Quit Your Day Job: Buke And Gass

I first saw Buke And Gass last summer at Joe’s Pub as part of the Happy Ending Music & Reading Series. They performed some of their songs on a bill where I did a reading about black metal (and, separately, Colin Stetson made his saxophone sound like black metal). I’d never heard them before that — they stood out in the way they conjured these weird, catchy, dense songs on homemade instruments. It was unexpectedly bracing. Lots of momentum. As far as the lingo, the buke is “a self-modified six string baritone ukelele” and the gass is “a guitar-bass hybrid.” They both handle all sorts of foot percussion. The sounds are then filtered and processed, etc. It’s compelling watching them kick and strum on these things, but it was Arone Dyer’s waling, uplifting, melodic voice that left the biggest impression on me. You hear Beth Ditto for a second (one who races/fixes bikes and builds her own instruments, doesn’t hang out at fashion shows), Kathleen Hannah in those Bikini Kill days, Throwing Muses, something else, etc., an overall joy.

Just to make things confusing, Arone’s bandmate’s name is Aron. I caught up with the two for Quit Your Day Job because what they do for work helps make more sense of their music: Aron builds instruments for the Blue Man Group (he invented the Aronophonic) and Arone’s a bike mechanic (who happened to sing on Blue Man Group’s “What Is Rock”). And, of course, they also build their own noisemakers. They’re releasing a full-length on Brassland in late summer/early fall and have a few shows next month opening for Brassland heads (with Alec Hanley Bemis) Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s band.

Aron, drums and gass

STEREOGUM: How did you get hooked up with the Blue Man Group?

ARON SANCHEZ: A friend of mine was a member of the Blue Man Group band when I first moved to NYC, he introduced me to them and I started working and performing in the band for the Chicago and New York productions. After a few years of that I began designing and building instruments for them full-time which lasted about nine years. Since ’08 I work for them freelance.

STEREOGUM: What’s your background in instrument design?

AS: No formal background really, just something I’ve been doing since childhood. I just have a strong desire to build the instruments I play, it’s more satisfying and I’m able to experiment and discover new sounds and techniques. Actually, I have a strong desire to build almost anything, I’m a total geek that way. I studied art and music in school and I suppose instrument design is a way to straddle the two.

STEREOGUM: That show is basically ongoing… forever? How often do you need to build new instruments? Repair old ones?

AS: For Blue Man it’s pretty sporadic, several times a year. They call me when they’re putting up a new show or when something needs to be replaced. Though I’m about to do some big pieces for a new tour they’re putting up next fall, a few instruments that I’ve built before and some that are new designs.

STEREOGUM: Are you able to introduce you own new designs or are you working off specific prototypes?

AS: Well, back when I was working full-time for them I was able to experiment and come up with new designs all the time. A lot of R&D and problem solving.  Basically they would have a concept or idea for a new instrument or new sound they wanted to create and use and I would go off and try to make it happen somehow. Often times it was for a skit they were performing on The Tonight Show or a video piece or the touring productions. There was also the day to day stuff of building and repairing the stock instruments they use in the shows.

STEREOGUM: So you’re not on call?

AS: Yeah, not on call.  Blue Man work is project by project. Lately I’ve been doing more recording than anything else.

STEREOGUM: How many people work on the instruments? The show’s been long-running … Any elder statesman over there?

AS: Mostly just myself and maybe one or two assistants working on the instruments. We had a workshop in Red Hook Brooklyn where all the props, sets, special effects and costumes were fabricated, about 12 people working in they’re specific areas. The show’s been running since ’90-91 I think. Some elder statesman there, yes, but mostly just the founders of the company.

STEREOGUM: You also build instruments for your own band.

AS: Yes, I build the instrument I play which is a hybrid between a bass and a guitar, as well as the amplifiers and some effect pedals we use.

STEREOGUM: Do you ever incorporate any Blue Man Group-esque elements for Buke & Gass noisemakers?

AS: Mm, not really, no. Different ball game.

STEREOGUM: How many times have you watched the Blue Man Group’s show?

AS: I can’t say, I performed in the show probably … 300-400 times in the two years I was doing that. Since then I’ve probably only seen it a handful of times.

STEREOGUM: Did Tobias ever have a chance?

AS: Didn’t he?

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Arone, buke and voice

STEREOGUM: You’re a bike mechanic. Do you work in a shop or on your own?

ARONE DYER: I had managed a shop in Lower East Side for a few years, but recently chose to change that situation … Now I’m more freelance/part-part time at a couple different shops, one where I’m their main wheel builder, the other I’m just wrenching. More hands on, as I prefer.

STEREOGUM: How’d you get started?

AD: About seven or eight years ago I began volunteering at Recycle-a-Bicycle, which was a great source of information and gateway into the good-natured cycling community of NYC. I learned a lot there, moved on to another shop and learned more, moved to another/learned more, etc etc. I wrote a few articles on repair for a magazine a few years back, and since then I’ve tried to avoid being in a cycling spotlight.

STEREOGUM: What’s the most common repair?

AD: Flats.

STEREOGUM: Ever been stumped?

AD: Certainly, but far less as time has gone on. Right now I’m stumped as to why I still haven’t fixed the flat on my bike that’s been sitting in my backyard for a year, I mean … just crazy …  Apparently it’s really common.

STEREOGUM: In your opinion, what’s the ideal city bike?

AD: Something you hate so much you love it, yet wouldn’t mind leaving it behind.

STEREOGUM: Do you belong to any biking activist groups?

AD: No, I’m not terribly activisty in general. I support their causes, some of the time, but I tend to stay away from rallies and I don’t yell at cars anymore.

STEREOGUM: You also build instruments…

AD: Yes, learning more about that each day. I’ve dabbled for years, but now I have more reason to dive into it. I’ve built two amplifiers now, the one I play at our shows and a Fender Champ weber kit. Also, I just finished a nicer playing Buke. It’s far fancier with a radial fretboard and a truss rod in the neck, rather than the old fashioned Frankenbuke-style of stretching a cable from the head-stock to the base of the neck, potentially holding it from warping forward with the tension of the strings. No more entanglement.

STEREOGUM: How do you see your biking and music making overlapping, if at all?

AD: Aah, yes, well … to begin with, I just enjoy doing both things so much that that’s what I make sure to spend my time doing. On top of that, my mechanic work provides me the meager financial abilities and mental respite to survive while I make music … and sometimes it works the other way around. Also, I’ve noticed that singing while riding bike is very similar to playing a show, where I’m moving so much it’s hard to catch my breath at times.

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Here’s a new one:

You can hear older ones at MySpace. They recently spoke for/played at Radiolab. The instruments are explained. Hookworms are mentioned. The shows:

04/25 – Brooklyn, NY @ Glasslands #
05/05 – London UK @ Electric Ballroom %
05/06 – London UK @ Royal Albert Hall %
05/08 – Berlin Germany @ Huxley’s Neue Welt %
05/09 – Berlin Germany @ Astra %
05/14 – Brooklyn, NY @ Glasslands !!

# w/ Melati Malay, Parlovr, The Luyas
% w/ The National
!! w/ Talk Normal, Asa Ransom, Miniboone

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Comments (3)
  1. Caught them last year opening for The National in Minneapolis. Absolutely fantastic show and their EP +/- has nearly gotten spun a whole bunch since then.

  2. Great band. Cant wait for the new CD. If you like the band you might want to look into Hominid too. Both Arone and Aron were in it. Hard to find but worth it.

  3. saw them with the natinoal last year, they are awesome

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