By: Garrett Bethmann
In Off The Clock, I talk with musical artists about the hobbies, interests and pursuits they have outside of music. While a cool job, music is still a job for these artists and they also love to talk about all the things that define them outside of work, just like the rest of us. This is their opportunity.
I’ve had a musical crush on Kalmia Traver for a while. Her music is a nebulous burst of color and life that flows from her being like an atmospheric river of kaleidoscopic tones. Free and powerful, the music rushes with the rapids and calms in the eddys. It’s dance music for the introspective and empathetic, a safe sonic place for you to feel your feels and dance your dance.
Traver’s main vehicle of expression has been long-running band Rubblebucket (co-founded with Alex Toth), though April saw her release the excellent EP Mothertime with solo project Kalbells on indie-dance label NNA Tapes. Kalbells released its first album Ten Flowers back in 2017 and have been working steadily on it’s full-length follow-up since the beginning of 2020, which finds Traver expanding her studio prowess into the mixing and mastering realm for the first time. “It’s been the light of my life,” Traver said with enthusiasm in our recent conversation, clearly hyped about where the new album was heading.
But we are not here to talk about that right now. We’re here to talk about one of Kalmia Traver’s passions outside of music: urban foraging.
As a society, we’ve very much moved away from eating things that naturally grow in the ground around us. Not so for Traver, who has been foraging around the sacred and limited green spaces of New York City and at tour spots across the country for herbs, greens, mushrooms and other rooty delicatessens any time she can. Her interest was actually first piqued on tour by a fan in North Carolina and over the years she’s found urban foraging a great way to stay connected to her body and our dietary origins as humans. In the concrete jungles of our time, the musician has found oyster mushrooms in cemeteries, made mulberry pancakes with berries from trees on the street and hosted herbal tastings from her apartment. Traver has evolved from a country kid from Vermont who ate vegetables from the garden to a city slicker who eats plants from Central Park.
Read down below to learn more about Kalmia Traver’s adventures in urban foraging and how picking up rollerblading during quarantine has helped her music.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When’d you get into urban foraging and why?
We had a little balcony in my first apartment where we would grow plants. By the time I left that first apartment after six years, that last summer there we had so many parties and everyone would be stoned and I’d feed them different herbs and stuff. “Feel that mint, let it go down your body and into your belly and feel it’s coolness (laughs).” I was basically curating these little herb tastings, which is still one of my favorite things to do.
Foraging felt so mysterious to me. One of the first plants I started noticing was Juneberry. I actually came across my first Juneberries at a show in North Carolina, a fan was showing it to me after the show. It’s so delicious and it’s related to apples and pears — though they are berries — and the seeds taste like almonds. I found a tree where I did yoga and I got so excited and every time I find one I try to pick them and fill a hat and go back and make pancakes or something with them.
My new apartment has a huge mulberry tree out back. When mulberry season comes, the sidewalks will be pitch black with mulberries and no one thinks to eat them; they rot and that’s it. I’ve been trying to take advantage of that.
What are some of your biggest scores from foraging?
This one just happened and I’m still a little bit in shock from it. I go running up by this beautiful reservoir and I’ve seen people foraging up there, it always makes my day. I’ve seen this woman harvesting dandelion greens — which is another one I really like. Dandelions are one of my favorite flavors, so is mugwort.
I saw this family harvesting up there and I overcame my shyness and asked what they were harvesting, I’d never seen it. The guy said, “it’s Duringo, I boil it and eat it with eggs. It’s good for diabetes.” I was sold and picked a bunch of it, took it home, boiled it and ate it. It was delicious and very spinach-y. I Googled it and it turns out it’s a pokeweed and is poisonous at all times of the year except for now (chuckles). But they clearly knew what they were doing. It’s actually in Nepalese food and I used what I had left over to make it that way and it was delicious. I definitely thread the needle and I tend to use more caution than that, but he didn’t lead me astray.
You were talking about herb parties earlier, which sound great. What are some of the herbs that you keep a lot of?
In Summer, herbalism is my life. It’s very self-taught and I learn slow, I just learn a couple new things a season. I love mugwort and culinary herbs like a bunch of mint and a bunch of basil and dill. Chives are also all around my home at the cemetery, it’s another I don’t have to plant, I just eat them straight out of the ground.
Do you eat those herbs more for medicinal or culinary reasons?
That’s the key, I don’t distinguish. To me, food is medicine. A lot of what I’ve read about as I’ve tried to heal my body is that our diet has been really transformed into this mono-crop situation which is really bad for us. I try to get a lot more diversity in ingredients and eat stuff locally, even if it is just a mouthful here and there.
I think for the body to experience a huge blast of flavor from a nutrient-dense sun herb you just picked from the ground next to your body has a very lasting effect. The benefits from that could last days or weeks. It also helps me with keeping my emotions positive, to be able to have that connection. At least, that’s what I feel from my personal experience.
I also heard you’ve been picking up rollerblading during this quarantine situation? What’s that all about?
Alex (Toth) and I got rollerblades for Rubblebucket’s video for “What Life Is.” I went out a little bit and it was intimidating. But this month during quarantine I’ve been wearing them around the house, since I don’t have roommates and I can do whatever the hell I want with my space. I was looking out my kitchen windows a couple weeks ago and saw some girls about my age doing some blading lessons and I went out and they let me join their pack (laughs). So we’ve been blading all around and it’s great to have a group.
It does take some practice and it made me realize how it affects my music. Practice makes perfect and it’s really easy to forget when I’m working on music and there is something that is challenging and I don’t think I’m good enough. I forget all I have to do is practice it daily a little bit and it doesn’t have to be this big thing you cram. It’s about little bite size pieces everyday and I’ve been getting that lesson really renewed in rollerblading.