Rattletrap Ruckus: Old Timey Super Group
By Adam Bates
Born out of a need for Lucas Hicks to expand his accordion playing, Hicks brought in instruments he was drawn to in order to build this project. Hicks (of the Gallus Brothers, The Shadies, Jill Brazil) assembled an all-star cast of local players, including Clea Taylor on cello (Giant’s Causeway, Wayfaring Strangers), Jenny Rose on washtub bass (The Shadies) and solo artist Casey Connor on the tenor banjo. And this Bellingham super-group has proved to exceed all of Hicks’ expectations.
“Originally I started this group as a vehicle to perform as an accordion player more,” says Hicks. “I’ve been dabbling with accordion for a decade but I’ve gotten a lot more focused in the last couple of years and early last winter I decided it was time to build a project around it.”
Hicks approached Taylor, who he admired musically, and Connor, although he didn’t play an instrument that would fit the Rattletrap Ruckus mold. So he learned one. Connor has since become proficient in both the tenor banjo and mandolin.
“…I was familiar with what an amazing all around musician he (Connor) is and knew he would pick (banjo) up fast,” says Hicks. “Of course he ended up picking it up a lot faster than I thought possible and is now adding tons of lovely stuff that’s way over my head.”
The band was all set to be a three-piece, until Rose came to sit in on a practice on the bass. Hicks feared that having a bass and cello would make the low end too heavy, but the jam session went so well, Rose was soon added on the washtub bass. This Taylor is freed up to play more melodies on the cello while Rose handles the bass lines.
Hicks has been pleased with the way the band came together so well musically and interpersonally, especially in the short months Rattletrap Ruckus has been together. He cites the talent of each individual member for their success and quick evolution as a band and the attention they have garnered as Bellingham’s premier genre-spanning instrumental band.
“Having a washtub in the band helps put the rattletrap in Rattletrap Ruckus,” he adds. “It’s a real joy to watch members of the audience stare in bewilderment at Jenny’s (Rose) playing. Most folks have never seen a junk instrument played with such precision.” While the novelty of the band’s instrumentation may pull people in, it’s easy to get lost in the music. Hicks adds that their unique orchestration enables some very unique and sometimes rowdy arrangements. Those arrangements invite the audience to dance at times, while sitting back and taking in the music at other times. And they’re adding new material every week for their current Thursday night gigs at Red Light Coffee and Wine Bar.
Rattletrap Ruckus repertoire is dictated by what Hicks sees as challenging for the accordion, while the band as a whole can completely change the style and influence the way the songs are played. A typical Rattletrap show showcases styles ranging from old tangos, klezmer tunes, paso dobles, musette, and just about any other instrumental piece that Hicks says they can render into the Rattletrap Ruckus style. This is what makes this band so unique. They’re playing songs you may not know, but presenting these songs in a way that seem familiar and inviting.
Hicks, Rose and Connor have also been throwing in a few originals here and there. “We are drawn to…odd haunting instrumental tunes that sound familiar the first time you hear them,” he says.
For three hours every Thursday night, the ruckus continues to ensue. Hicks describes these shows as a nice midpoint between a stage performance and low-key jam in the corner. “People can come for a show, or it can be background music for you and your date,” he says. While some nights have been full and attentive and others a bit slow, Hicks says each night has been fun. The weekly gig helps keep the band’s material fresh, new, and ever evolving as their sound and set continues to grow.
For a band less than a year old, Rattletrap Ruckus is already quite accomplished, and the rest of this year promises to be just as fruitful. They plan to start bringing in friends to sit in on their weekly gigs while planning for both the Folklife Festival in Seattle and The Subdued String Band Jamboree this summer. There has even been talk of a European tour. The band will also be recording the first week of this month, and Hicks is happy to report: “We have stickers on the way. Stickers! We may even have paper doll versions of ourselves available as merch.” Only if we’re lucky.
Catch Rattletrap Ruckus at the Redlight Thursdays from 8-11ish. Free! For upcoming shows, recordings and photos, visit rattletrapruckus.com or like them on facebook.com.