Rubblebucket‘s Alex Toth has a vivid memory of the first time he played band mate Kalmia Traver his initial idea for what would become “Lemonade.”
“Oh, did I weep?” she asks him, laughing.
“Yeah,” he responds. “You moved out, I hadn’t seen you for a couple months or something, you came back to grab some things and I played you a couple songs, and you were on the floor crying.”
The song — like much of their latest album, Sun Machine — is inspired by the end of their romantic partnership after 11 years together, and it’s written by Toth from Traver’s perspective, something he says was a completely subconscious choice.
“The more and more I go into the songwriting craft, the more I’m like, ‘I am not really deciding too much. I’m letting my subconscious drive what the song is going to be,”’ he explains. “And I was like, ‘Whoa, okay, that’s what you’re doing? That’s what you’re trying to say?’ And I realized as I was uncovering this chorus, I was like, ‘This isn’t me singing to Kal. This is definitely Kal singing to me. This is definitely not a Toth song. This is definitely a Rubblebucket song.'”
But a new Rubblebucket song seeing the light of day after their breakup was never a given, Traver says.
“It was definitely totally up in the air,” she says. “We had no idea. We actually had a lot of gigs scheduled during that time, so we were required to be there and be present and work together, and when we didn’t have gigs, we were just taking a ton of time apart, and I think after a few months, there was just a certain point where we just were kind of like, ‘We both would love to still be friends and still have Rubblebucket be a thing.’ And so it was like a test. We had to work on healing our relationship and having our interactions be more predominantly positive ones if we wanted that. And it was cool, I mean, I feel like for both of us it led us to a lot of introspective soul-searching work that was totally valuable for our lives in general.”
Toth agrees. “It was a total game-changer for me. I mean, it just totally obliterated the whole concept of my whole life. Just everything was up in the air. That might be a really scary place to be, but it’s also a really exhilarating place to be.”
That duality of grief and beauty can be felt throughout “Lemonade,” and it’s a concept the group executed visually by re-teaming with director Julia Barrett-Mitchell and director of photography Alex Suber, who they had worked with previously on the video for “Fruity”. The 360-degree video is inspired by the “sun machine” concept mentioned in the song’s first line from which the album takes its name (“We used to talk about the sun machine/We could flip the lights then our love would never end/You were like the American dream/Made me want things I don’t really need”).
“There’s many layers to what that line means, but the most true-to-life has to do with when you’re in a relationship with someone and things aren’t going well, you might reminisce about the past or be nostalgic or wish for the past, when things were new and you were younger and things were more pure and childlike and the love was more visceral,” Toth explains. “And that would be the sun machine, that more blissful time… It made me think it’d be really funny if we had a fictional company called Sun Machine Corp…like the idea that there’s this vaguely dystopian biotech company from the future that’s manufacturing sun machines, manufacturing and giving you these little bio-implant dots and if you get that implanted, you’re just in a state of perpetual bliss.”
“It’s also a bit of a commentary on the way we do try to purchase our satisfaction, purchase happiness,” he continues. “And really, happiness takes so much work to cultivate, and it’s a bit of an inside job. And so we wanted to in this video paint the picture of what Sun Machine Labs would be like.”
Barrett-Mitchell and Shuber’s use of 360 means the video demands multiple viewings, each one uncovering a new perspective. “It really is an amazing way to capture the whole environment,” Toth says. “It’s really actually pretty easy to use it on YouTube and Vimeo where you just slide your phone around and the environment shifts or you can move your finger around. It’s really cool.”
And though the possibilities are endless, Traver sees “Lemonade” and Sun Machine has a “very culminating experience” for Rubblebucket. “We’ve been doing this for more than 10 years, making art together, and we’ve had these things we wanted to say or were trying to say with visuals and with sound and with the spirit of the music,” she explains. “I think when I look back on all of our work, I’m like, ‘Yup, that was me trying to say that.’ And with this, I’m like, ‘Okay, I think I maybe said it.'”