Flanked by wrestling mats, Denver psych-rock band Rubedo started working on its latest recordings in a secret warehouse-studio conversion in Winchester, Tennessee, in 2019.
Singer and keyboardist Kyle Gray, guitarist Alex Trujillo and drummer Gregg Ziemba were in the city, not far from where the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival is held, because the band’s new manager, Michael Lee, is based there and toured with World Wrestling Entertainment, which gifted Lee the ring canvases for soundproofing — hence the warehouse hookup.
Word spread around the town of about 10,000 that the band was recording, and Ziemba says Kathy McDonald Walker, the sister of Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, called Lee and told him about a building in downtown Winchester that the singer had bought about a decade ago because it looked a bit like Abbey Road Studios. Ziemba says McDonald had had plans to renovate the building and turn it into a recording studio. Lee met with McDonald, and construction began.
A year later, McDonald’s plan reached fruition, and Rubedo got to finish the songs in the brand-new R.A.R.E. Records studio; that was last May, just a few months after the pandemic started. Three of the tracks recorded during those trips to Winchester will appear on the new EP Antumbra, which drops on April 23 via the Mexico City-based label Amatista. McDonald's sisters (Walker and Maureen McDonald Ferguson) sing backup on the funky cut “Get Down” and the bossa-nova-flavored single “Who It Be,” which had the working title “Michael McDonald.”
Through Rubedo’s long-running collaboration with Mars Volta and Jack White keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens until his death in 2014, the band met White’s bassist, Dominic Davis, who played and co-wrote "Who It Be" and "Life We Live."
Ziemba says Rubedo will follow up with Penumbra and Umbra EPs, spacing them a few months apart before eventually releasing all of the cuts from the EPs in addition to a few more on the album Blood Moon. The EPs are each named after shadows that the Moon and the Earth cast upon each other during an eclipse.
“There will be these times that all the different shadows will hit, and then at the last combination, you've got the full blood-moon full eclipse going on,” Ziemba says.
Ziemba started thinking about the Blood Moon title a few years ago, when there were a number of blood moons occurring. After practice, the band would go outside and look up at them.
“There's just this cool energy around when there is an event like that,” Ziemba says. “It's like you’ll see a stranger, and you're like, ‘Hey, check out the moon.’ It kind of brings people together in this real human way. And we just loved that, and then also we've had some cool experiences with some friends hanging out on the beach, watching blood moons and all kinds of good stuff like that.”
While the guys in Rubedo, who formed more than a decade ago, have long written songs and tested them out live (some for a year or two) before going in to record them, this new batch of songs was done in a way the band hadn’t worked before. With Gray now based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the bandmates played fewer gigs (the last show they played was July 4, 2019), but when they would rehearse, they would work on new ideas, some of which were worked into new songs that they never got to play live.
“This time, every single song is pretty much the first time we played them through,” Ziemba says. “It’s cool, because we were all kind of experiencing them together, that first moment again. So it's exciting. And I think it was really cool for the process and made for a really cool-sounding album.”
Trujillo says that while they were working on the new material, he purposefully tried to not adhere to a genre.
“But of course, you have those moments where you're inspired, and you want to create bright energy or something, or maybe you want to play something dark and moody,” Trujillo says. “I just try to be as transparent as possible and just let those ideas flow like a vessel and not think about it personally. And I think this album was really a great canvas for that type of approach, because we didn't have anybody producing this, so to speak. We just produced it ourselves. So it was just wide open in that regard.”
Gray says he only had written lyrics for one of the thirteen songs before he went in to record vocals, but he’d been sitting with the songs a long time, thinking about lyric ideas.
“So then, afterwards, it was just pretty much matching the spirit of the song with what the lyrics were about, so I really got time, during this whole coronavirus thing, to sit with it,” Gray says. “I'm saying something that speaks truth to me, and not only am I speaking that truth, but I'm matching that spirit of the song, because I don't want to be playing these songs twenty years down the line if I don't really mean what I'm saying. I was really fortunate to be able to sit and ferment with these and be able to speak my truth.”
For more information, visit Rubedo's website.
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