On a recent tour of Europe, for example, Thomas and Howland shared a stage with Bob Log, the Doo Rag guitarist who has a similar affection for damaged blues. "We ran into Bob in France and had just run out of weed," Thomas says in a low, rumbling voice that sometimes amounts to little more than a coarse mumble. "I was like 'Bob, do you have some weed?' He was like 'Do I?' and he pulls out something like one of those blue Giant Eagle bags, filled with bud. He gave Don one, and Don forgot that he had it in his bag and took it home to North Carolina. I talked to him the other day, and he said, 'Yeah, man. I still got some of the Bob Log weed.' I was like 'What?' And the whole time we were traveling, I was getting shook down [by airport security] on the way home."
Since Howland moved to Asheville, North Carolina, the Bassholes' touring and recording schedule has been erratic at best. But with a short Midwest tour in the works (including a July 7 show at the Beachland) and The Secret Strength of Depression, a new live album, out on the indie label Sympathy for the Record Industry, the band is experiencing a rebirth of sorts. In fact, when it toured Europe four months ago, it played at an outdoor festival in front of several thousand people. Performing between sets by the Chicago post-rock outfit Tortoise and German techno noisemakers Atari Teenage Riot, the Bassholes prepared for the show by partying with the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Scottish duo with a reputation for getting so drunk before hitting the stage, they can hardly perform.
"We were tucked away in their dressing room, rolling up some grass and trying to stay out of sight," Thomas recalls. "Then I had to duck into Tortoise's bus to prepare a little hash. Another time, me and Akil from Jurassic Five walked into this room, and the surviving members of the Wailers were in there getting ready. They were already smoking out. We were like 'Hell, yeah!'
"Yeah, man, that was a good time -- one of the best times of my life."
Thomas, who grew up in Sandusky and moved to Cleveland about a year ago, originally played in the Columbus garage rock bands Flipping Hades and My Uncle Wayne. He met Howland while he was working at Used Kids, a Columbus indie record store that recently burned down. Howland was looking for a drummer to back him on some dates opening for Sebadoh, and Thomas volunteered for the task. He rehearsed, but then Howland canceled the shows at the last minute -- something he was known for back then -- and proceeded to kick everyone but Thomas out of the band. While Howland and Thomas's tastes differ -- Howland is a fan of country blues, and Thomas listens to lots of hip-hop -- they've both got a thing for old soul and have put together compilation tapes from a collection of old cassettes. It's just one of the small, shared pleasures that keeps them going as the Bassholes.
"I'll play with him till the end, you know what I mean?" Thomas says of Howland, whom he describes as a guy who's "made it possible for a brother to be out there rockin'." "Till he doesn't wanna fuck around with me anymore. But that thought never comes up. He's like 'I'm not makin' any Bassholes records without you.' And when he does work without me, he calls it something totally different."
Thomas doesn't like the fact that, since Howland moved to Asheville, he hasn't been able to play on a regular basis. He's been holding down a day job for the last year, working for Lucent Technologies, when he'd rather just "cut some records and go see my friends play." But he sees the recent European tour as well as upcoming Midwest dates as signs that the band still has some life left in it. And that's not just the far-fetched musing of a guy who's spent too much time with the herb.
"I've been wantin' to play Cleveland bad," Thomas says of the first local Bassholes show in three years. "It's rough on the other side of the P.A. You see somebody just totally kickin' ass, and you're like 'I love you guys. I wanna play with you.' But I don't really have a band. But do I? Yeah, I do. And it's going again, and I'm happy as shit."