HEALTH’s John Famiglietti on ‘Max Payne 3’, working with Reznor, and their dark upcoming album

The future is looking bright for gaming’s most beloved industrial act

Joining NME‘s Zoom window from his sun-soaked LA apartment is a smiling John Famiglietti, co-founder of industrial noise rock upstarts, HEALTH. Having just returned from a well-attended UK tour, it’s a rare moment of downtime for the group’s noise-making maestro. “Sorry man, I’m just in the process of transferring everything over to my new Mac, and it takes forever” he grumbles, gesturing to a shiny new Mac.

Speaking to the calm, joke-cracking Famiglietti, you’d never expect this laidback Californian to be responsible for such alluring aural assaults. HEALTH’s music elevates Rockstar’s Max Payne 3 to greater heights, and no one who has played can forget the Airport level, soundtracked by HEALTH’s ‘Tears’. Yet between the meme-worship, nerdiness and jokes that define our interview, one thing becomes clear – HEALTH’s position as industrial revivalists is one of the few things they do take seriously. Unlike many of their exhausted peers, as live shows ground to a halt in 2020, the Californian trio didn’t rest on their laurels – they retreated into their suitably apocalyptic soundscapes.

“The pandemic was weirdly good to us,” reflects Famiglietti, “We started doing these collabs before COVID, but had no plans to make a full record.”

Diving into their down-tuned guitars and sub-bothering basslines, HEALTH released not one, but two star-studded collaboration albums while the world licked its wounds: ‘DISCO 4′ Part 1 and 2: “Suddenly, everyone I know who is usually touring was just sitting at home – so we were able to get all these amazing people to work with us.”

Recruiting everyone from 100 Gecs to JPEGMafia, trap metal hero Ghostemane to indie darlings The Neighbourhood, these special selections offered a much-needed musical reprieve during dark times.

“When we first started these collabs, we were like ‘this ain’t gonna work’” recalls Famiglietti. Ditching traditional guest features for bespoke collaborations, working on songs from scratch with new artists thousands of miles away proved to be a unique challenge. “Obviously there’s tons of features and stuff in hip hop, but it’s just the vocalist, here we were trying to actually mix the two artists’ sounds.”

Thankfully, two suitably edgy ‘90s film soundtracks paved the way for HEALTH’S ‘DISCO 4’ records. “There’s not a ton of proper collabs in the rock space,” shrugs Famiglietti, “the only analogous record we had was the [1993 action film] Judgement Night soundtrack or the Spawn soundtrack.”

And thus in 2020, their first collaboration was born: ‘DISCO 4: PART 1’. There was only one problem – COVID was still keeping HEALTH from hitting the road. “We didn’t want to make a traditional HEALTH album and not be able to tour it… so, we’re were like, fuck it, why don’t we do a part two?”

It’s a good thing they did – as ‘DISCO 4: PART 2’ saw HEALTH’s collaborators graduate to the big leagues. Recruiting artists like Virginian metal heavyweights Lamb of God, to internet darling Poppy, ‘DISCO 4’’s song titles reals like a who’s who of heavy music. Yet there was one feature that made HEALTH’s dreams come true. It’s no secret that HEALTH’s brand of grimy industrial owes a lot to Nine Inch Nails, but now, it seems the adoration goes two ways.

“For dream collabs, Trent was number one on the list,” says Famiglietti, “ So, Jake [vocalist] was like, ‘well what if I email Trent and Atticus Ross and see?’”

Much to the group’s surprise, Trent and Atticus Ross were all in. “I was like, ‘really? Shit!’” laughs Famiglietti with a shake of his head. “It was an amazing experience. They were very in-depth – we had multiple conference calls, and everyone was very passionate about it. We went back and forth a bunch of times and we’re all very happy with the track. Normally they would have a bunch of movies going on, we were lucky.”

Unsurprisingly, ‘DISCO 4’ parts 1 and 2 have been huge successes. So, can fans expect any more HEALTH collabs in the future?

“I mean, you can’t really beat Trent, but I’d love to do a song with Gatecreeper or Knocked Loose” muses Famiglietti, “There’s a bunch of collabs we started that never finished, too, that we will maybe do in the future.”

Still, it’s hardly surprising that these LA upstarts gravitated towards collaboration albums, considering it was a non-musical collaboration that kickstarted HEALTH’s career. The project in question? The critically acclaimed video game, Max Payne 3. Thanks to the success of standout track ‘TEARS’, HEALTH used this gaming trojan horse to sneak its delicious drone into the homes of millions. Which feels fitting, given Trent Reznor’s past.

“I’m such a fucking dork – I actually got into Nine Inch Nails through Quake!” recalls Famiglietti, referring to Trent Reznor’s legendary game soundtrack. “Quake was mind-blowing. I had a project at school where we had to make Plato’s Cave [the famous philosophical allegory that inspired The Matrix] and I used the Quake soundtrack – I ripped all the ambient sounds and my teachers were like “this is really good…”

While his school project’s similarity to Quake definitely wasn’t an accident, Famiglietti reveals the collaboration with Rockstar Games felt like a twist of fate. “Max Payne 3 happened totally by accident” reflects Famiglietti. “The guys at Rockstar have really great music tastes and we just got this message that said ‘hey, Rockstar would like to take you out to dinner in New York’. I’m a huge fan of their games and In my head, I was like, ‘wow, what if they asked us to score a game? Ah, that would never happen.’ And er, they did.”

“It was over a year and a half,” Famigliett recalls, of the process it took to score Max Payne 3, “Originally we were hired to come in to supplement a composer that they’ve been working for a while with – and it wasn’t working out. We were given videos of gameplay footage and we sent them tracks for whole levels, because we were just really excited to do it – and we ended up becoming the composers of the project.”

Despite Max Payne 3 hitting shelves over a decade ago, for Famiglietti, the biggest return on investment from scoring the seminal shooter seemed to come during the pandemic. “We know it would be big, but the effect has been trickle down. The biggest thing we felt now from Max Payne has been years later. A lot of the people in the collabs who we would have thought would never respond, they played the game when they were younger, and now they’re older making music and they’re like, “oh, shit! I love that soundtrack!”

Yet while scoring Max Payne 3 undoubtedly made HEALTH’s career (“If you surveyed our fans they are 96 per cent gamers” Famiglietti explains), it’s a recent less than official gaming crossover that has been sending the internet into a frenzy – a HEALTH appearance inside FromSoftware’s open-world masterpiece, Elden Ring.

“The Elden Ring festival, oh man! That was just a joke that kept multiplying”, Famiglietti explains, with a laugh. “We love KinoFabino – he’s a genius. He makes these really esoteric, bizarre video game memes and we’re big fans. So we were like, could you make us a meme for our new record that involves Elden Ring? So he made this meme about us playing the Radahn Festival, inside the game.”

“It was a joke, But the amount of people who were like, when is this concert?! It was getting turned into this big thing. They made t-shirts, it was wild, we had already filmed our L.A show, and Loma Vista wanted a live stream that we’re just gonna throw on Twitch for free anyway, so we were like alright, fuck it. So, we basically bootlegged ourselves into Elden Ring.

It turns out, jokes that end up becoming reality seem to be a recurring thing for the L.A noise rock quintet.

“God, yeah, there was the HEALTH condom – that was a fucking April Fool’s joke that got out of hand.” Famiglietti smirks, “And now there’s a HEALTH butt plug! We did not want to actually make a fucking butt plug, again it was an April Fool’s joke. Maybe Zoomers don’t do April Fool’s anymore but, damn, they want this butt plug bad.”

Still, while we may be waiting a while for a DISCO 5, Famiglietti reveals work on a traditional HEALTH album is very much underway.

“We are working on the next proper HEALTH album for next year,” Famiglietti reveals, “We are considerably far along, and it’s our heaviest yet – definitely the darkest record, melodically. It’s much darker than everything else we’ve done before. We’ll probably have enough material for a double album but we probably won’t do it, everyone hates double albums.”

Since Max Payne 3, HEALTH has dabbled in soundtracking other games. From soundtracking GTA Online: Arena War to creating music for Valorant tournaments, Famiglietti’s love for video games keeps the noise rock troupe eager to work with interactive entertainment. “We would love to do another big video game, an RPG or something sci-fi,” enthuses Famiglietti, “We’d really love to do a full narrative project like that.”

Dream videogame scores aside, the question zoomers are wondering is, what’s dropping first, the album or the long-awaited HEALTH butt plug?

“Definitely the butt plug – I’ve got my people working on it.” Famiglietti nods, with a faux-serious frown. “We might do a three plug set – that way, you’re more likely to use it because you’ve got to warm up, right?.”

HEALTH. Credit: Daniel Roland Tierney.
HEALTH. Credit: Daniel Roland Tierney.

As our chat draws to a close, a distracted Famiglietti seems to come around to the jokey item: “You know what? If you wore the plug to a show, and sat next to the bass the sub would be pretty wild. Perhaps this is the optimal way to experience the band. Plug up, go to a show and the sub rattles you… to your core.”

HEALTH play alongside Nine Inch Nails at HELLFEST this June, and tour the UK alongside Pertubator this November

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