Flat Worms

With the world in a state of chaos, we need bands like Flatworms more than ever. On their third album ‘Antarctica’ not only did they record it with Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio studios in Chicago, lending their punchy garage-psych rock melodies an even bigger visceral kick, but it was then also mixed with long time collaborator Ty Segall. Throw in the fact that they’re astute lyrical observations abound throughout the record ranging on topics such as environmental issues, big industries not playing fair, and the ever changing landscapes of cities all over the globe, and you have an album which is already in my top five releases of the year, and it’s only April.

Just as lockdown was kicking in, we caught up with guitarist / vocalist Will Ivy in his Californian home to find out more:

Your album was recorded by Steve Albini and Ty Segall in what way did they enhance the record?

“Working with Steve was an amazing experience, he is truly a specialist in what he does, and Electrical Audio, which is his studio in Chicago, is almost a totally unique place in the world to be operated by someone like him. It’s one of the only purely analogue studios left, and with him maintaining the equipment and having so much knowledge, it’s really a special place. So, he almost approaches sound like a scientist would, and his studios, the rooms, and the way they’re built always contribute to the sound. He’s pretty hands off when it comes to any creative input, but for sure he was able to document it in such a way that we think it really brought the songs to life. Ty actually had a show on the Friday night before he was scheduled to arrive in the studio with us, the next morning on Saturday, so he stayed up all night, drove straight from his show to the airport, flew to Chicago overnight, met us and we were all in the same room mixing the next day. He’s pretty amazing, endless energy and willpower. Needless to say he was a little loopy and so were we, after five days or so in the studio. We’ve made all of our other recordings with Ty, we used to record all of our records in his home studio, so he brought lots of great feedback as far as the mix goes, it was just great to have him there, and have him hear the new music for the first time.”

Were there any surprises during the recording process, and did you learn anything?

“At first, since we’re always working with Ty it as a little bit of adjustment at first to working with somebody new. One thing that I was surprised by is, you know ‘scary’ Steve Albini, and I’d heard so much about this person, but what surprised me was that he’s actually really funny, and had a good sense of humour, and once we all got used to each other, it was a really easy comfortable working dynamic. I learned a lot from Steve, just in little anecdotes about the rooms and how they were built. He built the entire studio out of New Mexico adobe that he had imported to Chicago from New Mexico, and little things that he would share about how he decided on that material, and how he bet the farm, that it would actually work. He would share little anecdotes about other bands he’s worked with in the past, obviously he has an amazing resume. Watching him work was very exciting the whole time and I think it really benefited our music.”

Flat Worms – Antarctica

On the new album there’s a song called ‘Condo Colony’ in which you state that “cities are a beige display”, are you reflecting on the fact that as cities grow, with more tower blocks, and similar shops, that they’re in danger of losing their identity?

“Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I travel with the band, but also for my work, I was on a trip in Malaysia, when I noticed that what I was seeing there was what you see pretty much everywhere you go now, these tall building with no character just springing up all over the world. Eventually every place will look the same, just offer the same retail shops, everything is so international now, that every place begins to lose its identity, and traffic just backs up because you just stack people into the sky, so yes, very perceptive of you!”

That song just struck a chord with me, as Manchester is changing at such a rapid pace with these new glass skyscrapers going up all over the city centre, we’re also in danger of losing some of our character.

“Well who knows what’s going to happen in the wake of the pandemic, Los Angeles has been expanding so quickly, with new buildings going up left and right, and also the worst homelessness crisis I’ve ever encountered. It’s very strange. It’s like they’re building a brand new city on top of what’s already here, people are just left to wander the streets, it’s a pretty crazy contrast.”

Another theme I picked up on the new album was on the song ‘The Mine’, you seem to deal with the exploitation of nature with the line “the water’s taken, it’s cloak and dagger at the mine”, is that a big issue you wanted to highlight as well?

“Yeah, specifically I wrote the lyrics to that song about this one project that was taking place in the high desert, in The Joshua Tree National Park area. What’s occurring is this company from Florida is placing a bid on this sustainable energy project where they will use water to pump electricity from this former mine, up to a mountain and back to generate electricity.  Southern California is very starved for water, so I was just struck by this situation where you’re just evaluating what resources are more valuable. How is that we’re extracting what little water that area already has, in order to generate electricity, which resource is more valuable? Why is it that a company from across the nation is going to reap all the benefits, it just seemed to embody the nature of industry to me.”

In the song ‘Market Forces’  you also sing about “selling you back yesterday, like it was never yours to own”, is that another point about big industries taking things over, and everything becoming a commodity to be owned by someone?

“In general, in our lyrics and in my time on this planet just seems like everyone with power gets to exploit everything that they possibly can and we’re left with no choices, and now that’s creeping into our own palms with phones and all of that. I like to just think of myself as being an observer. I grew up in the south-west in Phoenix, Arizona, and also in southern California, and everywhere I’ve ever lived there’s been historic drought, and now we’re experiencing so many developments in technology, so many political upheavals, and now a global pandemic, so I’d like to think that we’re not just contributing negativity to what’s going on. I just like to think of myself and the band as a reaction or an observation or participants in this crazy lifetime that were all encountering.”

Flat Worms

Yeah we really need music in times like these to keep us all going.

“I think the more that artists can share and be creative with the ways that they share it now will be so crucial for all of us going forwards to have things at home to watch, to do, and to read.”

Going back to your early days growing up, who were the bands you were listening to and what was the turning point where you thought, ‘I want to do this for a living, and I want to be in a band’?

“As a kid living in the suburbs in Phoenix, I started getting into classic rock a little bit, with things like The Doors, but then what really opened everything wide open and made it more accessible to me as discovering punk. I was lucky to have the perfect classic used record store in Tempe, Arizona called Eastside Records that I would shop at growing up. The shop owner is just everything you want in a used record shop owner (laughs), just this total hilarious weirdo in the best way! He’s still the same to this day, and he’s still selling records in Tempe, I would go in there, and he would recommend The Germs, or he would recommend Black Flag or whatever, and of course English punk like The Sex Pistols and stuff like that. When I discovered all this, and also simultaneously also discovered local venues that were hosting bands, that were like four guys in a van on tour selling their own merch, encountering the medium in that way, it was like, me and my friends can do this, it’s for everyone. That really opened  my eyes and made me really want to participate in it. I continued to discover new stuff, a friend of mine introduced me to Joy Division and The Soft Boys and Wire, and all this great post punk stuff right before my senior year, and The Fall.”

Yeah, I can really hear The Fall coming through in your music and also Sonic Youth as well.

“For sure, both me and Tim the bass player have always been really big Sonic Youth fans. The Fall is definitely an obsession for us. I actually recently discovered that there’s two books of his lyrics that are sort of hard to find. I only found them via this record store in Germany, but I tracked them down, and have been ceremoniously reading the lyrics, and the book has drawing by Brix in there. They’re really, really great.”

As a Fall fan myself, I’ll have to check them out. Do any of the lyrics actually make sense though?

Flat Worms (Photo: Owen Schmit)

(Laughs) “They do! They’re great. For me it was great that I can actually finally read them, as his voice could be sort of so crazy at times. I was actually at a Fall show which came to be somewhat significant. They came to Phoenix when I was still in high school, and this terrible band opened, and we couldn’t figure out why they were playing, but they finished their set, and The Fall went on. They were about three songs in, and the singer from the opening band came around from the side of the stage and threw a banana peel right at Mark E Smith, and it hit him right in the face. He stopped singing, but the band kept playing and he was fuming! He threw the microphone down got off the stage and just got into this all our brawl with the singer of the first band. He just got in this fight with him, then got into his dressing room and slammed the door, and the band was still playing. They started being like ‘I don’t know if he’s coming back’ then they checked in on him and said ‘Sorry we’re not playing anymore songs, the show’s over’. I guess that night, that whole band quit. That’s when Tim Presley and his band Darker My Love became his backing band. Through music and living in the Bay Area got to meet Tim and Rob from Darker My Love, and it was funny to be present at such a momentous show. I remember at that time my friend was like ‘that just sucks, I didn’t get to seen them play The Classical, and all these other songs I wanted to hear’. I said’ you just saw Mark E Smith be Mark E Smith, like I don’t wish that it had gone any differently. I feel like I truly just saw The Fall.”

Obviously you were going to come over here and do a European tour which has now been postponed, so what do you think bands can do at the moment to keep surviving?

“We’re very lucky as we just happened to finish all the recording, and will be putting out music videos, so we have several releases, throughout this year. We have the LP which is out in April, then a seven–inch single in June and a live record towards the end of the year. So we’re very lucky that we have all this stuff to put into the world, but I’ve been thinking we’re just going to have to be creative and live stream a performance. I think it’s time to leverage this technology which we all have access to now. Bands can get into things like mail projects, or playlists or live streaming stuff. Our friend Shannon Lay just performed a few songs on Instagram live recently an I watched it for a while and thought it was such a great idea. If we’re all trapped inside, we can all interact with these things and make it feel like we’re all still thee at the same show together. It’s also a great time to demo and write some new songs, so when we can all go back out into the world, we all have all this new music to record and share too.”

What’s L.A. like at the moment?

“At this point the music scene is completely shut down, all the venues have been ordered to close, so it’s been pretty amusing in a way, like the weather has been weird, it’s been raining for days which is unusual for southern California, so it seems like all of this has come at once! The mood has just gotten worse and worse by the day, and it’s just a heavy downpour outside. But we’re all keeping in touch, L.A. has an amazing music scene, many amazingly talented and creative people, and I’m sure we’re all going find ways to keep creating  and keep connecting with each other. I think that music is really still something that everyone can participate in on some level, and that’s what will carry us through.”

Flat Worms are: Will Ivy – guitar, vocals (Dream Boys, Wet Illustrated), Justin Sullivan – drums (Night Shop, Kevin Morby) and Tim Hellman – bass (Oh Sees).

Flatworms – Antarctica: Out Now (Drag City Records)


From the early days of creating handmade zines, in a DIY paper and glue style, interviewing bands around town, then pestering Piccadilly Records to sell them, to writing for various independent mags such as Chimp and Ablaze, writing about the music I love is still a great passion. After testing the music industry waters in London with stints at various labels, being back in my hometown again, writing about this city’s vibrant music scene is as exciting as ever. All time favourite bands include Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Patti Smith although anything from electro to folk via blues and pysch rock will also do nicely too. A great album, is simply a great album, regardless of whatever musical cage you put it in.