Two years ago, the British punk outfit Healthy Junkies made it stateside to bring their wild rock ’n’ roll to the masses. Lead singer Nina Courson filmed tons of footage of the event for Forever On The Road, an epic “rockumentary.” (No, really, it is epic, clocking in at over three hours.) Guitarist/co-founder Phil Honey-Jones was tasked with creating music to score the film. Instead, he came up with “Last Day In L.A.,” a kickass rocker that’s blindingly great. Alternative Press is premiering it today. If you love guitars and frontwomen with attitude, your week just got better.
Fortunately, Honey-Jones’ mad skills couldn’t be contained as background music. Forever turned into the Healthy Junkies’ impending new album, which features the songcraft of punk’s nascent days powered by some contemporary attitude. (Don’t bum out: You can still watch the rockumentary on the band’s Facebook platform.)
Honey-Jones got us up to speed on Healthy Junkies’ reasons for rocking, controversial band name and what their high-volume future holds.
What’s the resonance of the band name? The idea that you’re addicted to something but you don’t have the physical or psychic devastation that goes with your obsession? Or is it a band legend?
The name originated from a flippant comment from Nina to me. We had just started writing songs together and had one eye on coming up with a name. We were experimenting with smoking marijuana for inspiration, attempting to push boundaries while searching for ourselves and new ideas. Meanwhile, I was consuming a Japanese healthy drink daily called kombucha, which I had been fermenting and producing for some years. Nina quite rightly labeled this as an oxymoron and came up with the band name.
This name that we have branded ourselves with has since brought about a considerable amount of mostly healthy, fervent discussion. We have been accused of glamorizing heroin use with our name or encouraging the use of drugs. That is simply not the case. We reply to such insinuations by reminding people that you can be a junkie to anything. TV, junk food, exercise or social media. Funnily enough, Americans and fitness enthusiasts tend to predominantly see the word “healthy,” whereas some others just see the word “junkies.” When we met Krist Novoselic in Seattle during our U.S. tour in 2018, he said he liked the name and asked us what our drug of choice would be. We of course replied marijuana. He told us that this would be his answer too. I rest my case.
Healthy Junkies have been around for a while, and the scope of the music has evolved. With the release of “Last Day In L.A.,” you’re looking to be the best punk band of 1981. It has that old-school punk vibe, but it’s not cabaret. It’s all about right now, with a nod to how early glam imprinted itself on the punks. Are the stylistic changes all about keeping it fresh for yourselves? Or do the Junkies just make noise in their practice space and whatever happens, happens?
We undoubtedly owe pretty much everything to some of the great punk bands of the past. We still avidly listen to the likes of the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned and many more. But we are also fans of more current bands like Osees, Ty Segall, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, IDLES, Fontaines D.C., etc. And let us not forget Nina’s favorite all-time band, Nirvana. You mention glam and are absolutely right in saying that bands like T. Rex, Sweet and of course the man himself David Bowie had a massive influence on the punk acts that followed.
To actually answer your question, though, we do literally play whatever we feel like playing. There was never a plan to contrive a sound that was based upon someone else’s. We did not even set out to be a punk band. One particular bloke, Steve Iles, spotted us very early on and proceeded to book us on punk-rock bills across the U.K., which then resulted in us playing the mighty punk festival Rebellion for the first time in 2012. Our sound has found its own crooked way, soaking up everything and anything, then spewing it out in globules that we like to call “songs.”
What is “Last Day In L.A.” about? More than anywhere else in the U.S., L.A. is a place that can keep any kind of subculture alive. Were you feeling some culture shock? What was it that inspired the track?
The whole album Forever On The Road started out as a mostly instrumental soundtrack to our 2018 U.S. tour diary. We filmed as we went, capturing backstage snippets, other bands that played alongside us, drunken mayhem and more. Nina edited the footage down to a three-hour 30-minute punk rockumentary. Then I came up with a bunch of tunes to go with it, 33 in the end. The music to “Last Day” was literally to accompany our film footage of that last day.
Fast forward to lockdown in March this year. Nina then released a series of 26-minute long excerpts from the tour diary via Facebook and Instagram to help keep us and our listeners amused. During the process of editing again—and with the benefit of a break from our grueling tour schedule—Nina started to get inspired with vocal melodies to fit with many of the soundtrack instrumentals. We then wrote the lyrics to fit the vocal melodies. Then, in turn, Dave [Whitmore, bassist] became inspired, and he recorded his magical basslines to the songs. To write the words, we transported ourselves back to those last days mournful in sunny California.
Sad to say goodbye to the bright lights, Hollywood vibe and friends we made along the way. I wouldn’t say that we felt a culture shock in L.A. In fact, we felt right at home. We certainly were encouraged and given support by many people there in a way that we do not get in the U.K. In L.A. everyone is trying to make it, get contacts, network and make something of themselves. There is an energy that is frankly infectious. Let’s face it: We are [constantly] exposed to U.S. culture through film and TV, and it actually feels like you are living in a film there. At least it did for us.
Nobody’s touring now, obviously. Would you even dare to consider what the next record would sound like, given political upheaval, the pandemic and sweeping social consciousness? Or do you have a plan already in place?
We do have a bunch of songs and song ideas already in preparation for our next album. We will keep writing and are without a doubt inspired by what is going on right now on so many levels. I would like to further explore some of the more cinematic, atmospheric and ambient sides of what we have touched upon in the Road album.
I only hope we do not lose many more great venues off the back of this pandemic economic meltdown. Live music is under the cosh more than ever. But I believe people are going to be back to gigs with a vengeance, and there will be some mighty mosh pits to come.
Jam your ports into your skulls and blast “Last Day In L.A.” below.