If there was ever a band made to test those who claim that they “listen to everything,” HEALTH just might be it. For almost 15 years, the LA-based group has pushed the boundaries of what experimental music can be and have made sure that nailing their sound down to any specific genre is next to impossible.
Now, on the heels of a new and redefining album, VOL.4:: SLAVES OF FEAR, the band has been cutting a swath across North America in an extensive tour that will see them on the road for essentially the first half of 2019. Before they made it to Houston this week, we phoned ahead and had a pleasant little chat with bassist John Famiglietti about life on the tour, bad press, vidya games, and pro-wrestling.
Byline Houston: Four months into tour, three into the release of VOL.4:: SLAVES OF FEAR. What’s been the energy and feedback you’re getting from the people at the shows?
John Famiglietti: Oh, it’s been pretty amazing. I mean, the level of… I don’t know what you want to call it, “fandom” or “passion”? I mean, the people at the shows are really, really giving a lot of love. It’s just been a really great feeling.
Byline Houston: What about with press? Do you guys tend to pay any attention with how media tries to describe or interpret your music, even if it’s negative?
Famiglietti: Yeah, of course. Everyone reads their press. If they say they don’t, they’re fuckin’ lying. But yeah, I totally believe in criticism. It’s great, I like that there are critics. You can’t just be selectively mad about it if you get a bad review, you know? So it’s all good. I like to be a critic, I think you should be about to say some shit sucks for whatever reason you feel.
Byline Houston: I still see a lot of the use of the word “noise” when referring to HEALTH. Is there reluctance on your end to use that term to describe your sound?
Famiglietti: Absolutely, I think it’d be totally incorrect. I mean, it’s where we came from; the first two records I would definitely say would maybe be in that genre, “noise-rock” or whatever. But then, we’ve never really had a genre, we’re sort of a hard-to-define band.
Byline Houston: VOL. 4 was made with only three members of an originally four-piece band. How were the adjustments both in studio and in live performances?
Famiglietti: Well, really this is the second album as a three-piece. Disco 3 (billed as a remix album) has, I don’t know, four original songs? Those were all done after we became three. We did the whole Death Magic tour as a three-piece also, so we’re actually pretty used to playing as a three-piece for some years now.
Byline Houston: Well, that being said, you think there might be plans to bring anyone else into the band in the future?
Famiglietti: Maybe. We’d have to go through a whole wall of shenanigans, and it is nice that we’re all original members right now. There’s no one there who wasn’t there since the beginning, so I don’t know. I don’t know how it’d be, but maybe. I’m open to anything.
Byline Houston: Yeah, you guys have been together almost 15 years. How big of a landmark do you consider that? Do you guys still collaborate in the same ways?
Famiglietti: Uhh, well. It is one. We didn’t expect to be doing it this long. Yeah, it’s been a really fuckin’ long time. But it’s changed, we’ve been changing our stuff, you know, we’re doing music totally different than what we started. So. It’s always changing.
Byline Houston: You guys have dabbled in doing video game scores such as Max Payne 3 and, most recently, the Arena War update for GTA: Online. Could you shed some light on making music for games and how it contrasts from your normal process?
Famiglietti: Video game music is interactive, so it’s all loops. Like, they need to go on for an indeterminate amount of time depending on how the player is playing and then be programmed to what stuff they’ll encounter. It is very different from other kinds of scores, and definitely from regular music.
Byline Houston: Arena War is all high octane death racing. Different from Max Payne 3, which is more dramatic and probably called for more careful composition. How would you compare?
Famiglietti: Yeah, Arena War was just game modes in an arena setting, like battles and deathmatches, so it’s all kicked up to a high level. With Max Payne there was narrative, there’s cutscenes, suspenseful parts, so there’s was a bigger range, obviously.
Byline Houston: How and where do these soundtracks fit within the canon of the HEALTH discography? Do you guys ever include some of this stuff in your setlists?
Famiglietti: I guess there’s, like, three HEALTH ones [discographies]. There’s, like, HEALTH: Regular, HEALTH: Disco and HEALTH: OST. (laughs) But yeah, really it’s all the same deal. Yeah we play some stuff. I mean, we play “Tears” from Max Payne every night. We walk out to “Pain,” from Max Payne as well.
Byline Houston: Did you get to play Arena War and hear the songs in action? A version of Slaves of Fear from VOL. 4 was in the trailer, really nailed the Mad Max future apocalypse vibe.
Famiglietti: Yeah, it was pretty on brand. But no. I play a lot of video games, but haven’t been able to play because of our touring schedule. And I haven’t even played GTA for a minute; I don’t even know how you access the arena. There’s been tons of updates for GTA: Online. I haven’t gotten to play any of them, I’ve no idea. Video games take up a lot of time. So, I’m going to like… I gotta get that Sekeiro: Shadows Die Twice game, still gonna have to finish Red Dead Redemption once I’m done with tour. I’ve got, like, a backlog. These video games are freakin long, they’re like a hundred hours.
Byline Houston: Oh man, I can totally relate. Still, are there any other games you’re looking forward to?
Famiglietti: I just gotta play that Sekeiro man. Greatest game ever made, and I can’t play it because I’m on the road. I really gotta get it. I really like those Dark Souls games, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to beat this one because you can’t even summon or get help. People are saying it’s like the most brutal thing in the world. I already don’t like to parry as much in those games. Ugh, parrying, oh my god, Jesus… I mean, I didn’t really need these games to get any harder, but I really like them. So.
Byline Houston: Yeah, haven’t really touched those Dark Souls games, partly because they’re notoriously difficult to get through.
Famiglietti: Aw, you gotta do Dark Souls, man. Best game ever. I just bought it again on Switch, just so I can play it outdoors, fuck it.
Byline Houston: I’ll definitely buck up and check it out. So, I know you guys are into pro-wrestling. Or is that just you?
Famiglietti: Oh, that’s me. Yeah, I’m into wrestling. I’ll be the only one in the band that’s into that.
Byline Houston: Awesome. Been following all the news with All Elite Wrestling?
Famiglietti: Yes! I will be attending Double or Nothing! Yeah, I try and follow. Mostly I consider myself a casual fan, like keep up through updates on YouTube. I’ll watch New Japan pay-per-views, or the NXT and WWE pay-per-views. Just a handful of stuff, but I’m not like, on it everyday. Well, I do watch YouTube everyday, and there’s a bunch of fools on there talking about it all the time. I was into the WhatCulture channel, but I really liked Adam Blampied, and he left so now I’ll do, like, Wrestling Observer Live, y’know? It’s free.
Byline Houston: Which match are you looking forward to so far at AEW: Double or Nothing?
Famiglietti: Kenny Omega. He’s the greatest in the world, so it’s already Kenny. I’ll go wherever Kenny goes. I saw Kenny Omega live a few times, including the match he did with Golden Lovers (Omega and Kota Ibushi) versus the Young Bucks in Long Beach. That was… fucking transcendent. So amazing. I don’t even know who he’s fighting at Double or Nothing, I don’t even care.”
Byline Houston: Oh, I can let you know if you’d like.
Famiglietti: Yeah, tell me.
Byline Houston: He’ll be facing Chris Jericho.
Famiglietti: Oh, Jericho? Yeah, that’ll be tight. I guess they’re doing it again, but that match they did at Wrestle Kingdom (New Japan) last year was just awesome.
Byline Houston: So, as longtime fringe pushers in experimental music, would you have any advice or words for musicians trying their hand at less conventional art?
Famiglietti: I mean, nowadays you really can just do whatever. You can just throw things out there and see what sticks. There’s no rules anymore, y’know? The way we sort of did it, we kind of said, “Alright, let’s get together and let’s start touring — build it up.” But now, I don’t even know if that would be the best way to start building something. Might have to do it through socials first. It can be confusing. But in the abstract, if you’re trying to do something but don’t really know how to get there, you just keep trying and somehow it’ll happen. Maybe you get lucky and some kind of opportunity opens up, but you just keep trying. I mean, I guess that’s not really abstract, but that’s how it normally happens with people. I don’t think anyone really knows of one way to get there.
HEALTH performs tonight at White Oak Music Hall with support from Youth Code. Doors open at 8 p.m.