Interview: HEALTH’s John Famiglietti Explores Band’s Storied Journey

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for me, John. I appreciate your time. For those who don’t know who you are, let the people know who you are and what it is you represent.
Hi I’m John or Johnny Famiglietti, I do the bass guitar and the software musics for HEALTH.   

What made you all decide on the name HEALTH for the band? 
So its quite hard to name a band these days (or back then); we were after a post-punk style band name like MAGAZINE, an ordinary word.  We were set on MEDICINE, then found out they were a 90s L.A. shoegaze band (with Justin Meldal-Johnsen), so Jake was looking at the medicine bottle he got it from (he worked at a specialty doctor’s office at the time) and the next word on it was HEALTH.  We kept planning to be on the lookout for a better name … it still hasn’t come up in over a decade.   

Being raised in San Diego, what was the music scene like when you were growing up out here, and how did it influence you moving forward?
I was in love with the 31G/GSL San Diego scene; the show that made me decide I was gonna form a band was OOPS! The Tour with The Locust, Lightning Bolt, Arab On Radar, The Blood Brothers, and Harkonnen all at one show at the Teen center minutes from my house. To really date myself, I went straight from the show to overnight do stock at Blockbuster video drenched in sweat from the pit. 

I know you’re a big record guy. What are a few records you currently have spinning around your place?
DISCO4 :: PART II test pressing (laughs).  I have a big collection and a dedicated record room but I could never call myself a “record guy.”  Truthfully, Im rocking Spotify and my SONOS system 98% of the time.   

HEALTH isn’t a new band by any means. Describe the early days of HEALTH and what brought you all together. 
I met Jake working at Guitar Center Hollywood of all places; we both worked in the accessories department, and I was playing, like, Chinese Stars or some wacky shit on the stereo, so he asked me If I wanted to meet up with him and our former member Jupiter; they wanted to make a band but weren’t sure what kind of music they wanted to make.  We all met up and then found Benjamin through craigslist. Our first order of business was to join the L.A. scene; through some politicking we started playing shows at the il corral and The Smell. The L.A. scene was very fertile and cool and diverse (in abrasive genres). Whether it was punk or avant grade noise; it all had a hilarious almost anti-intellectual, West Coast approach to even the most high-brow of music. And we spent all of our time going to shows and playing shows. It was a great time. 

What inspired your transition from being a punk band to building your unique and ever-changing electronic soundscape that it is today?
Close to the end of the 2000s and the turn of the 2010s, so much innovative music we were listening to was electronic, and there was a huge jump at that time with the level of sheer power this new music had. So much of what drove early HEALTH was a desire to make heavy abrasive music that was different and current, and this new level of production was impossible to ignore.  

Two-thousand’s album production was already so frustrating, as it was this strange, transitionary time when we had all these amazing tools available, but it wasn’t that great yet; every rock record sounded sad compared to an older one. But now, you’re hearing this electronic music that is just orders of magnitude bigger than anything you’ve heard before and, in that shock (which calmed down over time), made your favorite heavy records sound like a box of crackers. We had to figure it out but still make our own music, integrate some of the sonics but still make something we felt was meaningful.   

I’ve seen HEALTH be described as numerous genres from industrial, to rock, to noise, to experimental but I don’t think you belong in any genre due to the unique nature of your musical fusion. Your sounds, techniques, and overall song structures are genre-bending in that you’ve created your own niche within multiple genres of music. HEALTH are basically a time piece in my opinion because you’re always adapting with the times. How would you personally describe HEALTH as a genre? 
Right now we are calling it Industrial, and we’re putting that out there.  We’ve never truly had a genre, and that has pros and cons, but we are really pinning our names to Industrial; its the closest and makes the most sense.  I know we don’t sound like Skinny Puppy, so neo-industrial or something like that would be fine too. 

HEALTH has been featured on numerous soundtracks throughout the last decade. How do the creative processes differ from when you’re creating HEALTH music compared to scoring games and movies?  
Movies and games are in many ways a lot easier; there is no doubt when you write something to the footage, and within seconds, you know if it doesn’t work or not, you’re there to serve the narrative or gameplay.  With your own music, it’s like “does this suck?” “Is this stupid?” And you’ll never know until you release it.   

DISCO4 :: PART I & II are highly collaborative albums with features from the likes of Ghostemane, Lamb of God, Youth Code, Poppy, and Nine Inch Nails, to name a few. Why do you believe collaboration is important to keeping things fresh and progressive? 
I don’t know if its necessary, but it sure is fun.  Also, we were kinda like, fuck man, we’re in the future; why not act like it.  So much has changed about the musical landscape, and people really enjoy these collabs.  Also they’re not features; this is a total collaboration and an attempt at synthesis with the sounds of both artists.   

While we’re talking about collaboration, how do you select the collaborations you do with other artists? 
Well mostly people we think it would work with that we also admire, and if they say yes, well, then it’s on. Each time it’s a bit of a riddle of how we’re gonna do it and how its gonna play out depending on their sound. I think what makes it work is we have no problem getting out of the way, like if something someone else gave us is great I don’t have to add some bullshit on top to say I wrote something, who gives a fuck? We just want to make something cool.    

What are some recent creative hurdles you’ve faced as an individual, and how did you overcome them? 
Well it took almost six years for DEATH MAGIC to come out; I know we did Max Payne 3 in-between, but that was a very, very, very, long-lost weekend and fraught time when we couldn’t get it made and couldn’t figure it out. We were very dysfunctional and almost broke up as a band, but despite all evidence to the contrary, we just couldn’t give up on it, just praying we’d figure it out. Eventually we did.   

In terms of creativity what is HEALTH’s creative process like when writing/producing a new song? Do you light some candles, do a ritual, maybe sacrifice a lamb?
It has changed massively over the years.  The first albums, I’d bring in song ideas on a sheet of paper with no musical information to the guys, and that wasn’t the only way, either. Now, we are much more in control of our abilities, and sometimes we start things together from a concept, idea or on our own, we’ll make demos and share them with each other, and if the other guys like it, we’ll go further. 

What would you like for listeners to take away from HEALTH’s latest piece, DISCO4 :: PART II?
No clue, but if they’ll start it from the top and listen all the way through, I would love it. 

I read that you have a passion for retail and that you man the merch table at shows. Do you design HEALTH’s merch, and if so, where do the ideas for the chaotic imagery come from?
I have designed all of HEALTH’s merch and artwork from the start until about late 2019, when I started working with Joe McKinney, a fan I met who angled to become my right-hand man, and now I co-create all Merch and marketing with. HEALTH’s aesthetic was kinda born out of necessity; we loved all these avant and noise artists (Black Dice, Lightning Bolt, AIDS Wolf) who had all this incredible either hand drawn or cut ’n’ paste brilliant art and imagery, but we didn’t want to copy them with a shittier version (nor could we), so I started making stuff that was totally clean, digital, and graphic with my limited skill that was intentionally computer-y.  

To our surprise, people immediately responded to it, so it became our style. Its highly inspired by the layouts of old record covers, advertisements, science textbooks, and more, but all through the lens of this very limited “t shirt graphic” aesthetic, which we felt fit the band name and was totally different, but we felt was in line with a lot of the people who inspired us. Over time, it’s developed under its own internal rules, and I think the best version of it is now.   

Living in an age where music is constantly being pumped out to the masses and HEALTH having put music out since the Myspace days, how would you say the way humanity consumes music has changed and how has it made HEALTH adapt to the times as a group?
It’s completely changed, and a thing we say a lot is that the arrow of time has been broken, of this sound to that sound and it all making some kind of sense. However, the current time, as strange and dehumanizing it is, has been very good to us, so who am I to complain? 

Straying away from the music, let’s talk video games for a second. I know you’re a big Fromsoftware fan like myself. What’s your favorite Fromsoftware game? 
Well I love them all. Well, maybe not Dark Souls II, as, like, a piece of art that I would have to put in the hall of video games. I figure Dark Souls I or Demons Souls, just from the concept and tutorial  into the game etc. etc.  But man, all so brilliant; Bloodborne is by far the best “story.”  Sekiro, best combat.  Elden RIng is completely blowing my dick off and is really the Souls game that non-Souls players will get into, can’t really go wrong … unless you never play one.  Which is great, but if you’re already sinking your time in video games, then you’re a damn fool not to.   

Regarding Elden Ring, what’s your build; how many hours have you put in, and what’s your level? 
So I don’t read any strategy guides at all, and Im playing Elden Ring exactly as all other Dark Souls titles. Greatsword in one hand with limited magic; there’s no pyromancy in this one, so I’m doing Faith. I don’t min/max that studiously. I’ve been too goddamn busy to play, and I’m just dying to, always daydreaming about it. I just got a GABE GEAR, and it plays it amazingly on there with a low but rock-solid FPS, so Ive been jamming it during the downtime on this tour. Sixty-two hours in, level 59.   

Ten, twenty, thirty more years have gone by. How do you want HEALTH to be remembered? 
Shit if we’re remembered at all Ill call that a win.   

What’s on HEALTH’s roadmap for the rest of the year that fans to look forward to? 
Lots of Tour Dates.  We will def have some more scattered releases this year like remixes etc.  for sure, and maybe a surprise or two. Plenty of thangs poppin.’

Listen to “NO ESCAPE” here:

For more from HEALTH, find them on Facebook, Instagram, and their official website.

Photo courtesy of Derek Tobias

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