Since their founding in 2005, Los Angeles’ HEALTH have gone from scrappy, experimental noise punks to nihilistic merchants of bombastic, polished, synth pop. The band, in their current form, might be best described as a violent Depeche Mode. They are regulars at large music festivals, noise shows, and tend to tour the West Coast.
That’s why it was so surprising to learn they’ll be touring with indie rap-pop sweethearts The Neighbourhood, opening for them on their stop at Upstate Concert Hall on June 23. We reached out to the band via Twitter and were again surprised to receive a quick message back from bassist John Famiglietti with his email address. After a follow-up email, we’re chatting on the phone as he and his friend ordered lunch.
Alt: It was quite a surprise to see you on a bill with The Neighbourhood. You both have wildly different sounds and, I suspect, fanbases. How did this tour come together?
JF: Yeah, not what you’d expect, right? We’re just good buds with The Neighborhood. We met them in the studio and we really wanted to play with them and this tour gave us the opportunity to hit the Northeast. So, two birds with one stone.
Alt: The band’s sound underwent a massive shift from this analog furiously experimental style featured on the first two albums Health and Get Color to the bombastic digital sound on 2015’s Death Magic. How did that transition happen?
JF: You know, we sort of realized with the times the direction music was going, how much bigger our sound could be, the things we could do with computer software that we couldn’t do with a live instrument. So the new sound is digital but it’s still powerful and heavy at its core. We’re also trying to do new stuff, we’re reacting more. It seemed fresh, it felt like the change was a necessity.
Alt: How much did your work on the “Max Payne 3” soundtrack for Rockstar Games (makers of the “Grand Theft Auto” series) impact the evolution of your sound?
JF: We were trying to figure out a way forward after our second album came out. I’d say during that soundtrack work, we were at the midway point. We mostly did that soundtrack with live instrumentation like the first two albums but we did start implementing some of the things that define our current sound–the digital version of HEALTH.
Alt: That soundtrack, the weight it had on the game and how it was actually implemented along with the gameplay, felt really revolutionary at the time. It felt like a paradigm shift for the gaming industry in a lot of ways. (The game, which features the hard-boiled NYC detective Max Payne slumming as a bodyguard for a wealthy Brazilian political family caught up in corruption and violence, is soundtracked by HEALTH’s noisy dance rock. Then during a particularly cinematic and pivotal shootout scene in an airport the band’s song “TEARS” plays. It’s the first time in the game the soundtrack has singing and it feels both emotionally charged and detached from the digital violence. The effect supercharges the game’s cinematic noir soul.)
JF: Yeah man, I mean honestly it was Rockstar’s idea to have a song with singing. We were focused on instrumentals. And that song comes in so late in the game, you’re so used to playing one way and suddenly you are doing something really different after 14 hours of playing it this other way.
The Alt: Your latest release Disco3 is a remix album and you’ve done a remix companion for all your albums. Has this impacted the direction of the next album? Are you more comfortable in your digital skin?
JF: Fuck! We’re sitting on over an album’s worth of music, and have been for months. The thing is, there is this paradigm shift in how people are digesting music. It feels like people are loading their albums into a gun and firing only to watch it just pancake. We are, at our core, an “album band” but at the same time we are thinking about throwing out some tracks in different ways. Younger people are not too into albums. Putting out a single can these days have the same impact as putting out a record. There has been a total change. So we’re trying to figure it out. We want to make sure it has maximum impact and doesn’t just get lost.
The Alt: What should we expect it to sound like?
JF: It’s like Death Magic but a lot heavier, dirtier but still keeping the production values. It has an extremely strong song base. It isn’t just atonal noise.
The Alt: You’re very open about being a video gamer. And it’s clear you’ve played a lot of the “Souls” games, especially “Dark Souls 3.” Are you still playing that or are you on to something else?
JF: I actually just got a Switch and it’s been a dream come true for touring. I’ve been playing this sort of indie game called “Darkest Dungeon” and the new Zelda.
The Alt: Folks who’ve seen the Charlize Theron flick Atomic Blonde have heard your work and may not know it. You covered New Order. Were you asked to do that specific cover?
JF: Our friend is a composer who does movie scores and he really wanted us to do something for the Atomic Blonde soundtrack. They asked us to do “Blue Monday” and obviously it’s a hard thing to even try to do justice to but we were really pumped about that movie. I think the soundtrack really works.
The Alt: Given your past soundtrack work and connection to games would you be interested in working on another video game?
JF: We’d love to do something again. We should check in with our friends at Rockstar.
HEALTH play Upstate Concert Hall with The Neighborhood and Field Medic on June 23.