words: Jamie Stephenson
pics: Danny North
With little fuss or fanfare, HOOD have been operating under the radar for 15 years now. Over the last decade and a half they have quietly become one of the most renowned and respected bands in the experimental rock underworld. Chris and Richard Adams discuss plumbing, global warming and Robert Wyatt.
Hood have a special place in my heart thanks to a show they played at the Brudenell Social Club in November 2001, supported by sadly defunct laptop duo Wauvenfold. It was my first gig away from the traditional Leeds gig circuit (Cockpit, LMUSU, Joseph’s Well) and so I hold Hood partly responsible for subsequent late nights spent in the Packhorse, Adelphi, Royal Park etc.
The band were formed in 1990 by brothers Christopher and Richard Adams, who have remained the band’s only constants ever since. During these early years a number of limited singles and appearances on various compilations marked them out as a band to watch. Highly prolific and wildly diverse, in 1994 they released their debut album Cabled Linear Traction on Slumberland Records.
“I can’t imagine another reason for doing it,” says Richard, when I ask him if, after 15 years, creating and playing music still gives Hood a buzz. “It’s quite exciting when things come together. I genuinely like what we do and it gives me a buzz that other music doesn’t and also there’s the creativity thing. We just need to be creative all the time. We find it difficult to trudge through life just working or whatever.”
Despite seemingly operating outside of the local scene, Hood have been a veritable fountainhead to Leeds music during their existence. Before it relocated to Flagstaff, Arizona, the band were involved to some degree in the underground record label 555 (responsible for releases by local acts such as Boyracer, Printed Circuit and Empress, as well as electronica stars Cex, Kid 606 and Lesser). They have also helped organize local club nights Freedom Sounds In Pub and Echolalia, and fanzines like Open Your Eyes. You could never accuse them of not putting something back into their community.
Since Hood’s formation, Chris and Richard have seen a slew of members slip through the ranks large enough to give even Spinal Tap sleepless nights. If Pete Frame were to do a Rock Family Tree on Hood it would read like a who’s who of the local (and not so local) independent music scene.
Occasional Hood keyboardist, Gareth Spencer Brown has a laptop/vaudeville project called The Unpleasants which Richard likens to “Boards Of Canada crossed with Tom Waits – it’s amazing and visually hilarious stuff,” while Chris describes an Unpleasants gig at the Brudenell where Gareth arrived on stage in fancy dress on a child’s bike as “a lesson to us all from a proud, dignified, timeless entertainer.”
If all that weren’t enough, Chris worked briefly under the name Downpour, a project which was heavily inspired by drum and bass. Even now Hood’s line-up is still amorphous at best, as Richard admits: “It changes a lot but we have a five piece together to play some gigs this year with Chris guitaring and singing and myself, Stephen Royle, Gareth S Brown and Mark Wright banging, blowing, strumming and plucking various instruments.”
Commenting on local music, Richard reckons “Leeds has always had a decent scene whether it has been trendy and in the papers or not. Our favourite bands from Leeds are Time For Rodeo, Empress, the Unpleasants, McWatt, Polaris, Sierpinski, David Thomas Broughton, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Random Number, Printed Circuit and probably loads more we’ve forgotten.”
Hood hit the (relative) big time when they signed to Domino Records in 1997, for the release of the Rustic Houses, Forlorn Valleys album. They have been with the label ever since. Chris: “It’s quite fair to say it was sort of by happy accident but once we forced our signatures onto the contract they found themselves legally obliged to let us wreak havoc. I guess it works for them though because they can launder a lot of Franz Ferdinand’s money through our accounts. There’s a lot of faked expense claims going in exchange for fresh unmarked bank notes and the like and many suitcases have been exchanged in Leeds train station. In fact the whole band is a fiction created by Domino to avoid paying tax.” An interesting story but Richard reveals the slightly more mundane truth: “We had signed to Planet Records in Bristol and when their owner went to work for Domino we kind of went with him. They’ve been stuck with us ever since.”
Four years separate the releases of Cold House and Hood’s brand new album Outside Closer. Part of the reason behind this lengthy hiatus was due to the band’s extensive tour of Europe and America in 2002 to promote Cold House. Another reason for the delay was down to problems during the building of their home recording studio, by what Chris describes as “the great studio flood of 2002. It occurred about three hours after we finished building [the studio]. Many lessons were learned from the recording - go with your instinct, less is more and most importantly remember to plumb the washing machine back in before you put your washing on so the water doesn’t go all over the floor of your newly built studio.”
Self-imposed nosebleed-inducing high standards are also to blame for Outside Closer’s elephantine gestation period, as Richard explains, “We didn’t want to release any old slop. We wanted to try and release a decent and different record after Cold House. We got a bit obsessed, to tell you the truth, and spent a whole load of time recording things we weren’t happy with, scrapping and re-recording loads of stuff. I feel like I’m making excuses but the length of time didn’t really bother me until maybe the last six months when I really started getting fed up to the back teeth with it.”
So how does Outside Closer compare to Cold House? Well, as the title suggests, Cold House seemed very frosty and austere. Titles such as ‘Branches Bare’, ‘The Winter Hit Hard’ and ‘Lines Low To Frozen Ground’ added to the all-pervading wintry atmosphere.
Richard admits “I guess we write about what is around us. I couldn’t imagine writing about anything else really. I guess the weather is pretty important. I’m convinced that global warming has had a severe impact on our music. There’s rarely any winter / frosty type days in Leeds now. There’s nothing to write about! I want the weather to get colder and colder. I hate muggy mild weather - it annoys the hell out of me.”
By contrast, the music contained on Outside Closer seems much warmer and fuller, less brittle. Indeed its blurred cover photo of flowers in bloom, hedgerow and trees suggests an album full of the joys of spring. Don’t get me wrong, Hood haven’t suddenly sprung an album of happy hardcore on us, it’s just that Outside Closer is a much less sombre and melancholic affair than its predecessor. In fact it’s the first truly great album of 2005.
Although the band prefer to keep their lyrics under wraps, to these ears the vocals are much more prominent on Outside Closer. To the extent that they are almost another instrument with which the band can play.
Richard agrees there is some truth to this: “I think every track we have ever done has had some kind of vocal on it but yes particularly this time we tried to bring the vocals to the fore a little bit more.”
However, Chris is quick to add “It was a cynical attempt by me to become some sort of tortured, mysterious enigmatic Michael Stipe type character. It failed.”
Following Vibracathedral Orchestra’s performance at April 2004’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, Hood were the latest Leeds band to be invited to play. They performed as part of the ATP Foundation’s recent festive leg, The Nightmare Before Christmas, curated by Brit Art enfant-terrible, the Chapman Brothers.
“It was great,” says Richard, “we played in the afternoon so I’m pretty sure half the crowd had just got out of bed. We got to see the Fall, which was the highlight of the year for me. They were amazing.”
How did the invite come about? Chris: “We just got our ‘people’ to talk to their ‘people’, palms were greased, egos were massaged and suddenly we’re all smiles with Jake ‘Big J’ and Dinos ‘D-love’ Chapman. As I’m sure you’d imagine we’re really big players in the London art world but I guess they were too busy mutating dummies to drop by to see us. Nice to be asked though.”
Richard and his wife Sara run independent record label, Misplaced Music, which was borne four years ago in Duluth, Minnesota, when Sara felt she could do a better job than the labels that were putting out the terrible records she found herself playing on her radio show.
The label has unintentionally turned into a showcase for bands hailing from either Leeds or Duluth, such as on the split 7” between Low and Vibracathedral Orchestra, which has since become something of a collectors item. Other releases include Leeds’ sublime chamber-folk trio Dakota Suite, Idaho and Charlie Parr. In 2003 the label released two Hood rarities compilations - double CD Singles Compiled and Compilations 1995-2002.
The latest release is Misplaced Pets; a compilation featuring unreleased tracks from the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Empress, Charlie Parr and Bill Riccini. All profits go to two local animal charities, causes close to Sara’s heart.
In recent years Hood have struck up a friendship with revered San Franciscan hip-hop avant-gardist collective Anticon, spearheaded by the sadly defunct cLOUDEAD.
Richard: “Initially they sent us a load of records through the post and after a few international emails we asked them to contribute to the record we were working on at the time [Cold House]. We sent a CD of instrumentals over and they came back with magnificent vocals on them. Later on after we toured with them we kind of did a remix swap with Themselves.”
Recent single ‘The Lost You’ utilises a glitching sample of Robert Wyatt’s ‘Gharbzadegi’ from his 1985 album, Old Rottenhat. Where did that idea come from? Richard: “Dose One from cLOUDDEAD lent the album to us on our US tour – that track was so great. We had some of Robert Wyatt’s records but not that one. It blew me away quite frankly. Chris then sampled it to form the basis of ‘The Lost You’ - a stroke of genius - the only problem was getting the big man’s approval, which was duly forthcoming. We are forever indebted to him as we didn’t want to have to lose a track we liked so much.”
Remixing other artists material is something the band has done a lot of in the past. They have reconstructed the works of a wide variety of musicians, including Japanese sound artist Aube (apparently “a huge piss-take that I don’t think anyone got” according to Richard) right through to Mogwai.
They have also had their own work remixed by other artists, but Richard admits that it’s when they are at the controls that they’re happiest: “We made a conscious effort to not have our music be remixed over the last few years as I’m sure a lot of remix albums are just cynical marketing tools. I mean, when Mogwai are remixing Longview it’s the fucking depths - talk about buying credibility! But remixing other peoples music can be good, as you tend to get a lot of great sounds to work with. Chris did one recently for an Italian band Giardini Di Miro - we’re really proud of that one - it should come out next year.”
A running theme throughout Hood’s back catalogue has been the beautiful design aesthetic that adorns the sleeves of their albums and singles and even spills over onto their website, which is administrated by Sara. Images of housing estates, parks, trees, sunsets, sometimes hazy and blurred to abstraction, other times sharp and crisp. It comes as a surprise that none of the band studied photography.
“The first impression you get of a record is its sleeve, so it has to stand out in the racks,” says Richard. “The kind of covers we have are sort of like the record covers I loved when I was younger, like REM’s Murmur. I can’t stand sleeves with the band’s own faces on the cover.”
Hood also create their own short films, which are projected on to them when they perform live. “Steve and Chris do them mainly,” says Richard, “they just film stuff and collect footage and put it together. It saves the audience the painful misery of looking at our blandly forgettable faces. It takes the pressure off us a bit and gives people things to look at.”
However, the last word goes to Chris as he reveals the secrets of Hood’s new plan for world domination: “We’re all about skinny jeans, big hair, thin leather ties and black leather jackets nowadays so, you know, the projections might have to go - because we want to look like ‘some guys in a band’.” Or maybe not.