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Now Hear This: Bob Gaulke | The Humanities (Part 1 + Part 2)

The adventurous Bronx indie artist gives you a guided tour of his latest releases.

Sorry, James Brown fans: There’s a new artist vying for the title of Hardest-Working Man In Show Biz. Or at least Hardest-Recording Man In The Bronx.

His name is Bob Gaulke, and he’s a singer-songwriter and bassist who hangs his hat in New York City. If you pay attention to what goes on around here, you might recall that I’ve written about him before. Either way, you should pay attention to him — chiefly because he regularly, routinely and reliably releases some of the most intriguing and individual indie-rock you’re likely to hear these days. And lately, he’s released a ton of it: The ambitious musician has self-released a dozen albums in the past year, culminating in the new double-album set The Humanities. Like much of his work, it adventurously dances on the fence between pop, rock, psychedelia, jazz, world music, dub reggae and whatever else strikes his fancy. I’m still playing catchup with his output. But instead of making you wait for me to get my act together, I asked him to take us on a spin through The Humanities. Here’s what he had to say:


My name is Bob Gaulke and I’m a songwriter who lives and works in the Bronx. I’ve done this mad thing in releasing an album a month over the past year. Sort of a nuts gambit, but hey, there are far worse ways to blow 40K. I’d like to bring your attention in particular to the last two releases, a double-album entitled The Humanities. Perhaps a little explanation is in order, so here goes…

Being of a certain vintage and inclination, I’ve tended to notice how most of my passions (art/history/theatre/music/philosophy) can be encapsulated within the parameters of the title. Additionally, teaching in a poor public middle school, I’m witness to the very brutal yet delicate process of how little adult Americans are crafted. To watch these little minds attempt to make meaning out of everything they’re subjected to is something pretty impressive; something that sometimes has to be worked out through vodka, ice cream, and songs.

Those songs tend to be 21st century folk tales on a dub-rock canvas. Shit bothers me, I write it out, put bass lines under it, then send Logic files to Kevin Cerovich (drums and trombones), Leon Gruenbaum (keyboards), Kenny Coleman (guitars), Emilia Cataldo (backing vocals) and Martin Scian (mixing and mastering). I’m quite blown away with how these Jenga-like arrangements come together. They’re painting on my sketches or building monuments with my blueprints; either metaphor fits.

To put it another way for the music heads in the back of the room: “HERE’S A MODERN PSYCHEDELIC CONCEPT ALBUM ABOUT THE PSYCHO-SOCIAL STATE WE’RE LIVING IN”. It’s filled with Tom Verlaine-like leads (Coleman), ironic keyboard quotes (Gruenbaum), spoken-word and dub bass (me) pounding beats, subtle section work (Cerovich), and hippy-chick vocals (Cataldo). I’ve got a big record collection and this sounds like most of it.

Here’s a track-by-track breakdown of The Humanities:

Part 1

1. O, Heart
I was listening to too much Natty Dread two summers ago and this just tumbled out- a prayer to that little searchlight inside of all of us. The gang brought the jazz and blues.

2. Heat Sink
Maybe you should start here. I don’t get better than this — maybe the best thing I’ve ever done. A narrative in the tradition of Brandy or Margaritaville about a romance between a social worker and their client. It sounds nothing like either of those, but if you write with major chords, you gotta go big.

3. Fundamentalists
Sometimes the distance between global terror headlines and dating app results start to blur. Have you met the “new people” lately?

4. Basics
Soap-box time. Can we agree on anything anymore anybody? The future will be glorious and painful, kids. More Rastaman Vibration.

5. Happy Things
You can get very wrapped in survival. When I worked at a cemetery, we’d often say, “Every day above ground is a good day.” This sounds very psychedelic all of a sudden.

6. Plastic Spoon
“With a plastic spoon/digging through concrete/there’s room to move/in three more feet” — like in a prison film, we’re all working on our own escape plans.

7. This Month’s Targets
Not sure if we’re talking about drone warfare here or your corporate job. Then your art ambitions crowd out your concentration at work.

8. The Long Game
I hope we’re all planning on being around and making this place healthier and happier.

Part 2

1. Your Order
Don’t you love those minute-by-minute updates from Uber Eats? Shouldn’t they include the inner thoughts of the people involved, just to make your experience that much more engaging? No? What about suggestions when you’re on hold? Bot notes?

2. Success
I live in a city / with cars and trucks / my five-year-old self / likes that a lot” — how do you measure success?

3. Useless & Necessary
Damn proud of this one. Maybe you should hear it now?

4. Integrity
Studies show people prefer cursing to lying at work. My grandfather was a corruption inspector. Poisoned before I was born. Must run in the blood — the poison, as well.

5. You and Your Body
Ahhhh, one of the few pleasures left. Listen to the farting noises made by Leon on keys.

6. Hospital
A lot of my mom’s last year in this one. Let’s all hope for a great last act.

7. What Just Happened?
You gotta keep up with what’s going down, as horrible as it is. And it can be.

8. It Is What Is
I tried to rewrite either Paul Simon (“I know what I know”) or Billy Joel (“We didn’t start the fire”); thankfully, I didn’t suceeed.