The members of Bascom Hill admit they have a tough time when someone asks them what kind of music they play. Usually, after attempting a few lame comparisons, they throw up their hands and say, “Have you heard of rock and roll?”
No, it’s not “rap-rock,” “indie-rock,” “dance-rock” or any other hyphen-happy subgenre. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Bascom Hill plays a brand of music that does away with endless categorization and pigeonholing while embracing anything that’s good—all while delivering effortless sounding hooks and instantly memorable choruses.
And really, to play spot-the-influence or name-the-genre is to miss the point. Just wade into the crowd and let the music carry you until you find yourself singing along. You’ll be in good company.
While coming across as a quartet of good-natured, lager-loving lads from Kenosha, Wisconsin (setting of TV’s That ’70s Show and not far from where Richie, Ralph and The Fonz once held court), the band—vocalist Charlie Victor, guitarist Jason Sheridan, bassist Quin Stickler and drummer Tom Reschke—is more accomplished and seasoned than their unpretentious Midwestern demeanor might indicate. For starters, the irresistible songwriting is theirs, not that of hired guns, and the core Sheridan/Victor team has been together more than 15 years now, predating the band’s formation. (All four band members have played together, on and off, for more than 12 years.)
The songwriting partnership got rolling nearly instantaneously just after Sheridan and Victor met, while in a choir together during high school—yes, no kidding. “The story goes that there was a battle of the bands, and I was a pretty good guitar player, and Charlie was obviously a good singer, so we got together and wrote a couple of songs for it,” Sheridan recalls. “Instantly—at 16 years old—we were able to write songs together without ever doing it before. And we’ve been doing it ever since.”
Bassist Quin Stickler, who worked with Sheridan at a local music store, was the next to come aboard, adding bass lines to duo’s growing list of songs (forming an increasingly busy trio in the process). Following Quin came drummer Tom Reschke, who was a natural choice. He was widely known as the best drummer in southeast Wisconsin and they had all played together during their high school years. Tommy would later leave the band for a period to tour with others, only to return in 2007.
After solidifying the lineup, one thing led to another and eventually the quartet recorded two albums independently. Meanwhile, the band went to work building a loyal word-of-mouth following through well-attended shows—both close to home and around the Midwest. (The name comes from a landmark on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, where the band cut its teeth and is now based.)
Through the independent success of prior album Maybe, Bascom Hill has graduated to bigger stages, touring and sharing bills with the likes of Augustana, The Fray, Hanson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Lifehouse, as well as performing at festivals across the country including the world’s largest music festival and Milwaukee’s own Summerfest, Sturgis’ Harleyfest, and others.
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Even if you’ve never heard of Bascom Hill, chances are you’ve heard the music. Although the band has its own label, Arrival Records, Ltd. (now distributed through Fontana/Universal), it’s already racked up constant television placements, including America’s Next Top Model, Cheerleader Nation, MTV’s Real World, Road Rules, Engaged and Underage, Next and True Life. Clearly the unassuming Wisconsinites know a thing or two about hooks.
Lead single “My World” may be the pair’s catchiest creation yet, with its brash chorus: “If you’re not living in my world / it sucks to be you!” But despite the in-your-face lyric, the tune comes from the relaxed place of blissful vacation memories, with the Sheridan and Victor families having shared many holidays over the years.
“Sometimes you just get a song that comes out of thin air,” Sheridan recalls. “And this is one of those songs that was just floating around in the universe and we just had to put on paper. It was basically written in a night-we had the whole song, but we didn’t have that last part. So we broke and went to bed. Then I got up, ran downstairs and said, ‘I got it! It sucks to be you.’ And Charles was like, ‘No, no.’”
“I thought fans would be turned off by it, but they love that line,” Victor admits. “In a club they point their fingers right back at me, singing along.”
“The song can sound a little arrogant,” Sheridan adds, “but really the idea of it is, ‘If you’re not experiencing what I’m experiencing right now, then I feel bad for ya more than anything.’”
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Bascom Hill’s melodic, anthemic sensibilities come from a blender of influences. “My Mom used to always listen to a lot of country music-Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton-so I had a lot of that instilled in me,” Victor recalls. “But then when I found out about radio, I was like, ‘Hey, I can change the channel.’ Then everything opened up to me. So my background is all over the place. I listened to a lot of classic rock, a lot of pop/rock, old-school hip-hop and R&B-it didn’t really matter. If it had a good tune, a good beat and a good melody, it was something I gravitated toward.
“I grew up as a huge Beatles fan, and melody is always king,” Sheridan adds. “So you have to make sure that the melody stands alone, then hopefully you can find a story and lyrics that connect with people. And that’s really how it all comes together with a great song-first with a melody, then with powerful lyrics.”
So the question is, do those songwriting skills, along with the road-tested live show, translate into a shot at the big time? That’s what the producers of a reality-TV pilot, Crash Course To Stardom, aimed to find out when they offered all four band members an opportunity to come to Hollywood for a single intense week to see if they had what it took to be rock stars.
During the shoot the band did more than most acts do in a lifetime: songwriting with Mitch Allan (Daughtry, Faith Hill), mixing with Mark Needham (The Killers, Chris Isaak), laying down tracks with producer Matt Wallace (O.A.R., Maroon 5), taking voice lessons from Doc Holliday (Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake) and showcasing for major label execs. The experience was worthwhile, members say, even if it never makes the air.
“It’s easy to rest on your laurels, so I think that with that experience we all had a renewed sense of, ‘Oh yeah, this is what we need to do. We need to bring our A game every single time, and look the part and sound better than we’ve ever sounded,’” Sheridan recalls. “It was a great experience. It really energized everybody and made us have an entirely renewed sense of urgency and professionalism. “
Clearly things in Bascom Hill’s world are looking up. And if you’re not living it in it, well… it sucks to be you.