Eclipsing the Sunshine State with experimental hardcore

Eclipsing the Sunshine State with experimental hardcore

The chances are that your first two assumptions about Health will be way off the mark. First you’ll find out that they’re from LA, so they must be a close-knit group of frat-dodging rich kooks, rebelling against their mansion-dwelling parents, much like the protagonists in every trash MTV programme, from The Hills to The OC. Then you’ll hear their experimental hardcore – all fractured, disjointed and harsh on the ears – and, disregarding the wealth of their hometown, label their sound ‘hipster music of the highest level, composed in as long as it plays, perhaps even a joke’. And you’d be wrong, on all accounts.

Firstly, the boundary-less ferocious noise crafted by Health comes on like art that has been made by its creators, for its creators. Evolving a sound as unique as theirs would be far more time consuming, and far less effective, than riling ma and pa with a shitty tattoo and flipping the bird at granny’s 80th. Secondly, while their self-titled debut album may fail to breach the 30-minute mark, it was no rush job in its composing.

“It was probably one of the most difficult things any one of us has ever done,” says guitarist Jupiter Keyes, his head dipping wearily as he revisits the tiresome making of his band’s record. “It was almost as if it was cursed. If we’d written a journal of the whole process from beginning to end, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. The place got robbed, equipment constantly broke, there was a bar that wouldn’t let us play past 11.30pm, we couldn’t rent the equipment we needed‚””

“Some bums, I guess for a joke, would take a fresh shit next to the door every morning,” interjects bassist/noise controller John Famiglietti, grinning. “One time they hid it under the lock and Jake touched it. That was pretty funny.”
Jupiter: “One time I was driving off and I skidded out and splattered shit everywhere. There was always a fresh shit somewhere.”

Yep, this is the world of Health; a world where music is forbidden to sound like anything else in the history of the planet, and one where all-night recording sessions in a local DIY venue are rewarded with the punctual delivery of fresh human faeces. But come back, because Health’s world is as interesting as things are likely to get for the next X amount of moons. They’re the four west coasters who Crystal Castles nabbed ‘Crimewave’ from, spinning it into a melancholy electro jewel of 2007, and, on meeting them, they quickly dispel any preconceptions we have that what they do isn’t mapped out to the finest of details. So avant-garde they appear to many under-accomplished and to be ‘winging it’, Health, more than anything, are in fact a group of technically minded studio nerds – “One day we spent six to eight hours just hitting a snare, trying to find the right sound, moving mics around,” says Jupiter.

And there was us (and the rest of the UK) thinking that while New York’s alternative music scene never ceases to sporn desirable bands, the opposite coast of America was sat around discussing how radical Good Charlotte’s new album is.

“[LA’s underground scene] is a really active, vibrant community for alternative music,” says John when we drop the bombshell that us Brits mostly think of LA as all movie screens and Britney car chases. “It’s really self-contained so it’s not what you think’s coming from LA. And so we’ve never had a problem, there’s always been that support for us. We’ve always had a comfortable home.”
To pinpoint the home that John talks about is relatively easy. The Smell is a DIY venue for all ages, ran “purely for the music” and often graced by free Health shows. (Its doorstep is also the crime scene of those infamous phantom turds, although John assures us that the venue’s name is such due to the odour of post-show sweat, not trouser accidents).

“I dunno if you guys have them here, it seems like you absolutely don’t,” says John “but it’s like a DIY venue, which means it’s like an unofficial, technically illegal venue. They charge on the door, there’s a bathroom, there’s a stage, a sound system and everything like a club or whatever but it’s pretty much run purely for the music. All the money goes to the bands.”

“There’s no bar or anything,” advises Jupiter before John really wards us off a visit: “Yeah, you can’t drink in there. I think if anyone from the UK, reading about it, wanted to go check out The Smell they’d be bored as shit. Like, ‘you can’t drink here? This fucking sucks! It’s dirty and these bands suck!'”

And yet Health seemingly like it. So much in fact they made it their recording studio in which they put together their debut album. And losing us in recording stories full of techy jargon about mirco-tones, waves and reverb levels, and multi-tracking, our mind is further put to rest that Health are no joke. When Jupiter explains the one existing Health rule as “it’s gotta sound new, if it sounds like something else it becomes vetoed” we don’t even look at it as another worthless sound-bite spat our way by a media-trained band. But perhaps that’s because ‘Health’ has sat in our stereo for the past few months, constantly spinning out its shifting time signatures, punching guitar parts and zombie vocals. In many ways it should be too much for a home hi-fi (and your ears) to cope with. And yet the originality of hardcore punk mixed with Gregorian chanting and the weightless, dreamy vocals of singer Jake has meant that Health have remained high on our daily listens list.

“I’d say [writing for the album] was different every time, but more often than not it’s very structured,” says John of developing the band’s sound. “We play it the same every time. There’s very little improvisation. Sometimes songs are written in more of a traditional jamming kid of way but very often the original song idea is written out on a piece of paper and diagrammed entirely. So structure is a big deal.”

“It’s very composed,” agrees Jupiter “People come up to us after the shows and ask if we were improvising, but it’s all very structured and very composed. In the writing process it’s not like we know exactly what notes we’re going to play‚” it’s a very weird and worthless process‚””

John: “And very inefficient. But it’s the only way we can do it.”

Once, we presumed that Health would laugh in the face of being asked if there was a concept behind their hostile, noisy album. Now we can’t wait to find out what it is. Because, being a band that makes music from 4am until the neighbouring gay bar’s raggaeton pipes up and registers on recordings, they’re bound to have one.

“Most of all the concept is just that it’s actually an album,” surmises Jupiter. “You listen to it from beginning to end as a cohesive unit. I feel like a lot of music these days isn’t created or listened to in that way and that’s something that was always important to us when listening to old rock records by Led Zeppelin, The Beatles‚””

“That’s why it’s structured in a way that it is,” adds John. “There’s a wave that your energy is supposed to follow when you’re listening to it. The sequence is very important to us.”

Health then, not the thoughtless aggressive punks you might of originally thought they were.


Originally published in issue 2 (vol. 2) of Loud And Quiet. August 2008

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