LA noise-rockers HEALTH are heading back to Australia for Laneway next month, and just the other day we scored some one-on-one time with bassist John Famiglietti – here’s what went down

Where are you and what are you up to today?
I’m home in Los Angeles. I just thought I lost my dog but it turns out I didn’t, highlight of my day so far. He’s a very quiet dog.

It’s been a while between albums for HEALTH, six years in-fact between ‘Get Colour’ and ‘Death Magic’, how did it feel when you finally got the album out?
Incredible relief, definitely a weight off the shoulders. It’s been a very stressful, lengthy feeling, so it felt good. There was a feeling like “oh we’re done, we’re never actually going to get this album out”, But once we sat down and did it, we were like “okay we’re actually going to do this”

‘Death Magic’ has a really interesting and unique sound, how did that come about, was it a purposeful search or did it come about organically?
Definitely purposeful, we’ve always had our own sound, one of the difficulties was we were trying to convert our sound to a more modern, electronic sound, more HD or hifi sound. There were a lot of bands we were influenced by but we didn’t want to sound like them, you’d just be copying other stuff. It was hard to find a way to do it that was still true to us, or fresh or new; or new ways to find something new that worked for us. So that was a big challenge for us.

What kind of bands were you influenced by?
A lot of stuff on the radio, a lot of modern music, or electronic music. I guess a lot of music that would technically be considered bad music, that was very interesting from a production stand point. Just a lot of different kinds of music, that we were all into. I don’t know what it’s like in Australia, but the sort of underground music listener in America, who listens to grimecore, will also listen to pop music. Times have changed. In Europe it’s a bit different, they’re like “why the fuck is there pop music on the album”. It’s a cultural thing.

The title, ‘Death Magic’, is a little bit of a paradox, how did that come about?
With song titles and album titles I just write them down, totally unrelated, over time and I end up with a big document that I run by the band and whichever one they like we use. ‘Death Magic’ was one way back and I didn’t want to call the album that, but Jake really liked it, but I thought it sounded too much like ‘Death Magnetic’ which is the most recent Metallica album. Eventually enough time passed and he thought it was the best one so we used it. I also thought it made sense with the lyrics we were writing, but it was conceived in a totally unrelated way.

Speaking of the lyrics, your themes are full of mortality and the futile side of night raves and hardcore partying — is that from experience or being more of a wallflower?
Who isn’t thinking about dying. And with extreme partying, or degenerate level partying, there is this weird collective sadness, it’s like 8am and you’re still going, it’s like pushing a rock up a hill. With our themes of mortality I guess we believe everyone is thinking about it so it’s a relatable thing and especially with the lyrics being very audible on this record, we really had to think about how to present it.

You worked with a lot different produces for this album including, Kanye West’s long time producer Andrew Dawson and The Haxan Cloak who works primarily with Björk , how did that process feel? Did it help give your album varying textures?
It really made it sound a hell of a lot better, we’d have a song and we’d say to them, can you please reproduce half of these elements so they don’t suck. For a long time I was doing that, I’m trying to be a electronic producer, but it wasn’t as good as it was supposed to be, I was like “damn, I’m not good at this!”. So we wrote songs but we needed them to sound right, and we learnt a lot. It was also hard because we had to find the write people who understood what we were going for, we had already tried to make a record and we scrapped it, we just had to get what we were going for.

How does it feel to be coming back to Australia and how do we receive your music compared to say your L.A fans?
Great, we’re really looking forward to Laneway, it looks really fun. Australians are amazing, well they were last time, I don’t know if there have been huge changes or anything. We really like Australian’s, we have a lot of Australian friends in L.A, I don’t know why. They’re always the loudest people and I think it’s because the drugs are so much cheaper here and people just cut loose. We always make a joke that Australians are marsupials that’s why they get all the girls in L.A, because they have bifurcated penises and the girls have four lateral vaginas — it’s hard to compete.

A while back you alluded to the album coming out in 2012, three years later it’s out, does that feel like a fortuitous delay, or could it have come out earlier?
I don’t believe in any spiritual stuff or anything, but when it comes to music I do have a fully irrational superstitious belief, so you have to believe ‘yeah man, it’s all for the best!’, because it took so fucking long. Music is a huge amount of luck.

I can’t speak with expert knowledge but it’s considered that L.A is this happy, sunny place — so how does a sound like HEALTH’s, that’s so dark and heavy, come about?
We came from the L.A’s DIY punk scene, it was a little crowd for a couple of years but that scene’s still going, but it’s a little different now, it’s been a few generations. For us it’s more continuing the timeline of music we started, responding to new things that come out. They say It’s usually people who have the better life who want to make dark music, and there’s probably some truth to that. But yeah I’ve got a nice life, I’ve got a hot tub, it’s nice.

The debut album was recorded in ‘The Smell’ which is a really unique space to record in because it makes sounds that a recording studio can’t, but it’s a difficult space to record in, would you record there again?
Fuck no, not ever. We’re never doing anything like that again. It was fucking hell, it was a serious ass pain, we were totally over our heads then, we were a lot younger. Now there’s a lot more, not only easier but, power on any computer.

You guys did music for Max Payne 3. Tell me a little bit about that process, and is anyone in the band a gamer?
I’m the only gamer, I’m really into it, the other guys can’t even work the controller. I’m a big fan of Rockstar games so I was really excited to do the music. It’s a 100% different from making an album; there’s way more work, you’re not answering to yourself, you need to answer to the people of the game, and you work with other people who have their own ideas. Rockstar was amazing in that they let us do our own sound and they really supported and believed in the ideas we had about the sound and the narrative. With an album you’re always questioning whether it sucks, or if it’s lame, but with the video game you’d write the music and put it against video footage and you’d know in two seconds whether it works or not. In a way that’s what makes writing for the game easier because you have to serve a narrative, you just have to turn it around a lot quicker.

What does 2016 have in store for HEALTH?
Making more music hopefully, we want to do a remix album. We’ll be doing stuff, we won’t be doing a hiatus or anything, stuff will be happening.

HEALTH‘s latest album Death Magic is available now form iTunes and on Spotify, and Aussie fans can catch them at around the country next month as part of the St. Jerome’s Laneway festival circuit, hanging out at the Red Bull Music Academy presents Future Classic stage.

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author: Natalia Morawski

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