How does any band start? Perhaps it begins with a group of youths mellowing in the lounge room, listening to Pink Floyd and feeling a “connection,” deciding it would be their music that would really change the world. It wouldn’t matter that they were drunk or possibly high, it would “feel” important.
Hancock Basement’s formation was humbler, ballsier and less bullshitty. Lead singer and guitarist Nick Craven tells me that he met Nick Beresford-Wylie while lining up to register at the Australian National University in their hometown, Canberra. The duo worked well together (with Craven momentarily on drums) but drummer and singer Tom Spira joined soon after.
“Tom was actually a drummer. I was sort of winging the drums at that point. I am much more of a guitarist, so I jumped on the guitar and started singing, which I’d never really done before.”
I say the formation of Hancock Basement was ballsier because Craven tells me they played at the ANU Bar very soon after deciding the three of them together equaled a band. “The Society of Rock, I think it was called, one of those uni societies, had started up and they were running a gig. Pretty much anyone could play and we put our hand up to play, even though we’d only just formed, I think, a week before and hadn’t written any songs yet.”
This readiness to perform is what makes these guys so much fun. It’s easy to see them going places as they assert themselves across the country and build their reputation. Craven tells me how after their initial performance they started “doing it guerilla style.”
He elaborates, “There was a reggae bar in the city and they only ever used to have reggae music, and maybe some hip hop, that sort of stuff. And then we said [to the owner] ‘well how about you put on a rock night?’ When we were talking to him he said that some of the rockier stuff he liked was Prince so we said ‘Oh, we’ll do a Prince cover!’ and we did a cover of Purple Rain that night.”
Hancock Basement have a myriad of classic influences, maybe cautioning us not to get too caught up in the saturated electronica world currently being carriaged by bands like MGMT. Influences instead range from the rock and roll of Rolling Stones and The Police to The White Stripes and Kings of Leon. When Craven speaks for himself it’s obvious he is a huge music dweeb, and has a lot of admiration for bands from the sixties and seventies.
This could explain the decision to go with the release of the Hey Kids/Don Juan single on vinyl rather than CD.
“A lot of my favourite bands have released 7” vinyl singles and there’s a bit of mystique about those. Especially from bands like The Smiths; there’s a bit of a cult around those singles that came out on the 7” and they’ve become collector’s items. We didn’t want to release an EP or an album just yet, but we did want to release something that had these songs out there, and still have the artwork. And I guess with CD singles, and CDs in general, a lot of people see them as fairly disposable. If you want something to own, with a record it’s a bit more tangible and more special than a CD.”
Avoiding the wank of band names like The Rocket Twin Caper Clouds, Hancock Basement instead chose a landmark at the ANU (also highlighting the period when they first formed). So why Hancock Basement instead of Chifley 1st Floor Toilets (another of the ANU’s reputable library locations)?
“There’s a bit of a cult about the basement. For a start it’s got those signs up saying ‘if you stay here for more than 2 hours you’re liable to asphyxiation.’ And there were also a lot of comments that students would go there to make out and make love… It had a bit of a rep.”
Since the days of preventative asphyxiation, and playing the barren city of Canberra, Hancock Basement have taken on bass player, Todd Gregory, succeeded in winning Triple J’s Unearthed Trackside competition, received a lot of Triple J airplay and positive feedback from the J crew, and more recently entered the top final 50 of the Tooheys Extra Dry uncharTED comp (against over 2,300 entrants).
In preparation for their upcoming gigs in Sydney I asked what some of their memorable live moments were. And these guys just seem to ASK for it, Craven sharing two crazy moments.
“There’s been plenty of strange times. [Once] these street biker dudes pulled up a table right at the front near the stage and just sat there glaring at us and saying, you know, ‘you guys better play some rock n roll tonight!’ And we were going ‘Oh shit man, we just play indie rock…’ They ended up getting into a fight with each other before we even started so I guess that kinda saved us.
“[And another] of our strangest gigs was when we played at Club 77. This girl who was standing at the front literally took her clothes off while we were playing.”
The fact that Hancock Basement are still surfacing just proves that more exciting live moments are bound to occur.
You can catch these lads at Oxford Art Factory on 17 July with Decorated Generals. For more info and to check out their tunes head to http://www.myspace.com/hancockbasement