Healthy Junkies Interview;- with Nina Courson – vocals, and Phil Honey-Jones – guitar and backing vocals, held at the Unicorn, Camden, 14th May 2013
London based band Healthy Junkies inject glamour into punk, and grunge into rock, in a cocktail that produces a sound distinctly their own. Their debut album Sick Note (released September 2011) tends toward quicker tempos counterbalanced by darker undertones, with singer Nina Courson holding it all together with controlled vocals that don’t need to scream to get the message across.
‘Manifesto’; a single from the album, is a gem that stands out.
Beginning with a slow, slightly melancholy goth chord, segueing into much faster punky distortion and drums, all overlaid by Courson’s clear vocals, it showcases a style that refuses to be confined to one specific genre.
It’s a style that landed the four-piece band a headline slot on the New Band Stage at Rebellion (punk and alternative) festival last year. This year the Healthy Junkies will be heading back there, but this time they’ll be on one of the main stages.
They are currently part-way through a UK tour, and have a new album called the Lost Refuge due for release in July. This will be released by STP Records, a Manchester-based independent label that signed the Healthy Junkies in February
We met at the Unicorn, the venue of their monthly “Punk ‘n’ Roll Rendezvous” nights, to have a chat about their music.
The name Healthy Junkies is quite ambiguous…
Phil: I’ve been cultivating komucha mushroom for some years now…
Nina: It was the mushrooms to start with, then it became something else.
Phil: Everyone’s junkies to something, we’re all consumers, so that’s how the name developed. We’ve grown into the name I think. It’s become more, as time has gone on. In a society which depends on anti-depressants and painkillers, it’s a relevant title, I think.
Did you have a clear idea of what sort of music you wanted to make from the beginning?
Nina: No. The punk…people seem to like us, but we didn’t set out to be a punk band. We didn’t know, we just played music and it came out the way it did, and people said “that’s punk” or “that’s goth”. It’s very hard when people ask what kind of music you do, because it’s a bit of everything.
Phil: Generally people say we’re not a punk band, but then the punk community has welcomed us and been good to us and we’ve met a lot of great people in that scene.
Your musical influences have been listed as Iggy Pop, Nirvana, Blondie, Killing Joke and Sonic Youth. Any recent additions to that? What are you currently listening to?
Phil: There are some new bands we’ve befriended, underground bands like Dragster, In Evil Hour, Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons, Jim Jones Revue.
Nina: So it’s all underground, there’s nothing mainstream really.
Phil: There’s a whole load of new bands out there, and we’re lucky enough to be on the same bill or see them, and we are out a lot supporting other bands, and there’s a lot out there that’s influential, as well as all the old school stuff and the obvious stuff.
Are there ever any tugs of war between the band members to go in more one direction than another in terms of genre?
Nina: Yes, definitely.
Phil: Each band member has their own idea and their own influences and their own idea of what they think it should sound like. That happens in most bands…definitely in ours as well.
Has anyone in the band had any formal music training?
Nina: Singing lessons and piano lessons for four years, but mainly theatre. Worked in theatre for about ten years, so that’s my thing. I use it in the music. It’s taken me about ten years to get rid of the stagefright.
Phil: My mother was a classical pianist, so I was brought up with music and learnt the piano and learned the guitar and the cello from a young age and had lessons and played in orchestras. Sometimes it’s useful to know the rules so you can break them. It’s what my mum always used to say.
You played your first gig together at an all-day punk festival in Brighton. Which one was that and how did it go?
Nina: It wasn’t that great. It looked great when we got the promoters email…all the bands were going to get paid and then we got there and the promoter wasn’t there, and ran off with the money. Just disappeared.
Phil: There was almost a fight on stage because it was running so late, but we were all so drunk by the time we got on. We only played for 15 minutes and then they shut the festival down, but it inspired us to get the band together, because we had the offer of this gig, so we got the band together around that. I can’t remember the name of the festival..we didn’t get our money back.
And then you played Rebellion last year. How was that?
Nina: That was one of the best gigs we did, really impressive.
Phil: It was because we played so many gigs around the north and met people along the way, and got a small festival off the back of those gigs, and off the back of the small festival, we got the larger festival.
Nina: We didn’t know we were going to do it. We booked a holiday in France, we had to come back and do it and go back.
How is Sick Note doing in terms of sales?
Phil: Nearly all sold.
Nina: We’ve run out, almost.
Phil: So we’ve got a new album coming out in July, the Lost Refuge. It’s more of a concept thing, and each song becomes a person in the lost refuge.
How does it compare to the previous album?
Nina: First album; we didn’t get to play the songs live, we recorded them straight away in the studio. Second album; we got to play them live for a year. The first album – when I hear it…I think I would do it differently now.
Phil: We approached it in a different way, and the songs have evolved more, so hopefully it’s going to be a better album. We recorded it in June, put the drums and bass down in two days, then we left it for six months. We then decided, let’s just get in and capture what we have now…so we went in a day here, a day there. We did it right up until March/April.
And in terms of lyrically and musically, any change?
Nina: Maybe it’s a bit heavier.
Phil: I think it’s heavier.
Nina: A little bit more psychological.
You signed to STP records in February. How did that come about?
Phil: We played in Manchester. He [Stu Taylor from the label] signed up two or three bands that we know, and then a friend of ours suggested us.
We heard they were interested, and we said we’re interested. It was very quick.
Is your current UK tour financed and organised by STP records?
Phil: They cover costs of petrol and accommodation. We’re lucky enough to have people to put us up, there’s one guy who’s really good, Steve Iles, and he looks after us and he drives us around and puts us up!
What differences have you noticed since being signed?
Phil: The moment a professional person takes an interest in your band, people look at it in a different way. I think that’s fair to say, people have been really supportive and happy for us, it seems. Also he’s [Stu Taylor] involved with some other high profile bands…it can only be a positive thing I think.
Nina: What we do in London is up to us, when we go up north we work with Stu a bit more.
And lastly, what’s been the Junkies’ highlight so far?
Phil: Rebellion festival!
Nina: It was so unexpected, it was like a dream come true!