February 2024

Max Health

Health Health Health Health Text: Gabriel Knowles Images: Health

It seems odd that during this day and age a band could still trace their success back to a cassette tape. Californian noise rockers Health are one band that can claim exactly that.

“We never directly met the people who did our label but it was through DIY touring and leading people we met to this cassette tape we had for sale on the Internet through this small label run by a 16-year-old kid who lived in the desert. That tape made its way to this guy in England who was a fan of ours and this band we know were touring Europe and stayed with this guy who played them the tape and they told Jake from Lovepump United. It turned out it was the fifth or sixth time someone had told him about us so he got in touch from there.” Bassist John Famiglietti recounts of how they managed to get in a position where a label would help them record and possibly even sort out some tour accommodation.

There may be glimpses of subtle punk undertones in their latest offering, Get Color, but that’s not what draws comparisons to punk legends and DIY pioneers Black Flag. It was the bands willingness to hit the road without really knowing if they had a place to play or stay that brought those.

“There’s been this history ever since the time of Black Flag with bands booking shows all over the US and then staying in some kids basement. It was much easier for us though because Black Flag pioneered it. It’s much easier to set up shows via email.” Famiglietti laughingly acknowledges.

“Those DIY tours, no matter how small or ridiculous or grueling, through them is how we made our connections and met our record label and everything that came later. And so many friends that we met in the DIY days are now in successful bands or doing this or that, all the friends we made there were incredibly huge for the band.” Famiglietti goes on. “Even in England where we had this ridiculous idea to do a DIY UK tour and on that tour we met important press people who championed our band and allowed us to get a foothold in London.”

Their DIY aesthetic can be firmly traced back to their roots at the seminal Los Angeles venue, The Smell. A stalwart and beacon for getting things done with limited resources for over 20 years, The Smells reputation has regathered momentum in recent years thanks to the likes of No Age, Captain Ahab and a core group of acts who have shown a dedication to regularly filling the place.

“All over the States there are DIY venues that are traditionally illegal, converted warehouse spaces and The Smell is one of those places in LA that’s very professionally run by this guy called Jim Smith. It has always been a Mecca and what the scene is based around, there are other venues but The Smell has always been there.” Famiglietti explains.

Health are such a quintessentially cross-genre band you can almost see them shuffling mp3’s, like so many of their peers, the influences and pigeon holing terms come think and fast. There’s their industrial side, the side that saw the quartet troupe around on tour with Nine Inch Nails for a while there. But then there’s the slightly disco infused and electronic pop aspects that somehow find a way to sit amongst the obligatory no-wave, post-punk injections. A dose of melody coupled with some deliberately ambiguous lyrics and you’re just about there.

“Our music isn’t lyric based, we don’t want personal lyrics that tell a specific story. We don’t want people to relate to a song in that way, we’d prefer people to take in the music. It’s also makes the music more universal. We don’t think it’s necessary to know to enjoy the music.” Famiglietti offers before admitting that future records are likely to include copies of the lyrics due to such a strong demand.

Despite that he feels that the band have been able to retain a sense of timelessness to their music by drawing the focus away from the vocals, in much the same way that Krautrock forerunners Neu! have done.

“We had dinner with the guy from Neu! in Hamburg, all of us were at the same table and he was mentioning these Neu! records because we were talking about how we wanted to do something with no bass and he was telling about all his records that had no bass. We actually didn’t realise it was him until afterwards though!” The bassist pipes up excitedly, even if the details of the day seem exactly etched into his memory.

And what ever happened to the original tapes? “I don’t even have one of those tapes anymore, at the time the $5 for gas was more important.”

Health are touring nationally from February 24 until February 27, 2010.


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