Interview of Nina Courson and Phil Honey-Jones of London based Punk band The Healthy Junkies. Their 3rd LP “Box Of Chaos” is to be released on the 20th of February 2016.
Having first heard the Healthy Junkies live last December when they were opening for Theatre of Hate at The Garage in Islington, I was looking forward to the release of their third LP released on STP Records. The first song “Nice and Sleazy” sees Phil do a giant leap between Syd Barrett and Pete Shelley guitar style wise in its intro, the rest of the track is driven along by a succession of catchy riffs and Nina’s ethereal voice (the connoisseurs will appreciate the Doors homage in the middle of the song). The urgent “Never Want It Again” speeds along at a furious pace as does the vitriolic “Hypocrite”. “Je suis Free” has an anthem quality and a solo that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Only Ones album. The Single “Watch Out” is pure heavy punk with a catchy riff that sticks in your head. Phil takes lead on “Rebellion” while the melodic “Just A Fool” is one of the strongest tracks on the album. The eerie “Runaway Devil” is followed by another slice of prime pop-punk entitled “Hustle Street”. “Captive” is a more reflective track that nevertheless returns to their punk-rock roots towards its ending. The record finishes with another great track “D7”.
Could you tell us both about how and what brought you to become musicians in the first place ?
Nina– I used to sing along with my favourite artists from my parents vinyl collection from the 70s as a child, and make up songs with my kiddie synth and record them onto an old tape recorder. I had piano lessons for 4 years as a teenager and also studied theatre since the age of 9 to work on the performance side. When I first heard Nirvana at 16 years old I made up my mind to form a band which I did with some high school friends.
Phil– My mother was a classical concert pianist and so I was exposed to classical concerts from a very young age, taking up first the cello aged 6, playing in various orchestras up to the age of about 14, having piano tuition from my mother in my teens then finally switching to guitar as my main instrument at that time too. As soon as I plugged in my first electric guitar and hit that first open chord I knew what I would be doing for a long time to follow. My mother brought up the family as a single parent ( I’m one of six ) teaching piano at some point up to 100 students a week in schools and at home proving that you can earn a living as a musician.
How did you actually meet and formed the band ?
We initially met on Myspace. It was some months later that Nina asked me if I could book a couple of shows in London for a band from New York, which I did. I was away for those shows but when I got back to London we arranged to meet in person at a venue called Punk in Soho. I was playing a gig there with my band at the time, The Duel, it was our album launch but if I remember rightly we had no albums. Nina and I clicked straight away and then continued to meet up, it was complicated but we persevered, and eventually, after quite a few false starts, we managed to write our first song ‘Glam sister’ as a birthday present for one of Nina’s friends. From then on songs came together more easily and so the next natural step was to form a band, especially seeing as we had already been booked for our first gig which was in Brighton at a dodgy festival supporting Goldblade. The promoter ran off with the money that night but I believe John Robb got paid. ( I can’t imagine not paying Goldblade! )
You seem to have a very spontaneous writing process as your press release states that some of your songs were made up on stage. Can you tell us how most of your songs come together ?
There is no one way that songwriting happens for us. It can be a one line lyric idea with a melody from Nina which I embellish on and maybe add another section or it can be a guitar riff or bunch of chords from me that inspires Nina to write a melody to go with. Generally we take the core idea and then develop it into a story or decide maybe what the song is about and then finish off the words together. One time we sat on a beach in Portugal and wrote one line each randomly not knowing what the other person had written and came up with a song called ‘Spoilt brat’ which is on our second album
We have also tried starting with the drums, then adding bass, onto which I put guitar and Nina added some words EG The song ‘If you talk to her’ also on our second album. Or we have been touring or at a gig with new musicians who only knew maybe a couple of our songs and had to make up the rest of the set on stage, later developing these ideas into songs EG Just a fool and Nice’n’sleazy on our latest album.
Having been on the Punk circuit for several years, can you describe the challenges a Punk band face in an age where lots of small venues are closing and people are not buying records ? Is there a way to adjust to that ? Also the band seems to have changed rhythm section a few times, can you elaborate on how hard it is to find band members that fit the style of the band ?
We’ve been on the punk circuit for 5 years now, long enough to know that being in an Underground band is an immense challenge, financially and in terms of keeping up morale against lousy odds. We do it because we love it though, and frankly we would probably be lost without our constant gigging and the social scene that goes with that. The only people that actually buy CDs and T shirts are in fact Punks and so we are grateful for that support and as opposed to focusing on the negative side of sales we prefer to think positively and still actual believe that rocking live music is relevant. Yes it a tragic shame about the venues closing, they are not all closed yet though. We run our own monthly night at The Unicorn, Camden which is a FREE entry night called ‘Punk’n’roll Rendezvous, it has been going for over 3 years now and is always busy and thriving with energy. We will not be stopped !! Live music will always find a way even if we have to play in someone’s kitchen with the right circumstances we will.
Yes we have changed line-ups more often than we would have liked. People have come and gone and all contributed in their own way. There are plenty of musicians in London though, people arriving all the time looking to follow their dream and we have been fortunate enough to find our current drummer, Tony Alda ( from Venezuela) who recorded our latest album with us and has been in the band for a year and half now.. He deserves a medal for putting up with us. As any band knows the dynamic between band members is a like finely balanced machine, and that machine needs constant attention and tuning for it to operate smoothly
Is there bands and artists with which you feel a strong kinship on the current punk scene ?
We have been fortunate enough to play on the same bill with so many great punk bands of the past and newer bands too. Names that spring to mind are The Uk Subs who have been incredibly supportive, The Rezillos, GBH, Vice Squad, The Vibrators, The Professionals, Peter and the test tube babies, the list goes on. They have all been great to watch and we’ve had a laugh with them too back stage or at the bar. Dragster are a band that we have shared the bill with many times, they are a lot of fun, genuine and the party hard level is pushed to the max with them and us. Being with STP Records ( Manchester) has been a real bonus, Stu Taylor has given us so many great slots supporting Dirt box disco and playing alongside many of his other great bands like Brassick, Loaded 44 and Pussycat and the dirty Johnsons. In London we have strong bonds with Bubblegum Screw, Jelly, Polly pickpocketz, Slut drop, Underclass UK and many others, all of us playing regularly together at the aforementioned Punk’n’roll Rendezvous which we run with the Steve Iles.
Do you feel a progression between your three albums in terms of songwriting and performing ?
Yes we certainly do. I would say that the first album was written mostly using stream of consciousness, in other words it just happened, we wrote it pretty quickly and recorded it straight away. With the second and third album we lived with the tunes for a while, some of them we were playing live a year and a half before recording them thus giving them a chance to develop. Although having said that one songs off the new album ‘ Don’t give up’ was written the day before recording it. We have gained confidence in our performances as a result of constantly being on the road, and the subject matter has evolved as we have become more engaged with what we see happening in the world today. Not much of it being that pretty .
What have you got planned touring wise for the next few months ?
We have a bunch of one off gigs around the UK, some festivals in the spring/summer including Nice’n’sleazy in Morecambe, The Blank generation in Tottenham and Flaming June in Uttoxeter. Of course we will continue our monthly night Punk’n’roll Rendezvous at The Unicorn, Camden which is generally the second Saturday of each month as well as a support to Dirt box disco at the 100 Club, London in October. We hope to go back to the USA this year, we were there last October in New York and got some great feedback. We have a promoter in Germany who has asked us to go back, it is just a question of getting the logistics sorted but it will happen. All our dates can be seen on our web site www.healthyjunkies.co.uk or www.reverbnation.com/healthyjunkies
And of course if anyone is reading this and wants to book us then give us a shout on email@example.com as The Banana Castle is where Healthy Junkies dwell. I’ll tell you about the Banana Castle another time.