(this is an extended version of an article originally published in Star News)
By Brian Tucker
When Youth League comes home to Wilmington to play a show they consistently bring great bands along to share the bill. This week is no different. The post-rock trio performs at Reggie’s on Saturday with experimental, ambient instrumental rock band Cuzco and Greensboro indie rock band Basement Life.
“We’ve known (Youth League) for years through bars and different bands. I met Mike (Large) years ago when he was living in Greensboro through the music/bar scene. He was actually in a band called Pilots at that time with our drummer Caleb. It’s always a great time hanging out with those guys and their band is unbelievable. Zack and Jaffar are sweethearts.”
Basement Life – Eric Mann (guitar), Gavan Holden (bass, vocals) and Caleb Gross (drums) make music that’s caustic and melodic on the surface and immediately bracing. Dig deeper and you’ll find Holden’s lyrics to read like poetry or as brief, image-filled short stories. The singer, whose vocals share both heart and fury, says he’s dabbled in poetry but it mostly comes from being inspired by poetic lyricists.
“I’ve always been a little more drawn to songwriters like Blake Schwarzenbach (Jawbreaker) and Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate),” Holden said. “I think our first album is more observant. We have new album coming out near the end of summer (called Devour) and those songs are a bit darker and much more introspective. Sonically, it’s probably a bit moodier. We like to challenge each other creatively. I think it keeps us moving forward and not just rewriting the same songs.”
The band formed in 2014 and their 2017 debut Love is Not Real is getting a vinyl release in June. On the songs Holden comes off like an inferno and at times there’s a sense of desperation within his hoarse delivery. Raw and commanding, he sings as if it’s the last time he’ll utter those words or at the least saying them to make sure it’s heard.
On “Sports Neighborhood” lyrics are partially mysterious and take a deep stab. Holden sings, “Are we moving up or down?/Either way we’re out of reach” and he closes with “We live for holidays and occupying space.” For “Machine Works, Machine Works” he’s frank, singing about the feigning of remorse between two people trying hard and the possibility of slaying the “monsters underneath.”
“(“Sports Neighborhood”) is pretty nihilistic. It’s definitely about futility. “Machine Works” is kind of about a relationship that you really want to work that’s starting to break down and become unhealthy – mostly through bad communication skills.”
Love is Not Real was produced by Aslan Freeman. Now based in Nashville, Freeman has recorded N.C (and local) bands like I Was Totally Destroying It, Youth League, and Pretend Surprise. Based on the sound of those records, Freeman has an ear for recording bands that are not specifically in heavy genres but capturing them at powerful levels, especially with Pretend Surprise’s Butcher It album.
“Aslan was really laid back and put out a great vibe. He’s also a guitar pedal wizard and as a songwriter himself (a member of the band Unifier), he gets it. I recall him helping with vocals, specifically backing vocals, a lot and just making sure he was getting our best at the time. He’s worked on great albums some friends of ours have made and he seems to keep getting better at producing and engineering.”
On their debut Basement Life offers up heart and emotional wattage but as a trio they also deliver a commanding, loud sound through sheer playing. Trios have a history of sounding bigger, crafting something larger with less, be they famous or local acts like Hammer No More the Fingers.
“I love Hammer No More The Fingers. I don’t know, it was a really conscious effort (to be a trio), but I think there’s something earnest about a three-piece band that sometimes gets lost when there’s too many people involved. You kind of have to just get to the point of what you’re doing. It’s just worked for us. There’s also less opinions and schedules to deal with.”