HEALTH talk Death Magic, Max Payne and their social media game with Jordan Sexty
February 3rd 2016
Ahead of their tour with St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, John Famiglietti from HEALTH spoke to Jordan Sexty on Damage about returning with a new album (Death Magic) after a six year absence, working on the Max Payne 3 soundtrack, new and super out-there release formats, and maintaining the best-of-the-worst social media presences in contemporary music scenes.
Jordan: Death Magic was produced by The Haxan Cloak, Bobby Krlic – what was it like working with him?
John: It’s cool, he’s a homie. But the thing is, we were never in the same room, it was all done over email. And we hoped to do more with him, but Bjork called his ass.
He’s had a pretty busy year.
Totally. However, he lives right next to me now, so we have him over for barbecue nights. So yeah, we hope to work some more with him in the future.
In terms of the direction you guys have gone in since your last full-length – which was a while ago now – this album extends on elements of your ‘Max Payne 3’ soundtrack, which is surprising considering that entailed a lot more linear scoring whereas this album is almost dance-pop oriented. What kind of creative push was there between now and then to get to that reference point as a band now in terms of sound?
I don’t know, I mean a lot of the things on that record we’ve been wanting to do since 2010 really, and you can see that with the singles we’ve been putting out in that time. With the soundtrack, though, we got to explore a lot of things we’ve never done before, with very ‘soundtracky’ tendencies and weird noise things that are serving a narrative. By the time we did Death Magic, we were totally blown out on more soundtrack work, so there probably would have been a lot more drawn-out instrumental passages in the record if we hadn’t totally blown out on it while working on Max Payne!
Is the technology and the different style of working, in stems, something that has carried over to you all in your arranging for this record or your live show?
I think it really changes how we could be less precious with music and produce music quicker, and think about it a little different. But the thing about Max Payne is that it’s interactive music, and it totally cannot be separated from the programming and the game. We’d have to make stems in order, and combine them based on how many people are in the room and who’s shooting and whatever’s happening dramatically. So it’s pretty different, it’s hard to relate back to, not like regular music.
Always attached to a strong visual element that you can’t get away from.
Totally, and it’s a narrative that you have to serve. It’s not about you – it’s about the characters.
Is the visual element something that’s been developing strongly for you, both as a performance and as a personal brand for your general presence?
Of course, and a band is never just the music, there’s always these mental associations that you have. Especially artwork, t-shirts, album covers. It all forms some sort of idea in your mind about what that band symbolises, which has always been a huge obsession. So yeah, we definitely always think visually.
Your music videos have become progressively more intense lately. You’ve got some reasonably high-velocity projectile vomit happening, as well as some graphic facial reconstruction in the ‘Stonefist’ clip. Is the graphic material something you were all set on as a band as a creative brand?
Uh, I don’t know. Music videos are hard. They’re hard to make good and a lot of the time they’re not very good, and we have a lot of doubts too. And it’s not like you just want to see us looking pretty, we’re not that kind of band and we don’t have that kind of star quality. We don’t want to waste your time so we try to think of something interesting or that would be entertaining to watch. It’s a hard thing to think about how you’re going to present one of your songs with this little movie. The vomit… someone posed that idea and we loved it and were just like, “Yep. Yep. Let’s go with that”.
Do you find people get put off by it?
Yeah of course, but people don’t HAVE to watch the video. We just like it because it shows how far we’ll go to make our fans happy… We’ll puke for you, you know?
Before the launch of this album you gave us all a sneak peak through a partnership with Reify – your “Dark Enough” track was put into a ‘Totem’ sculpture which had some 3D interactivity with Smartphones. Can you talk a bit about what that was like?
That’s really weird. It’s this new format, so wacky that you cant really say no, you know? This girl invented this company… It hooks up to this 3D printer and it’s just really interesting, and hard to explain, and you just can’t say no to something like that.
What was the turnaround time on those?
They were building the company and approached us, explained what it was and showed us the sculptures, and we all just went, “Yeah okay fine, fuck it.” They basically took it from there, and the whole thing is something they’re still developing too, in terms of doing things with the interactivity, so baby steps. It’s a new thing and it’s just weird.
Is it something you guys would like to be involved with again, that kind of strange or interactive release format?
We’re totally open to weird new formats and everything, and like, if Reify catches on or something that’d be fucking awesome.
Who’s the main contributor to social media out of all of you? The facebook posts alone are pretty interesting…
That’s Jake and myself. Social media’s great. Twitter and stuff is really important for interacting with fans and stuff, but so much of it is so bland with simple band updates… so like how about a joke, or how about this gross or funny thing we find funny..? It’s just more interesting and fun for us, you know? We thought the most effective way to communicate was to entertain people. It’s funny to us, so we hope it’s funny to you. It’s just good having a personality as a band.
People, especially after our first record, all assume that we’re some brooding high-school art-rock band with beards, and we’re not. So doing stuff like that is great because we’re really not – like, “See, here’s a joke or two!”
You guys have followed up each of your albums so far with a remix album soon after. Is that something we can expect from Death Magic?
Yes, but it’s not going so great. It’s been harder to get remixes this time around and harder to pin down people we want remixes from. We’re still going to try on it and we have some other things we’re working on too. If we get the remixes, great. If we don’t get enough, then no. We’d rather put something out and have it be great than put something out and have it be “bah”. We don’t like wasting our fans’ time.
You have some continued but limited involvement in video game music through features and the odd single. Is a fully fledged score for either a game or even a film something that you all would jump on again?
If we’re going to be doing another video game, we definitely would want to be working with Rockstar again. We have an amazing relationship with the music supervisors there and the company and the kind of games they do, and the subject matter, which is very appropriate. We’d do that in a heartbeat. And with films, yeah of course, everyone wants to do films, but the way we’d want to do a film is similar to the way we got to do Max Payne. Rockstar were so amazing in that they just wanted us to be ourselves. They were very involved with it, but what we made sounds like us and it suits the game and is unique to the game. A lot of times, cool popular artists that you like, when they work on a movie score, the score you end up getting out of them is strangely much like other movie scores and doesn’t sound much like that artist. Because there are a lot of people and money involved in the movies – and with the control they have, they keep shaping what you’re doing to the point that it removes why you needed that ‘cool’ artist to do it.
Looking outward to wrap things up: in terms of artists or music going around at the moment, is there anything that has popped up in the last few years that has piqued your interest?
The new Arca record that just came out is pretty fucking ‘wackysoft’. It’s just like Ableton shredding, crazy-balls… And this guy did a mashup of Adele and Alice in Chains that absolutely killed me, incredible. It was so funny.
We’ve got a couple of cheeky double passes to give away to HEALTH’s Sydney sideshow (details below). For your chance to win, email your full name and your favourite song by the band to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “HEALTH” in the subject. Must be 18+, winners drawn 10am Monday 8 Feb.