B-Sides: Buke & Gass

Buke & Gass (featured on our Action podcast) aren’t your average duo from Brooklyn. For one, they have almost the same name (Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez). For two, they traded in their ukulele and guitar for a buke and a gass.

Dyer masters the buke, which is a modified baritone ukulele that’s not just electric, but has two stereo outputs. Sanchez plays the gass, which is part guitar and part bass (and he builds instruments for the Blue Man Group!). Their tricked-out strings allow the two to create a different kind of sound (and way more of it), blurring the lines between bass lines, guitar chords, and beat-keeping.

Their sound is notoriously hard to classify, partially because of their unique instruments but also because of the the songs themselves, which frequently switch between tones and rhythms, leaving sections behind while surging on ahead to new sound combinations. They don’t follow the verse-chorus-verse structure but instead are carried forward with a frenetic charge, Dyer’s mighty vocals carrying an odd melody over the insistent chords of Sanchez’s gass, which are charged with keeping most of the beat for lack of a drummer. They make up for their minimal percussion with hammering strumming and perfectly syncopated chord bangs and changes.

Dyer described their sound to WNYC’s Radiolab as

A recently retired schoolhouse janitor riding the back of a big horse that’s galloping over different scenes. Like one scene could be a calm, rose petal-surfaced pond. He jumps over that, gets into a scene where there’s a big party with topless beachgoers who are totally pruned out from hanging out on the beach and they’re very surprised. And then he jumps into another scene where there’s an angry mob with pitchforks and flames riding after rabbits who have stolen all their carrots and cabbages so they’re not going to get to eat their feast he next day. But that’s what the janitor’s jumping over, and he’s excited about it and I would be too.

See for yourself with Medulla Oblongata off their new album Riposte:

I asked Arone a few more questions about the band…

You’ve described your collaboration as you as a “songsmith” and Aron as a “soundscapist.” Can you talk more about what that means as far as building a song together?

As far as those two words are concerned, it’s a reference to our most common debate in songwriting, and I’d thought a distinction between the way he and I work was necessary. Aron has done more music production and pays more attention to the way each thing sounds whereas I’ve spent more time building structured songs, and pay more attention to how things sound together as a whole in songwriting. Neither is a better or more correct way to write, and I don’t mean it to sound like we’re strictly one or the other. We’re both equally interested in the various processes but there do tend to be small tugs of war between us based on this difference. For example, “just because these two phrases sound great together, doesn’t mean they make any sense at that place in the composition as a whole”, and alternately,” just because the song at this point is naturally moving toward a change, doesn’t mean it will be satisfying once it’s been changed in that particular moment”. It’s difficult to explain the juxtaposition that we work with together. And at any rate, it usually works out just fine in the end.

You also work in a bike shop. Is tinkering on a bicycle at all like tinkering on a musical instrument?

Not really, no. I’m sure if I were more experienced and confident with the tools for instruments I’d feel differently, but at this point I’m far more proficient at repairing bicycles than I am at whittling fretboards or taking the time to perfect my intonation. I understand electronics to an extent, and enjoyed piecing together and soldering the guts to my amp, but I didn’t have the patience or interest to figure out what parts were needed to begin with, and at this point I’m still a bike mechanic so that’s where my detailed interests remain.

You said that one of the reasons you designed the Buke was because the guitar hurt your wrist. For those of us not skilled in making instruments, what’s some advice you might have for female musicians who may find their instruments literally uncomfortable to play?

As with everything, there’s more to the story than what you’ve heard. I didn’t have problems with my wrists until I had already been playing guitar for 9 years and was a teenager taking terrible care of myself. Also, I’m self-taught, and was not classically trained in traditional (which happen to be ergonomical) ways of holding the guitar. At that time I was cutting off the circulation in my right arm, causing a lot of pain. I’m not a professional instrument fitting specialist, but I know that you need to figure out what it is that’s causing the problem and go from there. And, just as with bikes, you can start by adjusting what you’ve already got. Who cares what it looks like when you play so long as it’s comfortable for you?

Who are some of your most inspirational female musicians?

See, this is just something i shouldn’t get into…

There are A) Those who I think have beautifully intense and versatile voices, B) Those who tug at the strings holding my core together, and C) Those who DO amazing and inspiring things musically. They’ve all changed throughout my listening time except for those in the A category, such as the Bulgarian Womens’ Choir/Staple Singers, and when I was most vulnerable to having my strings unravel (B) Billy Holiday/Etta James/Ella Fitzgerald/Edith Piaf (in the RIP sub category), Lhasa/Jolie Holland/Beth Gibbons of Portishead/early PJ Harvey have all buried me alive. For the Cs, I’d say Lizzy Mercier Descloux/Solex/Kazu Makino/Bjork/and the ladies of Dirty Projectors

And what are you listening to right now?

Skeletons, Georgia Anne, Krts’s remixes, Sleep

What are your live shows like? How has the tour been going?

Our live shows are us, sitting down, me wishing I could be up and dancing, but instead needing to pay heavy attention to what i’m doing. The tour has been going great so far, meeting many good people and enjoying the scenery!

I can speak from experience that their live shows are really neat! It’s amazing how the two of them can carry the sound and songs of a five-piece band. Plus Arone wears bells around her ankle. Check out more from Buke & Gass at their website and get ready to pen your own imaginative description of their sound.

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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