Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Is Basement Life the best Punk band in America? Yes!


Not bragging, it was pure happenstance that I found myself covering the emerging downtown LA punk scene just as Social Distortion, Los Lobos, Perry Farrell, Red Hot Chili Peppers and a whole host of bands no one had heard of then, but are legendary today, were thrashing their way through clubs no bigger than New York Pizza. Flea and Anthony still owe me 5 bucks.

What made those performers so remarkable, transcendent, was an unmistakable authenticity. 

Basement Life ignites a joy of rediscovery in those who believe Punk should remain preserved in amethyst, surrendered to another time and temperament. How is anyone going to improve upon, build on, what came before given the inherent limitations? A conundrum for sure, until a rare combo like Basement Life sonically Boom Tubes into our atmosphere. 

On the bill with Bit Brigade at The Blind Tiger this month, Basement Life drew a large and attentive crowd for an opening act, practically everyone in the place facing the stage from the opening cords on.

Lead singer Gavan Holden’s volcanic vocals and atramentous lyrics fuse mercilessly, resulting in a mesmerizing stage presence, an inexplicably attractive ferociousness rooted in vulnerability and conflicted emotions. A musical force unreckoned-with for a decade, Gavan is one of those committed young rock warriors brave enough to tour the East Coast with bare pockets in tattered chariots when he was fronting the band Funny Like a Funeral some years back.

It was a raw, evicerating performance. Basement Life guitarist Eric Mann weaves and wails with an uplifting swagger while drummer Caleb Gross’ rat-a-tat-tat beats, sticks for Tommy guns, hammers it all home. Caleb’s banging on a custom-made, solid maple drum kit with 1960’s hi-hats that he claims, “Sound better because of the weights and the shakes of the cones.” 

I caught up with Gavan Holden at Legitimate Business studio in Glenwood where Basement Life has been recording their second album, DEVOUR, over the course of 8 consecutive 8-hour days. “It’s going really great,” he confided. “Kris [Hilbert] is an amazing producer, I don’t think we could have made a better decision.”

As for the tone of this new album Gavan reveals, “It’s a little darker. Lyrically it’s more introspective than the first one. Musically, we wrote it more like jam sessions rather than anybody just bringing stuff in.” 

For someone so nakedly agro onstage, this singer / bassist is disarmingly low-key off. “It just kinda came together with us in a room playing. I think that adds a much different vibe to the songs and the structure.” 

These guys have been playing around for a while. My first band was a Christian punk band and we were awful,” drummer Caleb Gross admits. “I was like 16, sleeping on the carpet my drums were on. I had a backpack I used for a pillow and all of my clothes were my blanket. [Bandmate] Nick worked at Taco Bell, he’d bring home all the leftovers and that was our dinner every night. It was so stupid.”


Today, Caleb bangs away on a Dave Conaway custom, “This was my first real drum kit. Played a lot of shows on it, spilled a lot of beer on it, sweat.” He eventually stripped all the hardwood off, hand stained it, then recut the bearing edge with a router, “The hardware I coated with a gun coating, Ceracote, it’s like a ceramic essentially. It’s very fine but indestructible.”

Everyone involved was pleased with the results as recording for DEVOUR wrapped up, “I enjoy the creative process,” Gavan says. “I feel like everybody contributes a lot. One thing I like about writing with Eric, our taste in music is very similar but our influences are way different. It took a little time for us to mesh but I think it sounds cool the way he plays guitar, it’s different from what I'm used to.”

DEVOUR has been released digitally, on CD and vinyl, check out the sample track Mendenhall. 



Basement Life’s revelatory first album from 2017, Love Is Not Real, drops as an LP in May. Audiophiles generally agree with Gavan that, “Vinyl is the best way to listen to music. It’s more interactive, you have to stick the needle on, flip the sides, it’s not something you can throw on and forget about. You’ve got artwork to look at, you can read the liner notes. It’s more of an experience.”

No plans for touring but, “We’re playing a lot this fall across North Carolina, around the release of the new album. And maybe a little further out.”