In summer 2015, after finishing a year of intense touring, Rubblebucket’s Kalmia Traver and Alex Toth began the process of bringing their next record to life. As an experiment, Kalmia asked Alex (her longtime romantic partner) to move out while they worked on the album, then accepted the marriage proposal he made during a recording session just a month later. Although Alex soon moved back in, their 11-year relationship ended when the two chose to ‘consciously uncouple’ the following spring—a decision they honored by ceremoniously giving each other matching triangular daisy tattoos (a nod to the title track from Rubblebucket’s 2010 EP). But despite all the sadness brought on by their breakup, Kalmia and Alex kept on writing and recording together, ultimately creating Rubblebucket’s most transcendent album to date.
Co-produced by Kalmia and Alex, Sun Machine documents the pain of ending their romantic relationship, yet emerges as an unbridled and often-euphoric celebration of their lasting connection. While the breakup inspired much of the album, Sun Machine is deeply informed by several other life-changing occurrences in recent years: Kalmia’s diagnosis with ovarian cancer in 2013 (followed by a round of surgeries and chemo treatments), Alex’s decision to get sober after a long struggle with alcoholism, and the couple’s three-year-long attempt at maintaining an open relationship. The result is a strange and beautiful paradox: a party album rooted in radical mindfulness, a breakup record imbued with each partner’s palpable love for the other.
With its airy melodies and lavish textures, dream-logic sensibilities and dancey rhythms, Sun Machine radiates the bright and joyful energy encapsulated in its title. “It’s a reference to the sun as this abundant natural resource we all have available to us—but it’s also about the inner sun, the magma in our hearts,” says Kalmia. “When you can access that, you’re able to get through really hard moments, and evolve and develop creatively. I think that’s the best way to explain how I was able to work through the process of the two of us transforming our relationship in a positive way.”
As Rubblebucket’s most fully realized album yet, Sun Machine finds Kalmia and Alex tapping into their creative instincts more freely and directly than ever before. “Kal and I are both jazz musicians, and jazz is very much driven by improvisation—it’s about getting in touch with that inner spontaneity, where you’re channeling ideas rather than thinking them up,” says Alex. “There’s a lot of moments on this album that happened from us being in a trance-like zone, and coming up with weird sounds in the middle of the recording, sometimes by accident.”