Interview: Basement

Basement - Harley Pethybridge

Despite their history, BASEMENT are just getting started. Their debut LP did come out five years ago but it was basically an intro for a small UK band that would release a cult favourite, immediately take an indefinite hiatus, and then return a few years later with a new EP and a desire to create. This sort of trajectory has become a trend in music and yet for Basement, it never really signaled a downward spiral or the inability to “return to form”. Instead, it influenced them to focus on writing another proper full-length that was cohesive and wasn’t just “a bunch of average songs”.

That proper full-length wound up being Promise Everything (out now on Run For Cover) — a 10-song effort that nerds out on guitars and a desire to materialize every feeling you have ever felt. It’s a record that has its nods to Jimmy Eat World and Sunny Day Real Estate, but it never feels cheap as its shorter bursts and progressive melodies stem from a new found sense of chemistry (not ego). With Basement set to tour North America, we caught up with guitarist Alex Henery for a short Q&A — discussing the band’s break, their growth since Colourmeinkindness, and why they’re excited about their future.

It’s been said that creativity is something that’s supposed to flow naturally. When someone relies on an artistic field to make a living, do they run the risk of “forcing” art?

We’ve only just started calling the band a full-time thing, so I guess I can’t really comment on how it’s affecting us as we’re still in that transition. Before the break that we had, the hiatus for close to two years, we were a part-time band with part-time jobs and we would quit our jobs to go on tour. Now things are different for us and we actually have the time and the ability to do this full-time. I haven’t really felt that pressure yet, maybe on the next record, but we do try as hard as we can to not really consider the audience and to write music that we like. I often end up thinking about the audience in the aftermath, but in the studio it’s about what we like — feeling the pressure is usually an afterthought.

What influenced your decision to make the band a full-time gig?

Andrew went off to become a teacher and got his degree, and everyone else had jobs that took up a lot their time. We saw that people were still interested in us and the interest was growing more than when the band was actually active. So one summer, we talked about what we were doing the following summer and about maybe playing some shows so we just figured that we had some time so why not do something cool. We did that and it went really well, and then it just came up again in conversation about how it would be crazy to turn down this opportunity to travel and be creative and actually be able to survive by doing the band as a full-time thing. So we took that risk and here we are.

Once we had a sense of security in the work we were doing outside of the band, it was nice to be able to come back. If the band doesn’t work out, it’s fine because we already have a life outside of it. This isn’t make or break for us; we’re just giving it a shot to have fun with it and see what happens. For a lot of bands, that’s all they have. Their identity is just within the band, so if the band fails, they fail as people. I even struggle with wanting to pursue the career I have — which is being a director and making music videos — because a part of me almost gets scared that if I stop I could lose my craft and lose my abilities. It’s something I could do in my spare time and I definitely struggle with wishing that I could put more time into it, but in the end, the band is a once in a lifetime opportunity that can come and go.

With everyone coming from different backgrounds, what would you say is the biggest contribution to the dynamic in the band?

I think it’s about our different tastes in music. Duncan, our bassist, he went through music school just after high school and he brings a technical side to the group. I think his bass playing abilities are just beyond other bass players. His musical background is rooted in hardcore/metal and has this heavier and complex aspect to it that sometimes finds its way into our sound. Some of the other guys come from ska and punk; we all just like melody and it’s been a driving force on this record to make songs with great melodies that still have energy. We’re trying to make something catchy that people will want to listen to again and again. Sometimes it’s hard to manage different opinions and where each of us want certain songs to go, but it’s about give and take and being able to compromise.

Has it been difficult finding a balance between personal lives, careers and making music?

For sure. I never want to make a record under the same circumstances in which we made this one — sending ideas back and forth and only having a few practices before recording. The rush was to get things together and we were even still writing songs when we were in the studio. Now that this is our full-time job, it would be nice to be able to go away and have extensive writing sessions. Like just be together, kind of like under lock down for five or six days at a time and just focus on writing. That’s when we write our best stuff — when we’re all together bouncing ideas off one another because the creative energy is flowing. I’m already excited for the next record.

For Promise Everything, you brought on producer Sam Pura again and recorded the album at Assault & Battery in London; what was it like to work on a new project in the UK as opposed to working under a strict deadline in the U.S.?

I was writing in the U.S as I’ve lived in Boston now for three years, so like I said I was writing songs and sending them back and forth in group chats. We had a few practices in the UK, but when we went into the studio to set up and try to get a vibe for each song, we were still writing things and putting the record together. Things were always changing — melodies completely changed, song structures were moved around a bit, but in hindsight maybe that’s a good thing and maybe that’s how we work as I remember doing that for Colourmeinkindness as well.

We’ve always had that pressure of not having a lot of time to write. Colourmeinkindness was really exciting in a way because we had no idea that people would hear it. We knew someone would hear it, but we thought it was a fun thing to do and there wasn’t any pressure. We were just writing the songs that we had and being in the studio was exciting because we had someone who was super passionate. This one had a great energy as well because there’s so much history at Assault And Battery.

What albums did you find yourself listening to before/during your time in the studio?

I don’t think we listened to anything during our time in the studio, but leading up to it the one that sticks out in my mind is Autolux’s Future Perfect. Its got some awesome melodies and it’s really interesting because it also has a heavy dynamic. Other than that, I remember listening to a lot of the band Warpaint, which is interesting because they actually recorded in the exact same room as us at Assault And Battery. Our engineer at the studio, Cecil, was telling us stories about when they recorded and that was pretty inspiring because their self-titled is a record that I really like. I don’t know if that really influenced our record, but we were listening to it and everyone likes it.

I think what we’re really trying to do is to make sure that we’re doing something different. When we look at our peers and compare the songs that we’re writing, we’re making sure that they stand out in their own different way and that they also sound like us. We’re linked to a scene and groups of bands and friends and we’re all coming up together, but we want to stand on our own and focus on writing music that has a distinct sound that we can call our own. I remember we were listening to the production on Jimmy Eat World’s Damage and we were talking about that record, but it wasn’t a focus point. There isn’t anything that sticks out in my mind as a driving force, but you do listen to certain records for tones and ideas, and you think, “It would be cool if our record sounds anything like that”.

Do you think there are any notable differences between Colourmein… and Promise Everything in terms of their overall sound and aesthetic?

I think Promise Everything is way more cohesive and it flows better. I love Colourmeinkindness and I think some of our best songs are on that album, but I hope this new album is one people will listen to all the way through and it won’t be a track one through five kind of listen. Some of the melodies are the most interesting ones that Andrew has written to date because he was really trying to focus on the way the words sound and how they compliment each other. It’s really just a logical next step.

I can’t comment too much on the lyrics because Andrew writes them and they’re personal, but it’s easy to tell what our older songs are about. I think on this album the lyrics are a bit more coded and they’re really open to interpretation. It gives people the opportunity to be able to listen to a song and draw from their own experiences as opposed to it being straightforward, and I like that.

Speaking of changes, what influenced your decision to sign with Roc Nation?

Last summer, we were touring the States and there was just a lot going on. I had previously been doing everything myself, from the band’s taxes to liaising with different people and just trying to figure out how to get the most out of this record. When we decided that the band was going to be a full-time effort and that the new record was coming out, I got overwhelmed with a bunch of things I wasn’t even prepared for and I realized I needed help to figure out how to keep everything going. Our tour manager had also tour managed Touché Amoré for a bunch of years, and their manager was a guy called Blaze James — he has worked with Touché for a while so we had a chat and things went really well.

We spoke about the record, his vision for the band and what he thought he could bring to our group. I trusted him and I thought he was a really great, genuine person so we decided that we wanted him to represent us, and he works for Roc Nation so that’s how that partnership came about. It’s exciting, it’s amazing, and it’s a big relief to have people that we trust helping us while still letting us do whatever we want. They’re not making any changes to us as a band, they’re just helping us with things that are beyond our control and keeping on other aspects – making sure everything goes as it should.

Even though you’ve been a part of Run For Cover for a while now, what was it like to work with them for this release? Did it just make sense to team up with them again since they focus on music rather than gimmicks and the frivolous aspects of the music industry?

I’ve worked for them for two years and they’re a label I trust and a label I believe in, and like you said, they do it for the right reasons because they want to put out great records. They’re not here for the buzz or the trends. Releases come and go and with the Internet, it’s easy for an album to get lost but Run For Cover do a great job with promoting albums and getting them out there and getting people to talk about them. It was a no brain-er for us. I didn’t want to entertain the thought of going anywhere else because I’m really happy with the way things have been going. I believe Run For Cover turned 12 this year and we’ve been involved for five or six years. I was a fan of the label before that and not only is my band with them now, but I also get to work for them and call them my friends.

With a new album and a new headlining tour, what’s next? Do you guys have any personal goals for 2016 or are you focused on reconnecting with your fans and enjoying the ride?

There’s not that many direct things we have plans for. We’ve also got tours in Europe and Australia, and I’d like to play some cool festivals this summer. We did some shows with Brand New in the UK and that was awesome, and we’ve love to do something like that again but in the States this time. We’re excited to see how people respond to the record and see where that takes us. We’ve got some really great tours coming up and I’m excited about them as I love all of the bands that we get to play with. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing and see what happens – who knows what the future holds.

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