Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #130. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Sarah Comey calls Basement axeman Alex Henery with the question on everyone’s lips: how did the Suffolk emos make their fourth album so. damn. good!?
The timeline of Basement is one most emo bands could only daydream of replicating. A figurehead for one of the genre’s most lucrative labels, Run For Cover, the fivesome brewed an enormous underground following with two crash-hot albums that drew kids to their theatre shows like moths to a lamp – 2011’s I Wish I Could Stay Here and 2012’s Colourmeinkindness.
Their short-lived hiatus only made them more of a cult favourite, and when Promise Everything stunned critics and fans alike in 2015, Basement made a much-deserved crack into the mainstream.
Now under the guidance of the world’s arguable biggest alternative label, Fueled By Ramen, the band are ready to embark on their world domination. The record that’ll take them there is Beside Myself – 12 cuts of raw, heart-on-sleeve authenticity. Driven by thick and furious rhythm guitars and choruses that outright demand you bellow along to them, the LP shows Basement at the top of their game.
And after slogging it out in the studio for over two years piecing it together, guitarist Alex Henery proudly agrees.
How did working with a major label shake up the writing process for this record?
I think it actually encouraged us. When people think of major labels, they think of people behind the scenes making decisions on how the band is going to be creative, and being like, “You have to do this, and this is the sort of record you need to make.” But it’s been the complete opposite.
When we first started making the record, they made an effort to tell us, “We signed you because we like what you do. We don’t want to change that – we just want you to be able to do what you to to the best of your ability.” So it’s been really cool.
This was the first time that we demoed songs properly for a record, and we involved Fueled By Ramen in the process, showing them what we had and seeing if they had any ideas. There was a point where they were like, “We think you’re in a good place, but maybe you should write another three or four songs.”
That was really hard to hear at first, but it was the best thing that could have happened, because in the next session we had following their advice, we ended up writing some of my favourite songs on the record.
How did your creative mindset change between the Promise Everything cycle and when you started work on Beside Myself?
We definitely wanted to try some things differently on this record. With the last one, I wrote a lot of the songs in my bedroom, sent them over to the other guys, and then we met up and just kind of re-wrote the songs based on the ideas that I or someone else had. We would just send ideas back and forth.
But this time, we really wanted to focus on being in the same room at the same time, and we tried a lot of different styles of writing. We tried an idea where we all had nothing and we would just sit there together and see what would happen, which was cool.
And then we tried going off and splitting up; Andrew [Fisher, vocals] and I went and did a writing session together and some of the other guys did as well, and then we brought the ideas back to the group and took it from there.
We found that process to be really helpful, because y’know, when you’re pitching your idea to four people, it can be quite overwhelming and difficult to fully explain what you want, whereas if you’re just playing it to one person, with that person onboard, it becomes a little bit easier to break it down and show other people.
This was also the first time we didn’t write anything in the studio. In the past, we’d be rushing around and trying to figure things out at the absolute last minute, but this time, we wanted to put less pressure on ourselves. We took our time and didn’t rush anything, and I think that really shows.
We put together the best songs that we could in the time that we had, so there was no rush of going, “Well, we have to record for the sake of recording.” Not that we did that in the past, but when we recorded Promise Everything, the vibe was more like, “We only have this amount of time to record, so we have to do it now.: But this time was way more thought out, and I think that was helpful.
Somehow, as paradoxical as it is, this album sounds more like Basement than anything you’ve put out in the past. There’s a perfect balance of punk and pop and melody and grit – like a really good salted caramel. Do you feel like you’ve cracked the code with this album, so to speak?
It’s funny you say that, because in the past, we never had as much time as we really needed to hone in on how we’d want an album to sound. With this one, we tried so many different things and we really got to see what worked and what didn’t.
And in the past, we’d maybe go with things that, ultimately, we probably should’ve scraped, but we had to kind of make the best of what we had. So to really refine these songs, I think we got to the core of what Basement is supposed to sound like.
Like you said, it covers all of the different styles that Basement has, but it’s all under this very close‑knit umbrella. It’s a little bit of everything we’ve done in the past, put together in a way that is just so much more coherent and flows so much better than anything we’ve ever put out.