Phoenix Indie Rock Shines on Ryan Clark's First Hookworm Records Compilation

The Hookworm One EP.
The Hookworm One EP. Hookworm Records

Ryan Clark almost didn't live to see his passion project become a reality.

It was October 3, 2021, two days before a private listening party for Hookworm One, the upcoming debut release from his label, Hookworm Records.

He called his wife to tell her his left arm was numb and his chest was tight. By the time she got home, "I had fallen asleep and my left arm was blue," Clark recalls. She got him to the emergency room, where they sat him in a wheelchair.

"After that, I don't have any memories until October 10," he says.

Clark had experienced an aortic aneurysm, the same condition that killed actor John Ritter. He went through a seven-hour open-heart surgery and stayed in the hospital for about three weeks. He considers himself lucky.

"Most people who suffer aortic aneurysms don’t make it to the hospital," Clark says.

Though still recovering, he wouldn't miss tonight's Hookworm One release party at Last Exit Live for the world.

The four-song Hookworm One EP features tracks by Phoenix bands Paper Foxes, The Psychedelephants, The Woodworks, and Shovel, and but it's not the first project to emerge from Clark's mission to promote and support local music.

Before Hookworm Records was born, Clark's blog, "Keep the Greasy Side Down," was a chronicler of and cheerleader for local music. (The title comes from a saying of his grandfather.)

As Clark explains it, he attended ASU in the '90s and kept up with the flourishing Tempe music scene at that time. But when he returned to town after years teaching up north in Pinetop, he had lost track of the local independent music scene.

It was 2017, and Clark was reeling from the news that his younger brother had committed murder.

"I was like, 'What is the point? What is life for when stuff keeps getting bad?'" he says. "I had kind of a Shawshank Redemption moment: Get busy living, or get busy dying. Find something to live for, and for me, music was always that thing that helped me."

click to enlarge Ryan Clark was a supporter of the local music scene years before he co-founded Hookworm Records. - BLUSHING CACTUS
Ryan Clark was a supporter of the local music scene years before he co-founded Hookworm Records.
Blushing Cactus

Writing the blog, constantly showing up at concerts, and shooting pictures for bands helped establish his street cred in the local music scene, he says.

Then, in 2019, he teamed up with local musicians Kevin Michael Prier of The Real Fakes and David Rhodes of Big Finish to create Hookworm Records. (Prier and Rhodes later dropped out of the project.)

"The purpose of Hookworm was to give the star treatment to Arizona independent bands," Clark says. "I was enamored with Arizona indie music, but a lot of the bands don’t have the resources to record at the best studio they can. They end up doing a lot of DIY stuff."

His plan was to bring bands to record a previously unreleased song with producer Bob Hoag at local studio Flying Blanket Recording.

Indie trio The Woodworks, who are on the album with their song "Callus," were on board early in the process.

"We’ve been friends with [Clark] for a long time, and he’s always been an active fan," says Woodworks guitarist and vocalist Solo Lounsbury, "He came to us and the whole idea of recording with Bob over at Flying Blanket where so many of our favorite local artists have recorded — it was kind of a no-brainer."

The Woodworks, along with the other bands on Hookworm One, were just the kind of acts Clark wanted to promote: "young, vibrant, doing neat things, still having big dreams," he says. "I was trying to encapsulate an era of Arizona indie music."

Paul Balazs of The Psychedelephants says the band jumped at the chance to be on vinyl. Their contribution, "Triangle Sky," was a jazz song that they revamped to have more of a rock sound.

Recording at Flying Blanket for Hookworm One "was probably our best studio experience so far as a band," he says.

Clark has big plans for Hookworm Records after the EP release party. Hookworm Two is already well underway and will include six bands, including Tucson's Birds + Arrows. A pair of Spring Showcase concerts (Friday, February 25, at Club Congress in Tucson and Saturday, February 26, at Unity Through Community in Tempe) featuring Hookworm Two bands will further the mission of promoting Arizona talent.

"There’s a lot of love and a lot of hard work put into the album, and I think it shows in the recording," Lounsbury says. "Ryan has so much enthusiasm and really wants to highlight that good music doesn't just come from national acts. There are so many people who can bring something really amazing to the table in your backyard."

Hookworm One Record Release Show. With Paper Foxes, The Psychedelephants, and The Woodworks. 7:30 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show, Friday, January 7. Last Exit Live, 717 South Central Avenue. Tickets are $15 plus fees.
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Jennifer Goldberg is the culture editor and Best of Phoenix editor for Phoenix New Times.