Healthy&Beauty’s Brian Sulpizio Shares Influential Origin Story, No Scare Out Friday

Meredith Schneider

photo by Julia Dratel

Health&Beauty – formed by Brian J Sulpizio in the early 2000’s – has experienced a plethora of transitions, rearranging of official lineups, collaborations, and sounds, transcending its original nature and becoming a beast all its own. Although originally from Ohio, Sulpizio now resides in Chicago, where he draws inspiration for the ever-evolving sound of the project. Although the art is always changing, the moniker has stayed the same throughout, giving much-needed attention to the fact that a music project does not have to fit into a specific genre space during its existence.

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We’re floored by the talent and thought put into the project, something that became ever more palpable after speaking to Sulpizio himself. Check it out below.

Tell us the origin story of Health&Beauty.

A long time ago I needed a band name for the first show I was playing of my own songs in Chicago. I got it from the grocery, from the aisle they mark. It had the right tinge of darkness that the right people could see, and also left room for concepts to shift over time. Like, I probably would have used my own name but it is too long and hard to pronounce and maybe too ethnic to mark the kind of American music I’m after. It’s gotten a little confusing over the years; I’ve played free-improvised sets (though not for a long time) under the name Health&Beauty, just sort of assuming it as an alias. I wanted to come up with a new name when I started playing with Ben & Frank, because we make music in a more distinct way together than I have with other people under the Health&Beauty name, but they both wanted to keep it and I couldn’t come up with anything that had the same panache, layers of meaning, whatever for me. There’s also a historical thing referred to as the cult of health and beauty, which was a movement in Germany from the 1890s through the 1930s, marked by the cultivation of strength, regular exercise, vegetarianism, rejection of vices, and anti-intellectualism. 

How did the video for “Wartime” come about?

Ben & Frank are living in LA and Amsterdam right now, when they/we are not on tour. We had a weekend together in Chicago and Frank has this condo on the south side that is sort of fucked up right now. We’re actually all going to be together for the next couple weeks, writing some stuff before heading on this short tour, and Frank’s dad is coming to help him fix up the condo so he can rent it out. So it was fun to get a portrait of that place as we know it, before it starts looking nice. I like looking at walls that are messed up like that. It’s sort of like watching clouds or a fire or something. I’d talked to Julia a bit about what I was after, which was pretty vague. I’m not very visually-oriented, or even aware of my surroundings a lot of the time. I told her I wanted some split between goofy and dark. It might have ended up more goofy than dark. That’s not her fault, though.

Which song on the upcoming album was you guys’s favorite to create?

The whole record is pretty live, so I can’t point to lots of neat Jim O’Rourke-y tricks. I’ve messed with that before and wanted to get as far away from it as possible this time, just to see what we could do. It was more about rehearsing leading up and making sure that the three of us were doing things that made us happy to hear, either together or trading-off. I mean, we did a fair amount of overdubs and processing, but there aren’t really any sounds that weren’t typical recordings of instruments. That said, “Beyond Beyonce” is my favorite. I wish I could write a thousand songs like that.

There’s a lot that is let go of and regained, moment by moment, in the way that song needs to be played. It sounds sloppy but we spent a lot of time getting it to work that way. I’m still sad that that’s the title. I wanted to call it “Third Leg in the Afternoon” but Ben really liked “Beyond Beyonce”. It seems mean, to me. I don’t have anything against Beyonce and neither does he. “Check On It?” Come on, forget it. That shit’s great. “Single Ladies?” Pretty much all of her high-energy music really does it for me.

Did you guys encounter any difficulties or struggles during the creation of your upcoming album?

Yeah it was a weird one. The studio we made it in had a lot of problems. We booked four days and spent the first two troubleshooting. I had worked there as an engineer a couple times so knew a little of what was messed up, but Theo did the bulk of that work. We’d get everything up and running, and then all of a sudden every amp in the building plugged into any outlet would have this insane hum. Ben got the flu on day 2 so a lot of the tracking was just Frank and me on day 3, then Ben fought through the flu on day 4 to get his parts in. Someone spilled coffee into one of those Avalon DI boxes, so I spent my downtime scrubbing the printed circuit board with Q-Tips dipped in alcohol.

Theo and I were at my home studio on day 5 to do vocals but I had gotten sick by then, so I ended up doing them a couple months later, then Gillian and Emme came and sang, Matt Schneider did some pedal steel and nylon guitar, Ryley did a steel string acoustic part, Daniel Wyche came and we fed vocals and some of the electric guitars through some of his pedals. It ended up being a long process but I’m happier with it than any other recording I’ve got of Health&Beauty.

How did you decide on what to name your album?

It’s named after the title track, which is like a short exploration of power craving. Maybe it’s like the bully who’s afraid of being ignored, or like the parents who either whip your ass to get into the car to Grandma’s house or guilt you by telling you how much Grandma wants to see you. What’s your relationship to power? Are you blinded by fear or do you have a healthy relationship to it?

Where did you draw inspiration for ‘No Scare’?

A lot of it was written around a time a few years ago… I had lived in Chicago for 12 years and moved back in with my parents in rural Ohio for about three months. That was a serious culture shock, even though I had grown up there. So I was thinking a lot about all the external pressures that had made me into who I was in both of those places, trying to decide how to move forward. It’s sort of a crisis record, about a crisis that I’m still not comfortably out of.

What are you most excited about for when your album ‘No Scare’ comes out?

It’s hard for me to get excited, in general, but I’m looking forward to holding a copy of it, listening to it on vinyl at least once. We’re working on getting some tours together too, we’ll see how that goes. We finished this record a long time ago. I sure do love playing live, though, and these songs can be twisted around in a lot of ways, especially with Ben & Frank.

Do you have any unique pre-show rituals?

I feel comfortable on stage and pretty rudderless throughout the rest of my life.

What is one thing you think everyone should know about you or your music?

It’s always changing.

Who is your favorite superhero?

I think the idea of superheroes grows out of the loss of life in warfare or desperation. We’re always looking for one person to solve the problem by changing something in the big mechanism, but I’m more into personally-devised value systems that can guide us whenever possible, and not beating ourselves up too much when we need to compromise. This answer I’m giving is making me think of this song: 

If you were a food item, what would you be and why?

If I were a food item I would have been dead a long time ago.

If you had to lose one finger, which one would you choose and why?

I don’t want to answer this question because I wouldn’t want anyone to take me up on it. But I’ll tell you… they told a story about my dad’s mom’s uncle, who lived in rural Maine. He would split a certain size of firewood by holding onto the piece of wood and bringing the hatchet down. He had really good aim and would move the hand that was steadying the wood at the last minute. He did this for his whole life, from childhood, and finally cut off a finger when he was 65.

And now we don’t want to ask that question anymore. What can we expect from Health&Beauty next?

We’ve been playing a few new things live, and we’re getting together this week to start writing more new things and pulling a few things into shape that we haven’t played out yet. I’m also about to start working on some different music with a few friends who got together last year to play Neil Young songs for his birthday. That band worked so well I wanted to play some of my own songs with them. I’ve got some really sad, navel-gazey songs I want to record… sort of in the vein of the “Im Yr Baby” song on this record. My friend Kendra drew a picture of me playing guitar and sucking a disembodied dick a while ago when she was mad at me… Maybe she’s still mad at me… but that’s going to be the cover.

“No Scare” is out August 5th on Wichita Recordings. 

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