‘Scuzzy pop songs’

Making beautiful noise with LA’s Flat Worms

Flat Worms: (from left) Will Ivy, Tim Hellman and Justin Sullivan.

Flat Worms: (from left) Will Ivy, Tim Hellman and Justin Sullivan.

Photo by David Evanko

Flat Worms performs Friday, April 26, 9 p.m., at Duffy’s Tavern, as part of the Valley Fever festival (April 25-27). Warm Drag and Bad Mana open.
Tickets: $10 for individual shows; $25 for all-inclusive wristband (available in advance at Duffy’s).
More info at valleyfeverchico.com.
Duffy’s Tavern
337 Main St.

Frontman Will Ivy’s huge guitar tones give some weight to his screw-off attitude as the vocalist for his garage-rock trio, Flat Worms. It’s kind of like a brawny henchman backing up the wiseass ringleader of a neighborhood gang. He uses three effects on the floor—a couple of overdrive pedals and a chorus—and does so with little subtlety.

“I’m fairly tasteless,” he said. “When it comes to settings, they’re all maxed out at 10.”

Los Angeles-based Flat Worms is a supergroup of sorts featuring Ivy—a member of Dream Boys and a successful solo artist in his own right—bassist Tim Hellman (Oh Sees) and drummer Justin Sullivan (Night Shop, Kevin Morby). The trio plays at Duffy’s Tavern on Friday (April 26, as part of the Valley Fever festival), in support of the band’s new six-song EP, Into the Iris, which was recorded in LA at the home studio of psych-rocker extraordinaire Ty Segall.

The band members are ruthlessly efficient with their studio time, Ivy said. Rather than recording in separate booths and nitpicking details, they get together as a group and just rock out, rarely taking more than a couple of days to track an album’s worth of material.

“We work really efficiently because we try to have the songs as tight as we can before we go into the studio,” Ivy said. “We set up the mics in a room and just play through them all. Sometimes I’ll do guitar overdubs, and Tim will maybe track a second bass overdub, but we don’t want to go too crazy because we want to present what we are without extra bells and whistles.

“I think the best thing you can do, when you’re recording your project, is to document how it sounds live.”

That said, the band allowed Segall to work his magic in key moments, like during the intro of the EP’s first single, “Shouting at the Wall,” which features a warped version of a guitar lick that reappears in the bridge. For the effect, Ivy and Segall collaborated on some “tape-manipulation stuff to make that section as weird-sounding as possible, speeding it up and slowing it down, adding some extras,” Ivy said. And that’s just one example; sonic freakouts abound throughout the EP, breaking up otherwise straightforward scuzzy pop songs.

“We like to make it so our songs aren’t so stock,” he said. “We enjoy tossing in noisy parts, but there’s a spectrum for us. There’s the noisy, weird end of the spectrum and the pop end of the spectrum. You can get too far out, but keeping something memorable and hooky in the songs is also important.”

Working within those parameters, Flat Worms is able to create songs spontaneously from jamming during practice sessions. Though Ivy has resisted jam-based songwriting in his previous bands, something clicks when he’s making noise with Hellman and Sullivan. Without much verbal communication, their parts just fall into place.

“When we’re playing together, it just works,” Ivy said. “We’ll be messing around with something and it it will become one of our favorite songs on the new record. You never know, when you start a project, the chemistry that you’ll have with each other. I think we’re lucky that we all sort of fit, and I love the three-piece dynamic—it’s so lean and streamlined.”