The much admired Leeds-based band Hookworms suffered a near total catastrophe when the studio they practised and recorded in was severely flooded on Boxing Day, 2015. As well as losing their back catalogue they lost all the new material they had just started working on. However, thanks to a variety of sources, including a Crowdfunder campaign, they were eventually able to rebuild the studio and start again from scratch. Their third full studio album, Microshift, which has just been released to rave reviews, is a continuation of the electronic/psychedelic-rock flavours of the past work, it’s a big leap forward for the band, who released their first record on a small Brighton imprint back in 2011, and Brightonsfinest spoke to Hookworms’ Matt (‘MB’) Benn.
Tell me what happened exactly on Boxing Day, 2015…
Matt (Matthew ‘MJ’ Johnson) got a flood warning on his phone. He was at his parent’s which isn’t too far away. He rushed over to the studio; there was water everywhere, and he spent the next few hours doing his best to get all the expensive stuff up as high as he could. He ended up being chest high in water. His car floated off down the road, and then got looted the next day. His Christmas presents were in the boot.
The rest of us were either back at our parent’s for Christmas, or in the case of myself and Johnny (Johnny ‘JW’ Wilkinson), we were nearby but also trapped by the flooding, and couldn’t help Matt. Once the water had subsided we went in a couple of days later, and started gutting the whole studio. Matt spent the next seven months re-decorating. He had to wait on some flood grants, and insurance payments. But that wasn’t going to cover all the rebuild, so we did a Crowdfunder. Without that I don’t think the studio would exist now, to be honest. And if that didn’t exist I don’t know if the band would have carried on. We rely on the studio to practice and record.
I understand the studio was also Matt’s livelihood?
He’s a full-time record producer and engineer. That’s what he does for a living. He had to work out of other studios and mix at home for six or seven months. That hit him hard financially. He’s still recovering from that financially.
Ironically, this episode has maybe given you a big shot in the arm?
Yeah. I mean having seven months without a studio, and then when you get it back you definitely have a lot of ideas ready to go, and we were very keen. Before the flood we had just started recording the new album, so we were very eager to get on with the new record.
So, when did you manage to start recording the new album again?
The majority of it we didn’t write until the summer of 2016 when the studio re-opened.
Microshift sounds like your most accessible album yet, and a little more polished…
Yes, absolutely. The last album, we released it very quickly after the first album. We already had quite a lot of the songs written already before the first album had come out. We hammered it out how we play it live. We wrote it live and then we recorded it. Understandably, you spend a year or so working on a record, then a couple of years playing shows around it. You want to do something different, so I guess our reaction to that was to do something different, and be more studio based.
The lyrics are definitely more audible this time around. Can you talk about Matt’s lyrics?
We’ve discussed at length, post-album, what the lyrics are about. For the first time it’s important to point out you can hear and understand the lyrics very clearly, where in the past you might not have been able to because of the effects. It’s definitely the first record we’ve done where I know what the lyrics are for the whole album. Matt’s not been known for putting his lyrics on record sleeves. Actually, there’s a lot lyrics on the first two records that are a mystery to me. In a way I found it easier to be able to connect to this on an emotional level, and I’m hoping that other people will, too.
What about ‘Each Time We Pass’. Who sings on that?
That one has Alice Merida Richards singing. She’s actually from Brighton. She grew up in Brighton. She plays in a really great band called Virginia Wing, who are now based in Manchester, and who I would implore everyone to check out. They used to release music on the Brighton-based Faux Discx label, who put out our very first record (2011). We sent a demo of the track to her, she wrote some lyrics, we wrote some vocals, and the song changed direction completely. I couldn’t say exactly what her lyrics are about but I know Matt’s lyrics are about anxiety, and struggling to be out in public.
What about the opening track ‘Negative Space’?
That one is about dealing with grief. Half the song is about one of our close friends who passed away in 2016. He was our live sound engineer, and had toured with us the last five, six years. Unfortunately he passed away after a short illness. The other half is about Matt’s dad, who hasn’t been very well. He’s got Alzheimer’s and has suffered with cancer. He’s still with us, but it’s a grieving process. In a way Matt has already grieved or is grieving for his dad because of his Alzheimer’s.
Tell me how a typical Hookworms track comes about…
Very rarely does someone come to practice with an idea. We practice once a week and it all seems to happen then. It usually starts off with some rhythmic foundation, either the drums or a bassline. The band is built on repetition really. We get a loop of drums or bass going and then we improvise over the top. Quite a lot of the time, when we were recording the new album, when we were building up ideas on top of each other, we were recording and keeping the first or second take. In a way it was kind of improvised. We’re not one of those bands who do 46 takes; we tend to go with the early idea. Also this time there was a lot of messing around with synthesisers, and electronics, and maybe a weird little noise. The first track on the album started with a sound, which we then looped put it through the PA, and played around it for an hour or two. It is very jammy and improvised, but then what we do is when we have thrown a load of stuff at the wall, we go back and trim it down, and refine it a little bit.
What happens after your European and UK tours?
We’ve just started booking a bunch of summer festivals, and then hopefully we’ll be able to get back to America. Last time – let’s call it ‘visa issues’ – there were expensive last minute issues. We had a full 15-day US tour pulled the day we were meant to go. If we can find the heart we might attempt that again.
No matter who you are it seems to be a nightmare getting to the States!
It’s a flip of a coin! We played there a few years ago and got in absolutely fine, and then when we tried to get in the next time it was a ‘no’. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason.