HEALTH were a normal band until they invented (or discovered) (or re-discovered) the Zoothorn, which is a permutation of microphone and guitar pedal and which made their entire band sound newly weird. They are recording their full-length during empty mornings at the Smell. They speak over kombucha and vegan chicken wraps at Vegan House. Guitarist Jupiter Keyes was respectfully silent for most of this interview.
Is there any band that everyone in HEALTH all equally admire?
Jacob Duzsik (guitar / vocals): Animal Collective.
John Famiglietti (bass): Any classic rock band.
JF: Not Grand Funk. Sabbath or Zeppelin. Actually, Television was a big influence when we started.
What traumatic experience changed that?
JF: We wanted something different—when we did ‘Girl Attorney,’ it was so far from what we’d planned to do originally that we were like, ‘aw, fuck it.’
JD: Jupiter ran all our mics into pedals and we were like, ‘That’s fuckin’ weird.’ We were really unsure how the music would come across—we were super-neurotic about it.
JF: We practiced in isolation four days a week for six months.
JD: Then we went on tour after playing like two shows.
JF: And the first response to our music was: ‘Dude, that’s fuckin’ weird!’
Someone told us that when you guys play live, it’s like a pack of wild dogs going crazy.
Benjamin Jared Miller (drums): That does explain the foaming at the mouth.
JD: It’s very physical music. We’re very much believers that it’s not like, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have an image and you should just play music.’ Performance is part of seeing a band and we want to create something for people and for ourselves.
JF: Good tunes? A music experience that is hopefully novel or special in some way—so you give a shit.
JD: We do have tenets—no audience banter, as little sound as possible until we start playing, and then it happens and it’s over.
BM: But we haven’t been confronted like… someone throwing a bottle at my head. What would we do then? We’d have to have some banter at that point.
What is it like to watch the sun rise outside the Smell?
JD: We’re tired of being there that early.
JF: I feel like L.A. has been super good to us. Especially DIY spaces like the Smell and Il Corral. It’s really encouraging.
JD: We played a lot of major cities in the US and the level of excitement and how community oriented the scene here is—very few places even come close.
We were talking about the label 5RC going under—how does that affect a band like HEALTH?
JD: We talk about it a lot—how everybody ingests information. Like what’s gonna happen to record labels when nobody buys CDs in three years?
JF: The romance is gone.
JD: From the perspective of a dude who spent ten years building a label, that’s really difficult—but for people who’ve been doing bands for ten years with no ability to have success, all of sudden there are all these connections everywhere. Minor Threat was calling record stores to hopefully get a show, and we send emails and booked a whole US tour.
What part of the romance do you miss the most?
JF: I didn’t think someone could be in a cool band and fucking be on the computer all day.
JD: Like the Doors and Jim Morrison—‘Ah, I chatted with that fucker on AIM!’
JF: ‘He’s approving friend requests!’
JD: ‘He’s been hitting on my friend on Myspace!’
Are you just getting less romantic as you get older?
JF: No, the world is. It’s not necessarily a negative thing. It keeps things moving. Things are less human than the way that we’re used to.
Are any of your songs about this?
JD: Kind of—we’re sort of nerdy. If I write the lyrics or we have an idea for a song we want to do, there’s definitely a degree of depersonalization.
JF: There’s not much of a character that the music comes from. Jake is definitely the singer, but it’s kind of detached. This might be sort of immaterial because most people who see us don’t even know we have vocals. Everything has been an evolution in stuff we were trying to do or wanted to do and we had no other option—we didn’t know what we were going to do and over time we created this niche.
JD: When we first started writing weirder songs—they were more atonal and the structure wasn’t very symmetrical and how do you write vocals for that? If you’re not able to easily identify a key? What I would do for a while is record the songs live and burn them to CD and then listen in the car.
Did you scare people at red lights that saw you freaking out in your car?
JD: I don’t really freak out when I sing.
JD: Yeah, an Ian Curtis thing.
What are you working on now?
JF: We want to keep trying to do experimental music—but not in a stupid way.
JF: Picture a phase-shifter and someone wasting your time. We have lots of ideas for things we want to do—we want to keep moving forward from those things and try and evolve them and make songs out of them.
What would you be doing if you didn’t play music?
BM: We’d design buildings together.
HEALTH PLAYS SATURDAY WITH YIP YIP, GREEN MILK FROM THE PLANET ORANGE, OLD TIME RELIJUN, AKIMBO, THE MALL, VAGINALS AND RADICAL POSTURE AT THE SMELL, 247 S. MAIN ST., LOS ANGELES. 7 PM / $8 / ALL AGES. WWW.THESMELL.ORG.