Finding unexpected notoriety through their collaboration with electronic arsonists Crystal Castles, Los Angeles Noise Rock quartet HEALTH have been a prominent musical force in the LA scene over the past couple of years. With their second album Get Color released late last year, the band have evolved beyond being nihilistic noise makers into an act that is pushing the textural accessibility switch. No less easy on the ears or eyes, but a band that is becoming an enticing electronic/noise entity with limitless possibility. With an album remixing tracks from Get Color called Disco2 due for release in late June, Static’s Chris Berkley spoke with HEALTH’s Jake Duzsik while the band were on tour in Australia back in February.
How are you, Sir?
I’m ok. I’m a little bit tired. How are you?
I’m doing good. You shouldn’t be tired at all, you guys in HEALTH. I’ve seen the video that was made for HEALTH’s preparation for coming to Australia. I know you guys should be in top shape.
Well, yeah, I’m not afraid. I’m ready, but I’m a little bit tired.
For people who haven’t seen it, it’s you guys exercising in your back yard, getting ready for this tour. Is that something that HEALTH do every time you go out on the road, or only for special trips?
I think special trips. We were just getting ready for Australia. That was an inauguration for maybe a new ritual, but no, we don’t normally do that.
It involved stair lifts and samurai sword sweeps and all sorts of things, so that’s what was lying around in the backyard on that day.
That is absolutely correct. Just what was lying around.
Including the Paul Hogan poster that gets ripped up?
Um….we might have gone a little bit out of our way to locate that, actually. It’s LA. There’s a lot of resources for movie posters.
Could HEALTH have come from anywhere but LA?
Um, I suppose so. I don’t think that we’re only quintessentially an LA band but I do think that we are part of a scene or place in time, essentially in terms of a lot of bands playing shows. LA’s a little bit different from New York. People don’t move there to start bands, or at least they didn’t a couple of years ago. And so it was left as this community for people to experiment without anybody really paying any attention. Like it wasn’t considered cool by any standard in the indie rock world. As such we all just did whatever we wanted.
For a city that’s usually viewed as really disparate, from the outside it seems, the last few years there has been a bit of a nurturing scene in LA. Is that right? Did you have a lot of kindred spirits about?
Definitely. There’s the venue The Smell that has obviously gotten a lot of attention and it’s really just a dark, dirty do-it-yourself space in downtown LA. Shows are 5 bucks and kids who want to play weird music and don’t want to try to get a record deal or don’t want to play indie rock and look like they’re Interpol can do whatever they want. They can play hate-noise or burn a TV if they wanted. It’s very free and it’s also apart from the more collegiate art world that accompanies experimental music on the East Coast for example.
It’s a lot dirtier and grimier on the East Coast, huh?
It’s not even that so much, it’s just you don’t have people taking everything so seriously. We’re actually a little bit different from that. It was kinda like noise music was when we were coming up in that small knit scene – was like the new punk rock. Kids would just play it because it’s aggressive, it’s loud, it’s physical and it’s cathartic, rather than trying to take the Glenn Branca art world Lamonte Young stance on it. We were making it because we wanted to make physical, loud music and we don’t want to rehash and recapitulate everything that’s already been done, so if you can‘t play a crazy guitar riff through a stack because it‘s tepid and recycled then you find a new way to make sounds and for a lot of bands and for us, noise and implementing those elements was a way to do that. But a lot of it is about the physicality of the music, rather than trying to say “we know we‘re aural deconstructionists“.
To write a thesis along with making your album as well seems to be a lot of what bands want to do.
I find that really annoying. Sometimes people will ask you that question and maybe it works for certain bands. People will talk about how their album is like this reactionary political statement or a statement on modern life. Of course we’re always reacting to tonnes of sociological and physiological pressures, but I think most bands are kinda full of it, and what they’re really influenced by is other music.
Are HEALTH a very schizophrenic band at the best of times anyway, and pretty hard to categorize? You almost seem like a band of two halves. There is that rock and noise element and at the same times there’s this alter ego called HEALTH DISCO which is the remixes and electronics.
Yeah, that is true. I mean the cool thing about the HEALTH DISCO for us is that’s actually a collaborative thing for us being with other artists that we like and letting them take our sound pallet and make songs out of it. We have been writing songs that are incorporating both elements and there are definitely elements to our band that are dance elements as well. I guess they can be a little schizophrenic at times. I’d like to think that it all fits under an umbrella aesthetic that makes sense but we’re just trying to figure out what it is to be a modern band these days and do something we’re excited about without feeling like we’re making the same song over and over again.
Did that electronic element arise out of early collaborations with people like Crystal Castles? Were you a kind of reasonably broad church to begin with?
We were listening to a lot of electronic music at the time when we started the band and we had stumbled across Crystal Castles really, really early on in both of our bands through the internet. We just asked them to do a remix before they were getting notoriety. They had done some tours, but by all accounts both scales of our bands were tiny and nobody knew who we were and we asked them to do a remix because we befriended each other on Myspace of all things and it just ended up being really good. Subsequently later on it became very popular internationally. Probably more popular than our band is, period, that one song.
You’ve got to have an in-point, so it was a good starting point for people to get on board as well.
At that point we were “Ok, well we’re a noise band” and it would be novel since we’re already interested in this part of the world to have an entire remix record and that was the starting point of that.
I mean it’s not all digital either. You guys actually eschewed computers for the latest album, Get Color. I read that it was all recorded on 2” tape. Is that right?
Yeah, it was. I don’t know that we would do that again. I think growing up listening to rock records, any records, all those classic artifacts of music are recorded analog and if your audiophile or a music dork at all, most bands have a bee in their bonnet to make an analog record and for some bands it really works. I think the record sounds good, but it just was very time consuming, so I don’t know we’re gonna do that again.
It seems on this HEALTH album as well you found a voice, literally, you stepped up with the vocals. Was that something easy to do on Get Color, or did you have trepidation about that?
No. It was just a natural out-growth of the band. There’s more repeated sections and the album is, on the whole, more melodic I‘d say. We’ve been doing a lot more with melodies. It was something I was excited about doing.
What’s your actual singing voice like though? I’m wondering what it sounds like when you step out from behind the veil?
Ah, well I’m not going to sing on the phone right now, I can tell you that much. The vocals aren’t processed really. There’s only light reverb. It sounds pretty much like that, only a little gentle or something. I don’t have a crazy rock and roll voice, that’s for sure. Sometimes it sounds like noise-rock with Enya singing…
First broadcast on Static on 25/02/10. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).