By Will Yannacoulias
Saskatoon’s The Basement Paintings have worked tirelessly for ten years absolutely perfecting their signature patient, ponderous, post metal sound. Guitarists Paul Hillacre and Justin Thompson, bassist Evan Knouse and drummer Calen Miller are childhood friends from the Kindersley area who began playing together as teenagers. Drawing inspiration from artists such as Pink Floyd, Tool, ISIS, Mogwai and Russian Circles, their complex, mesmerizing style emerged fully formed on their self titled debut release in 2013. 2014’s TimeLapse City and 2016’s Mystic secured their place among Saskatchewan’s most important musical artists. The band’s latest release, 2019’s Antipodes, earned multiple five star reviews, made several best-of lists, and won them “Best Metal/Loud Artist” at the Saskatchewan Music Awards.
The Basement Paintings music, though wholly original and distinct, is influenced by a wide variety of musical artists, heavy and dark as well as some psychedelic and ambient. Beyond immediate musical influences, there are also philosophies and spiritual ideas that inform the creative process behind the band’s work, authors and art which help to lay the foundation on which their songs are built.
Knouse: "I basically learned how to play bass by listening to Tool so lots of the bass lines have a lot of Tool influence. Bands like Isis for the long methodical things. Lamb Of God when I was a teenager, and Mastodon. I grew up on Pink Floyd, lots of psychedelic music, space rock. Mindset wise, I draw a lot of influence from Aldous Huxley, George Orwell. Pop culture stuff like The Matrix. Eastern philosophies, yoga, meditation. Psychedelics and psychedelic art."
Thompson: "I listened to a lot of metal growing up, but the meditative ambient thing is the seed of what this is. You’re trying to cultivate a steady, meditative mindset. That’s what we’re going for right now; you hear it and you’re in a positive trance, you feel like your mindset can sit in a certain space and evolve. I was into meditation growing up and using music to find certain mindsets, use it as a key. We’ll write stuff, and we’ll think that it feels like what we were thinking about at the time, it’s about crafting a mindset. I've been inspired by the electronic and ambient stuff that flavours your mindset, your vibe, I've always wanted to do that with the richness of a full band. We aim for a transcendent feeling to hit, exploring parts of your mind and how to unlock them. It’s all tied into a psychedelic transcendent meditation spirituality, but without forcing it; it’s there, you can feel it out, take what you want."
The band writes and records entirely instrumental music, with no singer or lyrics. The absence of song lyrics may seem like an obstacle to communicating ideas and themes, but the band members feel as though they are able to effectively impart symbolic meaning and share complex ideas instrumentally, expressing to the listener what a song is meant to be “about” subconsciously instead of literally.
Knouse: "There’s no lyrics to tell a story but each riff has it’s own idea, it’s own feeling. When those riffs are together and the ideas start to flow properly we’ll usually sort out the name. It’s up to the listener to decide exactly what we’re trying to get across, but the name is a hint what you could be thinking about while you’re listening to it. There isn’t a story but there’s a concept."
Thompson: "There will be subconscious things that are bubbling up from all of us into the first nuggets of ideas we are mining for, and you start to discover the stuff you were thinking about that led to you wanting that vibe. Once we put the "nugs" together we see the broad theme of what we were thinking about, ruminating on, and we’ll talk through a rough theme. I don’t think we go into songwriting with a mindset. The songs come out of what we’re feeling."
The format of a ‘concept album’, where an artist will connect all the songs in an album to tell a story or to express a recurring theme or idea, is a hallmark of progressive or experimental forms of rock music. Undeterred with the challenges inherent in communicating ideas without lyrics, The Basement Paintings conceived both Mystic and Antipodes as concept albums.
Knouse: “With Mystic there’s lots of flow directly between songs. Track one, “Nomad”, is a wanderer, and the last track “Mystic”, the wanderer has become enlightened through a journey. Mystic, for me personally, I was thinking of it as a concept album. Antipodes, all the songs are related to each other. There’s themes and recurring motifs in the music.”
Thompson: “Antipodes is set up to flow a certain way together, but Mystic for sure was a more traditional concept album. Antipodes would be more of an abstract cloud of ideas that are interrelated.”
The extent to which the band has gone to understand, explore and immerse themselves in every facet of their music is remarkable, with Hillacre, who is a professional luthier, even designing and building his own guitar. It should come as no surprise then that the band recorded and mixed Antipodes themselves, maintaining absolute control over the sound of the finished album and ensuring that the creative process was not compromised by financial constraints in any way.
Hillacre: "We’ve recorded most of our stuff ourselves, we recorded the self titled album on a old sixteen track Boss recorder. On Mystic we recorded with Barret Ross in Saskatoon, Chris Douglas did the mixing. We found that we need a lot of time in the studio to really get things tracked the away we want. We’re all perfectionists when it comes to our parts, and sometimes there’s extra writing that goes into it on the spot. We found what works best for us is just to record on our own. No time constraints. I’ve been dabbling in it since high school and it’s something I enjoy doing, so we recorded Antipodes here at my place, and I mixed the album as well, then we had it mastered by Grey Market Mastering in Montreal."
The years of hard work, the spiritual, powerful songwriting, the meticulous, complex arrangements and the painstaking attention to detail at every level was recognized and rewarded on January 24th 2021, when SaskMusic acknowledged The Basement Paintings as the best artist in the Metal/Loud category for Antipodes. The band was humble yet proud of the accolade, which they felt was hard earned.
Knouse: "Antipodes was a battle. The writing of it was over two years of just hammering ideas out. It took a long time, and the finished product was my crowning achievement. When people respond positively to the album I'm like ‘Thank God’, because that took everything I had."
Photos courtesy of The Basement Paintings.