Basement Manners: Downhaul

Photo by Madison Earls

Words by Daniel Rourke 

While the American DIY music scene has always held a place on various niche internet forums, it seems that 2019 has been the year in which many bands have managed to break free from the depths of Midwest Emoposting and push themselves to the forefront of the conversation both state-side and in the UK. One band that caught our eye early on this year was Downhaul, with their emo-tinged EPs leading to one of our favourite full-length releases of the year, 'Before You Fall Asleep'.

Hailing from Richmond, VA, Downhaul blend a mixture of honest writing with hooky singalong moments to create something that we haven't enjoyed this much since Modern Baseball called it a day.

Following the announcement of their new tape, 'Tornado Season', we sat down with vocalist/guitarist Gordon Philips to discuss Downhaul, comparisons to bands such as Modern Baseball, as well who else we should be checking out in the Richmond DIY scene.

Burn After Writing: Who are Downhaul? 

Gordon Phillips: 
Cole Bennett – drums
Pat Davis – bass, vocals
Robbie Ludvigsen – guitar
Gordon Phillips – vocals, guitar

BAW: When did the band get started and what have been some of your highlights to date?

GP: We released our first EP at the end of August 2016, but that was just Pat, our friend Tyler Limbrick and myself kind of messing around. We didn’t really practice or have any plans to be a capital “B” band at that point. Downhaul didn’t play its first show until January 2017—so I usually tell people we didn’t actually start doing things as a “band” until the beginning of 2017.

A few of my personal highlights have been working with Refresh Records, our album release shows in Richmond and Charlotte during April of this year, the friendships we’ve made with other bands (shout out to Jail Socks, worlds greatest dad, and House & Home), and the new songs we’re working on right now for our second album.

BAW: Earlier this year you released your debut album, 'Before You Fall Asleep'. The record received a fair bit of critical praise, especially from the likes of The Alternative. What are your thoughts on the record a few months on from its release?

GP: I’m glad it’s out and remain extremely flattered that people have listened to it! I couldn’t tell you the last time I actually listened to the recordings, but most of the songs we play live are from that album, so we still engage with that material pretty regularly.

There are definitely a few things I would change about my own contributions if I could go back—lyrics or vocal melodies, things like that—but I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to make the album and to Josh at Refresh Records for helping us bring it to life in a way we’re really proud of.

BAW: You’ve also just released a new tape, 'Tornado Season'. What can you tell us about that collection of songs and the process behind making them?

GP: The A-side of 'Tornado Season' consists of two new songs, Walking Distance and Leverage. We recorded these in a weekend over the summer with Kris Hilbert at Legitimate Business in Greensboro, North Carolina—we’ve recorded all of our stuff with him. I think the core tenets of our sound are still really present in the songs, but we also explored some new ideas both structurally and sonically. Walking Distance starts off with a really soft feel for us—clean and acoustic guitars over that snare drum shuffle, but then turns to more familiar territory. Leverage is a long song for us and Cole added really nice accents with the orchestral percussion parts. Both songs are really fun to play live, which is what we wanted to focus on before hunkering down and working on our second album.

The B-side of the tape is two 4-track cassette versions of older songs. Robbie and I got into lofi recording recently and we wanted to incorporate it into a Downhaul release in some way. I don’t know what to expect in terms of reaction to these two songs, but I also don’t particularly care. Balcony is a song from our first album that we don’t really play live and this version has an extra verse at the end. I have a couple more verses to that song that, for whatever reason, I didn’t include on the album version. Old Wood is a song from our first EP that we don’t play anymore, but felt like would translate well in a lofi format.

BAW: Your songs seem to be incredibly personal, with subjects such as relationships, mental health and finding a home all coming into play. You often get big arena bands saying how challenging it is to play meaningful songs to a large crowd, but what’s it like for an upcoming band? I imagine it could be even tougher given you’re likely to know a lot of the people in the room?

GP: That’s a really good point! Something I should have considered before writing largely autobiographical songs and putting them on the internet! My close friends have definitely tried to guess the person (or people) that various songs are about. I’ve also had people reach out on release days saying, “hey, I heard the song, are you okay?” It’s actually a very nice sentiment and I don’t take it for granted that people are listening and care enough to check in.

I guess I’m kind of jealous of people that can control or choose the topics they write about, if that makes sense. I can only really write what I know or what I feel—as corny as that sounds. I’ve always wanted to write political songs, but they come out terribly unoriginal. For me, songwriting has been a reactionary, responsive thing that just kind of comes based on life events or relationships with other people. Maybe I’ll get a better reign on it over time, but I haven’t been doing it all that long and am still 'drinking from a fire hose' in some ways.

BAW: I’ve seen the band compared to numerous other bands that have broken out of the DIY scene and gone on to achieve more mainstream success, with some claiming you’re going to become the next Modern Baseball. How do you find comments like that, is it something that you revel in or is it an unwanted pressure?

GP: That is extremely flattering. Modern Baseball was a special band that meant a great deal to each of us. At its core, I think Downhaul is about having fun with three of my best friends and trying to write the best music we can—anything else is gravy. I wouldn’t say we feel any pressure other than the pressure we put on ourselves to continually write better songs.

BAW: Following the release of 'Tornado Season' and your end of year tour with Nonfiction, what’s next for the band?

GP: Writing! We’re doing a little run through the Southeast at the beginning of next year and filming a live session, but our priority for the next few months is writing the very best album we can.

BAW: Finally, you’re from/based in Richmond and seem to be rather proud of the scene there, who are some of the bands in that scene people in the UK should be listening to?

GP: Yes, absolutely—Richmond on top. Listen to: Bashful, Contact, Diet Blood, Flight Club, Hepburn, House & Home, Fanfare, Majjin Boo, Padfoot, Pump Fake, President Sam, Two Cars, Warrington, We Call This Courage, and Gnawing.