John Famiglietti of industrial and electronics band HEALTH talks through the high profile metal collaborations on their DISCO4 :: PART II record.
In a career originating in the mid 2000s, California’s HEALTH have grabbed the spotlight of heavy music in a pretty unconventional way, a band built on brooding electronic beats and shimmering androgynous vocal melodies that all of a sudden are one of the names thrown around for the most relevant and cutting edge things adjacent to the world of metal.
Where 2019’s ‘Slaves of Fear’ record turned heads for the biggest yet encapsulation of the band’s own sound, since then it is a series of exciting and unexpected collaborative projects with underground acts and some of the biggest names in contemporary metal music alike that have become the most obvious and extreme evidence of HEALTH’s boundary-blurring. ‘DISCO4 :: PART I’ saw HEALTH’s nocturnal pulse slammed into the brutality of Full of Hell or Youth Code, but tracks with giants like Lamb of God and Nine Inch Nails on its newly released follow-up aim even bigger, as John Famiglietti lays out.
With part one of ‘DISCO4’ the ‘DISCO’ albums made the leap from being remix albums to larger original collaborative projects. You’ve obviously followed it up straight away with part two, so how large was the influx of opportunities in making that shift to be able to put out these two records of collaborations back to back?
Famiglietti – It wasn’t the plan to turn these DISCO albums in our collab albums and we definitely didn’t plan to do two in a row, but it was all because of the pandemic and being locked down. We were home, so at the same time, I bet so-and-so is at home and not on tour so maybe they’ll respond. A bunch of them were started and never got finished, and people we’d been talking to about it for a year and a half that never amounted to anything. We got the response to the first one and touring still wasn’t possible at that stage, so alright, another one. Let’s do a second chapter.
It’s interesting that it came of the lockdown when most people were unable to be social through that, but for you the pandemic opened up collaboration with other people a lot more than if you were seeing each other on the road all the time.
Famiglietti -Any band who I know is just constantly touring, and for me it’s impossible to work on tour. So yeah, totally possible because of it.
You guys have been doing this for a decent amount of time but it felt like after ‘Slaves of Fear’ there was an increase in your visibility in the rock and metal communities at least, which is not what your band is consigned to but something you’ve had an increasingly large presence in. How have you found being in such a position of having eyes on you, during the pandemic when the industry has been so warped?
Famiglietti – Yeah, we were hoping for that increase in that world and were very excited about that. Getting more attention later in your career is good by any metric so we were very happy that people were paying attention. I guess during the pandemic people did listen to a lot of music being at home, so a lot of weird things can happen during this. The renewed attention from what I would call the heavy world is great.
With the unbelievable diversity in the sounds of artists you’re working with, a record going from Lamb of God to Backxwash or Street Sects, do you try and do much work to editorialise and bring it together as an album under your name with a cohesive through-line or is it about embracing the unpredictable mixtape type sensation for a listener?
Famiglietti – It’s a little all over the place! We try to get it to flow as much as possible, but there are some things you can’t control, the artists are wildly different. When we were getting the metal and heavy bands some might think they are just one of a bunch of bands like that here and we’d go no no no, there are pop artists on here, we’ve got rappers, we’ve got the most diverse mix of people, and to that they got it more. It is a compilation at heart but I think it’s pretty cohesive in the end.
Lamb of God when you look down the tracklist is such an eye-catching name for being a band who have such an established sound that is so different to what you do. How did you make that song work with making such a big straight up metal band sound good with what HEALTH is?
Famiglietti – Yeah, so that’s the thing. When we do this collaborative thing and approach different artists, you can have concepts, but we wanna really have that artist shine and with Lamb of God, you know what Lamb of God sounds like, and I don’t wanna screw up Lamb of God. The interesting thing with the Lamb of God song is that we started from the ground up where Willie Adler was just sending me guitar riffs, and I’d chop them up. The opening riff is a really fast riff but I’d make it half-speed and put some other beats around it, and we’d keep building it from there. It was a long period of time of working with them which was really cool. DISCO4 Part II was supposed to come out at the end of last year but they were on that mega tour with Megadeth, and we really wanted to make sure that song was on the record. There were actually a lot more things going on in the production in that song that I made a lot quieter because I didn’t wanna screw up the Lamb of God deal. I worked with Willie the most directly but then later working with Randy, and then the last thing we did to make it more cohesive is the final mix was done by Josh Wilbur who produces and mixes all of Lamb of God’s record, so it all fell into place. The last thing you wanna do is release the song and piss off the whole fanbase, and for me as a fan growing up a band can do something trying to be cool or hip and it really doesn’t resonate, it’s exasperating.
Nine Inch Nails meanwhile felt so natural in sound but so big a pick that it almost sounded too good to be true. Did you have the pressure of releasing a song with an artist as legendary as Nine Inch Nails, almost the scrunity of being a smaller band doing a song on equal billing with Oscar-winning musical pioneer Trent Reznor?
Famiglietti – Oh yeah, for our fanbase they’re probably 99.5% Nine Inch Nails fans, so for our fanbase when we were making this they were just predicting to get Nine Inch Nails. I did expect that kind of scrutiny and to be burned at the stake, and so when the song came out it was like “man, everyone’s so fucking positive, this is fucking weird”. Especially with heavy artists too, even ones that people love you read the comments and it’s “fuck you, they haven’t been good since whenever” always, and the response to that was all positive.
When it comes to building a track with someone like Trent, how much of the musical construction of the track came out of that collaboration and how did you build that up together? Most people if they had Trent Reznor’s eyes cast over something they’d done they’d be feeling very self-conscious all of a sudden.
Famiglietti – It was really cool, Jake called Trent and he was really open, so we sent him a beat and when we got back his vocal it’s like, that’s the classic voice right there. As it was evolving we were having conference calls with Trent, Atticus, myself and Jake, and just kept working through it. It was very hands-on as a process and very back and forth. The original thing we sent them wasn’t the whole song, it was like a beat, and it just ended up adding all these other parts.
Poppy is a bit of an enigma to people at large with the character that she started off playing and the trajectory of her career. Do you find that she’s an artist very much on the same wavelength as yourselves and how did that song come together?
Famiglietti – I know Poppy is changing genres constantly, and we were surprised that she was actually going to work with us. That one was a different process because she basically sent a demo of her singing and playing guitar on her phone, and that’s what we started from. Poppy is an artist that didn’t come from the heavy world and is now enjoyed by people in the heavy music space, so we definitely saw some sort of crossover with us right there.
Those bigger names are the songs that we’ve heard from singles. Are there any other collaborations on the tracklist that you’re particularly excited about with perhaps how it paints a certain artist in another light or whatever it may be?
Famiglietti – Most of them we do try to stick to their sound but there are some that are detours. With Poppy she changes genres so much that we could just kinda do whatever but we try to illuminate their sound. The Street Sects song I am excited about, they wrote all of the music for that one and we just worked on some arrangements and I did the production, but the basic music is Street Sects. It is different for them, I think it started as some project for a play or some sort of narrative thing, and it’s a little softer and song-y for Street Sects. That’s one where people would be mad at us if we did that to them, but they did it, just putting that out there.
How did Backxwash and Ho99o9 on one song get brought together?
Famiglietti – Backxwash felt like an obvious choice to work with and she was a fan of ours too. I made a beat that was kinda aping a Backxwash beat, her beats are really half-time with all this space, and then we were supposed to work with Ho99o9 a lot time ago where we’d made something and never put it out. They still wanted to work with us and we were going back and forth on beats with them for a song that none of us really liked, so I was just like “why don’t you just come on the Backxwash song?” They actually came over to my house and they had this whole other section that they had written before, so we just Frankensteined that in there and it’s great.
Do you feel like this is a showcase of like-minded artists who are all blending noise, metal, industrial, like there is a sense of communal aspect to what you all are doing?
Famiglietti – Yeah, I think so. Those are artists that either we know or feel are peers in this moment in time. As diverse as the list is, it all makes sense for who you would be interested in as a HEALTH fan.
It feels like heavy bands are utilising electronics more and more as the norm rather than an exception, as well as electronic artists like yourselves or Perturbator working more with extreme acts. Why do you feel this is becoming so prominent now as opposed to any point previously in metal history and as someone heavily involved with that, what’s the real artistic drive of splicing these worlds so heavily?
Famiglietti – I think for a lot of people, we’ve lost the sense of eras in time in music. You used to be able to look and see that this sound comes here, and after that comes this, and with everything living on the internet now it’s kinda confusing that. In the blanket sphere of heavy, it’s something that is still around as an institution almost now and in a lot of ways has stuck to tradition, but over time that’s become less rigid. A lot of people just look at these things as an aspect of what it is heavy and think that that’s something that can make sense. Most metal records are basically electronic records now anyway. The amount of editing and programming in a lot of modern metal is really bananas, down to each guitar chug they’re splice-editing. It doesn’t seem like such a culture clash anymore. We’re really obsessed with heaviness in music and there is a point where electronic music that’s being made is so powerful and so huge-sounding. That to me is just exciting and the things that we were doing with this to sound heavier often weren’t being appreciated, so with metal we went somewhere where it would be. There is an interesting resurgence now and a new interest in really wanting to be innovative and hardcore.
DISCO4 :: PART II from HEALTH is now available via Loma Vista Records. Order the album – HERE