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'It Was Mad Max But Fun': Health on Rising From Noise-Rock Squats to Pop-Metal Excellence

Friday, 08 December 2023 Written by Matt Mills

Photo: Mynxii White

Jake Duzsik has long been obsessed with the contrasts in people and things. His list of favourite films includes both Alien and Blade Runner: classics made by the same artist that lay fantastical sci-fi concepts alongside images of half-ruined, broken-down machinery in entirely different ways. Among his musical idols are Hüsker Dü, a foundational American hardcore band who gradually transitioned towards infectious indie-punk anthems. This fascination with duality explodes from the speakers when you hear Duzsik’s work as the singer and guitarist of Health.

Although they formed amid Los Angeles’ noise rock underground in 2005, Health have flourished into one of heavy music’s most bleak-yet-melodic propositions. The trio’s new album ‘Rat Wars’ thrives when casting Duzsik’s silken crooning against pummelling electro beats and/or pulverising metal. 

From Sicko’s sampling of post-metal crushers Godflesh to the memorable but depressive shoegaze tones of Don’t Try, Health continually find fresh, unforgettable ways to collide disparate moods. Elsewhere, lead single Children of Sorrow uses its three minutes to slowly wrap gorgeous singing and synths around a crushing riff delivered by Lamb of God’s Willie Adler. Unloved, meanwhile, boasts one of this year’s catchiest rock choruses, yet its lyrics rally against people who use trauma to behave despicably. “It’s not my fault that you were unloved when you were a child,” Duzsik intones.

“If I were picking my 100 favourite songs, there’d probably be, like, six that are in a major key,” Duzsik explains, talking to Stereoboard from his home in LA. “What I relate with is unilaterally dark, but there has to be melodicism to it. I have an appreciation for things that are just heavy for the sake of being heavy, or something that’s twee and bubblegum and pop, but they just exist in and of themselves, [but] neither of those things tend to leave an impression.”

That love for juxtaposition even explains why Duzsik lives where he does. The musician was born in Seattle and — as both a lover of books and film and an artist, even in his teens — always expected to end up in New York or Berlin. However, reading the works of LA-based author Charles Bukowski suggested the City of Angels had a seedy underbelly beneath all its Hollywood glamour.

“I realised, once I started really visiting the city more, that there was Hollywood, which had the stereotypical tropes people from other countries have of Los Angeles, and there was this very dark, dirty side of LA,” says Duzsik. “It’s the home of the entertainment world, which is all fucking made up. So, the image of the city in a lot of ways is made up. There are beautiful beaches and beautiful people, but what actually happens here is not at all how Los Angeles is represented. And that was really exciting to me.”

Duzsik relocated to Hollywood after graduating college. He found work at a Guitar Center, where he met future Health bassist and co-founder John Famiglietti. The pair both grew up on old-school punk, so whatever music they made together would doubtlessly be part of the ‘alternative’ world. The only problem was, LA didn’t have one, pushing Health (rounded out by drummer B.J. Miller and, until 2015, guitarist Jupiter Keyes) into the anarchic culture of punk squats and noise-rock house shows.

“It was completely DIY and underground — not connected to any legitimacy in any way,” remembers Duzsik. “My favourite venue of all time was this place called El Corral. It was completely off the books, people lived there, and there was this fucking rope swing in the middle of the show space. I once saw someone double-kick the singer of a touring band: he turned his back on the audience and a guy swung 20 feet and kicked him with both legs. It was Mad Max, but fun.”

Health’s early music was proudly uncommercial. Although the band had a more traditional lineup in a counterculture of one-man projects banging tables together, their 2007 debut album was still harsh and abrasive. Then they, like Hüsker Dü before them, began to integrate more melody and traditional song structures. Music magazines caught wind of the new noise movement in Los Angeles’ historically unartistic downtown and began thrusting the band into a wider consciousness.

“Once we saw how special this scene was in Los Angeles, we were like, ‘The indie music press is gonna find out about this,’” says Duzsik. “We just happened to be there at that time. There were interviews and articles about these bands playing [in the noise scene] and we were one of those bands. All of a sudden, we had this new life.”

Health were catapulted from derelict house shows to major stages in Europe. From there, they amassed an enviable list of champions: they opened for Nine Inch Nails on tour, played London’s All Points East festival as part of a bill corralled by Bring Me the Horizon and appeared on the Cyberpunk 2077 soundtrack. The band will even support meteoric metal force Sleep Token at Wembley Arena later this month.

Health consolidated that goodwill during the pandemic, using the two-album ‘Disco4’ project to collaborate with a who’s who of megastars, all of whom were presumably bored at home. Several of these team-ups — including Isn’t Everyone (feat. Trent Reznor), Cold Blood (feat. Lamb of God) and Body/Prison (feat. Perturbator) — already count among the band’s most successful songs, with millions of streams apiece.

Such evolution and associations would normally herald whingeing about selling out. Yet, Duzsik denies that there’s been much pushback. “We were never really big enough to get anybody that pissed off,” he says. “People like songs. Even in heavy music, there’s a reason why Metallica are the biggest heavy band of all time: there’s a period of records they made that are just full of really fucking melodic songs.”

Duzsik doesn’t have aspirations of world domination, either. His band may have evolved, but the main goal going forward is for he, Famiglietti and Miller to retain their artistic cred. They want to make songs that are consistently excellent even if they don’t trouble the charts.

“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with bands like Sonic Youth and the Velvet Underground: these are not bands that ever made a ton of money,” he says. “But, if you went and looked at their oeuvre, you’d be like, ‘Oh, they were committed to being an interesting artistic endeavour.’ That legacy, to me, is more meaningful than other potential outcomes.”

‘Rat Wars’ is out now via Loma Vista.

Health Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat March 02 2024 - VENTURA California - Ventura Music Hall (USA)
Mon March 04 2024 - MESA - Nile Theater (USA)
Tue March 05 2024 - ALBUQUERQUE New Mexico - Sunshine Theater (USA)
Thu March 07 2024 - AUSTIN Texas - Empire Control Room at Empire Control Room & Garage (USA)
Fri March 08 2024 - DALLAS Texas - Studio at the Factory Deep Ellum - Complex (USA)
Sat March 09 2024 - HOUSTON Texas - RISE ROOFTOP (USA)
Sun March 10 2024 - HOUSTON Texas - Warehouse Live (USA)
Mon March 11 2024 - ATLANTA Georgia - Heaven Stage at Masquerade Music Park - Complex (USA)
Tue March 12 2024 - CHARLOTTE North Carolina - Underground at AvidXchange Music Factory (USA)
Wed March 13 2024 - RICHMOND Virginia - National Richmond (USA)
Fri March 15 2024 - BROOKLYN New York - Brooklyn Steel (USA)
Sat March 16 2024 - PHILADELPHIA Pennsylvania - Union Transfer (USA)
Sun March 17 2024 - BOSTON Massachusetts - Royale Boston (USA)
Tue March 19 2024 - TORONTO Ontario - Opera House - Toronto (Canada)
Wed March 20 2024 - DETROIT Michigan - Majestic Theatre (USA)
Fri March 22 2024 - CHICAGO Illinois - Concord Music Hall (USA)
Sat March 23 2024 - ST LOUIS Missouri - Red Flag Concert Hall (USA)
Mon March 25 2024 - ENGLEWOOD Colorado - Gothic Theatre (USA)
Tue March 26 2024 - SALT LAKE CITY Utah - Metro Music Hall Salt Lake City (USA)
Thu March 28 2024 - SEATTLE Washington - Showbox (USA)
Fri March 29 2024 - VANCOUVER British Columbia - Commodore Ballroom (Canada)
Sat March 30 2024 - PORTLAND Oregon - Revolution Hall Portland (USA)
Mon April 01 2024 - ROSEVILLE California - Goldfield Trading Post - Roseville (USA)
Tue April 02 2024 - SAN FRANCISCO California - August Hall (USA)
Thu April 04 2024 - LOS ANGELES California - Belasco Theater Los Angeles (USA)

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