Basement Life, Velvet Devils will blow the doors off Boxcar
Ahead of their ballistic musical attack this Friday night at Boxcar’s cavernously cozy Event Space on Lewis Street in Greensboro, I got together with Caleb Gross, drummer for punk sensation Basement Life, and John Chester, drummer for hardcore hammerheads Velvet Devils. These two skin-beaters had never met before, and both have been crawling from the wreckage of our local music scene for over a decade.
“My first band was a Christian punk band, and we were awful,” Gross said. “I was like 16, sleeping on the carpet my drums were on. I had a backpack I used for a pillow, and all of my clothes were my blanket. [Bandmate] Nick worked at Taco Bell, he’d bring home all the leftovers, and that was our dinner every night. It was so stupid.”
Chester has a similar origin story; he used to walk around Tate Street with all his clothes in a bag. Chester was drumming for Jonas Sees In Color when they were launched into the mid-stratosphere of the music business beginning in 2005.
“When Jonas was just starting out, we actually got sponsored by Taco Bell,” Chester said. “They gave us like $500 in Taco Bell Bucks. The crazy thing is, they come in $5 increments, so if you got an empanada, they’d give you the rest of the money back in cash. So I could buy a pack of cigarettes, you know?”
(Among the bands showered with Bell Bucks that season was Third Eye Blind and Faith No More, Chester said.)
Gross recalled being in the audience for Jonas Sees In Color at the 2012 Van’s Warp Tour show in Charlotte.
“I submitted us on a whim, thinking no way we’re going to get it,” Chester responded. “Six months later they hit up our manager, ‘Hey, you guys won the battle of the bands. You get flown out to LA, get Ernie Ball guitars of your choosing, then go out on the national Warp tour.’ And we were like, ‘What?!’”
Basement Life continues to garner strong reviews for their latest hardcore LP (and CD) “Devour,” as well as attracting a growing live audience. Gross said he doesn’t know how Basement Life started but that he just started practicing with singer/songwriter Gavan Holden and Eric Mann. “Sometimes it clicks and goes forward,” Gross said. “Our latest album really came together naturally; it wasn’t a lot of hard work.”
Velvet Devils came into being similarly. Chester said that when Jonas Sees In Color started not playing as often, he talked to bass player Mikey Demming about starting a new group.
“After 13 years, I wanna keep playing, you know,” he said. “I went to open jam when it was at Longshanks and saw Hunter [Good] play guitar. We rented out On Pop of the World for a couple of hours with Mikey, Hunter and I and it was like, ‘Okay we have everything except a singer.’”
By chance, Chester wandered into Walker’s one night and ran into Derrick Davis, whom he went to high school with.
“I didn’t even know he played music,” he said. “He has the voice of an angel, and he’s really good at guitar too. We all got together, and it kinda happened. With Jonas, we were always trying to take over the world, with Velvet Devils we’re just trying to get to the next show.”
Get two musicians together, and the conversation inevitably gravitates to their equipment. Gross gets agro on a Dave Conaway custom, “This was my first real drum kit. Played a lot of shows on it, spilled a lot of beer [and sweat] on it.”
“I finally got the kit I’ve always wanted, a C&C drum kit,” Chester said. “I love playing giant drums. It looks like a vintage Ludwig or Rogers but a modern, custom version with a 24-inch rise cymbal. I got a cymbal endorsement from Paiste so, yeah, I’m getting the biggest thing they make.”
Impressed, Gross asked Chester when Velvet Devils were playing next; “We’re opening for Basement Life Friday night!”
Gross was nonplussed, “Oh. I’m the drummer; they don’t tell me anything…”
Billy Ingram is the author of PUNK, a memoir of his time covering the Downtown/East LA underground music scene from 1980-1983. Flea and Anthony still owe him $5.
On Nov. 2 at Boxcar’s Event Space, Basement Life will be headlining, and Velvet Devils kicks off the night at 9 p.m. Bandage follows, and will recreate ‘Milo Goes to College’ by The Descendents. (I’ll likely to be the only person in the room who actually attended Descendents’ gigs when they first assaulted audiences with those tunes in dimly lit dives back in 1982.)