Buke and Gass — Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez — has been together for two and a half years, and in that time both members have learned to work with ruthless efficiency. The duo is notable for the unique instruments that give it its name, and for how much noise it is able to generate. None of that noise comes from any electronics, save amplification: “We’re not using loops or drum machines,” says Sanchez. “We’ve had to do a lot of experimenting with how our sound comes out. That’s why the instruments are so contrived, in a way. So what else?”
Those instruments, of course, are the buke and the gass — pronounced somewhere between “gaze” and bass with a “g,” something I put together after mangling the pronunciation once or twice. Dyer says that the buke came into existence as a matter of necessity: “I needed a smaller instrument to play, and I was basically sick of the guitar. It just got boring for me, and I wasn’t feeling inspired with it. Aron helped me design this other little thing that’s made out of a baritone ukulele body. We added some strings and a pick-up, and that was that.”
The gass is more a labor of love for Sanchez. It dates back to his previous band, Proton Proton, and one man’s desire to do more than “just play bass.” Sanchez then started a musical odyssey led many places and is still a work in progress.
“I wanted the bass to do more, so I started messing around with it, adding guitar strings, pick-ups, and outputs and stuff. The gass that I play now is the seventh iteration of the thing. It’s kind of become it’s own thing. I can’t play bass or guitar parts on it. When I sit down to play, it very much dictates what I’m going to play. In that way, the instrument has kind of influenced our music a lot. Our music is very much informed by the tools we use to play it.”
When I bring up the subject of possible dead-ends on that road, Dyer laughs audibly in the background, and Sanchez pauses for a long time before offering his answer.
“There was of course a lot of trial and error in the process, but there was also a lot of discovery. I would make adjustments to the instrument that would give me flexibility in one area but would limit me in others. I know what kinds of things that I want to do with the instrument, but I don’t think that I’m there yet. It’s most definitely a work in progress.”
In addition to its inventiveness, Buke and Gass are proponents of totally natural sound. They take pride in the fact that everything they do on a record can be performed in a live performance. Dyer says that it’s not part of a complex mission statement.
“I don’t like bells and whistles,” he says. “I’m not going to put myself down and say that I’m not good with electronics, but I can’t really hear the music when it’s layered under so many different sounds. I don’t want to embellish the music too much. I’m embellishing it in other ways, with the lyrics and the way I sing.”
Sanchez concurs: “When I go see music performed live, I really enjoy when everything is right up there on the stage. I love electronic music, and I love listening to music that is very produced, but live I’m not very interested. There are some exceptions, like the xx, where the guy that plays the drum machine is actually up there on stage playing the drum machine. I find that to be fascinating. You feel the music and the energy in a whole different way when it’s being created in the moment. I think we’re really just into the honesty of performance. It’s cool when you do more than you think you can when performing it live. I’m not against making music that is produced; I’m more into the concept of taking the sound that I want and figuring out how I can make it on stage.
Buke and Gass is also willing to put its money where its mouth is, heading out to showcase their instrumentation and ethos on tour. Fans of the duo generally come away pleased. Says Sanchez: “We have a lot of people come away saying that we sound pretty much like we do on the record. I think that as long as the sound person is doing his or her job and the levels are right, our live performance will sound as much like the record as possible.
Dyer says that the band isn’t interested in becoming a novelty act, however, forced to prove every night that two people are actually responsible for creating the songs.
“I think it’s actually the reverse,” he says. “We want to make the record as much like the live show as possible. We’re not interested in playing and then pointing fingers at the audience to show that we can do it. It’s not like we’re looking at the album and live shows as different things. The recording should be a representation of what the artist can do in a live setting.”
Sanchez provides the counterpoint: “We are a duo, and I think that we need to show people that the two of us can make this music. We need to capitalize on the idea that we can make this music together. We started on this record to go about it in a different way, to add some things. We has a saxophonist come in and do a lot of work on the songs, but we ended up taking it away, because it wasn’t just us at that point. We had some other ideas, but at a certain point we felt like we needed to show who we were and what we do live.”
Buke and Gass, despite the semi-unfortunate band name, inventive instrumentation, and face time with national press (they get major credit for an appearance on WNYC’s Radiolab podcast), essentially boils down to a guy and a girl on stage doing their thing, able to stretch the limits of possibility to make as much noise as possible.
“It was literally like ‘Hey, you want to try playing music?’ We experimented for a couple of months, and then it started to blossom. We didn’t have a name forever, and this is what eventually happened. We had five or six months of heavy discussion about the band name, and Buke and Gass is kind of us saying that we really couldn’t think about it any more. Even after we decided to go with it, for six months we’d come in with a list of names. I think we were looking for a name that wasn’t a name. Given what’s come after, I think that the name has ended up fitting us rather well.”