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Interview: John Famiglietti 'HEALTH'

After six long years without a release, LA four piece HEALTH have returned bigger than ever. With a new melodic slant that aligns their sound closer to their iconic remix albums, it’s a combination that’s been seismic in its impact since release last week. In those six years, they scored the award winning soundtrack to Max Payne 3 and, well, we’re not sure. So what better way to find out what’s been happening in the world of HEALTH than to talk to John Famiglietti and ask him personally? 

Death Magic, six years in the making, finally released, is it a relief?

Yes, extremely.

Are you glad with how it turned out?

It’s good enough for me, that’s all I’ll say. A lot of this record was made out of complete desperation of getting where we need to and it’s like “this is incredible”. I’d be at a party having a good time and then my mind would drift and I’d be like “Holy shit I haven’t put an album out for this many years” and I’d lose it.

So did a lot of the songs end up with multiple rewrites, barely resembling how they started out?

Almost everything was rewritten, a lot of these songs have been around since 2011.

Did your work on the Max Payne 3 soundtrack have any influence on how these songs ended up sounding?

It did, it wasn’t an influence, but we found a lot of new guitar sounds, the majority of the songs have guitars in them and it helps to produce music faster. We were more confident in what we produced. This massive company who we hugely respect, I’m a big gamer, I love Rockstar Games. They want to work with you, they did work with you, that confidence changes how you make music, that validation.

With your songwriting, do you find that you focus on the sounds first and then the melodies or the other way around?

It was in the old days, this album was very different we had a lot of fun that way. If I am starting the idea, I am way more sound or concept based. A lot of songs on this record, we would start from a demo from Jake where he just wrote vocals and he just wrote something melodic which is something we never did before. Then we would take that and then add a concept to it to make a new song, so it all came very different. A lot of things started on the computer. In the early days of the band, a lot of the time, I would write a hand written diagram of the concept of what the song would be with a drawn out board written structure. It would have no musical information so the rest of the band would work through it and they would determine the musical information based on this plan. So this album was very different. A lot of stuff was written electronically, lots written from Jake’s demos, lots from sounds, what have you.

I noticed that Drugs Beach didn’t make the cut, is anything going to happen with that song?

We haven’t decided. It was supposed to be part of the album and it was supposed to be this huge rock psychedelic opus which we loved and we even added another part to it which no-one else heard which we thought was good. It was not fitting on the album, and we were thinking, if you’re going to make a rock opus, you’d better compare to the benchmark which is whatever you want to call it. Stairway To Heaven, Fade To Black, when the music’s over. Last songs on great rock albums. It wasn’t there, it wasn’t good enough and it didn’t fit in. If we’re going to shoehorn this seven minute rock opera, it better be brilliant, and it wasn’t brilliant. We’ll either rewrite it or we’ll cannibalise it for something else.

HEALTH have a really identifiable aesthetic and sound, do you ever find there are some tracks which don’t work for the band but are still great. Is anyone ever tempted with side projects?

For me, no. I don’t like to work very much. It takes a long time to write songs, you’ve seen how long it took for us to finish this album. No way am I going to start a new band from zero, fuck that shit.

Each of your albums has had a ground breaking remix counterpart, so the anticipation for DISCO3 is understandably huge. How’s it coming along?

To be honest, it’s been pretty rough. DISCO1 was the easiest experience of our life, it was so gratifying. People would do a remix and it was brilliant. DISCO2 was a lot harder, but we got it. DISCO3: Way harder. All my favourite artists who say they’re a fan of the band are too busy. People don’t care about remixes in the same way. It’s an extreme uphill battle to make a new good remix album. Not that they all are good remix albums, we’re lucky enough to have two. I want to have a third. We’re not going to do it if it’s shit. I don’t want one if it sucks, so we’re still working.

The remix albums have had a, probably had a better- they’ve had a much better response than other bands…

No, I mean honestly, they’ve had a better response than our own albums at times! A lot of people are our fans because of them. We had some hilarious shit where people turn up to our shows and they only know the remix albums so they go up to the promoter and they’re like “are they really angry? Do they not want to play their songs?”. We’re like “fuck you, it’s a remix album, we’re not giving you your money back”. That’s happened many times, it’s funny.

With the last album you included golden tickets with some of the CDs giving a fan a chance to fly out for a Los Angeles adventure with you guys, have you done anything similar this time around?

We have a new golden ticket. The new golden ticket is we fly to you. If you go to our website, we have a totally new golden ticket, we have prizes individual for each member.

Some people have complained that the new album isn’t noisy enough, what would you like to say to those people who have been outspoken this way about it?

I did it for you. There’s old school songs, there was supposed to be one more noisy one which I think would have been perfect, but we didn’t pull it off, and I wouldn’t give you shit if it didn’t. To the people who say it doesn’t hit as hard, it actually hits way harder. The whole reason it does, the reason ended up with a new sound is to make it hit harder. We did it for you. That’s my MO. Obviously there’s poppy shit, I mean I like it and I get it. We did this for you, I did it for you. The noisy shit is my shit and we wanted to make it hard. I was tired of making this incredibly abrasive music and having it fall a dud on the record. In terms of the budget of the record and how we got signed, obviously it wasn’t for those, but they’re on there and they’re on there for you. I did my best, I wish there was one more song, but only one more. If they ain’t happy, that’s what it is. I did it for you! I really did it for you! If that’s not good enough, then I’m sorry buddy! You know what, I don’t know if you have any other friends who’d do it for you, but I did it for you.

When I heard you guys were working with The Haxan Cloak on this album, I thought that was an incredibly well matched collaboration, so how was it working together and would you do it again?

We were hoping it was going to be a much greater collaboration but Bjork called and I understand you’ve got to take that call over us. We’d hoped we’d work on way more songs but we only got to work on one song together which was the first song. Haxan Cloak was a huge inspiration and influence on what we were doing. Not only was I super into his music, but it was someone from a similar background with similar aims that was doing it in a very new, very modern, very hi-fi, HD digital computer way that was really powerful, but really dark and really good. I was a huge fan of him and that was someone we wanted to work with immediately. We only got to do one song, but that song to me was really important because starting albums for HEALTH has been a huge issue. Men Today which is the third song was at the start of the album to show fans something familiar but it didn’t feel epic enough for what we were doing. We didn’t have it. So the first thing I asked Haxan Cloak was “we need something to start this album. I admire your shit more than anything. We need to start this album right and big enough” and I thought what we did was perfect.

It’s funny, I didn’t actually know which track it was you’d collaborated on before listening, but as soon as that first drum hit kicked in at the beginning of the album I just knew it had to be the Haxan Cloak one.

He does a very cinematic thing. I sent him some sounds and we talked about it a lot, he was really on board. Bobby’s a really smart guy and he was really into it, he loved the idea. It was supposed to be a longer track, and we had these other great parts that we had to cut, but just like the movie if it’s more effective shorter then fuck it, it has to be. That was the perfect start to the album, we had to do it that way.

That reminds me, you included your phone number at the end of the New Coke video, did you get many people getting in touch?

That’s my cell number.

Yeah, I did try to call a while back.

Did I answer?

No, I didn’t get an answer unfortunately.

Man, probably a time zone thing, I answer almost every call. Text is better, I prefer text. 

Have you had many interesting experiences from that?

I have. Most of them are very friendly really nice people who like the record. I have gotten a few, way more than a few that have shocked me. Very sad and very depressed calls from people who are in a very bad way. People who are suicidal, people who are going through things or have issues. I really want to be there for them and I’m trying to give advice honestly. I’m not qualified so if they have a much bigger problem, I tell them that immediately. That’s a bummer. There’s also incredibly inspiring things like I get fans call me who have a very short time left, like they only have a few months to live and they’re awesome people. They’re incredibly up and they’re just talking and we’re not worrying about shit and they just love the record. That’s so inspiring and so helpful. People have been amazing. You’d think if you’d put your number out there you’d get people saying “fuck you” all day and they’re really not. It’s really been great.

It was interesting seeing Mac DeMarco doing something similar recently putting his address at the end of his latest mini album and getting people trekking up state to visit him.

Oh great, Mac DeMarco’s beating me!? Fuck this, that’s some pressure.

(laughing) Hey, Doseone did that a few years ago on the Themselves track Oversleeping, but I guess a lot of people didn’t notice that one.

I know Doseone, he’s a great guy. Well fuck it. I’m sorry but if it’s any consolation, I only gave my number out. I’m not giving out my address, everyone’s fucking showing up my shit, so…

I saw you guys back in 2013 in Birthdays in London, and despite the fact that I didn’t know most of the material, it was one of the best live shows I’ve been to in my life, despite not having the familiarity that I usually find necessary to make a show memorable.

Thank you, oh wait-

I mean, I’m calling from Australia now, I no longer live in London, I didn’t just fly out for that show. It was incredible. 

I love Australia man, all the girls have pouches in their tummies and they have four lateral vaginas.

I can’t say I’ve noticed.

It’s true. The place is amazing, but there’s no placental mammals. The girls are just wild.

I saw you’re doing some creative work for New Inc. as part of the album promotion, can you tell me more about that?

We’ve worked with this amazing company called Realify and this amazing girl called Alison who has come up with this new thing where you 3D print a wave form as a single and that’s the way you buy it, that’s the format. The way you listen to it is you film with your phone through augmented reality and then you listen to it. When you film in augmented reality, it becomes almost like an interactive video game. Very new, very modern, really impressive and really cool. That’s something we’ve done with them, I mean with New we’ve done a bunch of stuff, but that’s been the most lasting thing.

That sounds incredible, is that going to be US only?

It’s available for purchase, it’s a new company so you have to subscribe to the Kickstarter to get our single, but it’s totally available and it’s actually really cool.

So what’s next for the band?

Touring, man. I want to tour forever. Here’s the point, I’ve got a job again. The whole lifestyle of this thing is making a record, but the real fun is touring and living it. Life is about the seasons. What’s good about In-N-Out Burger is the lettuce, the tomato, the spread, that’s what’s good. If this was part of a movie, a really good movie, it’d cut to credits. That’s all the mastery. I want to go on tour forever, that’s what I want.

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