Hookworms on “Microshift”

Head Above Water

May 23, 2018 Photography by Hollie Fernando Issue #63 - Courtney Barnett
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For England's Hookworms, putting their latest album together was a triumph. The five members of the band experienced enough to encourage them to throw in the towel. Lead singer Matthew "MJ" Johnson was at the center of the band's bad luckin 2015, his studio where the band recorded and rehearsed flooded from the bursting of the River Aire. Johnson lost his car, the band's new material, and their back-catalog of music. At the same time, Johnson and the rest of the bandJonathan "JN" Nash, Matthew "MB" Benn, Sam "SS" Shjipstone, and Johnny "JW" Wilkinsonlost close mutual friend and sound engineer Michael "Archie" Archibald to a rare form of cancer.

After months of havoc, the studio was gutted and rebuiltit ironically seemed to bring the band closer together. "It was just nice after that period that was incredibly difficult to sit around, eat pizza, and chat with each other," explains Wilkinson. "It felt like we were having fun for the first time in awhile."

Formed in 2009, the Leeds-born band began their shoegaze-tinged experimental-pop project for fun. It's that and perhaps the fact that they all have day jobseverything from music-producing and hospitality work to art lecturing and charity advice workthat still makes music enjoyable for the band. "We have always wanted to strike a balance between doing this band and continuing to do our jobs and other bands, and that informs a lot of what we do and how we do it," explains Sjipstone. "There is no way we could live off this band, it is still just a hobby, and many of us are attached to our jobs."

By 2011 they released their debut EP on cassette, which they followed up with their debut album Pearl Mystic two years later. "We didn't think anybody would pay attention to it," Wilkinson says of their debut. One year later, they released The Hum, which was catered more towards a live audience. With their new album, Microshift, the band took it as an opportunity to blend their first two LP experiences together, adding in more electronica and techno along the way. "It's all done as a studio band and then coming back and seeing how we can play it live," Wilkinson says. "It's more catered to fans that like to have fun and dance."

Microshift's anxiety-inducing, techno-fueled first single "Negative Space" was the track that their late friend Archie had helped with. "It was the last of our music he heard and it was something we could think back on about," says Wilkinson.

The record also tackles serious lyrical themes. "Static Resistance" confronts the struggle to find positivity when mental health issues take over, "I gotta celebrate/All my pros/Feeling like this isn't prose/Just static resistance." The video mirrors the track's lyrical themes obliquely, chronicling the struggles of living with depression through a man who tries to break bad habits, but falls into the same routines. At the same time, the heated political climate didn't go unnoticed for Hookworms as they were making Microshiftit's something that has made them even more dedicated to their craft.

"The musical and lyrical themes [on the album] are contemporary issues about masculinity and mental health, but the current moment has certainly made us feel alive to the necessity of political music," Shjipstone says, "to keep associating with bands who are sympathetic to these ideas and fostering a loose community of people using art to talk about these things."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Spring 2018 Issue (March/April/May 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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