Published on BLURT – Monday, Dec. 13, 2010
Necessity was – and remains – the mother of invention for the talented Brooklyn duo.
BY ANNAMARYA SCACCIA
For Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, masterminds behind the courted Brooklyn-based indie outfit Buke & Gass, creativity is in their bones. Growing up in Minnesota and Maine, respectively, their childhoods were spent around inspired types who nurtured their originality (Sanchez’s mother is a dancer and father a painter, and Dyer’s father played guitar) and years were consumed with mastering varied instruments, like the piano, percussion and guitar.
They also were instinctively drawn to the constructive power their hands held, learning how to disassemble and restore everything from structures to gadgets to clothes. It’s a dexterous skill that’s led to interesting day jobs; Dyer, who’s held positions in landscaping, carpentry and bike messenging, has worked as a bicycle mechanic since 2003, and Sanchez, a former Blue Man Group performer who builds tube amplifiers and ribbon microphones, has worked as the musical instrument designer for Blue Man Productions. It also fueled Buke & Gass’ namesakes: their self-modified instruments – Dyer’s six-string former baritone ukulele, the “buke,” and Sanchez’s guitar-bass hybrid, the “gass.”
While Sanchez and Dyer employ the use of other gear, like drums, pedals, amps and bells, to craft their sound, it’s the buke and gass that take center stage and it’s those components that are wholly fascinating. The buke was assembled particularly for Buke & Gass because of the limits working just on “regular guitars” presented, and also as an effort Dyer and Sanchez admit, to “sound like a big band.” As for the gass, it first evolved in the mid-‘00s when Sanchez played in the now-defunct three-piece, Proton Proton, which was composed of only a drummer, vocalist, and Sanchez on bass. As a member of the group, which was limited in its structure, the Maine native wanted to perform more than just bass. So, to fill out more, he started expanding on his ascribed instrument, adding guitar string after guitar string. And now, with a six-string mix bag of bass and guitar, its current form no longer resembles its original silhouette. “It’s just really kind of what I wanted to do musically, playing one instrument alone,” says Sanchez, who moved to New York in 1997.
You can also say Buke & Gass’ music is a product of ingenuity. Their songwriting process, from their collective instrumentation to Dyer’s lyrics, are heavily ruled by improvisation – by sections of textures, clatters, structures and expressions that flicker with song potential. According to Sanchez, the pair will spend hours improvising music, recording every nanosecond of sonic soundscape they’ve created in a session. Then, he says, they will rewind and review the music they’ve birthed, plucking out the parts that called to them and further arrange them into a comprehensive melody (“That can take anywhere from four days to six months,” says Dyer with a laugh.) As for the lyrics, Dyer says, the lines can form from outside the improv and songwriting and are added to the songs, or from listening through their feat and inscribing down what shethought she heard.
“Sometimes, we sit down and figure something out midair but most of the time, it’s getting together with our instruments, with the limitations of all instruments and then improvising enough that shit happens,” Sanchez says, a playful chuckle curbing his words.
Their hands-on approach is magnified by their hands-on trade; the pair handmade the stamps and prints for the cover of their self-released 2009 debut EP, +/-, and they also hand-craft their teeshirts). “That’s the way we prefer to do things is by making them ourselves,” says Dyer. “Since we have those skills, we like to put them to use but as far as the songwriting process goes, we’re both problem-solvers so that really comes into us laying out a whole crap load of mess and then trying to figure it out.”
In a way, Dyer and Sanchez, former members of the post-punk four-piece Hominid, are also governed by impulsiveness and improv, sometimes losing track of time and space because the call of playing is just too great. “We just [almost] totally missed [this] interview because we were starting the process,” says Dyer, who, at 19, moved to New York in 2000.
It’s this coiling, ever-evolving method the up-and-coming outfit used to shape their first full-length, which they self-produced in Sanchez’s basement recording studio and instrument fabrication workshop, Polyphonic Workshop, in Brooklyn’s Red Hook. Released mid-September on the New York-based Brassland, a label co-founded by The National’s Aaron & Bryce Dessner, Riposte is complexity at its bravest-a more involved venture than their revered EP. (“The EP is like the short story and Riposte is like the novel,” offers Sanchez.) It’s also mostly the result of, what Sanchez says, their attempt to fashion a record that conveyed their live shows on tape, with a subtle amount of extra production and layering. From demanding opener, “Medulla Oblongata” to erratic closer, “Outt!”, Riposte is a bomb-blast of shimmering hegemony: ruthless in its discordant execution but soothing in its enigmatic swallows. The markedly infectious noise-pop tracks are sinuous in their polished continuity, with Dyer’s deliriously sweet but perilously commanding intones heightening Riposte‘s distinctive torch of raw-boned missives. In other words: it’s an impressive start.
As for any all-encompassing themes, that’s something Riposte lacks. But that was an intentional absence – or, at least, a thematic umbrella wasn’t something they discussed. “The album is us being pragmatic and making a record,” says Sanchez with a laugh. “I don’t know what the overarching emotional content or theme of the record is at all. Gotta leave it up to interpretation for someone else to kinda glean whatever they want to from it.”
There’s also a certain duality to Buke & Gass. While the way the pair crafts material is based on ad-libbing and happenstance, they seek a level of restraint and order for their live performances. As Dyer puts it, with only one guitarist and one kick drum, the possibilities of improvising on stage are slim. Not that a chance to “branch out” live wouldn’t be welcomed, admits Sanchez, but it’s not something they’ve tried as of yet. “We stick to our guns with it because there’s a lot of stuff going on for each of us and we pretty much have to be calculated with it,” she says.
“Replaying the music is pretty risky already,” says Sanchez, inciting an agreeing, washed out guffaw from Dyer, “but if one thing goes awry, the whole thing could fall apart. So it’s pretty structured in that way.”