Hookworms are a Leeds-based psych quintet, who are known only by initials as a way of separating being in one of the best bands the country has to offer and having a day job. They are fronted by MJ, a producer who has probably worked with your favourite band to emerge in the last year or so, and beside him for this interview is guitarist MB.
I was eager to talk to the band after being blown away by their two outstanding releases under Domino Records (The Hum and Pearl Mystic) and the overwhelming exhibition of blistering psychedelia that is their live show. Not only that, but members of the band had made some pretty veracious points through social media which I was interested by. Here’s what the band had to say to Fortitude Magazine.
The Hum was a fantastic follow up to Pearl Mystic, how did you go about making sure that the second record lived up to the debut? Was there momentum left from touring that record or did you start from scratch?
MB: We started writing The Hum before Pearl Mystic had even been released, so in way it was just a continuation, there was never really a defined break in song writing. Playing material from Pearl Mystic live definitely had an impact on how the new songs turned out though, we found some stuff worked better than others.
You’ve been labelled as a ‘DIY band’ a few times in the press and I’ve read that that is something you don’t agree with. What do you think it is about the band that makes people think you’re ‘DIY’?
MB: There are a lot of DIY elements to the band; we record our own records, we do our own artwork, we’re self-managed etc, but we’re acutely aware of the fact that hidden round every corner there are true punks ready to call us out as hypocrites, and now that we have a booking agent and release records through Domino it means we cannot knowingly label ourselves as ‘DIY’. It would be totally unfair on all of the great bands and labels up and down that country that do absolutely everything themselves. We booked all our own shows for the first 3 or 4 years of the band, but it just got to the point where there wasn’t enough time in the day to cope with all the emails and organisation whilst still balancing our day jobs, something had to give.
You’re known for being an incredibly loud live band, did you ever worry (particularly in the early stages of the band) that this would lead to people walking out at shows?
MB: No, I think most people just stick earplugs in if the volume is too much but they’re still enjoying the music. The volume thing isn’t some kind of a shock tactic; we’ve just found that our music doesn’t work as well when it’s played quieter. It adds to the intensity of the songs and it’s great to feel our music as well as hear it. Anyone that’s been to see Swans or My Bloody Valentine or any of those ‘loud’ bands knows what it’s like to really feel music in your chest.
You come across as a band with strong opinions in terms of politics, and particularly with social justice. I know that Kele from Bloc Party struggled with racism and homophobia within alternative music, do you think this is something that’s constant within the scene?
MB: I think a lot of people assume that the ‘independent’ or ‘alternative’ scenes are completely free of this stuff, like some kind of safe haven next to mainstream culture, but it’s totally disappointing how many people still casually use “gay” as a negative term, or say something ‘ironically’ racist. The whole lad culture thing is still scarily prevalent, but at least in the scenes that we move in there are good people at the heart of it trying to make positive changes, which is more than can be said for a lot of places.
Morrissey has banned venues selling any meat products at his shows, as a vegan yourself, is this something that you’d object to if it was to ever occurred?
MB: Everyone in the band is either vegetarian or vegan, so it’s a point of view we’re all in agreement on. I can only speak for myself, but I hate that preachy attitude of going out of your way to try and make other people feel terrible about their life choices. It’s my choice to not eat meat, but I’m not going to guilt trip others that do. I don’t appreciate being given stick for not eating meat, so I’d never hassle anyone that does. Fortunately we’re not in the position where we play venues big enough to sell food, so it hasn’t been an issue up to this point. I think the closest we’ve come is having to tell our US booking agent that we couldn’t play in a venue that doubled up as a hot dog restaurant, the smell would be a bit rank.
Recently you used Twitter to express your views on people acting differently to others at gigs, saying it should be a comfortable environment, does this mean that you don’t get offended if somebody stands motionless at the front row of your gig? I remember seeing a band at a festival single out a guy for doing so, it seemed unreasonable to me.
MB: We’re used to it; the people that come to watch us are largely motionless. I don’t know whether that’s a reflection on our music or the kind of audience we draw. It’s been far more shocking the couple of times we’ve played festivals and there’s been a crowdsurfer or two. We’re not going to do an At The Drive-In and refuse to play unless everyone stands perfectly still, but at the same time people need to be aware of their surroundings and the fact that their behaviour could potentially make others feel unsafe and uncomfortable. I’d hate for someone to have to leave one of our shows because of the anti-social behaviour of someone else in the crowd. Have fun, but don’t be a cunt. In an ideal world our shows would be completely inclusive and safe, we always try our best to think about age restrictions and wheelchair access when we book venues, but as with everything it’s not always possible and is sometimes out of our hands.
MJ, You work as a producer, and you’ve worked with a whole bunch of bands and helped them to get their first couple of tracks sounding great – is there anybody we should be keeping an eye on this year?
MJ: Thank you! I just finished new LPs by Joanna Gruesome, TRAAMS and Spook School, all of which are amazing step ups from great debut albums. I’m a big fan of a band called Pinact from Glasgow who I recorded an album with at the end of last year; they remind me of The Thermals a lot. My favourite ‘new’ bands from Leeds are Autobodies and Commiserations. Also Ellis from Trust Fund just moved here, does that make them a Leeds band now? He’s one of the best songwriters in the country at the moment.
Huge thanks to MJ and MB for talking to us, and Sam from Domino for helping to set up the interview.