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Brooklyn Band Has Woodstock Origins

  • Andrew William Ralph, who collaborated on the Rubblebucket video, made this self-portrait.

    Andrew William Ralph, who collaborated on the Rubblebucket video, made this self-portrait.

  • Andrew William Ralph, who collaborated on the Rubblebucket video, made this self-portrait.

In 2001, Kalmia Traver and Andrew William Ralph parted ways. They had both been raised, at least in part, in the Upper Valley, and both attended Woodstock Union High School.

The two friends, who met in a Unitarian church youth group, graduated a year apart. She ended up at college in Burlington. He went to school out West.

Now, years later and both based in New York, they’ve collaborated on an animated, neon-tinged music video that has appeared on NPR’s All Songs Considered, the Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine’s “Approval Matrix” (the video landed in its “lowbrow/brilliant” quadrant). It’s called Save Charlie, made by Ralph and a collaborator for Traver’s band Rubblebucket, a group starting to climb the ladder of indie-band success.

“I loved it so much,” Traver said of the video. “I was totally impressed.”

But back to that in a second. First, Woodstock.

It’s where Traver moved to during middle school, coming of age in a musical household that had no dealings with the dance-tinged indie pop world she currently occupies. Tim Traver, her father, remembers a house full of folk and trad music, and a daughter who had phases involving mandolin, guitar and flute.

He mentioned taking her to a concert, when she was about 14, put on by saxophonist Ornette Coleman in Burlington.

“I always personally had an interest in jazz,” Tim Traver said. “I guess I kind of pushed her a little bit towards that.”

High school was when Traver delved into saxophone — “I wanted to be the renegade girl who did a boy thing,” she said — because she said she was drawn to its odd sound and ability to project loudly. She joined Woodstock’s jazz band and marching band.

“I think my ears loved, from a really young age, things that had a fun beat and were really funky,” Traver said.

Those high school years are when she met Ralph, who, while young, bored and looking for trouble, had been sent to a reform school in Connecticut and a wilderness boot camp in Idaho. The latter experience changed his life in a positive way, he said. The former didn’t go as well.

In fact, his experience there forms the basis of a screenplay he’s working on. He hopes to shoot it, down the line, in the Green Mountain State.

“It has nothing to do with Vermont, per se, it’s just kind of the location,” Ralph said of his script. “I think that Vermont has a very cinematic beauty that is unlike anywhere else.”

The screenplay isn’t a pipe dream, necessarily: After graduating from Woodstock in 2002, Ralph moved to California, where he studied animation, and then moved on to the Los Angeles Film School to study directing. About a year and a half ago, after working on several art department and production design jobs out west, Ralph moved to Queens, N.Y., to work on his own projects.

He reached out to Traver, who was living in Brooklyn, to collaborate.

To back up: After graduating from Woodstock in 2001, Traver moved on to the University of Vermont, ultimately getting a degree in jazz studies. It was there, she said, that she surrounded herself with works by Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. It was also where she met Alex Toth, who became both her partner and co-band leader.

After a stint in a reggae band post-graduation, they formed Rubblebucket. The group, somewhat fluid in membership but currently housing seven musicians, many of whom are multi-instrumentalists, released its first record in 2009, around the time it began its tireless touring schedule. The band has become known in indie circles for its upbeat, lively shows.

For example, Traver’s mantra: “We’re all in this together. It’s just one big group of writhing human bodies.”

This isn’t to say Rubblebucket is a by-the-numbers rock or indie band, though the group has been lumped in with the Brooklyn scene it’s now a part of. Its songs are mostly pure, candy-colored dance music, accented by funk and afrobeat influences, driven home by the lively horn section, watery synthesizers and Traver’s vocals.

Soon after Ralph moved to New York, he and Traver got back in touch, about a decade after their high school years. She agreed to work with him on a music video for the group’s song Save Charlie, the title track of an EP that came out in October.

The video, which features members of the band performing, their bodies turned to neon lines against a black background, premiered on YouTube alongside the EP, and was soon picked up by both local and national outlets. The animation bears a resemblance to blacklight posters or rainbow scratch paper. Ralph said “it’s like blowing up a Spencer’s (Gifts) store.”

TJ Andrade, Ralph’s partner in the creation of the video whom he met at film school, said the animation was partially inspired by the iPod ads of years past, with silhouettes dancing against bright backgrounds.

“I think the great thing about our video is it’s just simple and memorable,” said Andrade, who focused on post-production, while Ralph handled animation.

For Ralph, the quick success of the video was a pleasant surprise after 18 months of New York living.

“This is kind of a big break for me. I feel like I’m on the right track,” he said. “I just turned 30 and my first real music video has just premiered on NPR, so I feel pretty good about that.”

Traver said that the Save Charlie video aligns with many of the band’s tenets: fun, danceable music, psychedelia, use of colors. But a day of filming for the video in her apartment — band members were filmed, which then informed the animation — was particularly difficult.

“I’d just had a chemo session a few days before, so I was really, really exhausted,” she said. “I could barely get out of bed.”

Early this year, doctors had found a large tumor — about 10 centimeters — on Traver’s ovary. It was removed in May, and was determined to be cancerous. She went through three rounds of chemotherapy through the summer; the Traver in the Save Charlie video is a Traver who had recently shaved her hair.

Traver, 30, said the cancer is now gone. Her third and final round of chemotherapy was just before the first leg of Rubblebucket’s current tour, in late September. She decided to head out on the road.

“It was pushing it for sure,” she said, but “it meant a lot to me to go out and basically be sweating it out with all our fans.”

The tour won’t hit the Upper Valley, though Traver expressed interest in playing a show in the area. It will pass through Boston on Nov. 22 and Burlington on Dec. 30 and 31.

For now, though, both Traver and Ralph are based in New York, geographically removed from the Upper Valley. But the Vermont connection has remained, even more than a decade and 250 miles later.

“The band is a Brooklyn band,” Ralph said of Rubblebucket, “but I think everything kind of comes back to home.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews .com or 603-727-3242.