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Flashes in the Pan: Basement Boxers

| Friday, August 30, 2019

On the evening of March 1, 2019 in a South Bend home…

The mayonnaise comes in two flavors: garlic herb (for the entree) and chocolate (for dessert). Both varieties sit confidently in the back of the room — in the stars’ posture — poised to nourish. But tonight’s attendees, about a hundred strong, pay the glamorous condiments little attention.

The mayonnaise, despite its status as the finest organic, handcrafted, multiflavored, artisan product available — cannot outshine the spectacle cooking up a few feet away in the kitchen as the mayo chef herself clicks on her guitar amp and begins to play. Her unhurried licks slide comfortably overtop the swiveling groove of her bandmates’ rhythmic pulse, a sound smoother than her signature dish. When the singer cuts in with a crisp tenor, it’s perfect marriage of mayonnaise and chip, the snack we’ve all been waiting for: Basement Boxers.

Months later…

Comprised of six Notre Dame juniors — Daniel Griffin (vocals, guitar, trumpet), Ashley “The Binster” Finster (keyboards), Brendan Raimann (guitar), Claire King (bass), Tom Garvey (drums) and Sophia Henn (guitar, mayonnaise) — Basement Boxers are one of the brightest flashes currently lighting up the campus pan whose original tracks — erudite pop tunes fastening folk melodies to soul and funk inflected frameworks — communicate a distinctly Irish version of the DIY spirit; grassroots, experimental, highly intelligent, but never cynical. If a single outfit were to describe Notre Dame’s fledgling music scene, it would be Basement Boxers.

“We’re the greatest in the history of the world,” Garvey told me in jest.

“You can see how awkward we are,” Griffin added.

Though, the band — huddled around two mics in the WVFI studio — seemed neither arrogant nor awkward. They were relaxed, talkative, far sunnier than most at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday. Their upbeat attitude reverberated as Griffin shared the band’s origin story.

“It’s been a long time coming for this band,” he said. “Before we started jamming, got our name and came together as a six-piece, four of us — me, Ashley, Sophia and Claire — did a performance at Lakeside as Henn & King. That’s how I got to know them.

“The following fall, we did another performance — me, Sophia, Claire and Tom — for the Student Union Board’s Fall Concert. It was a mess! … Also, I’ve been writing songs with Brendan for a little over a year. Then, near the end of the fall semester last year,  the six of us came together and formed one big happy band.”

Each member brings a unique musical sensibility and a distinct personality to the band dynamic. Griffin serves as the group’s Rupert Murdoch-esque front-man, penning about half of the band’s songs with the Beatles and Dr. Dog as his reference points. Henn and King weave their respective instruments with a chemistry indicative of their strong friendship and shared love of Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Finster invokes indie-pop virtuoso Clairo in both her harmonic intuition and her razor-sharp focus come rehearsal time. Garvey and Raimann keep the outfit rooted with wry humor and an affection for Caamp and the Lumineers.

These flavors mix, fittingly, in the basement.

“We were practicing in the basement of Dillon Hall in a gym room with a treadmill and a boxing bag, which is why we’re Basement Boxers,” King said. “But this year we’re in Baumer Hall, still in the basement, but in this big athletic storage room.”

“It’s awesome,” Griffin added.

“Because right now it’s empty,” King clarified. “It might get filled up and kind of stinky, but right now it’s good.”

“We’re really lucky,” Griffin continued. “It’s really big. We’re hoping to get to the point where we can even put on some shows in there. We have lights set up to make it kind of homey. Also, it’s a permanent spot to put the drum set, which was probably our biggest challenge when we started the band.”

“Last year with Dillon being such an old and cramped building, my friends could hear Tom playing drums every time he practiced,” Raimann explained. “It’s a very different story now.”

“AC,” Griffin agreed.

“We used to have to blow on each other to stay cool,” Garvey said.

In the new space, the now sweat-less group can scrap the guerilla cooling tactics and devote all rehearsal time to writing.

“We all bring songs to the table,” Griffin said. “For the songs I write the chords to, I also write the lyrics to, but also Tom, Brendan, Ashley — all of us write songs.”

Griffin broke down Basement Boxers’ creative process in the context of a new track, “Sad Boi XXX.”

“It actually started from a really cool chord progression that Tom wrote,” Griffin said. “We thought it would be perfect for an outro. And we thought, we need to write something before the outro to make it actually an outro. So, then we did.”

The group’s organic creative methods, underlined by Griffin’s nonchalant description of them, signifies growth.

“We didn’t know what to expect coming back after the summer,” Henn explained. “We didn’t know if we’d click again. But we came back, started rehearsing our old stuff, and we realized that we got a lot better. We realized we could put some of the old out stuff out of commission because we had a lot of new material.”

The band hopes to record their material, new and old, in the coming semester.

“We’re trying to put out an EP this fall,” Griffin said.

“Things are simple and they’re not,” Raimann added. “We have songs that are pretty much finished, a lot of stuff we worked on last year. … But this summer we’ve all progressed as musicians, and we’re really excited to see what we can do. So, the first step is to polish up what we have. Make sure we feel confident that this is something we want to release.”

“We love playing live too,” Griffin said with a smile before running through the band’s schedule: West Fest on the McGlinn fields, AcoustiCafe on Sept. 19, GreeND Sustainability Fest on Oct. 10, Legends Nightclub potentially.

The performances, alongside the releases, aim to inspire.

“There’s a small scene of people who are really, really talented but don’t have the means to put their music out there,” Henn said. “I don’t know if that comes from a lack of places to play shows — I’m sure we could create our own scene — but I’m looking forward to new students coming on and joining the scene.”

Anyone with the spunk to start performing, Henn promises, will be eligible for a complimentary batch of artisan mayonnaise in the flavor of his or her choosing (as long as it’s garlic herb or chocolate).

What more could a young musician ask for?

Diane Park | The Observer
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