Band To Watch: For Your Health

Band To Watch: For Your Health

For Your Health’s debut LP, In Spite Of, is an endless loop. A brief yet abrasive wall of screeching guitar opens the record; the same sound closes it. If you set the album to repeat, the transition is near-seamless. For the screamo band from Columbus, this was art reflecting life. 2020 was a year of chaos and confusion, with no end promised to any of it — desolation that only continues to fold into itself, rather than following a straight line to its end and then concluding its journey. As Ian MacKaye sang: “It’s the end of a fucked up year; there’s another one coming.”

For Your Health’s existence stemmed from a chance meeting at The Angry Baker, a vegan café in Columbus, in 2018, where guitarist Damian Chacon struck up a conversation with vocalist Hayden Rodriguez about the post-hardcore band Gouge Away. This led to jam sessions where they were joined by bassist Johnny Deborde and drummer Sandro Zambrano-Villa (later replaced by Mike Mapes), and a first gig at Rodriguez’s house venue. Their first 7″, Nosebleeds, was written over the course of two practices. Then came a split LP with Pittsburgh screamo counterparts Shin Guard and 100 tour dates through 2019.

That was going to be scaled up to at least 160 dates in 2020, but after the first date of a March tour that was supposed to bring them to SXSW, it all disappeared overnight thanks to the pandemic. With no plans and an uncertain future ahead of them, they decided to use the time to finally flesh out a full-length. “We locked ourselves in the practice room and wrote the album over the course of about a week, and I wrote the lyrics over the course of the following month,” says Rodriguez. “We recorded it over five days in Pittsburgh in July. From front to back, it took three or four months, which is crazy to us, ’cause we’ve never spent more than a few days on something.”

As is evident on opening track “birthday candles in the effigy” — out today with a video by Jon Nix — the atmosphere of the early days of the pandemic is inextricable from the finished record. Chaos and anguish reign, and while of course there’s no such thing as a screamo record that isn’t chaotic and anguished, In Spite Of is uniquely potent. It’s the enormity of that universal anxiety forced into a claustrophobic space, testing its edges to the point of explosion. “When we started, it felt really eerie; no one knew anything about COVID, and there was a lot of political tumult in the United States going on,” says Rodriguez. “Between that, being unemployed, not being able to tour, and having to worry about coronavirus, it was a really stressful time. The chaos going on around us inspired a lot of the record.”

Violence and bloodshed is the language that Rodriguez speaks across the record; you’re hard pressed to find a song on here where a reference to such isn’t made, whether it’s biting a tongue clean off or shooting oneself through the heart. Partly, this is the heightened drama that’s quintessential to screamo, but often it feels more sincere and tangible than that. The idea of revolution looms large across several songs. “the day of black sun” opens on the lines, “Straw didn’t break the camel’s back/ Just a boot on its neck and a million whip cracks.” “thank you for the venmo” promises “reparations in flesh”; and on “this city will crumble and many people will die,” Rodriguez both screams and harmonizes in a sort of mocking sing-song, “These castle walls can’t take much more/ This bloodshed could fill 10 abattoirs.” Though forthright leftist politics are no new addition to For Your Health’s oeuvre — songs on their first 7″include “haiku in blue” (“All pigs go to hell”) and “FUCK I.C.E.” (self-explanatory) — it’s difficult not to interpret the newfound urgency here as a reaction to the class inequality laid barer than ever by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, any inclination to call that radical pales in comparison to “everyday at 13:12” (a reference to a coded alternative to ACAB, wherein the letters are replaced by their corresponding numbers), in which Rodriguez advocates for cop suicide in graphic terms: “As if every pig wouldn’t look better with a gaping hole in the back of the head.” Sure, they’re playing with outrage here (particularly when they go on to add “and a newly widowed in my bed”), but it’s a very real rage that they express — just this week, a sheriff’s deputy in Columbus killed a Black man named Casey Goodson outside his home — and that rage touches every part of the record.

“Living in the US is a hellscape, it’s a capitalist hellscape, and it informs all of the decisions and thoughts that we have to work through,” says Rodriguez. “All of us in the band like to be aware of what’s going on, and I think it’s important to expose people that may not have the same upbringing as us to politics that could benefit them. We’re very outspokenly leftist; I don’t ever wanna be corny about it, and I’m not trying to preach to anyone, but it leaks through because it’s what we wanna talk about.”

They continue, “Rage is deeply intertwined with passion, and without that you really have no reason to do things.” It’s important to them, they explain, to not mince any words in their songs. “If you’re listening to heavy music, it’s very pummeling. You’re able to hammer a point across. When there’s something we wanna say, we will just say it outright. Like, we have a song called ‘FUCK I.C.E.’ because if anyone took anything from our first 7″, I wanted it to be that. I didn’t want it to get lost in the mix.”

Musically, In Spite Of sees the band noticeably expanding their parameters. Their heavy parts became heavier, and melodic parts more catchy and unabashed, yet these extremes meld more effectively than ever. This wasn’t necessarily the result of careful thought or conscious experimentation, according to Rodriguez; it was simply a refinement allowed by the unexpected time to breathe away from tour. “I feel like a lot of people assume that there was some sort of incubation period, but it was a really gradual thing that was happening since the beginning,” they explain. “A lot of the songs on In Spite Of are just better versions, or more complete ideas, of things we had been trying to do on the first two releases.”

The band focused heavily on the sequencing and transitions between tracks, intending to create a record that played as one movement. That feeds in powerfully to the aforementioned anxiety and claustrophobia that was poured into the album, creating a flow that feels suitably panicked and often deliberately jarring — such as the abrupt transition from the melodic and relatively serene “abscess makes the heart grow” to the punishingly heavy “day of black sun.”

A perhaps surprising, though ever-present, influence on the record is Rodriguez’s love for bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance: the controversial “third wave” of emo, which saw a churn of bands spinning post-hardcore into pop music. “There’s a lot of wittiness and really good lyricism that’s completely swept under the rug, because a lot of people discount those bands because they were really popular or whatever,” says Rodriguez. “I grew up with those bands, and I think that my approach to songwriting is very similar. I’d say For Your Health is equally influenced by Fall Out Boy as it is like, Daughters.”

The wit, wordplay, and pop culture references that bands like Fall Out Boy dealt in are found in abundance across In Spite Of, while, looking closely, it’s also easy to see elements of the third wave’s theatricality in For Your Health’s presentation — their building of atmosphere and mythos, their propensity for dramatics in their delivery and aesthetics. “I can’t perceive taking it as far as like, My Chemical Romance, but definitely everything we do is really, really thought out,” says Rodriguez. “Equally as important as the music is our performance, and aesthetics, and curating the story, and designing art and merch. I just like doing all of it.”

For Your Health is a difficult band to pin down. They’re furious, but have a sense of humor; they’re obsessed with the most radio- and mainstream-friendly brand of emo, while they write about killing cops; they can flip from abrasion and chaos to melody on a hair trigger. If hardcore is the jocks and emo the geeks, screamo has perhaps always been music by and for misfits and outcasts, yet even while For Your Health continue that legacy, they escape or outright reject such a simple classification. They often feel like odd ones out, Rodriguez admits. “We’re either the heaviest band on a bill, or the softest one. When we play a hardcore or metalcore show, people will think we’re the weird screamo band, and then when we play a pop punk or emo show, we’re heavier than everyone else. So it definitely feels hard to fit in sometimes. But I don’t know; I kinda like that.”

01 “birthday candles in the effigy”
02 “i slept with wes eisold and all i got was an out of court settlement”
03 “push the fucking rock, sisy”
04 “abscess makes the heart grow”
05 “the day of black sun”
06 “save your breath, you’re gonna need it to blow my head off”
07 “if anybody asks, we’re already fucked”
08 “you’re so united ninety-three, we’re so flight one eighty”
09 “like a thirteenth floor elevator”
10 “everyday at 13:12”
11 “thank you for the venmo”
12 “this city will crumble and many people will die”

In Spite Of is out 2/12 on Twelve Gauge Records. Pre-order it here.

more from Band To Watch