‘Working on our latest album has kept us on the right side of the sanity line!’
First of all, your new single ‘Last Day in L.A.’ has already received so many positive reviews and feedback (with good reason) but what is the single about exactly? The song is basically a farewell to the city of angels and golden dreams. We toured the USA in autumn 2018 and found ourselves on quite a rollercoaster ride in Los Angeles. There was still much evidence of an actual music industry there, it was quite old school really, an environment we naturally felt quite at home in. From hanging out with Vicky who used to manage the likes of Guns and Roses, to Clem Burke of Blondie, to Gary Numan who we met in the lift and chatted with, to legendary Sirius XM/KROQ radio DJ Rodney Bingenheimer and other blues and Motown legends from the past at Canters Deli in Hollywood. When we went into a music store called Sam Ash to hire a guitar where we met an amazing guitarist and producer called Bob Tucker.
We later bumped into him again randomly in a second-hand clothes shop when Nina was looking for boots to wear in the video to our forthcoming release ’These boots are made for walking’. An immediate connection was felt by us all so Bob invited us to his studio to meet his partner Jane Getz who’s the daughter of jazz legend Stan Getz and had played with many high-profile acts including the Beatles. We’re still in touch with them and hope to go back and record with them when life returns to somewhere near normality. It’s quite name droppy, but it’s what happened. All these meetings and moments happened naturally just by us being in Los Angeles. We were treated extremely well and were supported more enthusiastically than we’d previously known. Saying goodbye was a truly emotional moment. So, the song carries the memories in its heart and is almost an ode to the golden years of rock and roll.
The electricity of the guitar all the way through the single is honestly something else! It has you itching to get up and jump along with it! How did you come up with this part and make it so impressive? Well I’m very happy you dig the guitar work on the song. The music was written for a diary-style documentary film we made of the aforementioned U.S. tour. The playing on all the music was instinctive and just happened. That’s how I work. Just pick up the guitar, play it and if you do it enough, you may come up with a keeper riff. The actual section of the film in which the music appears is the moment when we [the band] drove up the winding Hollywood hills to the observatory, so there needed to be a sense of movement in the song. A rolling riff encapsulated the feeling of leaving somewhere and heading with hope in your heart towards someplace else.
Do you ever compare where your music is at now compared to when you first started out? Not really. With the exception of the current album which is more of a film soundtrack than a regular Healthy Junkies album, we have always just done our thing which has from the start been a mix of grunge/punk and psychedelic rock. These are simply influences that move us. We’re very fond of our first album Sick Note because that’s where it all started and there are a few songs on there – Copycat and Manifesto – that we from time to time like to throw in the live set. At least we did when we could play gigs before the pandemic madness overwhelmed us all.
Do you think this album (‘Forever on the Road’) is much different to your earlier ones? With a band you develop a certain sound, and a certain consistency of style from one album to the next is common. In this case though, as it’s a soundtrack all of that went out of the window. There were no style boundaries so we could draw on other influences. We used hip hop beats, strings, piano, horror film soundscapes, analogue synths and surf guitar licks. Basically, whatever music instinctively fitted the moment in the soundtrack to which it related. This was also the first album that we completely self-produced at home which was extremely challenging, but a freeing experience as well.
How do you think fans will react to the new album once live music can properly go ahead again? We managed to play a couple of London shows in August before additional lockdown measures were introduced and tried out a couple of songs from the new album. They went down a storm! We’d like to gradually introduce more of the new songs to the set and ideally one day do a full set from the album. Will it go down well? I guess that depends partly on how we deliver the songs live.
Will you consider playing any socially distanced gigs anytime soon? We have already been booked for 3 socially distanced gigs this year: Oct. 16th (The Post Bar, Tottenham), 14th Nov. (The Hives, Rotherham) and 22nd Dec. (The Amersham Arms, New Cross ,London). That one’s a 2-day Xmas festival. Whether people are able to social distance or not in reality is another matter. The sale of alcohol in pubs in Scotland has been banned, probably for that reason, but it seems data about infections, R rates and the like are being bandied around and with so much conflicting information, nobody really knows what they are doing! One thing I do know though is that when we played a couple of shows back in August, everybody who attended and spoke with us was suffering from lockdown mental health issues. Without exception people told me that those gig nights, watching live music and saying hi to friends did them a world of good. It did us good too!
I know the other alternative is playing live online, like with the Punk & Roll Rendezvous festival, do you find it strange at all performing to a camera? When we hosted and played at the Punk and Roll Rendezvous Festival we had a film crew, photographers, tech crew and other band members in the venue so it felt like an actual gig. There was an electric atmosphere especially as up to that point, none of the bands had played for months. There was this explosive energy that I think was captured on film. We have done gigs purely to a film crew before though, you just get into it and do your thing. I like to imagine that I’m on something like the ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ which for those that don’t know, was a very cool TV live show from the 70s and 80s.
“Right from the start, we have always done our grunge/punk and psychedelic rock thing.”
What has it been like trying to create new music during lockdown? Musically our new album had already been created prior to the lockdown, but during lockdown we added Nina’s vocal lines and Dave’s bass lines. Nina and I wrote the words during lockdown which was a welcome challenge and gave us a creative lyrical outlet. Dave would visit every 7 days or so and come up with his bass lines to a couple of songs each time. It was the only social bubble we had, and it kept us on the right side of the sanity line. I spent a lot of time remixing and reworking the music which was tough going but gave me something to focus on other than ‘fear of a killer virus’.
Have you struggled at all for inspiration during this time or has it given you more time to work on other things? We haven’t really stopped working! As well as the album, we’ve edited three videos. Fortunately, prior to lockdown we had done some filming and so had the footage already. Then, when we had an opportunity, we ventured into a forest by a lake and various other locations and shot more. There’s also a fourth lockdown video due out any day now of us covering Nirvana’s song ‘Something in the Way’ which combines footage from the USA, with location footage in the UK. In short though, it’s been quite the opposite of lacking inspiration. Before lockdown, we were touring non stop all over the UK and Europe for 10 years but, if it weren’t for the lockdown the new album wouldn’t have been possible. We turned the situation into an opportunity, and I am glad we did.
And finally, everything you seem to pull out the bag seems so distinctive and unique to you, especially your name. Whose idea was it to go with Healthy Junkies? We nearly always get asked about this, understandably I suppose as it’s an unusual name. It means so much on so many different levels to us now. Initially though when Nina and I met, we were experimenting with marijuana to push the boundaries of our creations. At the same time, I was, and still am, cultivating a mushroom health drink called Kombucha. She just came out and called me a ‘Healthy Junky.’ I laughed and we agreed to keep the name for the band. We are also very aware of what we eat, and health is an important factor in our lives.
The pharmaceutical industry is very much at the forefront of all our lives at the moment with millions being invested in a potential vaccine. Of course, that in itself has become a controversial issue for many. The junkies side of the name really represents addiction towards whatever you care to be addicted to, but it seems to me that the name has taken on more relevance in these turbulent times. Unfortunately, we have been criticised for glamourising the use of heroin by a number of people, but I can assure you that is not the case. We actually printed up and sold a bunch of band T shirts with the slogan ‘Stay Healthy’ on as well as selling Healthy Junkies masks. If you should so desire a peak at these, you can find them on healthyjunkies.co.uk.
Thanks Phil for chatting with Listen to Discover