For Your Health on reaching the post-hardcore catharsis of ‘In Spite Of’
Before the public even heard a note of For Your Health's debut full-length album In Spite Of, the band previewed a chunk of the album in a hate5six-produced live session. It was a smart, unique move in these concert-less times, and it left a big impression. Even if you'd never seen the Ohio band live before, the video gave you a feel for the intensity and theatricality of FYH's stage show. They played as hard in that video as they do with an audience to feed off of; anyone who watched it would go into this album knowing that this is a band who really means it.
The live session was followed by first single "Birthday Candles in the Effigy" and its Jon Nix-directed music video, which once again featured the band tearing it up in an empty room, this time with their performance presented in contrast with a ballerina and an abusive dance instructor, mirroring the ballerina painting on In Spite Of's album cover. As the band explained, this functioned as a metaphor for what this whole album is about.
"Ballerinas are people who can turn their bodies into art, but that level of commitment comes at a great physical and emotional cost to them: bruised and bloodied feet; forcing themselves to stay underweight; burning themselves out at a young age," the band said. "And yet all those things are covered in satin and converted into something beautiful, cathartic, and powerful in performance. We see ourselves in that, just as much as we see capitalism, systemic oppression, and even COVID in the abusive dance instructor. For Your Health is about us and our listeners using our music as a vessel to overcome pain and create something beautiful, in spite of everything around us."
"I think a lot of people peg us as an overtly political punk band, and honestly, I don't really see us like that," vocalist Hayden Rodriguez added, when asked to expand on the In Spite Of concept. "There are political aspects to our music and definitely political songs, but overall, this band to us -- or at least to me -- is really introspective. It's sort of a time capsule, or like a diary. The band is political because these are things that we want to talk about, these are things that permeate our daily lives, but at the end of the day I write things that are personal to me, or observations about things that I find funny, you know, stuff like that. This is our way of doing catharsis: performing intense music and writing about things that trouble me, and I feel like people latch onto that because they relate to it."
"At its core, the album to me is literally about dealing with outside factors weighing down on you and trying to exist and thrive in spite of everything that wants you to fail," Hayden continued. "So really I hope people can just sort of find catharsis and inner peace, living the way they wanna live and not taking shit from anybody."
Before In Spite Of, For Your Health made their mark with the quickly-recorded 2019 debut EP Nosebleeds and then really shook up the world of screamo/post-hardcore with that same year's Death of Spring split with Shin Guard (who are now known as Hazing Over), which has steadily built up a reputation as one the most iconic screamo splits in recent memory. The two bands toured together after its release, "and that sort of was the first tour we did where it felt like our music was really starting to reach outside of our own circle," Hayden said. "We did a month with Shin Guard up and down the East Coast -- we played like 26 states or something like that, it was kind of crazy. I had never been to so many of these places, and there were at least a couple people in each city who said, like, 'we came to see you, we love the split!' or whatever, and it was just crazy because it was the first time I'd ever experienced anything like that."
The success of the split set expectations for For Your Health's next release high, and with In Spite Of, they've exceeded those expectations by a mile. The 12-song album functions as one grand statement where each song bleeds directly into the next, making for a record that towers over everything For Your Health did beforehand. The production is clear and refined without toning down the attack of the band's earlier, rawer recordings, and the music is far more ambitious. The earlier releases fit somewhat neatly into "screamo," but In Spite Of is more of a screamo-infused, genre-defying post-hardcore album, incorporating a vast array of sounds from under the umbrella of heavy music.
The new album exists somewhere around the halfway point between early Daughters and the experimental late period of Fear Before the March of Flames -- both of whom Hayden cites as influences -- with the former's discordant fury and the latter's collage of vocal styles. Across In Spite Of's relatively short running time, the band can go from violent grind to shimmering post-rock passages to chugging metalcore riffs to mid-tempo emo-pop, and they frequently switch from one extreme to another at the drop of a hat. They're impossibly tight, and all the little mathy, off-kilter intricacies are executed with extreme precision. As guitarist Damian Chacon, bassist Johnny Deborde, and drummer Mike Mapes shred away, Hayden tops it all off with stunning range, going from the harsh shrieks of their earlier material to soaring cleans to the sarcastic sneer of mid-2000s post-hardcore. (There are also some backup vocals from Damian and members of Shin Guard/Hazing Over and Soul Glo.) The album offers the musical diversity of a double album in the span of about 20 minutes, keeping you hooked with its refusal to ever stay in one place for too long.
"We never really set out to be a 'screamo band,' we just sort of were like 'let's make heavy, weird music,' and we definitely have a major screamo influence, but it's never really what we were trying to do," Hayden said. "We get lumped in with screamo bands because that's who we play with, and obviously our first thing was really screamo, but I don't know, none of us really have a major screamo influence. We all like screamo, but if you asked any of us what our influences are for this band, like no one's gonna say pg.99 or Saetia or whatever. It's funny because people always compare us to bands like, and we're like 'that doesn't make any sense!' [Laughs.] I think we're definitely closer to post-hardcore bands, like At the Drive In were a big influence and Fear Before the March of Flames and stuff like that. I think we're way closer to that than, like, '90s screamo."
As In Spite Of continues to make its mark, it'll become clear that For Your Health are doing something much more involved than digging through the crates of '90s screamo, and that their early material really wasn't indicative of what this band is capable of. "There wasn't really much thought or time put into our first release, and it's become representative of us for the longest time," Hayden continued. "In Spite Of is the music we wanted to be making for well over a year -- we've only been around for two years -- we just hadn't had the time to put this record out, but it's sort of been brewing."
Had the pandemic not hit, the record might still only be brewing. For Your Health had planned to tour like crazy in 2020 and try to write when they could, but when the universe put a stop to those plans, the band decided to make the best of it and write the album they'd always wanted to write. "[Making something more put-together] was definitely a goal of ours, especially once we knew we were gonna have this much time to flesh it out. We wanted to write a piece that was a single movement that you could listen to in one sitting and sort of get everything out of it." It might be a little weird to frame the pandemic as the catalyst for something good, but you know, when life gives you lemons, make a really fucking good post-hardcore album. "We sort of joke about that," Hayden said. "Everything sucks but we got to make the album that we wanted."
In Spite Of is out now via Twelve Gauge (order yours from the Deathwish store). Stream it, alongside another music video and that live session, below.