Balancing discord and melody, Bagel Bites and barbecue, indie-pop quartet writes and records at breakneck pace with zero dip in quality
At the beginning of “Jangle Bee,” from the Bascinets’ 378 Vol. 1 EP, there’s a few seconds of dissonant piano before chiming guitars come in to kick-start the melody. That ghostly piano surfaces again in an instrumental section, keeping the song just slightly off-kilter.
Those dissonant tone clusters were partly inspired by singer/guitarist Tristan Huygen’s research project on American modernist composer Charles Ives, whom Huygen studied at Capital University. Ives loved to experiment with dissonance in conjunction with melody, and the same can be said of the Bascinets.
“Dissonance and melody, prettiness and ugliness — you smash them together. It’s like a gesture with a limp,” said Huygen, joined by Bascinets bandmates Nick Wellman (vocals/guitar), Nick Shew (bass) and Trevor Joellenbeck (drums) at an Old North bar. “There’s a constant tension, a push and pull, between a nice, well-crafted song with good melody and form, and then introducing some dissonance or angularity.”
“It makes the song feel evil and wrong,” Shew said, though that’s not entirely true. While the Bascinets like to toy with discord, melody and beauty tend to win out on the band’s 2017 debut album, Always Want to Be Your Friend, and a pair of 2018 EPs, 378 Vol. 1 and 378 Vol. 2.
In between the album and the EPs, the Bascinets trimmed down from five members to four, opting to leave keyboards out of the equation, at least onstage. “Before, the keys player would have pre-programmed noises that were in the actual recording that we had to queue up [live],” Wellman said. “There’s no spontaneity to that.”
While the Bascinets’ recorded output so far has been tracked primarily at Capital, the band has a new setup in the basement of Huygen’s parents’ house south of Grove City — a quieter, cleaner alternative to the campus-area house Huygen, Wellman and Shew share on 17th Avenue.
“It’s like a Bob Dylan Basement Tapes-type place to record,” Huygen said. “It’s been very nice.”
“[Huygen’s parents] provided a lot of beer for us,” Wellman said.
“His mom was like, ‘What kind of beer do you drink? I’m going to the grocery store,’” Joellenbeck said. “She brought back a case of beer and all these treats.”
“So many Bagel Bites,” Shew said.
“And his grandma cooked us this Southern lunch with collard greens,” Joellenbeck said.
“I’m from Atlanta originally,” Huygen said. “My Nana, she’s from rural Georgia, so my mom and her are amazing cooks. I come from a line of barbecue restaurant owners. We have a family sauce and everything. … It’s great, but it’s hard to focus on recording, because half the time you’re just drinking beer and eating barbecue, and then it’s been two hours and it’s like, ‘Oh, we should probably record something.’ … Luckily we have enough gear to get the sound we want. Our stuff isn’t super produced and high fidelity.”
“It’s decent-fi,” Wellman said.
“Upper-mid fi,” Joellenbeck said.
It takes restraint for Huygen, who studied music recording at Capital and last year released a note-for-note cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to not obsess over every little thing. “I am trying not to slip back into worrying about my tone too much. I’m a little reserved compared to where I used to be,” said Huygen, who used to post YouTube reviews of guitar effects pedals. “I have seen the evils of too much concern over tone. I’ve been on the forums.”
Huygen shares some of the Bascinets’ songwriting load with Wellman and brings a power-pop sensibility to the band, while Shew is an acolyte of the Fall and Joellenbeck sticks to Springsteen. But it’s Wellman’s love of Brit-pop and Elliott Smith that tends to most shape the Bascinets.
“[Wellman’s] influence on the music is the heart and soul of the band,” Huygen said. “I mean, he sweats songs. They just fall out.”
“That’s no joke. I get an email from Dropbox, ‘Nick has altered the Dropbox folder,’ literally twice a day,” Joellenbeck said.
The bandmates have about 30 new songs, which they’ve pared down to 22 for forthcoming releases. “Our philosophy has always been to record as much as we can,” Huygen said. “You never know what song people will latch onto.”