Health Reinvents Their Noise-Rock Sound — and Learns to Puke on Cue
Photo by Shane Lopes
The barfing begins more than a minute into the video. Just before it starts, everything stands still and silent for a few seconds — a pause between the quivering melody that precedes it and the jarring blast that follows. Then genuine, brightly colored puke sprays in an artful arc and spreads out over a bathroom sink.
This is how L.A. band Health chose to backdrop their single "New Coke" in April and announce their long-awaited new album, Death Magic (out Aug. 7 on Loma Vista Recordings). While much of the buzz about the video has understandably focused on the puke, it's the pause that says more about how Health have grown.
Forget whether or not they're a "noise" band, or if a supposed noise band can dare to put out a dance record — which Death Magic, in places, unabashedly is. Forget why they took six years to put together a full LP of new music. Forget that they're now better known for a video game soundtrack (Max Payne 3) than anything else.
Just embrace the fact that Health's evolution as a band has led them to some pretty dark shit and — pop, dance, noise, whatever — Death Magic wryly explores all of it.
Sitting down for dinner with the four bandmates in lead singer Jake Duzsik's tasteful Atwater Village dining room, you wouldn't necessarily know this. With some distance between them and the downtown L.A. post-punk scene from which Health emerged a decade ago, alongside bands such as No Age and Abe Vigoda, Duzsik, Benjamin Miller, John Famiglietti and Jupiter Keyes now seem like normal dudes in their late 20s and early 30s enjoying Tecates, vegan pasta and mixed greens. Talk turns to the best supermarket hummus and exactly how much cheap produce you can score at the Glendale Super King (a metric fuck-ton, they agree).
What else do Health talk about? For an L.A. Weekly interview, the guys aren't sure. "We could just talk shit?" Duzsik offers. "That's a more pleasant interview, honestly ... just talking shit."
But talk shit about what? Horse fucking? Projectile vomiting? It's best to start with tripping balls on salvia divinorum.
When the band released their last non-soundtrack or remix album, 2009's Get Color, they had fun with it. No one really knew who they were outside of dedicated circles, so they felt they had the freedom to put a bunch of eccentric giveaways inside some CDs, including a golden ticket to join them at Six Flags.
"It was straight-up Willy Wonka," Duzsik explains. "It was weird shit. You could get BJ's baseball jacket from when he was a kid. You could get a bag of Jupe's cat's hair. ... Most people didn't even collect their stuff." But the Six Flags winner did actually come to hang out with the band at Magic Mountain for a day.
"Yeah, at the end of that trip, we smoked salvia with the guy," Famiglietti says.
"Yeah, I thought everyone around me and everything in my life was leading up to this moment. I floated backwards. ... I took the red pill or whatever," Miller says.
"I thought I was being operated on by aliens," Keyes adds.
People who smoke salvia tend to completely dissociate from themselves. They can lose touch with the fact that they're alive. The experience lasts barely 30 minutes, but the user gets caught in a murky space that can feel like hours or days.
"Salvia is that drug that's like an obscure record that's too much," Famiglietti explains. "Other psychedelics are fun. But if you want to scare kids straight, it's like, 'Smoke this, motherfucker.'"
Death Magic's "Salvia" more or less re-creates that unsettling, bad-trip feeling. Miller's rapid-firing drums, distorted and sped up, pulse between ambient lulls. There are no lyrics. It's a lonely roller-coaster ride.
That "New Coke" video, directed by Famiglietti, is another kind of stomach-churner. As the track's harsh, grinding tone and off-time ticking beats unfold, Miller jogs shirtless through an empty parking lot, while Keyes parties his way through a vapid L.A. clubscape, then hurls so cinematically.
Duzsik also blasts a harsh shower of upchuck later in the video. "But Jupe is really good at projectile vomiting. ... We knew he'd be able to do it," he says.
To make it happen, they both drank a gallon of milk, dyed to make it more picturesque.
"Yeah ... I filled up on other stuff so it would be chunky when it came out," Keyes says. "And I was worried I couldn't do it. It was like a porn shoot ... just painful waiting. So they had these little Vienna sausages that I'd puked before. And they were, like, 'Get him the sausage,' and it all came out immediately."
He adds, "The next day I shat cheese. Actual cheese."
If a band's development can be defined by its artistic approach to forcefully ejecting stomach contents on cue, its taste in macabre, party-killing, digital ephemera says even more.
"We used to have that Mr. Hands video," Duzsik says.
"Oh yeah, we had a field day with that one," Famiglietti butts in.
Duzsik continues, "That was the one where the guy got fucked by a horse and died. That one. And no one believed us that it would ruin the night. And somehow it would come up. And you'd show it to them and the night would be over."
The video he's talking about — profiled in the controversial documentary Zoo — concerns a 2005 incident when a man nicknamed Mr. Hands died following receptive anal sex with a stallion. Actual video of the incident was widely disseminated across the Internet.
The band's fascination with the clip extends beyond mere jokery. "It's sad that the guy died, but you're almost jealous — well, not jealous — but what is it like to love something that much?" Famiglietti says. "That desire? He desired something that much. Fuck."
The idea that something beautiful can be mined from such harsh degeneracy fits perfectly with what Health have become.
"We both know, love's not in our hearts," Duzsik mews on Death Magic's "Stonefist"; similarly, "All the blood runs hot before it's cold. ... We die. So what. Let go," on "Flesh World (UK)" and, more aptly, "Life is strange, but it's all we've got," on "Life."
Health don't need to explain why they do what they do, but in the album's digitally invented noises, which are indistinguishable from the real ones, there's that occasional pause for effect. That might as well be the feeling the guy strapped below the thrusting horse feels right before he's penetrated, or what Keyes feels before he pukes, or what Miller feels on salvia.
It is Health's comfort with that pleasurable perversity that makes Death Magic work.
But is that growth? From obscure noise to noise-influenced dance? Hallucinogens to horse sex? Producer Lars Stalfors, who worked closely with the band for months on Death Magic, offers one explanation: "They were a noise band. But they were always trying to do things at the best potential. This album is an extension of that. As you get older you always mature, right?"
And it's clear from Death Magic that Health have matured. Up to a point.
"There's a 100 percent chance the album will blow your dick off," Famiglietti says. "So hold on to it."
HEALTH | The Echo | 1822 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park | Wed.-Fri., July 22-24 | $12 | theecho.com
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