As a born and bred Chicagoan, I grew up with a typical Midwesterner’s antipathy for all things West Coast (Oh, hey there, L.A. Are you all enjoying your suntans, extravagant wealth, and plentiful plastic surgery? That’s great, why don’t you send me a postcard in the form of yet another insipid, three-minute beach pop ditty? Greeeeaaaaatttt…). All that started to change about three years ago, when The Smell and its alien menagerie of post-apocalypse punk first started to reach national prominence.
What a revelation. Suddenly we were awash in loud, ugly, noisy punk rock with one foot in the past and the other foot in some kind of impossible alternate future where human beings had evolved from insects, and insects had evolved from cabbages. And at the forefront of this glorious new age: L.A. four-piece HEALTH.
Combining the constantly evolving sounds of tribal machine holocaust with a street-savvy knack for self-promotion, HEALTH have proven themselves to be one of the most enduring and consistently engaging of their contemporaries. Imagine my glee, then, when I found out that I was going to have the opportunity to pick their brains after their set at Lollapalooza (hey, yeah, remember way back then?). Jake Duzsik, John Famiglietti, and Jupiter Keyes all stopped by to discuss remix albums, the development of their visual aesthetic, and the failed prototype for the HEALTH wedding dress.
Were you guys here for the whole weekend, or did you just get in?
Jake: We just got here last night
What were your thoughts on Lollapalooza?
John: Well, I mean, fuck it. You know, it’s famous. It’s Lollapalooza. My brother had a shirt, growing up. It was “Lollapalooza ninety-whatever,” and that’s cool.
Jake: It’s definitely one of the festivals that’s, like, the first festival other than Woodstock that I knew about. So it’s just really cool that we’re playing it and we’re here. I’m excited to walk around and see some bands.
You guys have played some bigger venues before. This isn’t a large crowd, I don’t think, for you. You were opening for Nine Inch Nails for a while.
John: Well, we’ve just done a lot of European festivals.
What were the Nine Inch Nails shows like? I heard not all the audiences were terribly receptive.
Jake: Yeah, I mean, it’s Nine Inch Nails fans…
Jupiter: I rate it as a success for audience reaction.
Jake: … The thing for us, it was kind of… it’s not like your own fans booing you. It’s like, if you played with a bunch, like, thousands of people, and there’s 500 people who boo you, but they’re not your fans, it’s kind of funny. So, as long as they’re not going to throw shit — well, they did throw shit at us at one show, but…
Jake: Oh, Jersey. Jersey was actually probably the roughest.
John: I got hit with bagels.
Jake: ‘Cause Jacksonville was just funny because it was just like… just hick guys who were just like [adopting a gruff Southern drawl] “Where’s Reznor?” And, just, like, you know, handlebar moustache, a fucking NASCAR hat. So that was just kind of like, “Meh.” Jersey was more like, “Aaaaaawwww.”
Jupiter: They were pissed, though.
Jake: They were pissed.
Jupiter: Fucking pissed. They were the most pissed that show than any show.
John: That was the super-fan show; that’s why.
Jake: it was a small show, and it was only… It was like 3,000 people, and it was, like, only tickets bought from the website, like when they were first released. So it was all these, just, like, “NIN ‘til I die!” So they were just, “What the fuck is this bullshit.”
What’s Trent Reznor Like?
Jake: Super, really cool guy. Really has helped us a lot, and…
Jupiter: Very down to earth.
Jake: Very personable.
Jupiter: Very for real. He’s pretty much just a bad-ass. He’s an amazing dude.
John: And he really looks out for the people around him, too. He really takes care of you.
Jake: He’s a stand-up guy.
Did you guys hear the album he did with Saul Williams?
Jake: I haven’t heard that, actually.
John: I heard two songs.
Jake: We recently mixed a single at his house, and he helped us out with it.
Really? Is it upcoming, or…
Jake: “USA Boys.” It’s on Disco 2.
Oh, yeah. That’s a good song. In terms of Disco 2, it’s your second remix album. First one seemed more like a club-jam…
Jake: It’s got more bangers.
“It’s like, if you played with a bunch, like, thousands of people, and there’s 500 people who boo you, but they’re not your fans, it’s kind of funny. So, as long as they’re not going to throw shit—well, they did throw shit at us at one show, but…”
This one is a lot mellower. Is that by design, or did it just happen like that?
John: More mash. Bangers and mash.
Jake: Yeah, we didn’t want to make the same record twice. We want the Disco records to be viewed as legitimate, which is how we look at them. They actually feel like albums and are albums. So we kind of pushed for, and held out to try to sculpt this thing that’s more like a mellow, kind of summer record that just is its own thing. We didn’t want to make the same thing.
John: Also, sort of, we had to make an album out of it as remixes were coming in. The best ones were more mellow. And it was sort of like… It’s different. It’s a very different world from when the first Disco came out, so we got the concept of making a breezy record.
It’s interesting, I read an interview you guys did a while ago, talking about how 1997 was an utter wasteland for popular music, and I had this association with remix records from that era.
John: Oh, they were very bad.
Jake: Yeah, remix records by and large are a fucking waste of your time.
John: Bush’s remix record… not very good. I got to be straight with you.
Jupiter: Are you serious?
John: They had one.
John: That’s the first commercial remix record I ever saw in the store, by the warehouse.
What made you guys decide to resurrect this—to redeem this format?
John: Well, it’s a great idea, but we’ve never seen a good one.
Jake: Also, when we started a band, you know, bloghouse was really starting to, like… was, like, a burgeoning, real explosion of music. And there was a lot of fucking good remixes. There was a lot of bands that I didn’t like and we didn’t like, but you’d hear the remix and be like, “Oh, that’s a fucking great remix.” So we were like, “Well, maybe we can do that.” And then the first remix we ever got was the Crystal Castles’ remix of “Crimewave,” which was awesome. So we were, like, “Well, fuck!”
John: There’s a million reasons why we started the remix thing, and they’re all very good for us. And one of them is sort of a subterfuge. Like Jake was saying, we can get on some shitty dude’s iTunes via remix the same way some shitty band gets on ours.
Jake: It’s a Trojan horse, man.
John: Back atcha’.
Now, is that something you’re going to continue to do for the near future?
Jake: So long as we feel like it’s artistically viable. You know, if it doesn’t seem like a good idea for the third one, or if the songs aren’t coming in, we’re not just going to put out, like, “Volume 3 of Fucking Mediocre Remixes.” We don’t want to do that.
John: And things will keep changing in that world, and we don’t want to, like, fuck up where there’s this insane Balkan techno surge in America and try to jump on the bandwagon, and we’re trying to fit, and it doesn’t work on all Jake’s vocals…
Jake: Maybe if we don’t get remixes, like, Disco 3 will just be, like, one 55-minute minimal techno song that we just make. That really bad minimal techno, you know?
John: It’s got vocal samples of yourself, like, going through the fridge and shit.
Jake: Yeah, yeah.
John: With reverb on it. “Well, I don’t know. Let’s get some eggs? Eggs. Ep-ep-ep-eggssss.”
Jake: That really annoying… yeah.
John: Actually, if Reed was on it, talking stories and shit, that’d be brilliant. That’d be a hit.
Jake: Anyway, that’s the back story on that.
So…Get Color… Sorry, I spaced on your last album name for a second.
Jake: God damn it.
The interview’s over. Get Color was a more accessible album than, I think, your self-titled one was.
Jake: Yeah. It’s still crazy, though.
Yeah. Oh, no, I’m not disputing that. And then the newer songs that have been coming have been skewing more melodic. Is that a direction you’re going to go in for the next album, or is that just where you’re at right now?
Jake: No, it’ll still have songs that are nuts and maybe aren’t as melodic or are really rhythmically weird, but yeah. We don’t want to make the same record. We want to evolve as a band. It’s not like we’re doing something where, like, you’re trying to alienate your fan base, or say, like, you’re going to have a completely different sound, but, yeah, we want to become more melodic. We are.
John: We are going to have the same sound. We’re not changing anything. We’re just going to do more of everything, but, yeah, we’re definitely going to be more melodic. Which people seem to like. No one complains about it. No one’s like, “Man, that’s fucking lame!” Everyone’s like, “Yeah, how about some more of those?”
Jake: “I like that one that’s like a song.”
John: And then you get these really, like, harsh-music, like, arty-people and they’re like, “Yeah, I like the really poppy one.” “Oh, really? You do? Okay. Well, good work there.”
“In Violet” was a very… honestly, I think a very beautiful song, very pretty. Do you guys see any contradiction between combining harsher textures—or achieving beauty through harsher textures?
Jake: Yeah, so we definitely really try to write… Like if we try to write something that’s anthemic or melodic, it’s like we want it to be sad or brooding. Not, like, sunny indie rock, or anything like that. So, yeah, we’re very interested in using harsh textures and noisy things in ways that can be surprisingly emotionally moving. That’s definitely a goal.
Jupiter: Just to add to that earlier part, we are, in a lot of ways, a band full of contradictions, so musically that comes up, too.
John: There was a great song in the ’90s. It’s called “Walking Contradiction.” And if you listen to the lyrics, it’s about us.
Jupiter: There’s another really good one called “Ironic.”
Jake: Isn’t there another “Walking Contradiction” song by Kris Kristofferson from the ’70s?
Jupiter: That one also applies.
Jake: It’s about Johnny Cash. Really, we’re kind of like Johnny Cash.
Jupiter: And Alanis Morrisette.
That’s how I described you in my review, actually.
John: Oh, did you write that T2 review?
“It’s just like, everything is crappy, industrialized. It’s like, you’ve got a flying car, but it’s a hunk of shit. And it’s like, all dirty… “
John: A good friend of ours was like…
Jake: That’s really funny, because…
John: He said that independently, while we were recording. He said, “Man, that really sounds like the Terminator 2 soundtrack.”
Jake: I love that soundtrack, man!
John: Brad Vidal. It’s really good.
Well, it was really funny, as I was getting ready to email your publicist, I was like, “I don’t know if I should send a link to this. I’m always afraid when artists look at it they’re going to be like, “Naaaah.”
John: We were so validated by it.
Jake: We had talks about it.
John: We were like, “Dude! It does sound like that!”
Jake: Especially “In Violet.” It sounds like Terminator 2.
Jupiter: So, to go with the analogy, what song is “You Could Be Mine” by Guns and Roses?
Jake: That’s got to be…”We Are Water”?
While I was preparing for this interview, I came across an interview you guys had done with IM/UR, and the author wrote “Health are the smartest kind of primal, the ones who would have discovered fire or invented the wheel kind of primal.” And actually, this segues nicely off the Terminator 2 thing; like, I really associate you guys with a mechanistic sound, with technology, something kind of cold. But there is that primitivism there? The drums are very…
Jake: Well, the two ways we try to think about, like, if there’s some artful way to describe what the sound is without getting into, like, noise-rock and genre shit… We like to think about it as, either it’s like post-apocalyptic, so you still have all this technology, but things are all fucked up. Or, it’s like, just the future, so there’s all this crazy technology, but everything’s shitty.
John: Like Aliens. The world of Aliens is the most bleak, shit-ass world ever.
Jake: It’s just like, everything is crappy, industrialized. It’s like, you’ve got a flying car, but it’s a hunk of shit. And it’s like, all dirty…
John: Like Aliens. They’re going through space and they just have these crappy Apple 2es, and bullshit because the corporations are trying to fuck you.
Jake: Or Cyborg, starring John Claude Van Damme, which I think you guys should all see.
So do you find yourself returning to certain lyrical themes at all? The vocals are very downplayed in the mix of the songs.
Jake: Definitely, as far as certain themes, the first album was, kind of, mostly all lyrically about—and the way it’s supposed to be presented—about, sort of, that interesting thing of technology. And as we become more technologically advanced, how that, sort of, is alienating of certain human elements. Yeah, like, “mechanistic,” and sterility, sort of. And I think the second record, there’s more songs that are, like, character-written—not “character-written,” but just sort of a song about some thing. It’s opening up a little bit more. I don’t write songs about, like, breaking up with my girlfriend. It’s not really that kind of lyrical base. It’s more abstracted, vague things that are generalized.
John: Jup and I like to say that the first record’s middle-school, Get Color’s high school, and next is going to be college.
Jake: College is when you start, like, doing a lot of drugs and fucking. Or, then, we like to say the first record is evil and the second one is sad. Evil clown/sad clown.
Next one’s happy clown, then?
John: Maybe “mad clown.”
Jupiter: I think it’s got to be “Crazy-mad clown.”
Jake: “Crazy-mad clown.” God, that would be so awesome if we called it that, and then the cover was just this clown… [laughing] and then, like, a portrait… [pantomiming what said crazy mad clown might look like] “AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!”
John: And it’s all reflective, like the Korn album that Todd McFarlane did the cover of, you know?
Jupiter: Is it one of those where it changes images?
John: No! It’s got the…
Jupiter: It should change images!
Jake: Or you could do, like, front cover is crazy clown, and he’s all wild-eyed, and the back he’s just [once again, pantomiming the crazy clown] “AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!” Anyway, Crazy Mad Clown, 2011.
John: We haven’t figured out the album title.
Jake: Either that or Shit Sandwich.
John: I would love that. That would actually be, like, arty. You know? It would be like in terra sante. Just, like, you couldn’t stock it anywhere. People would be like, “Shit Sandwich”?
Jake: Yeah, if they haven’t seen Spinal Tap, they’re just like, “What?”
John: And then the review would be “Shark sandwich.” I’d be fucking pissed, just two words?
Jake: “Two words: ‘Shark sandwich.’ ”
Actually, on the subject of your covers, you guys favour abstract geometrical shapes, bright neony, shiney colors. What makes that seem appropriate to your music?
Jake: It kind of all started from the first thing we ever did, was we did, like, a split 7-inch. And our first thought was, like, “Oh, we should get someone to do art for it.” And then, we’re just, like, really critical assholish kind of people, and very control-oriented, so we knew that if we had someone do something for it that we probably wouldn’t like it. And then if you take art from somewhere else, that’s lame. At that point, we wouldn’t even have been thinking about legal issues. So the aesthetic that we developed was the easiest thing to do, which was simple, like, geometric kinds of things. And then the bright colors came from seeming like they juxtaposed really oddly with how intense and aggressive the music was. And then John just started doing—from that basis, we did, like, a clear 7” with one strip of color on it, and John just started doing more and more art, and then it just became his whole thing. His part of the band. We want it all to be, like, a brand that’s ours. We don’t want, like, four album covers that all look different. When you were done, you’d look back at the discography, at the output of the band and you’d be like, “It all is part of something.”
“… if we try to write something that’s anthemic or melodic, it’s like we want it to be sad or brooding. Not, like, sunny indie rock, or anything like that. So, yeah, we’re very interested in using harsh textures and noisy things in ways that can be surprisingly emotionally moving.”
I really think it helps to create this kind of world, this consistency.
John: Yeah, the visual aesthetic of the band, like we were talking, like The Grateful Dead. As a kid, you think that is going to be the greatest band in your fucking life. You think it is going to sound like Black Sabbath, and you’re like, “Can’t wait to hear it.” You see all this art, Steal Your Face, dancing bears, everything’s fucking awesome—Best band ever! You put it on… and you just start to cry.
Jake: A lot of people love it.
John: People love it, but it’s not like you…
Jake: But I had the same experience. ‘Cause I thought it was going to be like Sabbath.
John: I thought it was just going to be the rockinest, most badass…
Jake: I remember I bought it, and, like, the first song I put on was fuckin’ “Long Strage Trip It’s Been,” and I was like, “What. The fuck. This is a country song. This is fucking bullshit.”
Jupiter: This is kind of a universal experience in this band. We all got the record when we were in junior high, and we were all like, “What the fuck?”
John: Such a bummer.
Jake: I was like, “Where’s ‘Hole in the Sky’?”
John: I swear to God, when I put it on, I thought I was going to be like [throws up the devil horns and mouths some heavy metal riffs]. “Duuuuuude! I’m going to be obsessed with this band and get all this stupid shit.”
Jake: And even the tape I bought, which, the cover was this metal skeleton and it was photographed all weird. I was like, “This is going to be so crazy.”
John: Dude, and, like, “steal your face.” If that didn’t mean something so lame, I want to have a fucking tattoo of that shit. Like the t-shirts with the raddest band symbol in history.
So you guys are very closely associated with The Smell. Obviously, you recorded your first record there. There’s a big scene associated with that. Do you think that’s a valid association for everyone involved?
Jake: Oh, yeah, it was a pretty tight-knit community, and we all played shows there. I don’t know how much a part of it we really are now because we’re not really there, and now there’s, like, a new generation of bands that are playing shows and playing shows at other DIY spaces around L.A. But when everything sort of coalesced for the L.A. scene, it was like all those bands… No one really gave a shit about L.A., and we had this really tight-knit scene, partially because, people weren’t, at that time, really so much moving there to… It’s like everyone and their fucking brother moves to Brooklyn to be in an art punk band, or whatever. So it was just really supportive, and all those bands, before they all started touring and got a lot of attention… Like, you’d be at a party or you’d play a show, and it’d be like us hanging out if we weren’t playing, or The Mae Shi, No Age, Mika Miko, Abe Vigoda. So, yeah, it’s definitely… It’s pretty valid as a scene, because it comes from one single DIY venue, too. And it’s not like it’s all spread out. So it’s good ingredients for an actual solidified scene.
John: A lot of great bands came out of the scene that never really got noticed enough, which is, like, Captain Ahab was a brilliant band.
Jake: He’s fucking genius.
John: [affecting a Cockney accent] He’s fucking genius. He should have been in all the magazines and stuff. New record’s great.
So last year you announced that you were going to start your clothing line and you’re going to begin shooting HEALTH TV. What’s the status on that?
John: It’s happening. It’s happening later than planned. Right now jewellery and some crazy shit is being made. [Indicating his jeans] This is a prototype of HEALTH Denim. We’re going to have these. And then we’ve got this space-age hoodie coming out. It’s not going to be like we’re going to unveil a line. We’re not going to like… “Only available in stores.” It’s just like, “Here is more merch.” But we like to brand everything.
Jake: We had a deal with Crocs, but it fell through.
Son of a bitch.
Jupiter: We also made one HEALTH wedding dress. It was $20,000.
John: You can’t wear it again. I mean, it was a dead-end market. I don’t know what we were thinking.
Jake: Actually, the r&d was, like, waaaay over. It actually fucked us.
John: We’d have to sell it at twice the price.
Jupiter: That was my fault. Bad call.
Jake: Yeah, like, why does a dress have to be solar powered? I don’t understand why it had to have so many moving parts.
John: That’s what held us back. We tanked our entire budget on the r&d for this item we’re not going to sell now.
Jake: And if there’s no sun, you can’t move?
John: And HEALTH TV is happening. We’re pretty busy, and this is going to have high production value.
Jake: We’ve got some other stuff that’s going to come out.
John: We’re probably going to get one episode this year. That’s fine. That’s just the goal. We’re probably going to do it after this late stretch of the tour.