Since forming in Los Angeles in 1990, Tool has cultivated a legion of fans drawn to their complex music and thought-provoking lyrics. Among them are the four members of Hookerfist, a band based in University Place. It consists of Karl Swanson on drums, Jeff Matison on guitar, Erik Roe on bass and Carlito Tweeten on vocals.
Hookerfist was formed last August. Swanson and Matison had been in a band playing original material. When they played a show in Vancouver, Wash., the patrons in the bar were not paying much attention to the band until they played a cover of the Tool song “Sober.”
Matison said it got a great response. “People were coming out of the restrooms and the smoking area outside to check us out,” he remarked. “As soon as we started playing our originals they all left.”
That got Matison and Swanson thinking they should form a Tool tribute band. They quit the group and posted an ad on the Internet seeking a bass player. Roe, who has played guitar for about 20 years and recently picked up bass, decided to respond.
“We just knew when Erik began playing that he would work well,” Matison said.
Next they posted an ad for a singer. Tweeten was the fifth or sixth to audition.
Other Tool tribute bands in America have used song titles for their names. These guys opted to combine words from two songs, “Stinkfist” and “Hooker With A Penis,” both on the 1996 album “AEnima.”
Roe noted Hookerfist is the only Tool tribute band in the Northwest. “We pretty much have this market to ourselves,” he said.
“We saw a niche and we filled it,” Matison added.
The band has 18 songs on their set list and can play for about two hours. When selecting Tool songs to learn, Tweeten said they started with the popular ones first. Roe said they like to practice a song for several weeks before they attempt it in front of an audience. They all practice on their own at home, playing along to Tool albums or videos. One night a week they gather in their practice pad. “It is our guys night out,” Swanson quipped.
At completing a song at a recent practice, Swanson noted his timing was a bit off during one section. “We are like an airliner,” Roe said in response. “It is okay if one of the engines is not working right as long as the other three are.”
Roe said he liked Tool before joining Hookerfist, but had never been a huge fan. When he saw the ad seeking a bass player, “I figured it could not hurt to try and see how it fits.
Swanson grew up listening to artists like Iron Maiden and Ronnie James Dio. He ended up in one band whose bass player was a huge Tool fan and turned him on to their music. Swanson said it took him awhile to appreciate Tool.
Matison has been a major Tool fan since he first heard them. He used to have a fantasy of one day starting a Tool tribute band. “I had a dream and I made it happen,” he said. “It may be a small dream but it is real.”
Tool combines the aggressiveness of heavy metal, the angst of the alternative rock of the early 1990s and the ambition of art rock. Their songs are complex, often shifting from bombastic to melodic and back. Covering Tool is a challenge, one these four musicians appreciate.
“From one album to the next, their music is totally different,” Matison said. “That keeps it interesting.”
Swanson said if they were paying tribute to Ratt or Motley Crue, they may have lost interest and broken up by now.
“Anyone can play ‘Breaking The Chains’ by Dokken,” Matison added.
Hookerfist plays Backstage Bar and Grill in Tacoma on March 24 at 9 p.m. and Gonzo’s in Covington on April 21 at 9 p.m.