The Californian three-piece talk Jack Bray through the songs that have influenced their diverse sonic palate.
When I sit down with HEALTH before their show in Bristol, I’m almost instantly treated to a Tuborg, or as frontman Jake Duzsik puts it “The beer of Danish Kings.”
Though Duzsik is quoting Moe Szyslak, the irritable bartender from The Simpsons, it certainly romanticised the idea of mid-week drinking, so I humbly acquiesced to the offer of a regal beverage.
The Californian noise-rock three-piece, comprised of Duzsik, bassist John Famiglietti and drummer BJ Miller, have released four studio albums, as well as a handful of remix albums and additional work in the videogame space; all of which has earned them plaudits from peers and publications alike. Yet despite the acclaim, they’re grounded and ingenuous. As they talk about the songs that inspire them they reference a desire to capture a collection of music that has directly influenced their combined sonic palate, as well as informing their individual, and more personal, musical leanings.
Once the beers have been finished we move onto their picks and I’m surprised by the diversity on show. Many of their choices differ dramatically to the bands sound and the raison d'être for their choices varies wildly. Duzsik’s songs are irrevocably tied up in nostalgia; opting to shine a light on the musical identity he built from adolescence up to the band’s halcyon days. Famiglietti’s selections on the other hand chart a journey of discovery, where a musical identity was by no means initially important to him, but where significant childhood epiphanies eventually altered his course in life. Conversely, Miller has opted for tracks which give him pause, combining songs which he both never tires of but also enable him to escape briefly from the freneticism of life on tour.
Regardless of the differences in their choices, there is one unifying trend shared across the three of them - the overall acceptance of music as catharsis, a tool through which emotions are incited, or feelings are conjured, but relief is assured. It’s a theme which runs right across HEALTH’s back catalogue, most markedly with their most recent release VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR, an album which angrily rallies against a troubling political climate at one moment and falls into moments of soothing introspection the next.
Irrespective of the spaces in which they’re operating, HEALTH have proven themselves as an outfit capable of adaptation, whether it be their extracurricular work for videogames such as Max Payne 3 or Grand Theft Auto V, or coping with amicable parting of bandmate Jupiter Keyes in 2015. Here, the band walk me through nine songs which have helped to forge them as the critically lauded Californian noise outfit we know them as today.
Jake: “With my songs I was specifically trying to demarcate different eras of my life. The first two that I picked are a little closer together I guess, but it’s logical that would be the case, because they represent when I was younger and when I first started to get into music.
“The first Dead Kennedys record that I ever bought was Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, but my favourite record was Plastic Surgery Disasters and ‘Moon over Marin’ is one of the tracks on it. It’s a singular song for me, because obviously there’s this era of me discovering punk rock, which was very formative in my life and my direction as a musical person.
“The reason that I chose it in particular is because it’s like a Venn diagram which outlines the perfect overlap of punk rock - which totally changed my life - and the way I thought about music and my emotions around it, such that it’s now almost impossible for me to listen to it. The song is unique, it’s very emotive and melodically its extremely bittersweet, and I would say it’s the closest that the Dead Kennedy’s have ever come to a ballad.
“It also happened to be on the credit sequence for a Snowboarding video called The Meltdown Project which came out on VHS around 1996. ‘Moon Over Marin’ was played during the end credit sequence for the movie, so not only was it a really personally resonant thing for me, it accompanied the ending for a video that my friends watched over and over again.
“I can’t listen to it without an overwhelming tidal wave of nostalgia. I still love the song, but I can’t separate it from this extremely poignant cascade of memories that I have of the time.”
Jake: “This song also comes from a similar time, but I didn’t get as into Sabbath initially. I was kind of a little bit snooty - and maybe a little bit exclusive - in my punk rock tastes for a while, but ultimately I did start to branch out from there.
“I got into classic rock when I was really young, and then I had a punk rock only phase for a while, but I picked ‘Supernaut’ specifically as I think it has my favourite guitar riff of all time. The riff is so visceral and heavy, and it works in that way that any good punk song does, making you feel incredibly energised. When I was that age and I was filled with angst and vitriol, an excess of hormones, acne and stifled sexual urges, it would just make me want to break shit, or go outside and skateboard or start a band.
“When I hear 'Supernaut' now I still feel like that, its timeless for me.”
Jake: “John and I were discussing this, and it felt like an important thing to include a song which encapsulates that magical time for us, when we first started the band during the early noughties. There’s so many memories of that era of us first touring, doing what we call DIY self-booked tours, listening to music in the van on these endless journeys, driving to play house shows, or warehouse shows or art gallery stuff.
“That record Fabulous Muscles is a very specific document of the earlier part of the noughties right before we came onto the scene. It was where there was this era of music that was extremely challenging and Avant-garde, and everyone was very open to extremely left-field, fucking bizarre music.
“I think with Xiu Xiu and that record, there isn’t really any antecedent or analogue to what he did, and this song encapsulates that. It’s sort of a snapshot from a time where we were starting a band and drawing from all of these influences.”
John: “For my first pick, I chose ‘One’ by U2. The story to this one is that my Dad died when I was very young, and someone had given me the Achtung Baby cassette. At the time I wasn’t into U2 or really into music at all, but we had this and it would always be in my Mom’s car and we’d have to do all this stuff, just driving around.
“Whether it was going to apartments or the business that my Mom had to take over, the tape never left the cassette deck for around two years. As a result, we’d all heard it on a loop for pretty much the whole time. So for my Mom and myself, that song - because we heard it so many fucking times! - we just had so much time to totally relate it to my Dad’s death and that period in our lives.”
John: “Like I say, unlike Jake I didn’t really care for music at all. I liked it, but I didn’t really give a shit, even when kids around me were getting into a lot of the shit that was popping off in the 90s’ I didn’t really seem to care. Well, I didn’t care.
“That was until my buddy sent me a cassette tape. One side of it had stuff from the Dead Kennedys and the other side was Sonic Youth. With the Dead Kennedys side, I remember that was actually the first time that it clicked, and I started to like music.
“The first song on that was ‘Terminal Preppie’ and I remember thinking ‘What the fuck is this?’ I had this real emotional response to it as it was just so hyper, and I remember thinking ‘I actually like music now’ and really obsessed over it. It changed my life as a result.”
John: “When the band started we were touring and doing a lot of basement and DIY shows. There was this great scene in Denver; they had this DIY venue called Rhinoceropolis and another one called Monkey Mania. We booked tours to get to Denver and use these cool underground venues to play with cool underground bands that we wanted to hear play.
“At some of our early shows we played with Pictureplane at Rhinoceropolis, it was really good and we got a CD from him. He’s actually the only artist we’ve ever ‘quote, unquote’ discovered. We got him signed to our label after that and helped to get him management with our management at the time.
“I remember we listened to that record so many times on tour and we’ve even covered a song from that record Goth Star, so it makes us all very nostalgic listening to it.”
BJ: “I wasn’t really sure how to select some of the songs that are most important to me, whether it be those that I find emotionally significant songs or ones that have influenced me as a musician specifically. My choices aren’t exactly from anywhere specific in my life - they’re songs that right now, anytime I put them on, especially to escape in the van or something, they can immediately bring me to a certain place and do it every time, and for whatever reason I’ve never gotten tired of them.
“With Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ I’ve always been interested in the struggle throughout the song. There’s just something about the struggle with the brother really gets to me and I can’t really imagine a darker, yet somehow more uplifting procession of a song. It’s probably the darkest of the songs that I’ve chosen due to that subject matter and that self-awareness.”
BJ: “‘Duncan’ by Paul Simon on the other hand starts with this playfulness, and it very much connects to me on the road - the motel walls, the idea of being scattered and alienated at times and trying to find yourself. As well as that, with Paul Simon? You can’t fuck with that! His ability to perfectly capture a moment in someone’s life like that is really cool.
“It’s probably a surprise to anyone who cares that I play a guitar and sing on my own; that’s the first thing that I do when I get home from stretches on the road like this. When I can’t do it for two months, playing those songs is all I want to do, and I actually can play all of the songs I’ve chosen. I played ‘Duncan’ to someone one time and they weren’t familiar with Paul Simon, they asked if it was my song, I was like ‘Yeah, why not!’”
BJ: “Shannon Lay is a recent favourite of mine. She’s in a band called Feels back in L.A., which is more garage rocky or surf rocky and she started a solo project. Pretty much every song on the album Living Water brings you into a Nick Drake zone of wow, it’s just the simplicity of the guitar and voice, and both of them are so beautiful.
“I’ve seen her live and she’ll hit a bass note and it’s like a cello is being played. I love the directness of her music and I love songs that do that all the way up regardless - that just knock you over the head with the emotion, as its so perfectly done.
“If I had to bring tracks that really impacted me as a musician or in my life, I’d have to go with some Nirvana or Led Zeppelin songs, but these are the ones that for whatever reason I don’t seem to get tired of.”