Popular wisdom dictates otherwise, but sometimes the grass is greener on this side of the fence. At least that’s how the four multi-instrumentalists who make up Basketball seem to feel on this perfect sunny Sunday, as they lounge under the trees of East Vancouver’s Victoria Park.
“There’s a lot of 50- and 60-year-old men playing bocce, some people with their beautiful dogs, and a Russian war hero,” reports Jeremiah Klein, the latest to join the Vancouver quartet. “He’s an older fellow with a bald head and the biggest mustache you’ve ever seen; he looks like he’s one of Stalin’s generals. And then there’s this glorious, gaping sky above us. It’s pretty lush and green.”
Verdant it might be, but the park’s cellphone reception is awful, so the musicians agree to step into Klein’s nearby apartment for a wide-ranging and somewhat anarchic speakerphone chat. It sounds like a spartan pad, with not quite enough chairs for everyone. More important, though, is that Klein, Tome Jozic, Luka Rogers, and David Rogers (no relation) are all more than happy to be back in Vancouver, after some serious globetrotting—and, by the sound of it, more than a few diversions from their chosen path.
“I wanted to go to Granada or Sevilla and seek out one of my favourite singers, who I was listening to obsessively for a few years before we moved,” says Jozic, Basketball’s main vocalist. “She wasn’t well-known, but I was just captivated by her and wanted to be an understudy of hers. But then I found that living down there was very challenging, and so I sort of aborted that idea for a communion of sorts in Barcelona, where it seemed more feasible for all three of us to live.”
It was there, he adds, that he, Luka, and David met their fellow Canadian expat Klein, an event that Jozic describes as “sort of a blessing”. Barcelona, however—despite its reputation as a cultural hotbed—was less than ideal.
“We became kind of disenchanted, because we realized there was almost zero music scene there,” Luka says. “It was all just mainly electronic, and we found it difficult to kind of find ourselves, or establish ourselves, in that city. So we said, ‘Fuck it, let’s just book a bunch of tours while we’re here.’ So we booked a bunch of tours in England and all over Europe, and it was amazing.”
During that time, Luka and Jozic also found time to visit North Africa, just months before the Arab Spring saw the end of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime.
“We were in Morocco for a week or two, and then went to Tunisia and got a sense—a bewildered or a confused sense—of what was going on just before everything happened in that country,” Jozic notes. “It was a really strange time there: people parading about, celebrating the current ruler of the country, only to dismiss him completely after only a few months.”
Eventually all four performers had to come home, somewhat changed by their experiences. Echoes of Morocco can certainly be heard on “Joy”, from last year’s Maw EP, with what sounds like the Master Musicians of Joujouka blaring on top of a driving electronic beat. And judging by the YouTube-only track “Zima Dodje”, a largely acoustic, Persian-inflected reinterpretation of a traditional Bosnian folksong, the ethnic influences are only going to get more pronounced on the full-length the band is readying for a September release.
“Somewhere in the middle between that song and our heavier electronic songs is kind of what we’re doing now,” says Luka. “That’s the sort of thing we really love to do: just trance out on acoustic instruments on a base of electronic sound.”
“Two or three of the new songs were written on banjo, but now we play them live on electric guitar,” adds Jozic, who grew up listening to his Bosnian parents’ sevdalinka and turbofolk records. “But it’s exactly how Luka put it: they’re a bridge between what you heard on ‘Zima Dodje’ and what you’ve heard from Basketball in the past. A lot of these new songs can be played sans plugging anything in. We could jam them live in a room, in a tree, at the bus stop: it doesn’t matter. And that’s something we couldn’t do in the past. There were no roots of the song; we’d just jam on electronics and build from there. Here, the big difference is that the songs have a root that could be played anywhere. Having the ability to play not plugged in was really important to me, and I think to all of us.”
That said, the quartet’s upcoming Squamish Valley Music Festival show won’t entirely dispense with the band’s earlier, beat-driven, and rave-rooted sound. “It’ll be a mixture of our dance music and this new trance-y, melodic music,” Luka promises. “We’re trying to figure out how to bring it all together and make it all as smooth as possible—and we’re excited!”