The Albums of 2013 (#6): Hookworms – Pearl Mystic (Gringo)

The aftermath of Pearl Mystic has been one of change and decisions for Hookworms' vocalist MJ

Feature by Simon Jay Catling | 05 Dec 2013

Handling your own personal catharsis is one thing, seeing it written and spoken back to you writ large is quite another. Forget the ‘psych’ tag that so many have clumsily bracketed Hookworms in with this year in light of their thunderous debut album Pearl Mystic; what really stood out amongst the likes of Away/Towards’ white-knuckle motorik and In Our Time’s billowing textural fug was the emotional intensity scorched black across its surface that has since come to define the Leeds five-piece’s live shows. Vocalist MJ laid his soul bare on issues of depression and isolation, liberal use of a Space Echo pedal barely hiding the wracked frustration pouring forth.

“I tried listening to it recently but two minutes in I couldn’t deal with it, it was horrible to me,” the musician and producer tells The Skinny from his Suburban Home Studio. “I hear it in terms of the music I make with my friends but I also hear it in terms of the aesthetics that I don’t like about it now.”

Plenty of others have listened to it though, since it was recorded over nine months in 2012. Their album tour sold out, they stormed festival slots at Latitude and Liverpool Psych Fest and ultimately signed to Domino imprint Weird World to release Pearl Mystic in America, and play their debut US shows in New York in October. “We were just writing Pearl Mystic for the sake of creativity,” MJ reflects, “we’re more aware we’re a band now. Which sounds silly, but with Pearl Mystic we were writing around jobs – I had to prioritise my studio for other works – and we do that still, but with everything that’s happened since, it feels split: I don’t consider band practice ‘Hookworms’ – that’s just hanging out with my friends. 'Hookworms' itself feels like a separate entity now, it’s everything that’s gone on around us. And it’s been odd because we’ve never been aspirational.”    

Pearl Mystic opened up the positivity of opportunity for Hookworms, but for a band who’ve been vocal from their inception about their commitment to a DIY attitude – the record is still pressed in the UK by Nottingham independent Gringo Records – they’ve found their beliefs angled back at them as their spiralling popularity causes ethical dilemmas on a daily basis, while the music industry opens up its jaws in front of them. “It’s been hard to find the balance, you become normalised to strange things happening,” he says. “It’s very easy for people to sit in a pub and decide whether we should or shouldn’t do something when they’ve not faced it. I still feel comfortable with everything we’ve done. But every time these offers come up you do have to stop and at least contemplate it. It would be inhuman not to.”

Ultimately though, the five-piece have only gone with what’s comfortable with them – which is all you can do. “And you know, I got to go to New York, and that was just because of the music!” Long may it stay that way.  

Hookworms support Quasi at Broadcast, Glasgow on 7 Dec