Entering their 14th year as a band, LA noise rockers Health started off 2019 with a new album and a tour to support it, scored Grand Theft Auto: Arena War and released many collaborative singles featuring experimental artists like Youth Code, who they’re touring with. To say they’ve kept themselves busy this year would be an understatement.
The band released their fourth studio album, Vol. 4 Slaves of Fear, in February, midway through a three-month European tour that ended in March. After a short break upon returning to the States, the band has embarked on an extensive North American tour that started April 9 and will see them making a stop in Dallas on May 4 at Club Dada.
There’s a three-and-a-half-year gap that divides Health’s latest album and their previous, but only the last two years of that time were spent making Slaves of Fear, says Health’s lead guitarist and vocalist Jake Duzsik. The former part of that time gap saw the departure of guitarist and synth player Jupiter Keyes once they finished their European tour promoting their third studio album, Death Magic. Left as a trio, Health restructured their live presentation, continued their remaining tours for that album and have since been working with Duzsik still taking over vocal and guitar duties, John Famiglietti on bass and BJ Miller on drums.
“If you have four people onstage and that's what you've been doing up until now, you're going to have to recalibrate — maybe pare down certain things or make certain things a little bit more minimal,” Duzsik says. “With the newer material, it wasn't that difficult (to recalibrate), because Death Magic is, for example, a very electronic record. It was a little straining to figure out how to present it as a four-piece. If you have two guitar players on a song that's mostly electronic — other than the drums and singing — figuring out how to make that work (with one guitar player) actually wasn't that difficult. But maybe there were some older songs we had to just go through a process of rearranging.”
Compared with older material, songs off Slaves of Fear provide heavier industrial sounds and more piercing guitars, which, when translated live, take on the abrasive persona the band has established in live performances. Even with a more electronic sound, Health’s shows continue to be as physical as they have been before; they still trigger samples live, they use many pedals and synth sounds to create noise escapades, yet it’s Famiglietti’s quivering bass and Miller’s throbbing drums that thrust an intense energy into it all. In trying to define Health’s sound as genre-less, Duzsik analogizes the band to Death Grips, another experimental band from California, though he doesn’t consider the bands to be on the same spectrum.
“I don’t think that we can get away with just canceling a tour or putting out a record without telling our label and still get bigger,” Duzsik says. “I don’t know how they’ve been able to do that. It’s pretty fucking awesome. But I think the area where we would overlap is we kind of have our own thing. We’re not genre bands. It’s kind of like we’re our own band and that’s the genre. If you’re into Death Grips, obviously you’re going to be into other kinds of shit, but there’s not that much other stuff that sounds like us or Death Grips. The fans that you make are usually pretty dedicated.”
Starting out in the mid-aughts DIY noise scene in downtown LA helped Health quickly garner a devoted following that mostly centered itself on the Smell, a venue known for welcoming experimental acts. Duzsik considers himself and the band fortunate enough to have avoided the competitive A&R major music label world in LA, instead opting for performances at underground venues and warehouses almost exclusively in their beginnings.
Coming from an era that focused more on how well a band performed live than how their albums sounded, Duzsik has noticed a shift in focus in how bands present themselves, and it’s mostly based on the challenge of presenting electronic music live.
“When we started, we were typical in the sense of our instrumentation: bass player, two guitars, drums and singer,” he says. “We still use that basic lineup to communicate the songs. I think now it’s an interesting time where you have a lot of kids who are making really experimental or noisy music but more in the SoundCloud genre, where there's a lot of really strange, aggressive stuff. There's never the impetus to hone your craft live or play a bunch of shows and start gaining a following; it completely goes reverse that. They make music; they put it up on SoundCloud; put it up on YouTube; start getting fans and then they got to figure out how to play it live. The interesting thing is, a lot of times, people don't even give a fuck. They’ll just go up there with their laptop and open that shit up on iTunes and then just start a circle pit. So I think that yes, it's hard to figure out how to communicate a lot of electronic music live, but I also think there's a lot of people who don't even really care — and a lot of the fans don't really seem to care that much.”
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Slaves of Fear has Duzsik explore even more of the existential themes he’s expressed on previous records. As a fan of Camus, he says he’s not concerned with nihilist thinking but rather with finding personal purpose in a universe that seems to be against purpose in the grand sense of things. This is one way Duzsik interprets the album title, believing that upon becoming conscious, human beings let fear be a motivating factor for their every action, almost never helping.
The album’s lyrics are personal for Duzsik and allow him to deal with recent events in his life while at the same time allow fans to relate to them on a broader level. The result is the creation of a community that attempts to find meaning in their seemingly meaningless lives and perhaps even help others through individual, personal interpretations of the current times.
The lyrics are “kind of just reflective of my own personal predilections and preoccupations with life,” Duzsik says, “which is trying to process and navigate what I sort of view from an existential perspective; trying to find meaning in what seems to be cosmically meaningless existence and navigating fear in the face of unavoidable death and what that means for me. I guess that's a theme that connects to the moment right now — that a lot of people are feeling politically and environmentally — but also for me very much on a personal level.”
Health performs May 4 at Club Dada with supporting acts Youth Code and Kontravoid. Tickets are $17.