Mountain duo


Jen Scaffidi and Carolyn Gates of Blunderbusst rock the house at Comma Coffee in Carson City.

Jen Scaffidi and Carolyn Gates of Blunderbusst rock the house at Comma Coffee in Carson City.


Blunderbusst plays with Real Estate at The Holland Project, 140 Vest St., on April 25. For more information, including free downloads, visit

Why don’t more musicians get better as they get older? Why do most bands hit a plateau, and level off, or worse yet, fizzle out? Shouldn’t age, experience and practice make for an ever-improving arc?

“You have to want to get better,” says Jen Scaffidi, the guitarist and vocalist of Blunderbusst, an indie rock two-piece. “You have to want to practice, to work on getting better, because even if you become as technically proficient as possible, you can still be a better writer. … We like to write stuff we can’t play yet, so we have to learn how to do it. Like, we don’t know how to write a song with a long Krautrock breakdown? OK, let’s do it.”

The song in question is called “Aphasia,” and it does indeed have a long Krautrock breakdown. Scaffidi uses a looper pedal to create a repetitive bass pattern, then tastefully blends in guitar lines, while drummer Carolyn Gates plays a stuttering drum beat that challenges the brains of rhythmically challenged audience members who try to count time through it. Many of the beats and timings in Blunderbusst songs are unusual.

“A lot of that comes from being a two-piece,” says Scaffidi. The smaller line-up allows for more idiosyncrasy and flexibility in the rhythm—having a lot of musicians play together tends to normalize the rhythms, but with just two people it can stay a little weird.

And Gates has a distinctive, jazz-like fluidity to her drumming.

“Somebody once referred to her playing as painting with drums,” says Scaffidi, offering an accurate description.

Scaffidi generally splits the difference between lead and rhythm playing, and employs just the right amount of effects, stomping a fuzz box or delay here and there, without needing to gaze too deeply at her shoes.

Lyrically, Scaffidi says, “I take little pieces of things that are real, and stitch them together into a narrative that’s fictional. If anything, I’m too obtuse. … But, as a listener I like that.”

The two-piece lineup has advantages and disadvantages (beyond the constant, inevitable comparisons to The White Stripes—though the less well known, but equally excellent, Baltimore duo Wye Oak is closer to the mark).

“Our strengths are the same as our weaknesses,” says Scaffidi. “It allows for a certain economy of songwriting, because there’s just three elements—vocals, guitar, drums. Limitations are good in art.”

“It does limit stuff, especially as far as what we’re able to cover,” says Gates. “All the songs I most want to cover have really awesome bass lines.”

The duo have been together since 2006, and they’re a real exception to the rule about rock bands not aging well—if you go a year or two or five without seeing them, it’s impressive how much they will have evolved.

Recently, they’ve invited guest musicians to play with them both in rehearsals and onstage. Keyboardist Carson Cessna is Scaffidi’s beau and bandmate in another project, Nancy Plays Nurse. And violinist and backing vocalist Samm Gates is Gates’ teenage daughter. When they join the core duo onstage, it makes for a fun, down-home family vibe.

But Gates says that having the auxiliary band members around has some limitations as well.

“There are some things we can’t talk about at band practice anymore,” she says.