FLAT WORMS: SOLVING THE PUZZLE
photography by jeff fribourg
Flat Worms—Will Ivy, Justin Sullivan, Tim Hellman—are a substantial force to counteract the dark leaden days we now confront. With the roar of an avalanche, the crushing power of a tidal wave, the sharp glacial crack at the edge of a continental shelf, this trio invokes a colossal sound on their Castle Face debut. It’s a call to arms, an embrace of the kind of conflict that produces change within and without. If punk was ever dead, Flat Worms have revived it. The need for art and music today is greater than ever, and the blueprint is in the form of this here band: Flat Worms. They perform on Fri., Jan. 12, with Sextile and Warm Drag at the Hi Hat. This interview by Nathan Martel.
What makes Flat Worms a uniquely Southern Californian band? I feel as though Flat Worms couldn’t exist anywhere but here—there’s an embodiment of something about L.A. permeating the music you make.
Will Ivy (guitar/vocals): That’s cool. Personally speaking, a lot of my lyrics and the content of our songs is inspired by the environment where we are creating. L.A., to me, is this amazing space where, it’s almost … it’s booming and growing so rapidly but also at the same time, it’s crumbling. It’s very old infrastructure everywhere. Bridges are being torn down because they are no longer safe or there is no longer any utility in them, yet it’s exploding and gentrifying all around you, seemingly at all times. I’ve lived here for six years now, and most of that time it was in the midst of a vicious drought. It’s been interesting for me to be in the utopia—this gilded utopia, basically—and I would venture to say our music in turn embodies its environment because it’s inspired by it.
Tim Hellman (bass): I like that we sound Southern Californian, although none of us are from here. I find that kinda cool.
Sometimes you need an outsider to provide a perspective.
Justin Sullivan (drums): Yeah. And there is a good scene here, and a lot of bands and artists we like a lot. When you’re immersed in a scene like that it helps. You develop a kind of regional thing.
At the same time, there seems to be a creeping exhaustion with the environment—an undertow to your work.
WI: Definitely. It’s an unbelievable time to be alive. Everyday you wake up to a barrage of horrendous bullshit going on. None of us—even ten years ago—could have anticipated that we’d be at war with white supremacy. And the medium of punk is a perfect channel to express these angry exhausted feelings … which a lot of us are feeling right now. I hope it has that sort of exhaustion regarding modern life and all that accompanies that—all that we are dealt on a daily basis. Whether it be nuclear death or Nazis.
TH: Two big Ns right there! Nuclear death and Nazis.
JS: And to add a caveat that even if we could have anticipated it, it seems there is more of a light on these things going on. It’s shocking. It’s still shocking. There probably were people who could anticipate the level of racism still around but it’s still sort of jarring, and you’re still constantly orienting yourself to battle against what that means. I love that Will’s lyrics are really apocalyptic, and the sound does its best to mirror that. It’s a mood that is fitting for what is transpiring today.
WI: To me, everyday when we wake up, we are confronted by the fact that we might be at war with a foreign country, or the planet will expire, and all the resources will be gone, or we will kill each other in the streets. So the music is a call to that exhaustion on all those fronts, and even more really.
TH: Shit’s crazy.
The music that Flat Worms produce—especially the bass lines—is full of panic and turmoil. That’s the sheer physical experience of the music, really.
TH: I can see that happening in what I’m playing, sure.
JS: It’s a true pleasure to play drums along with Tim’s bass. He’s an incredible bass player. It’s a joy.
WI: I’ve learned a lot from Tim, just in working with him. He spends so much time practicing, developing what he does … his work ethic is second to none.
JS: The practice ethic has been an inspiration. He’s brought out the best in me.
WI: He is a true talent. And he’s modest!
TH: I was born in raised in a town called Modesto. Which translates to modesty.
Flat Worms probably needed to happen in this climate we’re in now. It could be argued this band couldn’t happen at any other point in time. You’re very much a band for now and of now.
TH: It’s a time to be angry. It’s probably a good time for punk and hardcore music. People are pretty unhappy with things.
WI: At the time when Trump was elected, we were all disappointed and upset by the results—but as a result, I was writing these songs, and I came away with a sense of empowerment. I think it’s important people continue, day by day, even though it’s exhausting, to make their art, do their work, whatever it might be. To express themselves through their hearts, at any costs and to not relent. Because spreading your art and your potential in the most earnest way that you can—that’s for everyone, and it’s so desperately what we need right now.
TH: You gotta find something to get through the day.
JS: I don’t think it’s the duty of people who make art to directly address what is going on necessarily. It’s not a box that needs to be checked. There are plenty of artists and musicians who aren’t overtly political right now. It’s not a requirement for me to value what somebody is contributing, but I think that it has merit. I tap into it when it does [have political overtones]. So artists who may not have that content or sound could be participating in resistance in other ways. Whether it’s benefit shows or special releases or something like that. For me, the only thing I’ve been feeling is this somewhat minimalization of art or wackiness or weirdness in a local scene when [these political machinations] happen. You can still participate through a benefit show that only raises a few hundred dollars.
TH: And that’s something. It’s a contribution.
JS: I think contributing in some tangible way is more important. There is this life-giving force when you have a community of people making things, in any kind of capacity, even when those things aren’t directly contributing to a resistance effort. It’s still enhancing a culture or a community that is standing in opposition. I’m just trying to point out that it isn’t inherent that everybody be in a punk band or necessarily addressing what is going on. But right now, I’m gravitating toward like-minded people. Even if their sound or aesthetic isn’t the same as what we do.
WI: I was just recently at LACMA, and I was really drawn in by the Hans Richter film that they have there. In the description, it explained that he was trying to create a language that was free from nationalistic ties. So it consisted only of shapes, animated shapes. What we are doing, the energy, the content of the lyrics, or the way it sounds, I hope that it resonates in a way that’s needed right now—that gives people some sort of relief or inspiration or whatever it might be. Especially in a way that is above language, or above any nation, or even above Southern California. Hopefully in a way that art is supposed to do. The way art is supposed to lift us up in these hard times.
The music you create could be speaking to an experience that informs the daily life in America—the frustration of being a citizen in a system that undermines our humanity.