Brooklyn-based band Rubblebucket is known for their high-energy beats and colorful performances, so it comes as little surprise that frontwoman Kalmia Traver embodies just that.
A self-described “Vermont-nature tomboy,” Traver grew up loving dress-up, but unsure of how to incorporate it into her day-to-day style.
“It’s such a lost opportunity to not express yourself visually there,” she told us. It’s just such a wonderful form of expression.”
But, after enrolling at University of Vermont, where she met Rubblebucket’s Alex Toth, Traver’s vibrant personal style pushed its way to the forefront. Influenced by fellow artists including Bjork, Lady Gaga and Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano, her style takes cues from everything from fabrics and how things move on stage to the visual arts and comfort in one’s own skin.
For this installment of Style Record, we caught up with Traver before Rubblebucket’s set at Atlanta’s Terminal West, where they were supporting their fourth LP Survival Sounds. We were envious of Traver bundled up in her chunky knit sweater, and listened to her talk about everything from grass skirts, balance on tour and, of course, color.
“I like the idea of being a work of art. As in a living, moving work of art,” she said, and we think she has that down pat.
Paste: Tell us a little bit about your style and how it influences you and your performance on stage.
Kalmia: This is fun, it’s been a funny progression for me, because I really kinda grew up kind of like a Vermont-nature tomboy. I really like dressing up as a fairy. We played a lot of dress-up, but I never considered that a viable option for what to wear in public. I was always just sporty and that kinda extended into college. We’ve learned so much from when we first started Rubblebucket. Growing up in Vermont was also sort of easy to be a little, you know, I wanted to be down to earth and not feel like I was too primadonna-y. Maybe that’s the opposite of growing up down South, cause I have Southern friends whose mom’s taught them how to put on make-up. My mom was the exact opposite; she taught me how specifically to not shave my legs. I think style and music, therefore, came really hand in hand for me. I was always really drawn to music and when I started playing live, it was like, oh, it’s a show, being that people see you. It’s such a lost opportunity to not express yourself visually there. It’s just such a wonderful form of expression.
Great! So who would you say influences you when you’re picking out a good stage outfit?
There’s like the major ones like Bjork obviously and Lady Gaga and Beyonce, the tide is kind of set by them. Even from way early on, I was like I wanna be as wild as that and diving in to the actual, everyday, nitty-gritty of figuring out to wear on stage. It’s so complicated. And also touring in the way that we do. You have to be able to roll out of the van and not have it be a major, hour long process, getting it all together. There’s a very fine balancing point. I think there’s so many amazing style people in music, especially women particularly, that have inspired me a lot. I always say Yukimi from Little Dragon.
That’s a good one.
I like the idea of being a work of art. As in a living, moving work of art. Trying to think of other people (laughs). I’ll think more on that one.
What is your favorite thing to wear on stage?
I’ve always wanted to make sure I’m accentuating my angles, knowing that I’m gonna be dancing around a lot, trying to look in the mirror and see. I’m a visual artist as well, so that helps me a lot. I think before, I always used to just want something bright, as long as it’s bright, then it’ll be cool. But the past few years, I think I’ve much more zeroed in on the way that it accentuates shapes and the way that it accentuates movement. And I’ve done a lot of dance practice, just in my room in front of the mirror, wearing different things. Sometimes when you segment the different parts of your body, like if I wear kneesocks then my thighs will show and It’s different, it makes your dance moves be more accentuated, so I’ve messed around with that a little bit. I have this new prop, I don’t think we had it last time we were here, it’s like this crazy grass skirt, I got it in San Diego.
Oh, I don’t think I’ve seen that.
Yeah, you’re gonna get to see it tonight. And it’s so fun to jump around in that. It’s like wearing a cloud. And our friend took us out to see the Fela Kuti play like five years ago on Broadway. And there was a girl there wearing this skirt, I mean all the women dancers, their hips moved like… I can’t even explain it. You cannot put it into words. There was one lady in particular that had this, kind of, um, flowy fabric thing on her butt. And when she would shake it, it just moved like 10 miles across, it was so amazing. I think it’s fun to have fabrics to play with.
When it comes to stage dress, what do you like to wear off stage and do you ever wear the same thing? How does it translate?
We were touring with Reptar and Iggy Blossoms a few years ago, and the girl, Sarah, would always roll up to the venues in what she was going to wear. And that was so impressive to me. She would look so cool and so loose. Had on a skirt and a cute little crop top and then just get on stage and rock out. I wanted to be able to do that. But as you can see right now, I’m wearing pretty much the coziest possible thing (gestures to her chunky thick knitted sweater).
That sweater looks incredibly cozy.
That’s actually what I’ve been working on lately is how can I be cozy and fashionable, cause cozy is so important on the road. Like I can’t get into the van in skinny jeans and a tank top. That would be ridiculous.
Like for super long drives?
I’d be crying in the back. And most of the time I’m sleeping anyways. So, it’s all been an evolution. Usually everyday I’ll try to take something I was wearing from that day and use it as inspiration for what I wear that night. Or take an actual piece and bring it on stage with me. I think that’s kinda important. I do like the idea of split personalities, like Sasha Fierce and whatever, I guess that’s just Beyonce. I’m really excited about having an amplified version of myself but having major authentic pieces, so that’s I’m not too detached because there’s so many months and months where we’re off the road and you can definitely lose that. I feel like I actually just came out of three months of living in deep winter up in the Northeast and like where’s that crazy dancer frontgirl? So yeah, you have to keep it alive.
We lost her in all of the coats and the blankets.
I’ve been wearing long johns everyday and I’ve just become this mama bear. (laughs) So yeah, this is it. I’m coming out of my skin tonight.
That’s awesome. So when you’re out on tour, what do you always have, what’s your tour essential?
Obviously something cozy.
Yeah, definitely cozy stuff. And like big scarves, they’re so multi-purpose. This tour I really thought through my footwear. Because last tour I had like eight pairs of shoes, and this tour I only brought two. And I just got like one pair of black platforms that I can wear everyday and they’re really comfortable and then like these ones I’m wearing now. And I’m pretty excited about it, traveling light. It’s hard for me (laughs). But I’m trying to embrace it.
It’s overrated. It’s totally overrated.
Yeah, it’s true. What am I gonna say? Who am I fooling here?
Do you have like beauty or cosmetic things you always bring?
Yeah, I have a few products that I’ve over the years really come to depend on. One of them it’s like this (Gnars), it’s a foundation for eye shadow and it makes it stick on and I’ve just been through so many bottles of that.
I bet that’s useful for when you’re performing all night.
Yeah, for performing. It’s a whole different make-up game. You have to shellack it on your body. I play sax so the lipstick will come off. But the first half of the show, people get the lipstick.
It changes over time. It could be a good thing.
Yeah, it’s true. We’re going on a journey together, so people have to understand that. There’s a beginning and an end. What else? The face paint has been fun. That’s basically interactive.
That’s awesome. So, I know you travel often and this could be a very open-ended question, but where do you like to shop? Are there like vintage stores you’re really into, or do you do thrift stores or like Etsy?
I’ve never shopped on Etsy, I’ve really got to do that. I have a bunch of friends who have, I actually want to start. I wanna open my own store. I have aspirations. That’s actually what my parents said, they texted me the other day and were like “when is your clothing line gonna come out?”
Oh, you should.
I would love to. That’s probably a ways away. But New York City is hands-down the best place to shop for anything. Vintage, and then like there’s so many little boutiques that are way cheaper than I would’ve ever imagined.
In New York? Really?
Yeah, it’s such a huge industry there. So there’s kinda, a bunch of sample sales and off backwash of the fashion industry. I found some amazing pieces and like I do not deserve this. I actually found a dress for $1. I was pretty psyched. Have you ever watched the House of DVF or whatever it’s called? But I love thrifting all around the country. That’s one of the perks.
That’s so exciting.
We were in Bozeman one time. And we had a couple hours off so we all went to the Goodwill and found stuff like crazy. Our friend Maria Christina who used to play bari sax with us, she has like a thrift line in New York and she just like bought all these boots, they had all these leather boots and she was like I can sell all these for 100 bucks in New York. There’s a lot of amazing finds in really remote places.
Is there any general statement you’d like to make about your style? Like how would you describe your style?
I would describe it…I have never tried to do this before. It’s definitely an extension of the music for me. No doubt. I think when I’m writing a song, or a poem, or a painting, or getting dressed, there’s a very similar process of creativity that goes into it. And especially with drawing and painting and fashion, to me, getting dressed is like “okay, where exacty does that hit? I want the eye to travel in the proper way.” I think I have a lot of sort of, like I grew up in Vermont, kind of rebel, punky, girl power, kale-eating, power woman scene. And I try to maintain little aspects of it, whether it’s just like black combat boots or cutoff this or that. That’s probably my core, who I am at my core. And then lots of colors.