HEALTH is a phenomenal force of unnatural energy, purveyors of a very refined and composed turbulence. Their sounds: abrasive, intoxicating, and compellingly unique. Otherworldly, yet as suited to a dingy club basement as they are the biggest soundsystems of the festival scene. You feel them in your liver, live and on record; regardless of how many you’ve had.
The band has been without a long-player ‘proper’ since 2009 – when ‘Get Color’ built upon the foundations laid by the Los Angeles outfit’s eponymous debut of 2006 – but has seen its reputation flourish nonetheless. An active Twitter account has helped. So, too, has their work for Rockstar Games: they scored the studio’s critical and commercial hit of 2012, Max Payne 3.
But now: new material, and a third album close to completion. At recent shows, the band has previewed some of its content. The impression, first though it is, is one of a more-direct approach, without compromising what’s made HEALTH special until now. Beats are pronounced, immediately catchy, and melodies sneak through the static and noise. It’s dance music – but so very far away from what usually passes under the term’s umbrella of context.
Before taking the stage at London’s intimate Birthdays venue for the first of two shows in the same day, HEALTH’s John Famiglietti allowed Clash to pop a recording device under his face in what qualifies as the club’s backstage area.
We’re standing in a cupboard, basically.
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‘Die Slow’, from ‘Get Color’
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So, John. HEALTH is back.
Well, HEALTH is almost back. HEALTH… well, we technically didn’t go away, although we kinda did. But that was never the plan. HEALTH is about to be back, officially.
And album three is in the proverbial can?
Yes. And what we’re doing now is foreplay. And the real deal is coming up, once we get it up, so to speak.
And when might that be?
Well, for me, it usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how much I’ve been drinking. But seriously, right now, it’s coming…
So what can both fans of the band now, and newcomers, expect from album three? How’s the sound changed, or evolved?
It’s definitely different. There are elements that are, quote-unquote, the same, after a fashion; but the biggest differences are that there’s more bass, there are more beats, and there’s a lot more real sub-bass. It’s more melodic, and more accessible. But it’s all over the place, at the same time. We’ve been adding things to the HEALTH sound, rather than actively taking on other genres. It’s not like we’ve gone, “Hey, here’s a trap beat,” or anything like that. Everything still has the HEALTH sound, with the new elements.
And the four-year gap between albums. Obviously you’ve not been inactive, but…
Yeah, the four-year gap blows, but like you say, we’ve not not been busy. The pressure on us, and the songs that were old that we had then… basically, our strand of narrative got broken. Also, right now, it’s the third year of the decade, and I think that every third year of every decade sees a change in music. And music has changed. So there were conceptual things behind the band, things we were responding to, back then that we’re not so into now.
Explain something for me. HEALTH has been pretty successful – you’ve seen the world with this band. And usually a successful band produces sound-alikes. But, so far as I know, there’s not really another band that ‘does’ HEALTH. You know?
Yeah, I don’t know exactly what that is down to. But from the outset we always wanted to sound unique. We always had the ‘show experience’ in our heads when working on the first album, and how certain songs would work within certain live spaces. So, we’d think: what would this song sound like here? What would excel here? It’s like how David Byrne wrote about how music is composed for wherever you listen to it.
So much of the first record is only thinking about LA, only thinking about The Smell, and some basement, and how we would kill, how we would just own, that space. What would be exciting, after all the shows you’ve seen? What would turn you on?
And also, there was music coming out of LA at the time that was really exciting, and we wanted to be a part of it. We didn’t want to be like bands coming from New York or anything. We wanted to be different. Also, there was this sort of ‘bro’ side of us, I suppose. We wanted to f*ckin’ rock.
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‘We Are Water’, from ‘Get Color’
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So there’s a more ‘dance’ edge to the new material?
Well, I suppose it’s still ‘tribally’. We’ve always been really into making beats. Even though our music has been quite experimental, and quite atonal, we’ve never tried to be inaccessible. We’ve never tried to alienate. We’ve always been of the opinion that, no matter what, we deliver a good show. But when people start to like you, there’s extra communication there. I don’t know… We’ve always been a part of a lot of things. We’re not like the assholes at the back of the room, text-messaging their friends saying how shitty the party is. I’m at the party.
So there’s real passion to what we do – but we didn’t want to be like experimental artists who are a bit, “F*ck everything.” Y’know, bands that would not cater to the audience. I mean, we’re hardly a ‘party’ band, exactly, but we want to entertain. We’re unlikely to ask an audience to clap along, but we are there to entertain you.
And the physicality of the shows can’t go unmentioned.
Well, we’re a bit used to it now, but the early shows took their toll. And this time out, the first few shows – because we hadn’t played for so long – weren’t easy. We all threw out our necks. But I do want to deliver bang for your buck, even at this early show. That’s why I’m drinking right now.
Twitter. Tell me about Twitter. You’re pretty good on it.
It’s really for the super-fans. It’s like, so, hey, you like the band? Here’s a joke? Wanna hear another joke? Oh, I shit my pants. There you go. But when there’s no record there, having that kind of communication is great, as anyone can just email you. Like, I’ve given out so much advice about dumb shit.
Did you ever get the end of Max Payne 3? Because the scene, near the game’s end, where your track ‘Tears’ comes in: brilliant…
Oh yeah, I beat it three times. It’s a hard game, and nobody else in the band could get past the third stage. I played it at Rockstar when we were scripting and re-scripting the game. And it’s opened us up to a whole new audience. You can’t say no to an opportunity like that. It was cool.
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‘Tears’, from the Max Payne 3 soundtrack
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HEALTH’s new, third album is due out in its own damn time.
Find the band online here.
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