50 AMAZING THINGS THAT WILL HAPPEN IN 2016
Basement are about to drop an album to believe in
Words: Ryan De Freitas. Photos: Emma Swann.
With third album ‘Promise Everything’ on the way, Basement are in high spirits as they’re gathered outside a North London rehearsal room. And why wouldn’t they be? Having just returned from a huge US support-run with The Story So Far, they’re here to rehearse their new material for a rather large upcoming UK tour of their own (as well as a Maida Vale session for the Radio 1 Rock Show that you can probably find online somewhere by now).
This time two years ago, though, Basement weren’t an active band. In fact, they were just about to announce their return from a two-year hiatus. The Ipswich group’s popularity had steadily risen in their absence after 2012’s ‘Colourmeinkindness’ – released post-hiatus announcement – had gone on to be one of the highest regarded releases in the genre. Suffice to say, the reformation was big news.
However, having played what was understood to be their ‘last show’ only fourteen months prior, there was an underlying degree of cynicism coming from certain sections of their fanbase when the band announced that they were back. At best, those sections felt as though the brevity of the hiatus cheapened the emotions they felt at those ‘last hurrah’ shows. At worst, some considered that the entire ‘break’ was one big publicity stunt. Yet the band were anything but calculated about either the hiatus or the return.
“The whole hiatus thing was pretty casual for us,” explains vocalist Andrew Fisher, sat just as casually on a sofa outside their practice room. “I can understand the cynicism – it was really short – but it was just because I wasn’t sure whether or not we’d have the time to be in a band anymore. There was no ‘intent’ with it either way. It was like, ‘Okay, let’s put it on hold and see what happens. If we have the time to do it again, we’ll do it and if not, we won’t.’”
“The time we weren’t doing anything was just because everyone was doing separate stuff and everyone had decided that they wanted to focus on their careers outside the band. For example, I was teaching.”
“Then, I realised I was quite good at managing my time and was able to do stuff on the side, too. So we started talking about whether or not we wanted to try and play some more shows and eventually decided to get together and record something. Halfway through that process, I brought up the idea that maybe we should go for this full-time and everyone was on board. It was a good time to put our professional lives outside of the band on hold, too.”
“Honestly though, we could’ve ended the hiatus a week after we took it if we wanted. We took the break for us, so it doesn’t matter what people think about it.”
Besides, with ‘Promise Everything’ almost here, there can be no question about the band’s intentions going forward. Nor about whether getting back together was the right move, since the record is by far their most accomplished yet.
Somehow, given the circumstances (“A few of the songs were written completely separately from each other. We were in different parts of the country and even the world for some of it”), Basement have delivered the most complete, cohesive album of their career – and it might well be the one to truly define the band. Where ‘I Wish I Could Stay Here’ drew comparisons to their peers and ‘Colourmeinkindness’ not-so-subtly harked back to 90s alternative, ‘Promise Everything’ is the result of Basement having the experience, tools and self-assurance to write a record truly their own.
The band must know this, too. There’s a tangible buzz among them tonight, despite Fisher’s soft-spoken, humble demeanour. Their excitement remains grounded by their self-awareness though, and when talking about the new album there are obvious reservations about how it might be received.
“Part of me thinks – and a lot of us in the band have said it too – that we’re going to put this out and that people are gonna be like ‘urgh, this is not what I was expecting’,” Fisher confesses. “Just because there are things on it that are a bit different to what our fans have heard from us and just things that might not be what they’re used to.”
In truth, they’re probably overthinking these concerns – especially as first single ‘Oversized’ garnered such a positive response – since the differences on the record are subtle. Basement haven’t taken a too sharp a turn from ‘CMIK’ musically, it’s just not as draped in nostalgia and its foundations are built on vastly superior songwriting and melodies rather than the previous record’s immediacy.
Stripping back the 90s-esque sound was a bolder move than it might seem. In the last few years, we’ve heard Superheaven, Title Fight, Pity Sex, Citizen, Moose Blood, Turnover and countless others release records that have built and developed on the aesthetic that ‘CMIK’ played a huge part in legitimising.
By late 2015 however, it was beginning to feel like that movement had peaked and their scene was in transition once more. Were Basement to continue down that route, they’d have to release something to top ‘Peripheral Vision’, ‘Jar’ or their own previous efforts. Stepping away, however, allows the album to stand on its own – and it’s all the better for it.
“I honestly think we wanted to just do what came out naturally,” Fisher explains. “But there’s definitely truth in [the band wanting to step away from it]. I think we just wanted to try and do something that was different, without it being too obvious that we were trying to do something different.”
“We definitely wanted to do something a bit different from all of that. We consciously tried to do something that’s interesting and different – as we do with music or art or whatever else – so whether or not that’s just actively trying to make sure we don’t sound like this band or that band, we were definitely aware of what’s been going on in that world and went into it trying for something that would make us a little bit different to everyone else.”
While they’re aware of what’s going on around them and what people might be waiting to see from Basement, they aren’t looking to get too hung up on any of it.
“I feel like there’s people looking at us and wondering what we’re going to do next, or trying to figure out what it is that we’re going to be known for,” he continues. “But I think we’d get ourselves in a bit of a stressful situation if we thought too much about that. So we worried less about it and just went in thinking ‘is this a cool song?’ and if it was, we’d keep it. All we wanted was to come out of it with some good songs.”
And they certainly have. These are songs which carry the band forth into 2016 and into the biggest venues the band have ever played. On their first album tour proper (going on hiatus right before a record drops will rob a band of that), they’ll be playing the 2,000 cap rooms of Shepherds Bush Empire and Manchester Academy.
“It’s scary!” Fisher confesses. “We’re all super nervous about how it’s gonna go, but we said we wanted to take chances and here we are. We wanted to try and push it and see what we could do. It might not work, we might get a really bad turnout and then we’ll be like ‘okay, we won’t play venues this big next time’. It was just a choice between doing something similar to what we did last time, or pushing it, and we thought why not? We have no idea how long this is gonna last, so we might as well try it.”
“Pushing it” seems very much the plan from here onwards. With their professional lives now on hold, Basement are grabbing the bull firmly by the horns and going all out this time around, and while they aren’t letting themselves get too carried away with expectation, they are clear in their intentions.
“I have no idea how far a band like ours can go,” Andrew admits. “But as long as we just keep doing stuff we’re proud of and that we’re creatively stimulated by, we’ll be fine.”
It’s commendable that Fisher and his band remain as unassuming as they are when you consider that everything they’ve achieved up to now, they’ve done so as a part-time band. For everyone else, the prospect of what’s to come from Basement – ‘Promise Everything’ included – should be a source of real excitement.
Recording ‘Promise Everything’ was the last thing that Basement would do as a part-time band before giving notice to their respective workplaces: “From now on,” Fisher concludes, “we’re giving it a proper go.”