Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Basketball Divorce Court Interview

Published in Blog, villin. Tags: , , .

Basketball Divorce Court Band Iowa

Forming in Iowa City, Basketball Divorce Court‘s 2019 What is a Man? EP set the tone for what would come with the group’s full-length debut, rebound, which followed this past March. Over the course of its ten tracks, rebound punches through as a sweeping lyrical assault on capitalism and the patriarchy, without overshadowing themes of a far more personal nature. Complementing that lyrical balance is the group’s ability to shift stylistically, seamlessly transitioning between punk, post-punk, and garage. Having just wrapped their first tour—packing eight shows into eight days, across Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota, and Wisconsin—vocalist Katy Kelly and guitarist Elena B connected via email to discuss touring, the evolution of the band, and the new album. That’s where we dove in, honing in on rebound and what its title signifies to the group.

villin: I love how the word “rebound” represents the period of coming out of the pandemic for the group. Besides its basketball double-meaning (which deserves a chef’s kiss) why was the word a fitting title for the album?

Katy: For me, this was our comeback album. We hadn’t released anything since 2019 and I wanted to take my time writing this album, which had been in the works since 2020. I was going through a rough time during the pandemic, as I’m sure most people were, but mainly with my mental health and being in a toxic relationship. And once I got out of that relationship I didn’t want it to get the best of me so I turned it into an empowering experience which really influenced a lot of the songs on rebound. I bounced back from the hardships I had suffered from 2020-2022 and I am a much stronger person than I ever have been and I wanted to reflect that throughout the album.

villin: Going back to 2019’s What is a Man EP, “Kill All Men” has taken off as the group’s most popular track with well over 600k streams on Spotify alone. If there was one song from rebound that was to find a similar reach, which would you like to see be heard by that many people?

Katy: That is a very interesting question because I have thought about this since before we even released the album! One of my favorite songs off of the album would have to be “Headlights.” It is about the same length as “Kill All Men” but it goes deeper into an issue of individuals putting others at risk because of drunk driving, something that I had personally experienced as a passenger. It is the most intense song off of the album, in my opinion, with the tempo and meaning behind the song. If I had a second choice, it would definitely be “jack nicholson tattoo.” That song is about missing the good times from a partner but knowing your worth and being able to leave a toxic relationship. It’s one of more empowering songs on the album that deserves just as much love as “Kill All Men.”

Elena: “girlboss” cuz the riffing goes so hard and I’m so proud of that, or “jack nicholson tattoo” cuz I’m also really proud of the instrumental on that and of Katy’s vocal work (I’m just saying my favorite songs on the album lol).

villin: Do you have any idea what drove so much exposure to that song or was it just an algorithm doing its small part to topple the patriarchy?

Katy: Funny enough, it went viral on TikTok! It gets many mixed reviews, as you could imagine, but is a very fast paced and hard hitting song that I think many people rock out to even 3.5 years later.

Elena: There definitely has also been in the last few years a resurgence in the riot grrrl sound and aesthetic, especially among younger queer/femme people, which “Kill All Men” really appeals to. It’s definitely our most ‘traditional riot grrl-esque’ song. We can see the playlists it’s featured on through the Spotify Artists app and a lot of them have titles like ‘lesbian riot grrrl’ and ‘RIOT GRRLS & GHOULS’ and such. Not saying that it’s just like a trend or anything, [but] I think the song speaks a lot to the rage against patriarchy and violence perpetrated by cis men felt in our present moment by women and queer individuals. Which is really cool!

That’s the coolest audience any band could have. Though myself and the band no longer particularly stand by the song as much as many trans masculine people have spoken out about the harm that viewpoints from the era of feminism that spawned the phrase “Kill All Men” have caused them and influenced how the wider feminist/queer community interacts with them. I do believe most of our audience enjoys the song in good faith but I do see it on playlists called like ‘unhinged radfem’ which, as a trans woman, personally makes my skin crawl.

villin: Elena, did you have any expectations for Katy as a would-be vocalist? I went back and listened to the band’s Beers with Bands and Ear Coffee interviews, and I get the sense it was only even agreed to as sort of a joke, but here you are several years later and so many good things have come from that off-hand agreement.

Elena: It certainly started initially as a joke but the more we said it like, ‘Hey, Katy, you should be the front-person of our new band,’ it gradually became less and less of a joke and more of an ‘Okay, this is what’s happening now.’ Not to be rude to the scene or anything but coming out of DIY and punk there’s certainly not too many expectations put on vocalists other than to bring to the energy and fill that sonic space, which Katy honestly exceeded at even our first gig.

She has this dynamism and stage presence that I know our audience really vibes with and her vocal style is really unique and really lends itself well to the kind of instrumental palette the band was coming up with. So I guess to actually answer the question, the only expectation I had going in was that either way it was gonna sound really punk rock and it sure did—haha. I’m really really happy to have helped provide a platform for her to bring this talent of hers out that I honestly think was just lying dormant.

villin: Katy, is there anyone who’s influenced either your lyrical or vocal style?

Katy: For me, vocally, I really appreciate artists who have the same vocal style(s) as me. Kim Gordon, Zack de la Rocha, and Joe Talbot have been major influences. It’s nice to have a unique vocal approach, using spoken word and screaming, that isn’t heard as often as melodic vocals. They have really inspired me to dig deeper into finding my voice and seeing what range works for me. Lyrically, Cage the Elephant and PUP were huge influences for me growing up. I started writing in college, thinking it would go nowhere, and then I was asked to join the band and realized I could finally share my experiences. They sing about hardships, life experiences, random but fun topics, and everything in between. They are able to sing about a wide variety of topics and it really influenced me to think outside of the box. It’s easy to write about emotional experiences but being able to write random songs that don’t have to do with my personal experiences, like “fck cptlsm” and “that’s business,” was challenging but rewarding at the same time.

villin: In those same interviews it was funny for me, because when a comment arose regarding a label for the band’s sound, lines got a little blurry. When the band is coming up with its songs, is there a deliberate understanding that the music will sound a certain way, or does it grow organically from what sound you’re all into at that moment?

Katy: I can 100% say with certainty that it grows organically which is what I love about the band. We don’t all know how to play each other’s instruments but we can all add to the flow and rhythm of the song depending on what direction we’re heading with the song. I think what makes us what we are today is the way that we create our songs and turn them into art.

Elena: Yeah, definitely echoing what Katy said, most of these songs develop from like a small instrumental idea and go from there. Our founding bass player Adrian (who played on the album and contributed to writing it) and myself kinda made music together out of the philosophy of trying to avoid sounding like anything else, and I think that’s the only real through-line that guides where writing takes us. I know that when I write my parts, specifically, I like to imagine how an audience might react to what I’m playing. So, like, if I’m imagining an audience enjoying itself moshing to a song I’ll think something like ‘oh, let’s add one really quick transition measure of 3/8 time’ just to confuse everyone and be a fuckhead (“headlights”—lol—my only contribution to that song, Adrian wrote the guitar part!). So, yeah, organic for the most part! If I sat down to write a song with the intention to sound like a specific thing beyond like ‘uhhh punk?’ I don’t think it’d be nearly as much fun.

villin: In listening to “Classic” or “astrology app,” I hear an urgency behind communicating confused feelings of not being “okay,” and not really knowing what to do with that. Katy, does that resonate when thinking about those songs, and what are you hoping someone hears when they listen to them?

Katy: “Classic” is my favorite song off of the EP. It was during a dark time in my life where I felt hopeless and just wanted the most important person in my life, my mom, to tell me everything was going to be okay without worrying her about how I had been feeling. I wanted people to know that even if it seems hopeless now, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Astrology App” was the hardest for me to write from the album. I struggle with having Bipolar 2 and there are times where I feel very hopeless with my mental health, but I don’t want to worry the people around me because even though I know there are people who are here for me unconditionally, making the ones I love worry about me is a fear of mine. Throughout these songs, my main goal is that I just want people to know that they aren’t alone. There are people out there that are struggling, that don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that have a hard time reaching out when they need support the most. I want people to know that it’s okay to not be okay, but to not give up when times get tough.

villin: In title alone, “girlboss” isn’t as aggressive toward its subject matter as “fck cptlsm,” but to me its sentiment is sharper, aimed at this warped, faux-feminist ideal. Where did that song come from and what was the point you’re hoping to make with it?

Katy: That song was very fun to write! I have worked many corporate jobs where I just felt like a number and that I had to obey orders from men in power that have looked down on me because I am lower on the totem pole career-wise than them and because of my gender. I wanted to empower and validate others who have been stuck in similar situations and let them know to keep pursuing their dreams despite the corporate America stereotype of men in power that unfortunately is still prominent today.

Elena: I kinda was like ‘Katy, it would be really funny if we had a song called girlboss’ and she was like, ‘oh hell yeah, I’m such a girlboss.’ And I was like, ‘no, Katy, girlbosses are bad,’ and had to give her the whole Twitter rundown (Katy is really offline—lol) and she was like, ‘oh yeah, that is fucked up!’ So it kinda just came out of that, which is just like, you know, the age old critique of the type of feminism that uplifts primarily white women into positions of power in the name of empowerment and subverting critique but merely puts them behind the reins of the same white supremacist cis-heteropatriarchal capitalist system of exploitation that crushes everyone else… so honestly it’s a song everyone can get behind! Your grandma will love it!

villin: Any time there’s a singer + a band, there’s a balance to be found between the sound and a message. Elena, does the band ever provide lyrical input, and likewise, how does the collaborative process around the sound work when incorporating Katy’s vocals and perspective?

Elena: Usually, the band will have a full instrumental done and Katy will just write her vocals to it. We’ll talk, I think, sometimes about an emotional direction for a song together, but it’s usually something really really simple like, ‘HAPPY!’ or ‘SAD!’ or ‘ANGRY!’ (this one especially). But usually the words get left to Katy alone and I wouldn’t really want to interfere with that because she’s a really good lyricist and I’m not! I’ll also sometimes help with coming up with ideas for a song’s themes, usually when Katy’s having difficulty deciding what to do: like for instance, “girlboss” (above), or “oops! we don’t use that word on,” which I suggested Katy write about being a ‘bad bitch,’ a la Rico Nasty, which in hindsight really fits with the instrumental cuz the slower, funkier sound does contribute to a sense of swagger. I also tend to be the point-person for our more political songs to make sure we’re not saying anything accidentally (ahem) cringey. Katy always captures the emotional resonance of the music with her lyrics and performance without us needing to coordinate it very much!

villin: Katy, are there issues that’re critical to you that you haven’t yet found a way to incorporate into your music?

Katy: One part of my life that I have yet to dig into is my struggle with addiction. I am very open and honest with myself about it, and it has taken many years to come to that point, but I know others struggle with it as well. A main point throughout my lyrics is that I want people to know that they are not alone. It is a very vulnerable and stigmatized topic. If you haven’t experienced addiction, it can be very hard to put yourself in someone’s shoes who has/is going through it and realize the pain and setbacks it causes in one’s life. It inhibits you from growing and makes doing daily tasks almost impossible if not unbearable, at least for me.

Getting help for addiction can be even harder than dealing with the addiction itself. It takes a lot of courage, strength, and discipline to handle and overcome an addiction. Although I have gotten my addiction under
control, after many failed attempts, I will always be an addict and have turned that into a strength. I have overcome a lot in my life and that has been a big, if not the biggest, part of me growing as a human. I have no shame in expressing who I was then and who I am now and I can’t wait to express that in our next project.

villin: At one point the band was representing Minneapolis, Des Moines and Iowa City, but with your move north, Katy, that narrows things down. Is the band working toward being completely in the Twin Cities and what helped motivate the relocation?

Katy: We originated in Iowa City but now our bassist Jack and drummer Derek live in Des Moines and Elena and I live in/near the Twin Cities. As of right now, we don’t have plans for any of us to relocate which does make getting together for practice, recording, and playing shows a little difficult, but something I love about the band is we always find a way to work together to create music and share it with others.

Elena: It kinda sucks sometimes having to turn down like 90% of the show offers we get but the band wouldn’t be here otherwise so we do what we can! All the relocations were motivated by personal stuff, like I initially moved up to the Twin Cities in 2019 because I couldn’t get a job in Iowa City and Derek moved to Des Moines to be closer to his family—so, stuff like that. The internet has done a great job keeping us together.

villin: I don’t recall which of those podcasts it was, but there was a comment made about how the band takes a photo at every gig to remember it; not just to remember the show, itself, but to remember the group. It wasn’t a major topic of discussion or anything, but I was really touched by that sentiment. What do you think this experience you’re having this month (May 2023)—of going on your first tour and spending so much time with these people—is going to mean to you 10 or 20 years from now?

Katy: Going on tour, being with my best friends for an entire week, and getting to perform every single night has by far been the best experience of my life. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10, 20, or even 50 years from now, I will remember every single experience. Since we don’t get together besides mainly for shows, I want to make it a point to get a picture of us all together to remember every show so we can look back on it and reminisce. I have looked back on our pictures about 100 times already from tour and it makes me smile bigger and bigger every time I scroll through them. I truly have so much love for my band and I am so happy I/our tour photographer (Molly Kinnunen) captured some of the best moments of my life.

Elena: I’m gonna cry—ahhhhh.

villin: So, I’m sure it’s out there, but where did “Basketball Divorce Court” come from? The court is a tennis reference?

Katy: Honestly, there isn’t a bunch of history behind the name. We were all sitting in a circle coming up with band names and Elena said, “what about Basketball Divorce Court” and I thought that was the silliest name I had ever heard of. We were asked to play a gig by one of our friends and they asked if we were going to use the name Basketball Divorce Court and I was on the fence about it and they said if we didn’t use the name they would. I was not about to let the name slip away from us, and the rest is history!

Elena: Our bestie Henry (shout out Henry Sharpe) was really into basketball and it was on my mind and I was thinking in the vein of the like tongue-in-cheek word association emo naming convention (e.g. Neutrogena Spektor), so I was like what can we do with basketball? Basketball court? Basketball Divorce Court? I thought it was the second stupidest band name I’d ever heard. We were playing this gig and our bestie running it was trying to get a flyer made and was like, “OKAY I NEED A NAME WHAT’S IT GONNA BE???” (no shade much love <3) and we had nothing better than BBDC so that’s what we chose and now we’re stuck with it.

[This article was first published by villin.]