Heathmonger is a garage-psych rock trio that features Mike Horishny on guitar and vocals, Reinah Bauer on bass and vocals and Xaviar Miller on drums. The band debuted in February 2022 and shares musical space with fellow psych-rockers King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, The Osees and others. Ahead of an afternoon gig last weekend, our music reporter Bennett Kelly interviewed the band about their 2023 debut EP “Pay No Mind,” their ambitions and busy show schedule, upcoming projects, and more.
Bennett Kelly: The first question I’m asking everyone is just, when and where was your first New Brunswick gig?
Mike Horishny: That is a good question. Honestly, I’m not sure where in New Brunswick our first show was, off the top of my head. I know our first show ever, period was at Pino’s in Highland Park, but I’m not sure off the top of my head what our first big New Brunswick show was.
Reinah Bauer: I want to say it was the one at Kelsey’s house. It was the Big Dipp [showhouse] at the time.
Mike Horishny: Was it the Big Dipp?
Reinah Bauer: Yeah, I think so. It was a basement show. I don’t think the venue is around anymore, but had a good run for a year or so.
BK: I saw Pillowinde and Jag One there once.
Reinah Bauer: Yeah, I think we played with Jag One and Pillowinde at the Big Dipp once. The backyard show.
Mike Horishny: We did. Yeah, that’s right. [Later: that first New Brunswick show was April 2022, and the Pino’s show was February 2022].
BK: And then where are you all from? Are you Rutgers students?
Mike Horishny: We were Rutgers students.
Reinah Bauer: I went to Rutgers a while ago. I graduated in 2020 and then Mike went to Rutgers also. I think you graduated like 2021?
Mike Horishny: 2021, yeah.
Xaviar Miller: I’m still working on mines.
Mike Horishny: And you’re also at Rutgers.
Xaviar Miller: Yes, yes yes.
BK: Cool. So it’s pretty amazing to me, you’ve got five gigs in basically a twenty-four hour span. This is the third one, and I guess I’m kind of just wondering, why? And how? How do you even go about that?
Mike Horishny: Well, last night we actually ended up having to back out of one of the gigs, so this is going to be number two. But essentially we just do it because we genuinely have fun playing the shows. And we like putting the hustle into it. Trying to, I don’t know, get the name out there at the ground level as best as we can, before we start expanding into other territory.
Reinah Bauer: Yeah I mean, I would say that any band who plays a lot of shows would say they have some goal of expansion. And some hopes of catching a wind and making something bigger of themselves. I think for us, this is us putting the best foot forward so that hopefully luck and hard work will come together, and we feel like we’ve done the most we can do at the end of the day. So yeah, fun, but then also we’re trying to be strategic about it too.
BK: What are your ambitions as a band? Do you have a mission statement or goals particularly?
Mike Horishny: I wouldn’t say we have a particular mission statement. But obviously the goal is to get to a point where this can become something sustainable. Right now we’re at a point where we’re just trying to play to as many people as possible and release music. We’re working on our next project, we’re not sure if it’s going to be an EP or an album yet. But yeah, the goal is to just put ourselves in front of as many people as we can, and grow as musicians.
Reinah Bauer: I think personally, we talk a lot about traveling. And being able to incorporate that into music would be the dream, the goal. We do some tours locally and some small runs that we’ve set up. But some of the bands that we really look up to, and we’ve gotten to meet members of, kind of getting to hear about their travels, their experiences playing and being on the road and getting to see new places and meet new people. I think ultimately that would be the dream.
So it doesn’t matter necessarily how big, but just if it could be sustainable to the point of being able to travel and explore and really dig in, would be awesome. Sleep on comfortable hotel beds more often [laughs].
Xaviar Miller: Right. For sure.
BK: Here’s some questions about the EP. “Pay No Mind” was out in June. Four tracks, and I feel like they all have a unique song structure. And I was wondering how you feel that turned out on the recording. Are you happy with the production? And where was it produced?
Mike Horishny: Yeah, so it was essentially mostly produced within my apartments. I did it across two apartments. My one in New Brunswick that it started in, and then I finished in Eatontown. And that’s where a majority of the recording was done. And it was also mastered, and drums and vocals were recorded at Cloud Factory Recording, and that was done by my buddy Shane Furst.
But yeah, I was really stoked with how it came out. For especially being my first foray into recording and mixing my own music, and just doing it with as minimal equipment as I had. I was doing it with a crappy $50 audio interface and just bare-bones equipment. Not as minimal as you could do it on a cell phone or anything crazy like that. Had mics and stuff. But as basic as it gets for a home studio setup. And yeah, I definitely ended up happy with the product, for sure.
BK: This is the second time I’ve seen you perform. And I was wondering if, if you have this many gigs in a weekend, do you mix up your sets, or do the songs itself kind of lead to improvisation?
Xaviar Miller: I think the songs themselves lead to improvisation. We definitely don’t perform songs, or try not to perform songs the exact same way every time we do them. And a big thing that we’ve worked on is just changing little things about the songs. Because obviously, like you said, you do a whole bunch of gigs and you do the same songs over and over again, it can get stale. But we definitely take the time, especially during our practices to incorporate certain elements that change up the songs for us.
So I think if you follow us around, you’re never going to get the exact same show each time. We mix things around, we take out certain songs from set lists, we add certain songs that maybe we just started to work on. So yeah, it’s very much improvisational for us. A big part of it is, I think.
BK: I think you played “The River” at Pino’s, which was by King Gizzard.
Xaviar Miller: [Laughs] That’s right.
BK: What else do you have in your cover repertoire?
Mike Horishny: Our cover repertoire, I would say as far as King Gizzard goes, it’s mostly “The River.” We’ve done “Infest the Rats’ Nest” off their metal album. We did “Mars for the Rich” once.
Reinah Bayer: We’ve done a couple microtonal songs off of their discography as well. We had some fun making a microtonal guitar at home. It took a really long time [laughs]. We made it with like a really cheap shitty guitar. But then had to incorporate a couple microtonal songs in the set list, so we did a couple of those for a while. [Microtonal def.: a guitar designed to play notes not in the traditional Western tuning system.]
Mike Horishny: Yeah. A regular one from King Gizzard was “Doom City.” That was on the rotation, the set list rotation for a while. And I think at one show-
Reinah Bauer: “Nuclear Fusion.”
Mike Horishny: We played “Nuclear Fusion” once and then beyond that, we covered a song by Frankie and the Witchfingers called “Tea.”
Reinah Bauer: Some black midi songs.
Mike Horishny: A couple of black midi songs. We did “953” and “Welcome to Hell.” And we’ve covered “Chondro…” “Chondromalacia Patella” a couple, few times.
And then The Osees, I would say they’re probably like the biggest one. We have the most in-depth cover of their catalog. With Xaviar we’ve done “Jettisoned,” “Scramble Suit,” “Static God.” And then in the past, we’ve also done songs like “Crushed Grass” and “Gelatinous Cube,” and “Contraption/Soul Desert” at one point in time. I think that covers it for the covers.
Reinah Bauer: Yeah, we try to lean away from covers for the most part now. It’s funny you caught a cover-heavy set because I wasn’t there [at Pino’s on Oct. 14, where the bassist from Kyra Camille & the Chameleons filled in for Bauer]. But most of the time we try to do mainly originals unless it’s a special show where everyone’s supposed to be playing covers, like a Halloween set.
BK: Oh yeah, do you have any Halloween songs tonight?
Mike Horishny: It was basically last night, we just ran an Osees cover set, the songs I just mentioned prior. We did that last night at our show where we were playing as The Osees. And then we incorporated a couple of our original songs that blend well with The Osee sound pretty much.
BK: Gotcha. Here’s a lyric question about “Change.”
Mike Horishny: Sure.
BK: Spoken word song. Is it true that you ordered a coffee black with a pork roll, egg and cheese?
Mike Horishny: It’s not true.
Reinah Bauer: Almost [laughs].
Mike Horishny: I would say, at the point of time of writing that, if I were going to get a breakfast sandwich I would have probably gotten a Taylor Ham, egg and cheese. That’s what I call it.
Mike Horishny: I would have gotten a chocolate milk with it. And I did like my coffee black at the time for some reason, but I’ve moved out of that weird phase. Now I like the really bougie, like a latte with a crapload of sugar every morning. And now I’m conditioned really bad.
Reinah Bauer: No more black coffee.
Mike Horishny: Yeah. And I’m also vegetarian now, so that order is very dated [laughs].
BK: But more seriously, is the story of it true, the homeless man? Or should I not break that angle.
Mike Horishny: That’s okay. The story is not true, but I would say it’s like a combination of witnessing homelessness in New Brunswick and also just meshing a little bit of fiction into it.
Reinah Bauer: Yeah, I think you had somebody in particular in mind too, a specific person who we often talked to when walking down a street where we lived in New Brunswick.
Mike Horishny: Right.
Reinah Bauer: So there was definitely some fact, some fiction.
BK: Cool. And then just a couple more. These are kind of more fun. I have a friend who is a cheesemonger, sells gourmet cheeses.
Mike Horishny: For sure.
BK: What’s a Heathmonger, though?
Reinah Bauer: [Laughs] Well, I guess the definition, a heath is generally like arid, dry, infertile land. And the monger would be somebody who wheels and deals in that. The name was kind of a joke for Mike with a friend when they were much younger. And then we just thought it would be an interesting concept as almost like a character to explore. And so I had some fun playing with that, with the art that we’ve used on some t-shirts and bags. I don’t know if it goes much further than that. Go ahead.
Mike Horishny: It doesn’t go too much further than that. It also worked out well because the Instagram handle for it wasn’t taken.
Reinah Bauer: Yeah social media was free [laughs].
Mike Horishny: We didn’t have to add a number.
BK: That’s important.
Mike Horishny: Yeah, that was good.
BK: I just had to change mine. And then you have a pet skunk still?
Mike Horishny: We do have a pet skunk still, yes.
BK: How does a person even acquire a skunk as a pet? And does it spray?
Reinah Bauer: So, it’s illegal to have one that can spray, as a pet in New Jersey.
Mike Horishny: In most states where they’re legal.
Reinah Bauer: Right. New Jersey is a state where you can have skunks as pets. People don’t always know what they’re getting in for, so sometimes people put them up for adoption. Which I always caution if I talk about him, if you ever want one, you have to do your research.
But he’s very much like a dog or a cat hybrid. So he plays and snuggles, he eats kind of like what a rabbit would eat, like carrots and bugs and nuts and stuff like that. And then he sleeps a lot [laughs], and he doesn’t shed. So that’s nice.
BK: When I saw that interview about having a skunk, I went back and checked your album art, because I thought, Oh, I think it kind of had some animal things. And it was monkeys with skeleton heads. But it reminds me of King Gizzard art, in a sense. So I was curious about your artistic endeavors and influences there, for the band?
Reinah: Yeah well, I mean, if I said that there was no influence from King Gizzard, that would be a lie. Our whole apartment is covered in band posters and flyers. So definitely a lot of Osees, Frankie and the Witch Fingers, King Gizzard. Psychedelic rock album covers and this and that. But yeah, I do all of the art for the band. That one was like a digital piece that we thought of together and then I put into paper.
BK: Are you a Mason Gross alum?
Reinah Bauer: No, I studied psychology. I’m a therapist.
BK: Oh, neat. All right, last question. Well, one more question, but last is for Xaviar. Are you a roommate of theirs as well?
Xaviar Miller: No, I live about thirty minutes away from them.
BK: So between the skunk and these two, who is the smelliest roommate?
Xaviar Miller: Ah god.
BK: Or the uncleanliest, or whatever the word is. Who’s cleaner, among the three.
Xaviar Miller: I would say, oh man… You know what, I’m gonna say that for a skunk, he’s pretty clean. I’ve had some face time with Lance, and he is a pretty clean skunk. He’s a pretty chill guy. You really don’t see him that much, honestly, either.
So skunks in the wild, they kind of just hide in burrows all day. And if you can believe it, they kind of do the same thing in your house. They’ll go inside of your cabinets and kind of just chill in there. So I got to say, I’m sorry, but I think Lance is the cleaner one here. He kind of just does his business.
Reinah Bauer: He gave you an out, but he still called us [laughs]…
BK: Alright, and then lastly, what’s next for Heathmonger? Obviously, you’ve got three gigs today, but how about short term, what’s the plan?
Mike Horishny: Yeah, short term, we are going into the studio on November 11. We actually just set up the date today. We’re going to be laying down drum recording for our next project. And then from there, going to be doing overdubbing at home, and hopefully have a release coming up at some point in 2024.
And then we have a short run coming up of out of state shows in November. We’re gonna be going to Providence, Albany, and then Boston, I think. We’re excited about that, I’d say that’s mainly what we have going on.
BK: Have you toured as far as those before?
Mike Horishny: We have, yeah. So this is going to be our second time up to Boston. Maybe like third time up to the Albany area. Second time in Providence.
Reinah Bauer: We’ve gone down to D.C., and Baltimore, and Virginia. So somewhat local, but yeah.
BK: Cool. Well, great. Thank you, Heathmonger.
Ben Kelly reports on music for New Brunswick Today. In 2022, he won the first place award for Best Arts & Entertainment Coverage for his coverage of the New Brunswick music scene, from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists.