HEALTH's John Famiglietti on Rhino, Pictureplane and being flipped off on NIN tour
We Are Free
HEALTH came out of the circuit of underground bands that played DIY spaces in southern California like Ché Café, Il Corral and the Smell. It was that last place with which the band has become most closely associated. Combining avant-garde electronic music with noise and a frantic post-punk fury, HEALTH has made music perfect for our faced-paced world, the one in which everyone is seeking a form of peace and solace from the crack of the post-industrial world's whip to move faster and become increasingly more efficient.
The band's live shows are a catharsis of sound fueled by a raw, visceral delivery of music that sounds like it came out of the future post-Apocalypse after a new international order has reasserted itself. We recently spoke with John Famiglietti about his experiences with DIY venues at home and in Denver, the band's championing of Pictureplane, touring with Nine Inch Nails and doing a music video with Eric Wareheim of Tim & Eric's Awesome Show.
Westword: What sparked your interest in more experimental music and noise earlier in your life?
John Famiglietti: It wasn't like I always listened to experimental, proto-punk music. For me, it was seeing a show right by my house when I was in high school. It was Arab on Radar, Lightning Bolt, the Locust all on the same bill. It was the most awesome shit ever. I was like, "Holy shit! What is this? This is good music, but it's fuckin' wacky." Then I was like, "I want to do that." I was obsessed with music, but I wasn't into much current music at the time. But when I saw that show, I said, "I want to be in a band right now."
What kind of music were you into at that time that wasn't current?
Oh, like rock, old punk, hardcore, whatever.
Where did you see that show with those Fort Thunder bands and the Locust?
It was at the teen center pretty close to my house. I was sixteen or something. It blew me away. The crowd was so crazy and to me it was so cool.
Your band has strong connections with the legendary DIY space the Smell in Los Angeles. How did you discover that place, and what did you connect with right away?
It was just sort of after seeing shows like [the one I mentioned] I wanted to go to more shows. We would go to the Ché Café in San Diego. You would see the band there and you'd hear band played at the Smell and that the Smell was like L.A. Che but bigger and crazier, and it's all nuts. I heard all these stories that were completely not true: No, people don't shoot heroin in the bathrooms. You'd go and no one was doing any drugs. You would go and it would be super intimidating because it's so hard to find. It's in an alley. It has a very unique vibe that is extremely fucking awkward. When you're a kid, it's really threatening, "Oh god, people are cool." When you get older you realize everyone [there] is awkward.
That's the vibe some people get from Rhinoceropolis in Denver.
Oh, I love Rhino. Rhino is actually way more fun. Rhino has way more of a fun lovin' attitude. So does the Smell, too. But the Smell's building itself is this huge, echo-y, dark cavern -- it's imposing.
What do you feel has been the enduring appeal of that sort of world?
It's just exciting. When you get into it you're like, "Whoa, you can do this any time." You can really feel the energy just standing right next to some dude doing some wacky shit. It's great, and it's cheap, and it's a culture. Some of the best times in my life have been in places like Rhinoceropolis.
Josh Taylor from Denver used to run a place called Monkey Mania, which you may have heard of or even played, and he lives out in Los Angeles now and has had involvement with the Smell. Have you had interactions with him?
Oh yeah, totally. He's a fuckin' legend. He has a lot of nicknames including Grandfather Time. He's cool. He's a loveable dude. We played Monkey Mania after it had been taken over by the people after he moved to L.A. He's just a cool dude in the scene, and he's been in bands with my friends here, too.
When did you meet Travis Egedy and why did you want to take him with you on tour with you?
We "discovered" Travis. When we played at Rhinocerpolis, Travis was living there. We heard his music and went, "Holy shit! This is awesome!" We fell in love with his music. When we played Rhino, he would play with us. And we were like, "We've got to get this guy a label, get him management and etc." He played us the demos of what became Dark Rift.
We really loved the weird reference points. It's unique, and the sound of the production hit emotionally immediately. We really love his music in a genuine way. We wanted to get it out there, and we took him on European and U.S. tours. It's a funny thing. If we hadn't said, like, "Dude, this is Travis, the Star Child" and hadn't made sure to get him on the label and got the record out, he'd just be on some CDR that's just around Denver, and Dark Rift is one of my favorite records ever.
How did you end up on tour with Nine Inch Nails?
I don't know. We just got a call asking if we wanted to do it, and of course, we were like, "Yeah! That sounds cool." You know, Trent's a cool guy. He was on the internet checking out new bands, and he wanted cool opening bands for the tour. He'd come and talk to me; he's super nice, and they're really stand-up people. Since then, he's let us borrow equipment, and we got to do a song at his house/studio, which is amazing. He's a pretty sweet dude. He just told us he really liked it. We were one of many bands on that tour, including Deerhunter. We got lucky.
How did his audiences react to you?
Oh, terribly. Booed the shit out of us. Actually, we were told that we fared the best out of everyone else. Some shows actually went very well. When we heard the horror stories, we thought we did really well. It was hilarious. It's a big stadium, and you'd think you can't hear someone yelling at you, but you can, perfectly. "Fuck you!" You look and you can see this dude super far away with his middle fingers up.
Also, that first record too, our music was so wacky that you had to think how you are giving a crowd of this scale in this format absolutely nothing they want. Things your music would have to do to connect in this way became immediately apparent.
How did you come to work with Eric Wareheim on the video for "We Are Water"?
With Wareheim, we were fans, and Jupiter was just hanging with him regularly, and he said, "It would be so cool if you did a video for us. But we can't afford you." He said, "I'll fuckin' do it!" That was about it. He's just a fan of the band.
Did you give him any direction on that video?
At first he came to us with a concept, and it was pretty sparse. We were like, "I don't know. We thought maybe we could be in it and have all this CG." He said, "That costs a lot of money. But I've written this special thing." And we said, "Alright, fuck it. Just go for it. We want you to do what you do." It turned out to be a brilliant video.
Did the developers of Max Payne 3 tell you why they wanted to work with you?
They just liked our music. They were working on the trying to get the right sounds for this game. They're just super knowledgeable about bands. They were thinking about who would feel right and they considered us and thought about who would be like us and then decided to just ask us.
What made doing the soundtrack for a video game appealing to you?
I never would have thought of it. But I definitely wouldn't have said "No" to it. It's like scoring a mega budget movie. They gave us videos for each level. It was a really intense process.
Your music, more than many bands lately, elicits a strong reaction from the crowd. Is there any kind of music that elicited a similarly strong reaction from you over the years?
Totally. All the stuff I mentioned before. Glass Candy and Chromatics. I saw Glass Candy recently in L.A. I'd never seen them do more than just a band set kind of thing. But they were pumping it and every song went into each other and people went nuts.
Do you have a new album in the works?
Yeah. We had to postpone the fuck out of it, obviously, for Max Payne. That's something that freaks you out. We're years overdue for our third record. That's crazy unless you're a band that's huge where you can wait three or four years between records. We got it, we're on tour now and we're trying out new songs and when we come home, we'll do the record. [We should have it out] super early next year.
Who won that golden ticket sweepstakes for Get Colour?
Oh! It was this dude from Brooklyn. We actually videotaped it but didn't put the video on the internet because we couldn't get the edit right. We flew him out to L.A. We went to Six Flags, and went to the beach and hung out.
Was that ticket thing inspired in any way by Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?
Yes, it was entirely inspired by Willy Wonka.
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