At first glance, Hooton Tennis Club sounds like a silly name, as if Dr. Seuss wrote a book about Wimbledon. As our interview progressed, I saw the band’s name in action and realized how it perfectly encapsulates the Liverpool lo-fi indie rock band’s personality and music.
Much of our Skype interview was done with wigs and funny hats on—lead singer Ryan Murphy had a pink wig and guitarist James Madden wore a green wig while I showed off the sombrero I got from a drunk night at Chevy’s a few years back. We collectively may have gone at most 30 seconds without laughing over the course of our hour-plus transatlantic conversation.
That silliness also makes its way into the quartet’s debut album, Highest Point in Cliff Town, a wonderful record chock-full of sunny guitar riffs, sloppy guitar solos and shout-along choruses that will most likely translate into bona fide festival anthems as the band works its way up the set time ladder next summer.
“We don’t quite mind if we mess up on stage!” exclaims Ryan Murphy. “We all have a preference for a DIY sound,” explains James Madden after the three of us are done laughing for almost a minute. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the right version of the song; what’s on the album is just a representation of that song at that time.”
Rightfully so, producer Bill Ryder-Jones of the Coral didn’t mess with Hooton’s core formula, electing to leave in the funny bits and a lo-fi sound. “He was great at knowing when to take things seriously and when not to,” Ryan mentions. “If you get too serious, you get too polished and it sounds like overpolished pop music.”
Much of the Liverpool quartet’s debut record can be summed up in the last quarter of “I’m Not Going Roses Again,” a track that sounds like Parquet Courts covering the Clash. As the last chorus finishes, the band collectively adds in “oohs” and “aahs” in progressively higher pitches until they give way to a frenetic feedback-laden guitar outro. It’s not too difficult to imagine the band laughing through multiple takes of the song in the studio. “We all had our own projects in the past, but the seriousness wasn’t there for this one,” explains James.
Highest Point in Cliff Town was released Aug. 28 to critical acclaim across the British press, and it won’t be too long until American audiences start taking notice—the band’s first shows in the United States will take place at the 2015 edition of CMJ in New York. It didn’t take long for Hooton Tennis Club to get on the music industry’s radar; Heavenly Records signed them after only three gigs. Not bad for the band that almost never existed.
In a previous interview from earlier this year when Hooton Tennis Club had just been signed to Heavenly Records, the band mentioned that they would “flick through the other bands [on Heavenly]’s Instagram pics and see photos of them traveling the world and playing shows,” noting that “that is a possibility for us.” Fast-forward about six months, and that possibility has become a reality. “We always thought about playing Glastonbury or Europe when we were young, but for it to actually happen is crazy to us,” said Ryan.
Ryan and James, along with bassist Callum McFadden and drummer Harry Chalmers, started Hooton Tennis Club right before they went their separate ways to different universities across the United Kingdom. Ryan reminisced about the band’s bizarre beginnings: “We were sitting in this bedroom and decided to make an EP as fast as we could as a joke and put it online.” When the four Brits blinked, the band was signed and started touring, even making their way onto the 2015 Glastonbury lineup, where NME called them the buzziest band at the festival, stating that by next year and “on a much bigger PA, they’ll be massive.”
“It’s a complete mystery to us,” Ryan explains. “We have people asking ‘how did you get signed and where did you get management?’ We’re in no position to give any advice! We don’t know how it happened—it’s so bizarre!”
When describing their preshow jitters before their set at Glastonbury, James describes how “the nervousness comes back every now and then, even though it’s always there. Sometimes when you’re onstage, it feels like a job and other times, it’s really nerve-wracking and it feels like our genitals would shrivel up. Even before this interview, to be honest, we were like, ‘Jesus! Some guy from America is going to call!’”
Obviously, they are doing something right as the band showed off the final pressings of the Highest Point in Cliff Town physical copies that had arrived earlier that morning. “I feel like a kid at Christmas!” exclaims Ryan. It’s this sort of enthusiasm that makes Hooton Tennis Club so easy to root for. The music industry can be cruel at times, but the novelty of seeing a young band this excited to hold their first album in their hands could break any cynic.
Ryan continued: “It does feel like validation [to hear yourself on the radio or read about your band in print]. We don’t know what or why, but if feels like we’re doing something right! I hate saying that we’re lucky, but there must be something else—we just aren’t sure what it is.”
The band may act like they just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but they definitely have the tunes to validate their success. Tracks like “Jasper” and “Kathleen Sat on the Arm of Her Favourite Chair” recall the best of ‘90s college radio, with a modern twist. The lyrics throughout Highest Point in Cliff Town are tinged with both realism and humor, not too far removed from Courtney Barnett or Stephen Malkmus’ take on the mundaneness of every day life of a twenty-something on the right side of 25.
Although the band has been rising for quite some time in the UK, they’re prepared to hit the reset button once they hit stateside in just over a month. This time, they know what they’re doing, building on their well-received live sets from across the pond.
This unlikely band of silly Brits with a silly name has one of the year’s best debuts to their name and it is only time before they make a serious dent in the music industry. The name Hooton Tennis Club may be wordy and ridiculous, but it encapsulates everything about this band—from its perfectly sloppy solos to its wordy titles, making the band’s rise all the more endearing and satisfying.