Your high school U.S. history teacher may have imparted some important knowledge, but chances are she or he wasn't like Martin Rubeo. The Butler teacher is serious about helping his students discover how our nation was made, but he's also serious about rock music: His band, Gramsci Melodic, releases its first full-length album Sat., June 13, at Altar Bar.
Rubeo's path has been an unusual one. The Peters Township native studied political science at Bucknell University, with music mainly a low-key side project. "I hung with people there who were music majors and art majors, and here I am still playing fifths," he muses. It was at Bucknell that he met professor and noted composer William Duckworth, a John Cage protégé who turned him on to electronic composition.
Rubeo spent his senior year working night and day to finish up an interdisciplinary major in poetry and music composition, merging studies in the English department with his electronic-music work with Duckworth. After a live performance that summed up his senior project, Rubeo took five years off from making music of any sort.
It was after his ex-wife -- a French national whom he met in college -- returned to Europe that he brought out his music equipment again. "One of the guitars, the strings were basically corroded and stuck to the neck," he says. "But suddenly it was like someone put smelling salts under my nose."
Armed with his training under Duckworth and the emotional quarry of a young marriage grown stale, Rubeo started writing songs. "I was basically sitting around alone at night, and it beat going to a bar," he says of the inception of Gramsci. "It ended up being sort of a mental clearinghouse."
Rubeo recruited a friend, Joel York, whom he'd met through his ex-wife, to play synth. York hadn't played music before. "He practiced like a 7-year-old you signed up for lessons," Rubeo says. Through neighbors and word-of-mouth, he assembled the rest of the band: drummer Sean Rayl, bassist Tony Willoe and keyboardist Greg Haduch.
For a band that plays largely danceable rock with a heavy dose of synthesizer -- a band that's mainly quite upbeat -- Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci seems an unlikely namesake. While politics play into some Gramsci Melodic songs, the political message is augmented and offset by the lighter aspects of the band, and just as many songs are about relationships or narratives. "It's about fun first and foremost," Rubeo says. "Then I slip in some of the politics."
Like the green-headed mascot sometimes seen bopping along at shows, the Gramsci name is simply another facet of Rubeo's life and art. All the seeds that went into the founding of the band show in the forthcoming self-titled full-length: the distaste for experiences in corporate America, the end of a relationship, formal training in electronic music -- and a basic desire for simple and upbeat rock.
Gramsci Melodic CD release with Speedsquare. 9 p.m. Sat., June 13. Altar Bar, 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District. $7. 412-263-2877 or www.altarbarpgh.com