by Interviews

In March Kitchener-based screamo band Basque released their excellent debut album Pain Without Hope of Healing. The seven tracks are filled to the brim with incredible riffs, mathy moments, wonderfully created noise, and heartfelt lyrics that are delivered with power, pain, and hope. It is astounding how much meaning and musicianship Basque are able to pack into eighteen minutes. Pain Without Hope of Healing is out everywhere now via No Funeral Records. Basque will be playing New Friends Fest in Toronto in August.

Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with bassist and vocalist Nicolas Couture to talk about the new album, Basque’s origin story, playing New Friends Fest, Nic Cage, and so much more. Read the interview below!

This interview between Em Moore and Nicolas Couture took place on April 16, 2024 over Zoom. This transcription documents their conversation and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You, along with other members of Basque, used to play in a band called Karloff. How did the idea to start Basque come about?

Karloff had broken up and some of us were looking to just keep playing music in any form. So we enlisted the help of Ali, who’s the guitar player, and we started writing. Her guitar style was different than anybody I had played with before so it was really interesting learning someone else’s style. It started out a little more casually, then we started getting songs down and really working towards something bigger. In a short period of time we had four songs and then we started playing shows.

I listened to an interview with Ali where she described you being a bridge between her and your drummer. What’s the story behind that?

It’s really great because they both have such different musical styles and musical instincts. Jake plays this really cool straightforward punk stuff and it’s really great and part of my brain gets that. Ali plays stuff that’s really pretty sometimes but sometimes very off and dissonant. She’s got this really interesting style that wouldn’t typically mesh with that straightforward punk style and part of my brain understands that. So both sides of my brain understand each of them and I can help translate each other’s languages to them. [laughs]

Did that come pretty instinctually or did it take a while to get to that translater zone?

Once I got the hang of playing with both of them and writing with both of them and understanding what both of them do and throwing in my own input as well, we started to understand each other. Once we started understanding each other it just kinda grew from there. It wasn’t instinctual, no. [laughs] It was tough to write songs at first but then we got the hang of it.

I’ve been in a few bands over the years and I think there’s always a learning curve. I’ve been in bands where we write stuff from the ground up or where I’ve joined bands after the fact. There’s always some sort of learning curve. Sometimes it’s easier than others. We don’t tend to write easy music or straightforward music so it was a little longer, in my opinion at least, to get to that comfortable spot for Basque.

How would you describe your songwriting process?

I’ll usually bring parts of songs and Ali will usually bring more complete songs. I’ve never been good at writing a whole piece on my own, I usually like the input of others. If it’s me bringing a song, I’ll have a riff that I’ve written either on guitar or bass and then I’ll say to Ali, “Play this part and I’ll play this part”. Then she’ll change it and we’ll transition into something else. We’ll work through it like that and then typically once we get our two parts together then Jake comes in. Jake will be listening the whole time and will be getting some ideas while we’re getting our parts down.

When Ali brings a song she’ll usually have the whole thing written front to back. Then we listen and figure out what she wants or what she was envisioning. It usually changes a little bit from what she pictures because again, we have different styles. Then we figure out our parts and slowly build them. As we’re writing we’re getting them tight and practicing them. Sometimes we’ll have the first part written and tight and the rest of the song isn’t even finished yet. We really focus on parts one at a time.

Then it’ll all come together after the fact.


How would you describe your style?

For my bass style in Basque, because we're a four-piece, a lot of the time I play the bass kinda like a guitar. I do a lot of chords. I’ve always been interested in bass players or bass lines that have a melody. Not like, “Oh you’re playing lots of notes”, but like the main melody or the part of the song where you might have a guitar chord that’s driving and the bass is carrying the melody. I used to be in an indie band where bass was the main instrument. Kind of like an Interpol vibe, a lot more melodic, and just played like a guitar.

You recorded your debut album Pain Without Hope of Healing with Marc Bourgon at 103 Queen in Cambridge, Ontario. How did you decide where to record?

It was a very easy decision because that’s our jam space. [laughs] Marc’s band also practices out of that jam space. They’re just a couple of units down from us. It was the easiest decision because all our gear was there and Marc just had to bring some mics over. And it was cheap. [laughs] We didn’t have to rent a studio or anything like that, we just had some mics and we had our own gear.

And a place you were already comfortable playing in too.

Yeah, exactly. You don’t have to learn the space and all that.

What was the recording process like?

It’s been a while so I’ll have to get back there in my mind palace. [laughs] It was pretty straightforward. We each recorded our parts individually. Ali threw down a scratch track that Jake could play drums to. We built from the drums and added bass and then guitar. It was just one thing at a time. We added some noise and vocals after the fact. Nate, our vocalist and noise creator, does a lot of the noise you hear on the album through pedals and drones. We did a lot of stuff like that after we recorded the main instruments and then that kind of bridged the songs together. We’ve always liked doing it live where once we finish a song there’s just a wall of that noise that will carry over into the next one.

The album cover features five silhouettes of hands in various positions. What’s the significance of the hands?

That might be a question for Ali. She’s the one who made that cover. She carved the stamps herself and created the five hands. The meaning, you’d have to ask Ali. I’m sorry. [laughs]

Originally I think we had another idea for our cover. The whole booklet/zine that’s included with the album is full of different art and stamps and stuff like that so we were going to use those hands somewhere else. Then I saw that image of the five hands and it was simple and I was like, “That’s awesome! Can we just use that as the album cover?” We all agreed that it was perfect and it fit the vibe of the album.

What was the original album cover going to be?

Originally we just wanted to do a four-song demo. We had recorded the seven tracks and we were going to keep some for maybe a single here and there but we liked everything as one. We had a demo cover which was a picture of the wall in the space we started and we have played house shows there too. But once the idea of the album grew it felt right to have a different cover for it. That’s where that conversation started. The songs are not even in the same order that they would’ve been. Once we started going through the mixing process and added the noise, it just made sense to do the whole thing.

You’ve had these songs written and recorded for a while now. I think it’s been three years, is that correct?

The four original songs we wrote for the demo would’ve been written in January or February of 2022, I believe. We started in December of 2021. In January 2023 we had recorded everything. I think we did some retakes later. There was a lot of mixing back and forth and then waiting for vinyl and sorting stuff out with labels so it took a long time but we got there. We’re all really happy with it.

It feels great to finally share music. We have been playing shows since that summer of 2022 without any music out. [laughs] There’s a lot of people who saw us and asked, “Hey, where can I buy your music?” or “Where can I listen to it?” and we’re like, “You can’t, sorry”. [laughs] Now we have records on the merch table.

Which song changed the most during writing and recording?

Nothing changed too much during recording. I think we were pretty set on how everything was gonna sound. When we write the songs we won’t play them live until we are 100% on them and they don’t tend to change too much. I don’t think they’ve changed all that much honestly. [laughs]

There haven’t been any improvisations live or anything?

No, we stick to it usually. Maybe the noise changes a little bit between sets but noise is hard to control in general. You’ve got a million pedals and they act different every time. But when the noise cuts in and cuts out and the kind of noise that's played is pretty structured typically. There’s not too much improvisation. [laughs]

Do you have a favourite song to play live?

“Funeral For A Mouse” is the one we finish with, it’s the closer for the album too. It depends on the day, sometimes if you’re really feeling it it really hits. It’s the most emotional one. There’s big cathartic moments in it and there’s ups and downs. That one feels really good to end on. We have this part where we’re building tension, building tension, and then it breaks to this quiet place where there’s some bass chords and Ali’s making some almost violin-like sounding guitar at the very end. If we do that live and it’s dead quiet in the room, that moment there feels great. Sometimes you’ll play it and there’s people talking over it and it doesn’t feel the same but when it’s dead quiet and you know you have everyone in that room’s attention for that song, that’s my favourite part.

Would you say that’s the most cathartic song to play too?

Absolutely, yeah.

On the album, that song has a clip of the Nic Cage movie Pig which was released in 2021. Why did you choose to include this sample?

Nate was the one who pitched using the sample. It fit the album really well. Even just Nic Cage’s delivery of it is great and what he’s saying is great. I have a kinship with Nic Cage because he spells his name the same way I do, Nicolas without the h. [laughs] Just that sentiment behind that quote was poignant to the theme of the album in general. When Nate pitched it, I hadn’t seen the movie yet so I watched it. When I heard it in the movie I was immediately like, “Yes!” [laughs]

Was the theme of the album intentional or was it a coincidence?

This is more of a question for Nate because Nate wrote most of the lyrics. Ali has some and I have some as well and they fit in. Thematically or lyrically, Nate was the one who curated all that. But there’s definitely an intentional theme across the whole thing. When I pitched lyrics it was like, “Alright, that actually fits really well with the song I’ve written already. Why don’t we throw it here?” Then we did and it worked.

What lyrics of yours are you the most proud of?

There’s two portions of lyrics I contributed and both are the ones that I do vocals for. There’s one in “Stillness” that’s a back-and-forth between me and Nate. It’s my favourite. It’s this poem I wrote ages ago. It was just these four lines, or eight lines however you want to divide it, about goodness and the concept of morality in general. Those are the ones I’m really the most proud of. I’ve done vocals in bands before and I’ve always liked writing. I’ve been sitting on these little snippets of poems and stuff for a while so finding a home for them is great. [laughs]

It was waiting for that moment.

Yeah, exactly.

You played New Friends Fest for the first time in 2022 and you’re going to be playing again this year. What does this festival mean to you?

I had COVID in 2022 so I didn’t actually play it. [laughs] We were doing a run of shows with Blind Girls leading up to it, I think we were doing three shows and the fourth was supposed to be New Friends. So we did two shows and after that, I just felt like garbage and I took a test and sure enough… At our hometown show, the Waterloo one, I had to not play, and New Friends I had to not play as well. Luckily the bassist from Yearning - who’s not a band anymore I don’t think - was in town and was able to learn the songs really quick and able to cover so the band was still able to play. So I’ve actually never been to New Friends Fest personally. [laughs] But I’m really looking forward to playing it this year. There are huge bands like Jeromes Dream. It’s gonna be great!

Do you have anything in particular that you’re really looking forward to about playing this year?

I think that the community of people that goes to those shows are just so friendly. I haven’t been to the fest itself but at screamo shows in Ontario, there’s just this community and this vibe that is just great. I feel like screamo is a pretty niche genre but it feels like a small community even though it’s spread out globally. You’ll know people from all over the world and they’ll come to these festivals and you’ll hang out with them. It’s just a nice experience overall, the community and the people.

It’s such a welcoming place!

Yeah! [laughs] It’s not usually typical in music scenes.

You played a small run around Ontario with Boxcutter not too long ago for the album release shows.

Yeah, when the album came out we did the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with Boxcutter. It was great. Every venue we played was great and the people there were just awesome. When we played our hometown one, the amount of people there filled all of our hearts. It just felt really good.

How would you describe the screamo scene in Kitchener-Waterloo?

There’s a little bit here and there. Nate puts on shows through No Funeral and our friend Willa just started putting on shows a couple months ago as well, Public Seating is the name of her booking company. Between those two there’s actually a decent DIY scene in K-W. I feel like it’s a small enough city where there’s no real separation between genres in the music scene. Well, there is to a certain extent but there will be a lot of indie punk bands playing with screamo bands. There’s a lot of mixed bills unless there’s bands coming in from out of town. All the local stuff is a little bit different but it all kinda fits together in the community sense if not for the genre - sonically they don’t sound the same but they fit together in a vibe. At least that’s been my experience, from what I found it seems to be like that.

Do you have any favourite local bands right now?

Willa’s band, Perennial Daydream, is really good. She’s local to here but I think the rest of them are from Toronto. I don’t know how to describe it genre-wise, it’s just really cool. [laughs]

It’s one of those bands where you’re like, “Just listen to them!”

Yeah, exactly. Just go to a show or put on their live EP and you’ll get it. [laughs]

What does the future hold for Basque?

Gigs this summer. We’ve started teasing new songs live but we haven’t really played new songs that weren’t on the album live too much. Once we did a really short one. I think with the three shows we did for the album release we wanted to say, “That’s the last time we’re playing just the stuff that was on the record. Now we’re going to start throwing in new songs”. We’re still obviously going to play some songs from the record.

We’re sitting on seven-ish songs that are all 95% ready. [laughs] We haven’t recorded or anything. We need to do some vocal things and figure out details but in terms of practice, we’re almost there. Hopefully in the summer if you go to a show you’ll be hearing new Basque. Recording is whenever we feel ready. We might do a couple songs here and there or we might try to do a record if everything falls into place and if we can get a solid ten songs that fit as a theme because we like doing that, having everything fit as a whole and intentionally write a record that just flows. If we can get that done then we’ll have it sooner than later but if not then we’ll just throw songs out here and there.

Aug 2-4Lithuanian House - New Friends FestToronto, ON