The Basics are back with a new live DVD, My Brain’s Off (And I Like It), and are soon to hit the Chevron Festival Gardens on Sunday, February 9, as part of the Perth International Arts Festival. LACHLAN KANONIUK reports.
Over the course of the past 12 or so years, Melbourne trio The Basics have generated a fervent following with their slick rock acumen and charismatic live performances.
The start of 2012 saw the release of the best-of collection, Ingredients and the complementary rarities collection, Leftovers. The releases could well have been a full-stop on the band’s story, with the band seemingly in stasis since 2010. Since that time, guitarist/vocalist, Tim Heath, has enjoyed film work; bassist, Kris Schroeder, set up base in Kenya (replete with a bout of Malaria) and drummer, Wally De Backer, saw immense worldwide success as Gotye. But against the odds and to the rejoice of fans, The Basics are back in full swing in 2013. Ahead of the upcoming national tour, Schroeder muses about the band’s vitalising idiosyncrasies and their long-awaited return to the stage.
“It’s been three years. I think the last show was Woodford, 2010,” he gauges. “Obviously it’s better than what the mindset was then, because then we were thinking, ‘Oh let’s give it a rest, let’s just stop’. So now we’re much more relaxed about what we’re doing. I think we’re all much more comfortable in our own space as individuals. Now we’re a bit more open with what we want to do and what we don’t want to do. We’ve only just embarked on the latest journey, but the vibe is good and we’re talking about doing more recording. We’ve got a bunch of shows to do, so that will test our resolve. I guess we’re just open to what may come.”
Last year, while Kris was residing in Kenya, Wally and Tim performed a set of Basics material at an impromptu Melbourne show. Being oceans away from the stage that night didn’t instigate any Basics FOMO for Kris, however. “Not at all. I just took the time off, I didn’t really do much music stuff. I did some stuff with some local Kenyan bands, some stuff for the Australian high commissioner – who was a fan. Other than that, I just let it go. I was stoked that they got together and did that. Then Tim and I did a similar thing when I was back for a couple weeks in October last year. I didn’t anticipate that it would get to this point. It was more going through the material for the Leftovers thing that sort of led to that for me, going through the old material and thinking, ‘Hey, we’re a pretty good band’. Thinking, maybe we could do this.”
It’s strange to think about, but The Basics are one of the few survivors of the past decade of Australian rock. “I was asked in a previous interview, ‘Who do you think your peers are?’ And I was trying to think of other bands that were comparable in terms of being around as long as us, and I couldn’t really come up with any that are still going,” he assesses. “It’s been around 12 years for us. There are bands like Even, The Fauves that have been going a lot longer. Then you have the other bands that are dead. So the cult, niche thing comes around because of the fact we’re still alive as a band. So when the gig-going public are looking for good gigs, we’re still around. It’s survival of the fittest, maybe. Maybe people have heard the name and haven’t seen us, or maybe people have seen us before but it’s been six, 10 years and they think, ‘Fuck, these guys are still going. Let’s go check ‘em out’.”
Many years ago, it seemed like The Basics’ ascension was hampered by the national youth broadcaster’s aversion to spinning any of the band’s material. At the time, Schroeder was outspoken about his frustration with triple j’s music director, Richard Kingsmill. Though triple j did end up rotating a few Basics singles down the line, he can reason that the dearth of radio play may have been a blessing in disguise.
“It’s allowed us to be free, where we don’t need to get a song on triple j, or meet a goal that the record company has set us. Thinking about Jet, Little Red, Wolfmother and, to a smaller extent, The Vasco Era, they had their thing and hit it really well. I don’t know what their mindset was, whether they were thinking, ‘This isn’t us, we didn’t enjoy that’. There are so many egos in a band – I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just mean that people want to express themselves. So we’ve been able to do that because we haven’t got anything to lose and everything to gain, so we can keep doing what we want. People have no specific expectations of what that might be. It’s quite freeing in a way.
“I think that’s one of the things that drew Wally back. He’s trying to do a follow-up Gotye album, and he has lots of musical ideas but might be struggling lyrically, as he said to me. It gives him the freedom to not have to think about it and not have that pressure.”
More so than most of their contemporaries, The Basics stand as champions of the sartorial. Whether onstage or in the press (when they actually do decide to wear clothes, it should be said), the three emanate a classic sense of style. “Ha, well it probably comes from a number of sources. My ex-wife is a fashion designer, so I think I personally gained a lot of appreciation for aesthetics through her, and that was disseminated in the band throughout the years.
“Even Wally said the other day that he’s been a bit of a tragic dresser over the years, and he’s only relatively recently realised that. Suits do look cool, but it’s an attempt to make him look less daggy, to be blatantly honest. I think it worked. It gave a bit of uniformity, people recognise us. We’re known for wearing the suits, whereas bands like You Am I don’t get asked about when they wear the suits, which is quite often. It’s become a thing we do. I got 12 suits made in Kenya for 40 bucks each, so that’s four new styles each,” Kris reveals.
The runaway global success of Somebody That I Used To Know has no doubt resulted in some collateral newfound attention The Basics’ way. Gotye’s explosive rise into stardom, however, has had little tangible effect on the trio’s already fervent local fanbase, as Schroeder explains. “Wally was already pretty famous after Heart’s A Mess in 2006. So it kind of already happened at various times over the years. So the club shows, it’s not so much. But maybe at festivals, people might read the program and think to check us out and see how it measures up to what Wally’s done. But at the moment, we don’t feel the pressure to live up to anything. Wally, and Tim, wouldn’t want it any other way. We’ll just be The Basics, there won’t be any spotlight on a particular member.”
The band’s return to the stage raises the question as to the prospect of any new Basics material. “We started rehearsing a new song the other day. Wally’s in the middle of Gotye writing, so I don’t want to interrupt his thing too much. But we’ve got a bunch of songs that we’ve written, and I just want to get the cogs moving. Maybe some of them will end up on an album, maybe none of them will. Maybe all of them will.
“Tim was mentioning that we should bunker down and write an album together, which is something we’ve never done before. It’s always been individual songwriters, or Wally and I together. We’ll see how these shows pan out and how much time we have. In terms of making a new album, the biggest question is ‘why?’ I don’t think ‘just because’ is a good enough reason to record new music, I really want a strong notion of why we are doing it so we go in with the right attitude. When that reason comes around, we might have something that falls together.”
While De Backer’s inevitable Gotye commitments will impose a finite timeframe on the current Basics chapter, Schroeder is calm and confident with the unit’s current headspace. “I think we’re doing better stuff now than we’ve ever done before. We’re sounding better, we’re looking better, we’re a lot more comfortable with ourselves and who we are as a band. We’ve hit a bit of a zen stage where things are seeming to work without trying too hard. The best is happening now, rather than in the past. The past is cool, but I think we’re in a good spot now.”
The Basics play Chevron Festival Gardens on Sunday, February 9.
Get your tickets here.