Celestial Doom Under a Virgo Moon: Introducing the Bewitching Metal of Basic Instinct

On ‘Feast’, the opening track to Basic Instinct‘s latest record Late Bloom, a swirling doom riff topped by bewitching, Dorthia Cottrell-esque croons soon gives way to guttural growls and unnerving tremolos before once again settling into a groove as if nothing happened. As openers go, it’s the perfect introduction to the Vancouver duo’s utterly unique strain of metal. Even the band’s own Facebook page labels them as “stoner/punk/sludge/we are not entirely sure”.

In truth, we’re not sure either, but it’s this flippant disregard for convention that is driving them to do exciting new things with the doom metal genre. With an inventive blend of lumbering grooves, blackened textures, ritualistic vocals and otherworldly psych rock, Late Bloom is a nigh-on spiritual listening experience, and a remarkable example of just how far a simple two-person setup can go.

Doom metal is at its best when imbued with an ethereal aura, and Basic Instinct have certainly showed their quality in this regard. To find out more, we spoke to Carly and Joy about their formation, astrology and how Celine Dion was a key inspiration…

How did the two of you come together and start making music?

Carly: Joy asked me to jam out of the blue. She had seen me sing karaoke a couple years prior. I showed up with my guitar, excited to jam with a really good drummer, since they were hard to come by. Turns out Joy didn’t know I even played guitar, and she initially thought we would jam with her on drums and me on vocals. She had also invited another person who never showed up, so it ended up just being the two of us. This worked out really well as we had instant chemistry and both really wanted to start a heavy two piece.

Joy: Yeah, I saw Carly singing karaoke a few years ago and loved her voice, stage presence and style. I contacted her a couple of times to see about starting up a heavy project cause I thought her voice would be really cool with a heavier sound. There was another person who I thought could fit in as well, so we all lined up a rehearsal. The other person didn’t show up for the first two jams, and Carly and I really clicked, so we liked the idea of just moving forward as a duo. Duos are my favourite band formation. So much easier to schedule, make decisions, tour, plus it is fun because it allows me as a drummer to be more creative and melodic with my drumming and I get to fill up more of the bass end of the music with lots of toms! We both have the same work ethic, and were both really committed to practising a lot and getting the songs really tight. That was refreshing to me to meet someone who was willing to do the hard work of getting the songs to where we wanted them.  

Your music has a bewitching atmosphere, and you make note of it being influenced by nature and a shared Virgo Moon. Is it fair to say there’s a mystical element to your music? If so, how does this inspire what you write?

J: I am a total astrology nerd, so I loved that we both have a Virgo Moon and some other shared placements. I could trust that we would have the same sensibilities of working to get the songs really tight and aim high with the writing. I love it when the music is powerful and moving, and want to take people on a journey and make them feel something when they hear the music. Heavy music makes me really happy. Our sound is a collection of our past experiences and influences, both musically and in life. 

C: I like to think of Joy as my personal astrologist, ha. A lot of the time before we practised I’d be like “Joy, what is going on right now, astrologically?” I do think there is somewhat of a mystical element to writing music together. Our songs usually come together when we are just jamming and when our instincts align. Spending a lot of time in nature is really inspiring to me and often musical ideas will come into my head when I am walking in the woods alone. Nature imagery is really relatable and encompasses so many emotions. I think that whatever is surrounding me makes its way into the music in its own way, whether consciously or not. 

What themes or concepts do you aim to explore in your music?

C: It’s interesting because often lyrics for our songs come out phonetically as opposed to being prewritten. The music itself has certain natural emotions behind it and as we are playing I will improvise vocals on top. Somehow the sounds I am making become words, and then after the fact I will realise what I am singing about. It’s like tapping into my unconscious. Usually I find that what I end up saying is related to the environment around, whether that be politically, emotionally or physically. Sometimes it’s more personal. The first song we wrote was called ‘Pulse’ and it was written just after the tragedy of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida. I think emotionally it was just what was on my mind and it’s what ended up coming up. There is often a political element to the songs but it’s sometimes a little vague and general as the lyrics are kept pretty open to interpretation. I like it that way. And yeah, I sing about nature a lot. Sometimes it’s metaphorical and sometimes it’s really just about that river, ha. Once in a while I change the lyrics, like at a live show the song becomes something a little different. The songs are a bit fluid that way.

J: I like the music to be powerful and strong. I have a low tolerance for anything I think sounds too cheesy or typical. I prefer to let the vocalist decide what they want the lyrics to be, but I like that Carly’s vocals emote themes of nature and wisdom. One of my favourite parts of playing music is the art of collaborating on compositions and that is really fun with Carly. I also always want lots of low thundering drums, thick guitars and long vocal notes.

Who/what would you cite as influences on your music?

C: My musical tastes and influences are constantly changing and I don’t have a very wide grasp of band names or songs to be honest. But for this project I knew I wanted to be in a heavy two piece. I didn’t have any clear vision of who or what I wanted us to sound like or even what genre I thought we could fit into. I just knew I wanted it to be heavy. But in the end, it’s some of our quieter songs that have become my favourite so now I’m not so sure, ha. I definitely have always been inspired by my friends’ bands, and Ragana was the first time I saw a heavy two-piece and thought, man, I’d love to be in something like that. So maybe them. And I owe it to Celine Dion for my ability to project as she was all I listened to and sang growing up.

J: My influences have always been watching musicians at local shows. I get so inspired seeing what other drummers are doing and don’t really care about the “greatest ten drummers of all time” blah blah stuff. The live drumming I see at a local bar on a Tuesday night is way more interesting to me than some white guy drummer that was big in the ‘70s. I worked at a Jazz club for five years as a server, and the drumming I saw every night was incredible. I listen to all kinds of music and have also played so many different kinds of genres and settings. I admit I don’t really know much about actual metal drumming, what comes out isn’t really a conscious decision, it is just what happens. I think we did talk a bit about some bands we liked when we started, but there weren’t any direct bands that influenced us, we just wanted it to be heavy.  

The current situation has obviously put a stop to a lot of artists’ plans, but what can we expect from the band going forward?

C: Actually I moved away from Vancouver to LA about a year and a half ago, so we have been in a long distance band relationship ever since. We recorded Late Bloom just before I left with no clear plans on when to release it. A few of the songs were not even complete! But we decided to put it out there nonetheless. Since I moved we have been playing it by ear, like playing live shows when I have come up to visit and had thought about trying to plan a tour. I guess with the current situation we will not be playing live shows or touring in the near future. And since we don’t live in the same place jamming is not really an option. Maybe one day we will jam on zoom, haha. No, but I guess for now we are just seeing how things unfold and will continue to share our release online. Hopefully we can play together again when we can be in the same place, and I would love to write another album.

J: It has been a really interesting time for music right now with the Covid situation. I was super sad when Carly moved to LA, but we have still kept playing shows here and there. At least her family and friends are up here so there is some incentive for her to come up to Canada. When she found out she was moving, we locked ourselves in the jam space for a month and wrote Late Bloom and recorded it. We were sitting on the album for a while, and thought it might be a good time to release it while everyone was in lockdown. I hope we can write another album and would really love to release a vinyl one day, but I guess while this pandemic is on, we will be mostly on hold. It would be really fun to do another month-long writing session at some point.

Late Bloom is out now and can be downloaded here.

Words: George Parr