Health has covered a lot of sonic territory since the trio sprang from a downtown Los Angeles noise scene in the mid-aughts, a scene that often ditched musical theory and anything resembling melody, where a “song” might involve someone overloading a public address system with white noise. It was more about performance art than music, and more avant-garde than even Ornette Coleman or late-period John Coltrane.
“When I say 'noise,' I mean a lot of really experimental free noise — like, not songs, not bands,” says singer Jake Duzsik. “We were a band, so we integrated a lot of that sound power and those aesthetics into our own music.”
Unlike noise scenes in other cities he's encountered, Duzsik describes the L.A. scene as unpretentious and fun. He and his bandmates grew up on punk rock, so they took to the untraditional atmosphere naturally.
“We would go to these shows [in L.A.] and there’d be a free noise set, but then everyone would just fucking mosh like it was a Black Flag show and then break shit,” he reminisces. “Everyone would get super drunk. … It was just wild and not self-serious.”
Health saw the power in noise and experimented with transmuting it into somewhat more traditional songs. At the time, they had no career ambitions beyond making music, but the scene eventually began to get press and attention. Bands playing warehouse venues found themselves sharing stages with bands such as Nine Inch Nails at festivals in Europe. You can catch Health at the Gothic Theatre on Thursday, September 15.
The synth-heavy, industrial sound of Health’s latest offering, Disco4: Pt. II, is a far cry from the band’s 2007 self-titled debut album. That was, by most standards, the definition of a noise-rock album in the spirit of Jesus Lizard or Scratch Acid, but without screaming vocals, which the band intentionally eschewed.
“The first one is very different...just very atonal, non-traditional song structure kind of stuff,” Duzsik says.
Duzsik, who plays in the band with Benjamin Jared Miller and John Famiglietti, says Health has made a tradition of changing up its sound on each record. “We didn’t come from that strength of ‘Okay, there’s all these melodic hooks and some sort of iconic voice,” he says. “One of the virtues we have is we are just open to...not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but completely shifting our sound from record to record.”
The change is something fans have come to expect with each release. Health, when it began to see success and bigger shows, also had to contend with the change in venue. A sound that works in a warehouse-turned venue or art gallery in downtown L.A. might not translate to a big festival stage. Some of its sonic shifts come from not wanting to sound bad on stage, Duzsik says.
“You end up playing festivals and you realize, ‘Okay, that doesn’t really work in that way,’” he explains. “So there’s just this sort of natural evolution.”
Health is also big on releasing remixes of its albums, and its Disco series is just that. But the band began to feel that the standard remix album didn't align with the spirit of constant sonic evolution, so Disco4: Pt I and Disco4: Pt II are more collaborative efforts (Pt II includes Nine Inch Nails and Lamb of God). The pandemic also played a role, as working with other artists on songs became a way to work during the lapse in live shows and touring. They swapped ideas over email and the occasional phone call.
“We would not have done two if it weren’t for the pandemic,” he says. “We couldn’t tour, and we didn’t want to make a record not being in the same room or wearing masks the whole time and not be able to tour it when it was done.”
The Disco4 records offer a fairly diverse cast of guest artists, but the songs all work together. Duzsik says the band spent a lot of time brainstorming when it came time to pick people to work with: Had they worked with the artist before? Would their respective sounds complement one another?
“It doesn’t really matter, genre or if it seems left-field,” he says. “You can kind of sense [what works], even if it seems left-field. It ended up being pretty eclectic and covered a broad spectrum.”
No matter what sound Health might be delivering these days, all of the band’s songs would go well in a soundtrack to any near-future or science-fiction movie. It’s an abstract quality, but Duzsik says the band runs with the premise as it writes and records.
“It’s a band that started in the dystopian future, and now the band has evolved, but it’s always in that setting, this sort of Running Man alien,” he says. “There’s technology, but everything is breaking down and failing. … That’s how I conceptualize it.”
Health, with Perturbator and Street Sects, 7 p.m. Thursday, September 15, Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway, Englewood. Tickets are $29.50.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE...
Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.