Music News

Reubens Cubed

"I wish a tomato would carry me away."

Perhaps these lyrics aren't the truest universal to be found on the brazen and amazing new album by Reubens Accomplice, The Bull, The Balloon and The Family, but they're the ones that best encapsulate the frustration guitarists Jeff Bufano and Chris Corak are feeling this Tuesday night. ("This town is bringing me down, I just can't hang around Arizona" comes in a close second for appropriateness.)

Finding a place for these Tempe transplants to sit down and enjoy some curfew coffee in downtown Phoenix at the ungodly early hour of 10:30 p.m. is proving unusually difficult. Twice turned away by closed cafe doors, they're nearly ready to ditch the caffeine idea and conduct an interview at the 24-hour Kinko's on Central when someone spots a phalanx of police cars outside the International House of Pancakes.

At the table, blueberry and strawberry canisters match the syrupy sounds of Seals & Crofts wafting above. Except for the neat new yellow stun guns the police are toting around, this could be an uneventful evening 10, 20, or even 30 years ago. "Nothing ever changes. It's always the same," complains Bufano, who isn't so much quoting a line from the band's song "This Town" as embodying it. "After two or three days of being home and seeing everyone you missed, you want to be out on the road again," he says.

Stuck in Phoenix since touring behind the 2001 release I Blame the Scenery, Reubens Accomplice is begging off the usual in-town CD release brouhaha because, as Bufano puts it, "That would be depressing. It's just fake hype to get everybody out to buy the CD all at once at the door. It's never special. It's just a show just like every other one at the same place you always go to."

"I'd be more into just showing up at Zia's and watching them stock it on the shelves. That would be the in-store," says Corak.

Reubens needn't resort to such desperate tactics, as the band's hefty rep precedes it. Since its inception in 1997, the group has always played the minimal number of shows in town, garnering a big "I hear they're great but I haven't seen them" vibe off the people who have. And having its second full-length record produced by Jimmy Adkins in his Jimmy Eat World down time hasn't hurt. It will be the first non-reissue, full-length release on the Western Tread label formed by Adkins and local promoter Charlie Levy, an enterprise which ensured that the name Reubens Accomplice has already been mouthed on MTV News at least once.

Cosmetically, a lot has changed for the band. Original bassist Andy Eames left for Oregon two months after 9-11, while drummer Jim Knapp left to pursue a career in law in San Francisco a year later. After a handful of shows playing as a duo with cheap Casio keyboards to keep a beat, Bufano and Corak found another rhythm section. While bassist Ryan Kennedy lives in town, drummer John Riley, the former timekeeper for the group One, actually lives in Brooklyn, New York. But that hasn't stopped him from having an active role in the band and on the new album.

"John used to live here and was a jazz drum major at ASU," says Bufano. "For the longest time, Jamal Ruhe [former bassist for One and the man who produced Reubens' last CD] said, 'John's the best drummer and he's the nicest guy.' We finally met him on tour in New York, and when the Promise Ring asked us to go out on tour, Jamal played bass and Riley drummed for about 14 shows."

Reubens Accomplice recorded the album over a year's time at Jimmy Adkins' home studio after his 9-to-5 workdays of doing demos for the next Jimmy Eat World record. By recording to a click track, Reubens was able to send Riley eight of the songs and have him later record drum tracks during a one-day stopover in Tucson. Riley was even able to assess mp3s of the mixes that engineer Chris Fudurich (Nada Surf) dispatched from L.A., and then make suggestions. Most of the arrangements benefited from this slow assembly line. "Jimmy's got a great ear, especially for coloring," says Bufano. "Things like, 'This can use a glockenspiel here.'"

What the guys originally envisioned as a dark and mellow album has turned into a vibrant but still introspective opus, with lots of songs about love and breaking up. But what separates this from the Neil Sedakas and leftover emo bands is how Bufano knowingly admits that "love songs are overdone clich and stand to be ridiculed" on the outset of the record, but goes ahead and delivers the envelope instead of pushing it. Or how Corak writes a group anthem that directly refers to Bufano, Riley and the Western Tread label on "Underneath the Golden Grain." When was the last time that happened? "Creque Alley" by the Mamas and Papas? "The Archies' Theme"? Nick Lowe's "I Love My Label"?

It's moves like that that get you dissed out of indie band online chat forums, but Bufano and Corak have left that scene behind, just as they left Phoenix for Tempe. This does seem like the time for Reubens to move forward, as a booking agent, record deal, and a press agent have all come gradually, almost inevitably, to these two ridiculously hard working guys who used to rehearse in a tin shed behind the former Les Payne Product's digs on Indian School. They would jam on riffs all day and night, on 120-degree days when you had to step outside to cool off.

"We left that place just the way it was, with Astroturf insulation on the ceiling, hundreds of unsold copies of our single stuck on the wall, and a rat-infested couch," says Bufano, laughing. When they first got the place, they were visited by the police, even in the afternoon. And what did they do? They knocked on every house in the surrounding area till they found the sourpuss, assured the person that they were hard working lads, and the complaints finally stopped.

It's the same dogged determination Bufano and Corak bring to new tracks like "Big Apple Small Heart," which jumps through several stylistic hoops, from an earnest voice and violin reading to an insincere echo-filtered voice and distorted guitar, to a full-bore Guided By Voices-style rock throttle that doesn't relent until Bufano intones, "You turn me on." Then the track literally grinds to a halt.

As for the final word, only the success of the album will determine whether Bufano and Corak can keep a band together cross-country and build a fan base beyond its desert borders. Even with the grudging disdain for Arizona, they seem to be here for the long haul. Says Bufano, "That's the one huge perk about living here. You can afford getting a shitty job working 15 hours a week, being 28 and throwing your life away. It's nice for touring bands who live here. You can leave for nine months, come back and feel like you weren't gone without missing a step, because nothing ever changes."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic