The popular ‘In Basements On Sundays’ intimate live music events are well known and loved by many within the Toronto roots-music scene. Held each Sunday evening at the charmingly rustic Wenona Craft Beer Lodge on Bloor St W, the small basement has quietly played host to this musical series for 115 consecutive weeks. Indeed, during one excursion to Toronto back in Summer 2018, Team GDW were fortunate to attend one of these wonderful in-the-round sessions from guest curator/host Shawn William Clarke, and his musical compadre’s, Abigail Lapell, Sarah Beatty, and Anna Mernieks.
Fast forward to Spring 2020, and like every other live music venue across the continent, these weekly gatherings are on a hiatus for the foreseeable future. But fear not! Even if the in-person show has to be suspended, thanks to some creative collaborative work between hosts David Newberry and Shawn William Clarke, the show continues to thrive, albeit in a slightly unconventional way. With communal group performances not an option, and live-streaming from multiple locations impractical, the hosts have found an ideal solution: the ‘In Basements In Isolation’ mixtape!!! Okay, such a concept is not alien to a Gen X’er like me, who compiled some great cassettes from my siblings’ 45’s and 33’s back in the day, but for those of you looking for a little guidance here, in short, our artist friends are bringing their music to you. Well, not to your home in person, per se, but via your online connection and the great music resource: Bandcamp.
In Basements: In Isolation Vol 1 is the twenty-first century equivalent of that old Sony or Maxell cassette that you played proudly on your Walkman or equivalent, but is now a digital download with the same, if not more, portability on today’s devices. “With bars and events being shut down, the In Basements crew wanted to continue providing a space for our community to share songs,” the hosts shared on Bandcamp recently. “The rules are simple. Record a song using only the instruments and gear in your home, and send it along. It will then be mastered and put up here.” And with a commitment to sending proceeds from sales back to the participating artists, the hosts were overwhelmed by the response. “We expected some interest from artists and listeners, but this is more than we’d dreamed of,” David shares. “The tracks are so heartfelt and original,” adds Shawn. “We’ve been sent such great songs that we’ve decided to cut the playlist off and start collecting songs for Vol 2.”
With 18 original tracks being presented for Vol 1, the amazing diversity of artists compiled here cannot fail to grab your attention. Boasting familiar names such as Andrea Ramolo, Mike T. Kerr, and Graydon James, there are many others unbeknown to us, making this a great opportunity to broaden our own listening pleasures too. Andrea submits a revised version of “Thank You For The Ride,” an earlier composition from her back catalog (described as a song of gratitude), while Mike kicks off the festivities with a new track, “The Tears Fallin’ Are Real” (described as “She says ‘I don’t have any originals.’ Which I said phooey to…”). As for Graydon, he offers an upbeat number titled “Landslide,” and opts for the organ as his instrument of choice here. “This song was inspired by how our society reacts to disasters, big and small, and for better or for worse,” he explains. “I also wanted to write a song with a whole whackload of chords, and I’ve never used organ as the main instrument of a song before, so that was a fun experiment.”
As for some of the Toronto-based artists just now being discovered (thanks to this mixtape), two personal favorites here include “Prairie Skyline,” from Erik Bleich , who describes his contribution as “a tale of death and resilience, set in a post-apocalyptic spaghetti-western in rural Manitoba;” and “Hey Ashley,” a great toe-tapping light-punk-pop number from Altered By Mom. Having enjoyed all 18 tracks, I really feel that it is Shawn Erker who earns the maximum style points for his inclusion of the appropriately titled “Don’t Touch Your Face.” “The new rule here is we have to wash our hands for a full 20 seconds,” he candidly advises. “So I wrote a song about COVID with a hand-washingly convenient 20 second chorus.” Team GDW loves both this project and the opportunity granted to support the music community during these challenging times, and strongly endorse checking out Vol 1, and all future sequels at: https://inbasements.bandcamp.com