HEALTH have been brewing up new magic
On a cold Saturday night in February, just after coming off stage at Camden’s Roundhouse, Jake Duzsik of LA noise merchants HEALTH perches on a step outside the front doors of the venue. The band is nearing the end of their European tour, supporting Interpol, which prefaces the announcement of their long-awaited new album Death Magic.
Despite rumours about the record, details of their first album in five years had been sketchy to say the least, with the only discernible glimmer of material being the audio in a 30-second TV advert for American comedy programme The Eric André Show, on which the band were guests back in January. When I meet with Duzsik, the album is still uncomplete at this stage, but he promises that it will land in late spring. He won’t be pushed on a name.
Dressed only in a t-shirt, denim jacket and jeans, Duzsik explains that he isn’t used to such cold, hailing from the balmier climbs of downtown LA. His scratchy stage persona – full of pent-up aggression – reflects the sound the band emits live, but is not present in our conversation. Duzsik exudes warmth – “Put a note in there that I’m freezing my ass off!” he jokes. He also has a sense of humour about the band’s extended absence. “You can’t go away for five fucking years and come out with a bunch of stuff that sounds like it comes from the same time period.”
The pulsating electronic noise band belched out of LA with their self-titled record in 2007, but it was 2009’s Get Color that drove them beyond the confines of The Smell, establishing the band as global stalwarts of the scene that emanated from the mythologised DIY venue. After a two year spate of relentless touring followed by time spent writing the soundtrack to Max Payne 3 – which means the band’s last recording bizarrely shipped four million copies in its first year – HEALTH took some time out in the studio. After a string of ‘pre album shows’ at Dalston’s Birthdays in 2013, everything went a bit quiet. “We didn’t want it to take this long,” Duzsik admits. “It’s not like we’re reclusive and don’t give a shit. We are exceedingly neurotic as a band, we work on stuff excessively and fret over details.” Being on a supporting tour for Interpol seems a strange way for the band to creep back into the limelight, but perhaps getting out on the road was just what they needed.
“I am definitely excited to be back. We’re playing the new stuff and just working out how to present the tracks live,” Duzsik continues. “That is kind of the point of why we wanted to do this tour.” On stage at the Roundhouse, HEALTH still sound like a noise band playing in your favourite Lynchian nightclub – their guitars passed through an incinerator – but there is a definite aesthetic shift in what’s on offer. One track sounds like an ethereal Pet Shop Boys (and is big enough to fill the huge venues they play), its monstrous pop passed through a thunderous decoder, with its noise elements still razor sharp, cutting deeper than a pickaxe.
“You can’t go away for five fucking years and come back with a bunch of stuff that sounds like it's from the same time period”
“The reason anybody was excited in the first place is because we were trying to be challenging. For us the whole mission statement is to do things that are new,” he says. “So doing a record that sounds like Get Color would be a waste of time creatively.” The band have always been rule breakers. With their records constantly shifting and morphing, everything they write refuses to settle, but a heavy dose of grandiose 80s pop may be unexpected for fans. “We don’t like elements that sound like something we already know. That is really important to us,” Duzsik explains. “It is probably commercially to our detriment. But that shit is exciting to us.” HEALTH have always amalgamated a dizzying array of genres into their sublimely cacophonous noise. “Jupiter [Keyes] is really into really beat heavy, gnarly and dark underground hip-hop, while John [Famiglietti] is heavily into electronic music,” Duzsik says. These sounds have always been interlaced into the band’s aesthetic, and are ever present tonight. “I listen to a lot of old music,” Duzsik continues. “Sometimes we aren’t going to be able to incorporate it. But it’s about what our band can do with that framework.”
Reflecting on the band’s constant experimentation, Duzsik says: “If you look at the first record compared to the second there was that shift.” HEALTH was mainly an atonal noise record, but on Get Color, the band brought actual songwriting to the fore, with discernable choruses breaking through the industrial churn. “It is a similar shift in terms of it being more accessible,” he continues. “If you listen to punk rock records, the sound gets squashed in the mid-range. If you listen to hip-hop, it sounds huge, because they use all three ranges. We were really trying to do that with this record. So it does sound new for us.”
One of the most apparent changes in the new songs the band play at the Roundhouse is the fact that Duzsik’s lyrics are audible. On previous records, his vocal range has been used as an instrument in the sound, his words utterly unidentifiable. “It wasn’t a conscious decision. It seemed really natural at the time,” he explains. “It’s like if My Bloody Valentine comes out on the next album and you can hear every word that Bilinda Butcher is saying. It is an aesthetic shift. There are going to be elements like that on the new record.”
Alongside engineers Lards Stalfors (The Mars Volta) and Andrew Dawson (Kanye West), HEALTH have also been working with London resident Bobby Krlic, aka The Haxan Cloak, in the studio. The band heard Krlic’s album Excavation and got in touch. “It sounded dark and heavy as fuck; it is recognising that less elements in the mix can make things sound crazy,” Duzsik continues. “That is why we were excited about working with him. We wanted the record to be powerful.” Krlic, who had been busy in the studio working on Bjork’s Vulnicura, was at the band’s show the night before.
The man behind The Haxan Cloak described HEALTH as “hugely underrated” in an interview with Pitchfork. Duzsik says: “The third record decides whether you are going to be a band that is around for a while or if people thought your sound was cool at the time but you just had a couple of records.
“It is nerve-wracking. We don’t want it to sound retro; we want it to sound new. I don’t think it is going to alienate our fans.” For a band so intent on pushing the excesses of sound, this must always be a concern. As he stands up from the step that he has been perched on, he reflects on Da Vinci’s statement that ‘art is never finished, only abandoned.’ “We are getting to the point that we are ready to abandon it, but in a positive way.”
Death Magic will be out 7 August via Loma Vista