HEALTH have been splitting ears, gaining buzz, and winning over crowds with their noisy-yet-melodic music in Los Angeles and beyond since their formation in 2006. Two full lengths, two remix albums and plenty of 7-inches later, they’re dropping into Toronto to play at Sneaky Dee’s for NXNE (June 17th). I was lucky enough to interview Jupiter Keyes via. email, and here’s what he said.
For the uninitiated, what’s HEALTH all about and how did you guys form the band?
JUPITER: HEALTH is predominantly about music and aesthetic. We are four guys who found each other and now are forced to live with and tolerate each other for the sake of an artistic vision. We believe in this shit.
It’s widely known that the band uses a “Zoothorn” which is a combination of guitar pedal/microphone. What exactly does it do, and how did you originally discover and implement this instrument?
JUPITER: The Zoothorn is just a clever name for a microphone that runs through effects pedals to a guitar amp. We were fucking around one night and stumbled across it. Jerked ourselves off for like an hour or two jamming, then decided we should build a song around the sounds we were able to find. Really it’s manipulated feedback. It’s feedback made musical through the use of guitar pedals.
Some would say that HEALTH is a very visual band, that your sound evokes bright neon colours etc. Was that a influence to name your record “Get Color”, and why do you think visuals are something important to incorporate into your shows/performances/merch?
JUPITER: “Get Color” just sounded cool. That’s it. Color was very important to us early on as a band, but really that’s not related to the album title the way some people might like to think. You could say it’s entirely unrelated. Visuals are important because, as retarded as it may be to say this, we all take in the majority of the information we process visually. Bands that ignore that are missing something very important. Music is what we do, but it is not what we are. HEALTH is sensory. Spend a tour with us in the van and you will come to realize that we assault the nose the same way we assault the ears.
Speaking of visuals, your video for “We are Water” was directed by Eric Wareheim— of Tim & Eric fame— which seems like a perfect to me fit because of their wild style. How did you guys set that up? Did you seek him out or was it the other way around?
JUPITER: I met Eric through a friend of mine. We were at some warehouse party and I was all nervous to meet him because I’m a huge fan of the show. Turned out he was a big fan of HEALTH. And he had a naughty ritual with our first album that I’m sworn to secrecy about. So that was very exciting to all of us. We talked casually about collaborating, and finally we just made it happen. It would have been stupid not to have and I’m so glad it worked out because the video is brilliant.
Was the video more something that Eric came up with and pitched to the band, or was it an idea that came together in a more collaborative way? It’s pretty intense and really awesome.
JUPITER: Eric was very clear from the get-go that we were to have nothing to do with the making of the video. He actually had this idea brewing for a very long time. It wasn’t inspired by the music, but it seems he felt that he had finally found an outlet for this visual concept. So it was very exciting for us that he would use our music as the backdrop for it. Whether or not he had heard about strong personalities in the band or he’s just seasoned and has dealt with enough bullshit, we were banned from the set. He didn’t want us in the video and he didn’t want us there interfering with the filming. All good, he just set the ground rules early. But in the editing process he asked for our opinions. I think at that point he felt that his ideas had come across and he was ready to get that third eyeball to help with details.
You recorded your first album in “The Smell”, but recorded the follow-up at a studio with an engineer etc. How did the recording process differ this time around?
JUPITER: It was night and day. The first album was a torturous process of trial and error for us; trying to figure out HOW to record an album. Effectively it was the first real album any of us had ever done and the biggest creative undertaking of our lives up to that point. Kinda scary when you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. The second album we were like ‘fuck this’ we gotta get somebody to help us. And as a result the recording process went incredibly smoothly compared to our first effort. It was in mixing where all hell broke loose. This guy tried to backdoor produce our album. We weren’t having it and shit got ugly. He wasted a lot of our time. We’re still bitter. But USA Boys was a lot closer to how we want to do this shit from now on. I think we were a little spoiled though. One of the greatest mixing engineers/producers EVER was helping us out, Alan Moulder. And Trent Reznor was there lending his ears and advice. And they’re both super humble an interested in the vision of the band. Alan was just like “oh wait, you’re trying to do this? K, lemme just turn the awesome dial and make it sound better, because that’s what I do.” We all want to somehow get back in the studio with those guys with more time and more songs, and really do it.
The sound of “Get Color” is definitely a little cleaner (comparably). It’s a little more accessible, and the melodic side of the band seems to be a little easier to grab on to at first glance. Was that a deliberate decision going into the recording of the album?
JUPITER: Yeah, we had figured out who we were as a band at that point. So the whole writing process was really exciting as a result. We knew what we wanted, and the album ‘Get Color’ is a deliberate progression from its predecessor. I feel, we all feel, that we wrote a really good album. It’s just that constant struggle with trying to make it sound like that thing that’s going on in your head. We feel like some of that might have been lost in the recording. Saying that out loud hurts, but I fucking promise you we’re not gonna quit until we drop that album that we know we’ve got in us.
I’ve read that you actually use flow-charts when writing your songs, is that true?
JUPITER: It was a way to express ideas. Now we just yell.
In the past the band has mentioned creating a web-series (HEALTHvision) and a fashion line (//FASHION). Any updates on those projects?
JUPITER: We are FULL of ideas. Big ideas. I’m working on a HEALTH brand intra-murals soccer team. Jake was in negotiations with BP before this whole fucking ‘incident’. And yes, FASHION and VISION are in the works. We’ll have lots of stuff coming at you in the near future.
And the question I always end on: When you come through to play NXNE, what artists are you looking forward to seeing the most?
JUPITER: Our girl from Best Coast is going to be there. She hails from LA and is writing some of the best songs i’ve heard in recent memory. They’ve got that classic feel. Phil Spector, Oldies, Beach Boys, Shangri-Las type thing. Gold Panda’s gonna be there. He was part of our US tour this year. His music is great. Really I don’t know a whole lot about the line-up this year, so I just checked the website. I gotta say the amount of bands with parody names is a little off-putting. I’m like “really! Harvey Keitel is gonna be there.. oh, Harvey Cartel. Neutral Uke Hotel?! C’mon…