Stood next to the four members of HEALTH, we watch an east London tower block burn to the ground… or at least the mass of grey concrete will do if the fire brigade don’t arrive soon. Hypnotised by the flames that dance in the derelict window frames, Jake [vocals and guitar], John [bass and noises], BJ [drums] and Jupiter [guitar] are only distracted by one other impressive spectacle – girls. Lots of girls. Between the smoke and a constant wave of approaching admirers, the band are unexpectedly trapped; a stranded hardcore troupe that continue to surprise.
Last year, when we met John and Jupiter as they promoted their self-titled debut album – a ferocious record of thrashing grindcore, zombie vocals and experimental noises and structures – they told us of how the studio had been a place of pedantic accuracy and frustration. In LA’s DIY mecca The Smell club, they would spend whole nights recording single snare drum sounds, like four fussier Martin Hannetts. In retrospect of how precise ‘HEALTH’ sounds (in its pauses as much as its sudden shrieks and tumbling drum fills) of course that’s how the album was conceived. Then, in April, came the first glimpse of new material. Limited 7” single ‘Die Slow’ was the band’s most accessible track to date, sounding more like a highlight from remix album ‘HEATH/DISCO’ than the abrasive avant-garde punk we’d began to expect. Brilliantly, the dance track thumped like you wish Liars would, but are incapable of. The initial shock over, HEALTH were now angling for wider appeal and we were ready for a second album of imaginative club bangers. Only the rest of ‘Get Color’ – released September 7th via City Slang – sounds nothing like that at all.
“I think the song fits on the record in the context of ‘Get Color’ but, yeah, it definitely isn’t [representative of the whole album],” says Jake, now nowhere near a burning building or a gaggle of gals “and that’s something we’re afraid of, critically I guess. Like, that song has been really well received by fans, probably more so than any other song we’ve ever written, but we were worried about a backlash. Everyone who reviewed it was like, ‘New direction for HEALTH’, and it’s like, yeah, there’s a new direction but if you think it’s all going to be like the remix album then no, it’s not like that shit at all.”
“We wrote the song to be the single,” continues Jupiter “but when it came to releasing it we were like, ‘Fuck! What if people misinterpret this direction and how it relates to the rest of the album?’ It was kinda angling for a top ten hit but obviously our music is fucking weird. Jake often tells this story about when we were writing this song we were like, ‘Fuck yeah. This is Radiohead; we’re ready to go!’”
Jake: “Yeah, I was already having the ground dug out for my pool.”
“I spent a lot of money ahead of time,” deadpans John. “I thought this was going to be a lot bigger than it was. Bought a fur coat, bought a girl a car – I didn’t even know that girl.”
Jake: “I invested into all of this research by some guy I found on the internet who said he could… like, you know how there’s all this stuff on the internet about recreating dinosaurs, I was like, ‘Fuck dude, ground level! I’m going to build a billion-dollar empire!’ Totally fucked me. I should have known he wouldn’t have been using Paypal.”
Jupiter: “My warnings fell on deaf ears – ‘I dunno guys…’”
This is how HEALTH tend to conduct press interviews, serious answers snowballing into layers of quick-witted dry jokes that stack higher as each member trumps the previous gag. As well as being highly entertaining (infinitely more so than well rehearsed mews of “We just do what we want and if other people like it, great”) it’s a fitting way for this band to carry themselves.
‘HEALTH’ was musically uncompromising and aggressive but Jake’s ghostly vocals also provided a certain amount of serenity amongst the chaos. It was a Jekyll and Hyde of an album: dark and light, pissed and content, manic zoothorns next to sweet if inaudible chirps. The same applies to ‘Get Color’ with one notable difference – Fuck Buttons-esque megaphone screams and metal cutter buzzes are still there but Jake’s otherworldly singing is purposefully more melodic. Tracks like ‘Severin’ and ‘Before Tigers’ are proof that HEALTH still sound as bi-polar as ever.
“I think the first album sounded evil and the second one sounds sad,” says John.
“It’s darker…” adds Jake, stopping himself. “Well, the first record is very dark but it’s more atonal and really abrasive, and there are qualities from that that are definitely on this record but it’s more melodic and those melodies are more dark and sad.”
John: “The first record was you in middle school punching your bed and shit, this record is you crying like a bitch in high school.”
“The third record’s going to be you at a keg party in college,” adds Jupiter. “You’ve pulled through it all and you’re finally getting laid.”
Jake: “Then the bottom drops out on the fourth record when you’ve graduated and you’re unemployed. That record’s going to be very depressing.”
BJ: “It’s all like 15 years later, just like in TV, like how Monica is supposed to be 26 in Friends but she’s actually like 40 – we’re way too old to have those feelings but we’re going retro.”
“By the fifth or sixth record we’ll just suck,” ends Jake. “No one will hear it, it’ll be like that last Clash record. I’ll be a total alcoholic and no one will be doing anything so our manager will write it and it’s going to suck. He’ll be rapping over it and shit.”
First serious, then jovial. The band probably do have albums 3 to 6 in mind though, even if shitty raps from their manager are unlikely to be featured on them (although rule nothing out where HEALTH are concerned). Sessions at The Smell would end up with “some bums taking a shit next to the door every morning”, so, unsurprisingly, the band changed tact for ‘Get Color’, recording it in – get this – an actual studio. Long nights at the technically illegal venue felt cursed, this time around was, says Jake, “the same shit, although not literally,” he smiles. “We definitely did it faster but we always feel like everything’s going wrong.”
“At first it seemed like everything was going really smooth,” adds Jupiter while BJ orders the most obscure beers the bar we’re in has to offer. “We were working with an engineer who was recording everything for us and that was one of the biggest problems on the first album: we did it ourselves and didn’t have a fucking clue what we were doing. We did it all to tape this time and when we’d hear playback we were like, ‘fuck yeah, this sounds really good.’ So the whole process of recording it was pretty smooth, other than it not moving as quickly as we wanted it to because the guy we were recording it with… er… has his own pace, I guess.”
“Sushi breaks,” says Jake on an out breath, raising his eyebrows.
“He knows what he’s doing,” continues Jupiter “but we had differences in artistic vision. Like, it’s our album, it’s not his album, so we argued a lot, like, ‘hey man this is how we wanna do it.’ ‘No, you can’t do that.’ ‘We’re doing that, it’s how we want it!’ And there’s some things that ended up how we didn’t want them, which is frustrating.”
John says: “It’s definitely soured us on working with other people.” HEALTH – an island of a band who design and sell their own merchandise – had let someone into their cottage industry and been let down. But the bassist who’s serpent-like onstage, snaking his hips to a hidden rhythm and tossing his head as if performing Howard Donald’s come-to-bed dance from the ‘Back For Good’ video, also says: “The third time’s a charm,” referring to his band’s next album, which will take the faeces-stained lessons learned from recording alone and recent tricks picked up from ‘Get Color’’s sessions to produce “a perfect album man.” “There won’t be two years until the next album,” says John. “We’re going to shoot while we’re hot. We’re ready to roll some sevens.”