Health are a rock band composed of four earnest and ambitious Los Angelenos. But Health is also a brand, a set of rules, an attempt to contain and codify the inherent chaos of rock culture. As I talk with lead Healther Jake Duzsik over the phone on a cloudless summer day, our conversation drifts to the band’s origins and self-imposed limitations.
“When we formed this band,” says Duzsik, “we were into the idea of a unified æsthetic. We wanted to be able to look back on the band years from now and look at song titles, album covers, photos, the way all the visuals are presented, and be able to see that everything fit under one æsthetic umbrella and never changed.”
If this sounds a little anal-retentive, it is. Health’s music, on the other hand, is anything but, existing on a knife edge between brain-frizzing squall and sunny melodic bliss. And if Duzsik makes it sound as though the band had had it all figured out before they played a note, they didn’t. “When we formed, we had more straight-ahead songs, sort of sped-up punk. No one in the band was that happy with it, because it didn’t really sound new or relevant. So then we wrote a bunch of other really weird songs. We were pretty neurotic, rehearsing like five days a week — we were convinced that we sucked and that we weren’t any good. So when we went on our first tour, we played a noise set, with these weird songs — and people reacted really well. It galvanized us and gave us the idea of what kind of band we could be.”
Health, who come to Harpers Ferry Tuesday, have made great strides since that initial DIY tour: within two years they had upgraded from playing basements and garages to rocking stadiums opening for Nine Inch Nails. More important, the band began incorporating dance and DJ culture into their æsthetic, courting bands to remix their songs (Crystal Castle turned out last year’s mash-tastic breakthrough Health//Disco) and retrofitting their shoegaze whoosh with some dance-floor whump.
“What we want is to be a rock band, in the way that Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath or Black Flag were rock bands. Heavy, physical music that you can have a powerful experience to. But at the same time, we weren’t going to just tune down to C and write some riffs, because that’s already been done. So we’re trying to find our sound in a language of our own that seems moderately relevant to us. For us, and for a lot of kids now, dance music is a new, relevant, heavy, physical music. I feel like, in a lot of ways, kids want to take drugs and go see Justice or Girl Talk because it’s fast and it’s loud. That’s what rock and roll used to do and doesn’t do anymore.”
Health’s new long-player, Get Color (Lovepump United), is filled with high-volume raucousness that wouldn’t sound out of place at a trendy danceteria or a patchouli-tinged jamfest. Buzzsaw-guitar scrapings jostle with tribal-drum freakouts and blissed-out vocals in epic setpieces like “Die Slow” and “Death +”. Motorik beat fascism pits itself against the band’s continual need to lose control, especially in the gorgeously washed-out “We Are Water.”