Gutbucket is a free-range band. The nine-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.
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." With the release of Sludge Test in 2006 (released on Cantaloupe in the US and NRW Records in Europe), Gutbucket pushed even further into the realms of avant-rock with a mix of tunes, some short, exclamatory bursts of aggression, others long-form sonic explorations always with surprising twists and turns, keeping the listening on their toes, resisting any and all efforts to recede into the background.
Gutbucket is, however, truly a touring band -- gigging first throughout NYC for years 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 cities across the US, finding followings from San Francisco to Santa Fe to Hattiesburg, MS, and Wichita, KS, among others. The band also hit the US festival circuit, including Seattle's heralded Earshot Jazz Festival, New York's Winter Jazz Festival (twice), and playing the colleges of Brandeis, Colgate, Oberlin, and many more.
This US effort, which the band speaks of proudly, follows what was - since with the release of InsomniacsDream - their primary touring outlet: Europe. Through an eager German manager, they continue their love affair with the region, amassing performances in nineteen West and East European countries, over a dozen 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 nine 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 films, including the 1936 British doc-classic "Night Mail" and their heralded performance to 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," Ken explains. Ty jumps in, "They join forces with a band of bees and take over the giant's castle after fighting off a wasp coup d'état," Eric finishes, "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."
In 2005, Gutbucket started a successful master class series, speaking to performance and composition students in universities and high schools across the US & Europe, including seminars at Cal Arts, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, the Creative Arts High School in Brandeis, Teachers' University in Belgrade, Rock High School in Bielefeld, Germany, Underground Workshop in Gyoer, Hungary, and more.
2007 was a year of big changes as founding member, drummer Paul Chuffo left the band (the first personnel change since the band began in early 1999). To fill in on short notice for upcoming tours, Ty, Eric and Ken enlisted the help of long-time friend and compatriot Adam Gold. Over months of touring in the US and Europe and breakthrough performances at Carnegie Hall (joined by a full orchestra onstage) and the London Jazz Festival, it became clear that Adam's musical voice was a great fit and was meant for far more than just a short-term tenure with the band. His presence injected the music with new life and began to push the music in new and exciting directions as the band prepares new compositions for their next record (coming in 2008).