraction to the Queen Bee and fends off the jealous bee guards. It is perfectly bizarre and perfectly Gutbucket, soundly capturing the kinds of narratives one might envision while listening to the band’s already cinematic charts. There have been specially prepared collaborations with Bang on a Can family friends, Ethel, a string quartet with a predilection for distortion pedals; there have been live volleyball games; there have been blindfolds; and there have been Dixie cups filled with rice and passed to enthralled crowds. We like having [musical] conversations with each other and seeing where that goes, Rockwin says. But we like engaging the audience in that conversation, too.