Asheville-based electro-soul outfit RBTS WIN brings a lot of natural metaphors to the table. Verses recall water lapping at a dock. Audio files have peaks and valleys. “Sometimes, before a part changes, it’s like a wave coming back off the sand,” says musician/producer Javier Bolea. “If you were to sample that one moment in the song, it would almost be like air.”
But new recording King Summer, a three-song EP in advance of full-length Sensitivity Kit — due out next year — takes the band’s vision to the next level. RBTS WIN will perform those songs, other new material and back catalog favorites at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall on Saturday, Dec. 10. The show features two more bands, We Roll Like Madmen and Astrea Corp, which are both touring new albums that Bolea and RBTS WIN vocalist/musician/producer Cliff B. Worsham say push music in exciting directions.
In a way, RBTS WIN, started by Bolea and Worsham, has always been rooted in nature. The band formed in 2008 when Bolea moved to Asheville from Miami — a city in large part responsible for the tides and salt-tinged air that inform the duo’s songs. “We were only waiting to find each other when it came to music,” says Worsham. “We started this band to put no limitations on what we do. In those moments of creation, he and I are just beaming. … Now we’re just professional surfers of that wave.”
There’s plenty of mountain landscape inspiring the duo’s songwriting, too. “When I’m taking myself too seriously, all I have to do is look at some vastness. … It’s all about the vastness of nature,” says Worsham. “Asheville’s my hometown. I know parts of the [Blue Ridge] Parkway other people have probably never been on.”
While King Summer is not a departure from RBTS WIN’s previous release, the dense and dreamy Palm Sunday, it marries that record’s best ideas (layered melodies, glitchy rhythms, lush imagery, sonic romance) with key changes. For starters, the record is based on instrumentation rather than samples. Or, more accurately, Bolea and Worsham sampled their own instrumentals. “We based our new sound upon the stuff that we were sampling, which is the stuff we’re always digging — old Italian producers,” says Worsham. “We still wanted to be beachy. That’s our vibe.”
On the EP’s title track, Worsham sings, “They try to show the difference between us, when we’re just walking round with the same thoughts.” The refrain sparkles and quivers. It feels nervy and cool. Sun on water, the rippling of hope and the filtering of light through trees — a sound that recalls a deep inner quiet. There’s an organic beat underneath it all that lends immediacy.
“We paid special attention to leaving space for the music to breathe,” says Bolea. “What we learned the most as musicians is [how to] use dynamics.”
Another change: With Sensitivity Kit, Worsham wrote the lyrics as the record was being created, rather than beginning a song with a verse or a riff. In fact, a track “can start from something as simple as the sound of a high hat,” Worsham says. “Javi and I are blessed that when we work together, it just flows. We’re not fighting to dig up words or sounds.”
The collaborators take an inspiration and run with it. “We don’t really think until postproduction,” says Bolea.
“Same Ghost” starts with a melodic pulse, ethereal and bright. The song feels haunted, but not by death. Rather, it’s concerned with losing time — life — to prejudice and fear, and seeks, through the creative process, to address that loss. “If you have a piece of you that’s willing, definitely the music can take you there,” says Worsham.
“If there is a goal other than creating [music], it’s to inspire people, and for people to connect to it,” says Bolea.
“And to connect with themselves,” adds Worsham.
Early on, Bolea and Worsham built a fan base while honing their style at smaller venues like the now-defunct Hookah Joe’s. In 2010, RBTS WIN was tapped to play Moogfest and went on to perform at the electronic music and technology festival throughout its run in North Carolina. When Palm Sunday was released on vinyl, “we really believed in that music,” says Bolea. “We realized, from trying to learn from other artist friends, that it was important to have [a team] to help it get picked up.” The musicians began to focus on the business side of their work. A feature in Vibe led to representation; those industry professionals helped with publicity, contracts and placement in different outlets — such as a song premiere on the Northern Transmissions website and the debut of the EP on Stereogum.
But ultimately — and this has always been the case — it’s the music that matters most. King Summer‘s track, “Heart Eyes,” is all joy. It struts. It bobs and weaves. Its soulful groove is buoyed by an updraft of melody. “If you let your mind just open,” Worsham sings, “then you’ll really see.”
WHO: RBTS WIN with We Roll Like Madmen and Astrea Corp
WHERE: Isis Restaurant & Music Hall, 743 Haywood Road, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 10, 9 p.m., $8 advance/$10 day of show