Hookworms talk ‘The Hum,’ DIY, DbA, Top 10 of 2014 and more in BV interview
by Bill Pearis
Hookworms’ MB @ BV CMJ 2013 (more by Chris La Putt)
Hookworms just released their terrific new album The Hum which further’s the band’s motorik psych, taking last year’s adrenalized “Radio Tokyo” single (which they re-recorded for this LP) and further stepping on the gas. It is, as they say, a blast. While the band are signed to Domino’s Weird World label, they do almost everything in-house. Frontman MJ produces the records in his Suburban Home studios (he produces lots of other UK bands too, like Joanna Gruesome and Eagulls), and the sleeves are all designed by guitarist JW. Hookworms’ members, who stick to initials, all have day jobs and have no plans of giving them up for rock n’ roll stardom.
That said, they’ll be taking leaves of absence when they tour North America this Spring, including two NYC shows in April. Tickets to Palisades on 4/18 are already on sale, and tickets for their Rough Trade show on 4/17 go on sale today (12/5) at noon. Hookworms’ shows are loud and intense and not to be missed.
The band’s bassist, MB, talked with BV about The Hum, balancing their DIY spirit with growing acclaim, in-jokes, recollections of playing Death by Audio, his Top 10 albums of 2014, and more:
The Hum is a more upbeat record than Pearl Mystic. Was that intentional?
100%. We realised after we’d finished the last record that a lot of it was very slow numbers. We only ever played Away/Towards, Form & Function and Preservation live from that album, which is only a third of the record. We wanted the new album to be more representative of our live show, so we started writing some faster songs that would work well in the set. Radio Tokyo was actually written before Pearl Mystic was even released, and that became the starting point for the album; we enjoyed how people reacted to that song live. Our band definitely has a funny thing where when we’re playing, you look up and see a crowd of people stood perfectly still with their arms crossed, then the second the set finishes they all rush up to tell you how amazing it was. I’m not saying we want people fighting and head-walking while we play, but we realised that was perhaps our fault for not being particularly upbeat.
What’s the songwriting process for the band?
Everything is written together in the practice room. We’ve never been the kind of band where someone brings a fully-formed song into the studio and we all learn it. Everything is jammed out, demo’d, self-edited and whittled down until we end up with something that resembles a song. It usually starts with us looping simple sections on the drums and bass and then the melodies and chord changes are worked out over the top.
With more “rockers” has that changed what it’s like to play live now? Hookworms were already an intense band live.
The set at the moment is super full-on, definitely. We’re always collectively spent when we come off stage. Recently we’ve been playing for just under an hour, with only one slow song in the whole set. We play everything off the new album with a few older songs thrown in, so it’s become more intense than before if anything. People have been reacting to it the way we wanted though, which is great. I always read about the live energy of groups like the MC5 and that is absolutely something we aspire to, total power and volume.
The numbering system of the drones continues with the new album, which is a nice touch. They also figure into the flow of the album. Can you talk a little about the importance of that?
The tracklisting and flow of our albums is incredibly important to us. We almost spend more time discussing that stuff than we do structures of songs. There were some intense conversations in the studio about what order the record should be in. We want our albums to be listened to as one whole piece, so they are absolutely designed to be that way. We all listen to music on vinyl first and foremost, so we talk about the record in terms of two sides, and we know we don’t want there to be any significant gaps between songs other than the one between side A and B. The numbering system was a bit of an afterthought this time round. We knew we had the drones that came out of songs and led into others. We could have just had them as intros or outros of songs, but we thought it’d be nice to keep the theme running. I’m not sure that will carry on beyond this record though, I wouldn’t want it to become a gimmick. It also made us all laugh that track 3 is called ‘iv’.
You’re touring America for the first time in April. Excited/intimidated? Where are you most looking forward to playing?
Both excited and intimidated. It’ll be the longest tour we’ve ever done, which other bands might scoff at as it’s only 15 days, but we don’t get to tour a lot with our jobs. The scale of America is really hard to comprehend being from the UK. The four-hour drive from Leeds to London seems like a long one for us, and you pretty much cross the entire country doing that. I’m super excited to go to the West Coast for the first time in my life. I don’t think anyone from the band has been out there before. We love so many bands from San Francisco so that’ll hopefully be a great show. I’m personally excited to do Chicago and Detroit, and I know MJ has family in Canada so he was happy we’re doing two dates there. It’ll be nice to finish in New York as we have friends from Domino there, as well as our US booking agent, so it’ll be cool to hang out with people we don’t get to see a lot.
You’ve played NYC already at CMJ in 2013 — your only visit to America so far. You played a BV day party, and also Death by Audio here in Brooklyn, which just shut down. Do you have specific memories about that show?
Yeah, no offense to BrooklynVegan’s party, but DbA was easily my favourite show of our trip to New York. Death By Audio was one of those places we always read about online, all of our favourite bands played there, and we love the guitar pedals that get built in the same space. It is exactly the vibe we love in venues. We got to play with our friends Joanna Gruesome and saw Ex-Cult for the second time of our trip. I’d never heard of them before but they blew us all away and we all grabbed their records, they reminded me a bit of the now-defunct UK garage rock band the Shitty Limits. We are always fairly loud on stage when we play, but I remember DBA being ludicrously noisy, I felt like my head was in a goldfish bowl after our set. Our guitarist also stood in some human shit right outside the venue, not so good. I’m absolutely gutted DBA has shut and we’ll never be able to come back and play again. I’m looking forward to seeing this new Palisades place though!
Is the DIY showspace scene a thing in the UK? We don’t hear too much about it over here if so.
There is some of it, but it’s maybe not as prevalent a scene as it used to be. One of our favourite places in Leeds is Wharf Chambers though, which is an amazing autonomously run workers co-op, which doubles up as a great venue and safe space to use for yoga, meetings, art exhibitions and film showings, community groups etc. There was a similar space inside the University called the Peanut Gallery a few years back that our old garage band played a lot too. There’s some good stuff going on in London at the moment organised by DIY Space For London who have been really successful in raising money to try open a new spot for similar activities. There are various good DIY spaces all over the UK, Nottingham has JT Soar and Stuck on a Name, Sheffield has Tye Die Tapes HQ and the Audacious Art Experiment. There’s good stuff going on, I just wish more people knew about it, though I guess that’s the name of the game.
Hookworms are pretty DIY in general, from the studio/recording to the artwork. Has this become more difficult as you’ve become more popular?
Yeah, absolutely. We’re still self-managed, and I can’t ever imagine a time when we’ll ever need management, but we’ve recently had to relinquish the responsibility of booking our own shows – which we did for the first 4 years of the band – as it was getting to the point where there weren’t enough hours in the day to respond to everyone and keep on top of it. We all work full-time jobs, so this stuff is dealt with on lunch breaks and in evenings, and it started to take over our lives a little bit as the band became a bit better known. We were never interested in taking on an agent to “further our career” or whatever as we’re not remotely aspirational in that sense, but it eventually became necessary. We also wanted to play some shows in Europe and the US, places we have no contacts in. We were well set up to book our own shows within the UK as we know a lot of people and promoters through tours we’ve done in previous groups, but outside of our own country we were a bit lost. Like you said, all the recording is still handled by MJ, all our sleeves are done by JW, so despite having booking agents and a record label I guess we’re still slightly more ‘DIY’ than some.
All the members of the band have day jobs — how is it juggling the other things you care about with demands of being band growing?
It’s becoming increasingly hard as time goes on. I can’t be upset that more people are interested in the band because it’s totally flattering, but it does create more work. I’m sure my girlfriend must despair of the amount of time I spend sat doing band emails and phone interviews. I think we’re just about managing to keep it in check though. It’s just one of those things that carries on snowballing, and it’s hard for any one of us to put the brakes on because it’s so exciting and we get to do fun stuff like tour the US.
What UK bands who maybe haven’t gotten much exposure in the US should we be listening to?
My favourite album of the year is by a fairly new group called Virginia Wing from South London. They just released their debut album on Fire Records, who have done Spacemen 3, Pere Ubu, Scott & Charlene’s Wedding etc. I highly recommend it for fans of Broadcast, Can, This Heat and the Radiophonic Workshop. They’re hopefully going to play some UK shows with us next year. We just toured with a band from Nottingham called Kogumaza who we released a split 7″ with a couple of years ago. They were a huge influence on our band starting. They play these almost ambient, dubbed out, stoner metal songs, like a cross between Black Sabbath, Lungfish and Earth. If anyone doesn’t like all the effects pedals we use on our guitars: blame Kogumaza. I could go on forever gushing about bands I love but it’s probably easier to say you should just check out the discographies of Gringo Records and Faux Discx. They’re releasing (and have released) some of my favourite music in the country.
HOOKWORMS’s MB – Top 10 of 2014 (“In no particular order”)
Total Control – Typical System
One of my favourites from the amazing DIY scene they have down under in Australia. There are some real Devo moments on this record along with the usual blazing punk hits. Anyone that can pull off combining mono synths and garage rock is a hero in my book.
The War on Drugs – Lost in a Dream
This seems to be on everyone’s list, so a bit of a boring choice, sorry. I’m a real sucker for ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ era-Springsteen, so this hits all the right Dad-rock spots. Better than the last Kurt Vile album.
Posse – Soft Openings
I can’t even remember how I discovered this band, but it was one of those ones I stumbled across on Bandcamp and fell in love with. This album only had a small pressing and no UK distribution so it was a case of spending more on the postage from America than I did on the actual LP. Really beautiful Galaxie 500/Mazzy Star/Yo La Tengo moments, ethereal slo-mo college rock. The song ‘Shut Up’ is the one to listen to if you’ve never heard them.
Soft Walls – No Time
This is our friend Dan Reeves, who’s label Faux Discx co-released our first 12″ EP. MJ mixed this too, so it’s pats on the back all round. Dan also plays in an amazing krauty post-punk group called Cold Pumas, and then Soft Walls is his solo project. Both are super influenced by the band Women, and this Soft Walls record is shrouded in a similar fog of reverb to those two Women records, but underpinned with these pummelling, broken-sounding drum machines.
Virginia Wing – Measures of Joy
One of my favourite groups in the UK at the moment. Their sound is really hard to pin down, but is made up of this huge palate of synths sounds and time-stretched samples, all propelled by these very Can-like basslines and flurries of Broadcast drum rolls. There’s a dark, industrial, early 80’s post-punk undercurrent to this record compared to the more sunshine-y stuff they’ve previously released.
Ultimate Painting – Ultimate Painting
Jack from Mazes and James from Veronica Falls, both of them write beautiful pop songs for their respective bands, so the combination of the two is exactly the quality you’d imagine. The majority of this record reminds me of the 3rd Velvets album, but their love for the Beatles and the Byrds shines through in places, there are some very psychedelic moments in the classic mid-60’s sense. Some of the tracks wouldn’t be out of place on the Easy Rider soundtrack.
Kogumaza - Kолокол
More of our buddies, they just supported us on a UK tour, and playing after them every night was kind of intimidating. There aren’t many bands heavier or deeper than Kogumaza. The track Ursids from this record was previously released on a split 7″ we did with them a couple of years ago. I had to think up a description for them for our album tour, so I may as well re-use that as it’s probably the closest I’ve come to helping people understand the weird world of Kogumaza: “Think Moondog and Lungfish joining forces to record a cover of Dopesmoker at The Black Ark.”
Mazes – Wooden Aquarium
The last Mazes album was a bit of a curveball, they took a massive leftfield swing from the 90’s college rock of their debut record and incorporated all these loops and samples. For me this third record is the perfect combination of the first two albums, and has just the right balance of weirdness and the pop songwriting that Jack does best. They’ve always been good live, but recently with these new tracks they’ve really hit their stride, the songs on this album lend themselves very well to being extended and jammed out live.
Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right
Our friend Susan from Domino recommended this record to us. I liked it, but wasn’t bowled over at first, but then we went and saw them at OFF Festival in Poland when we were playing and they totally blew me away. I was getting more ‘Turn On the Bright Lights’ vibes on record, but there’s this real snarling Pere Ubu/Gang of Four side to them live.
Real Estate – Atlas
Real Estate can do no wrong. I saw quite a lot of journalists hitting this record with the “it sounds exactly the same as the last album” card, but fuck that. If Real Estate keep making records like this for the next 20 years I’ll be a happy man. Martin is one of the best song writers of my generation, hands down.