Interview with John Famiglietti from HEALTH

Health interview with Northern Transmissions. Graham Caldwell caught up with Health Band member John Famiglietti.

John Famiglietti from HEALTH is Cooler Than You Will Ever Be.

I’m incredibly grateful to John Famiglietti, because after I realized that my phone recorded had screwed up, he let me interview him twice.

HEALTH are a band to be reckoned with. Their music is punishing and entrancing, their live show is mysterious, their lyrics are dark, but talking to them is pretty much the polar opposite. It’s like hanging out with your best friend’s chilled out older brother. Prepping for this involved me watching interview after interview of Jake Duszik and John Famiglietti (who are the most talkative members of the band) listening to their comments on touring with Nine Inch Nails, recording the soundtrack for Max Payne 3, and being on the Eric Andre Show. They’re both hilarious and compelling in the same way as when your buddy tells you a story of how he blacked out and ended up with $120 cash in his jacket and a receipt from an Italian grocery store.

When John initially picks up he suddenly remembers that he’s about to do an interview, which I imagine would be fair since he’s been receiving a lot of goofy calls since he put up his cell phone number at the end of the “NEW COKE” video. Ones that may come at truly inopportune times. He is talkative, energetic, funny, and a pure pleasure to talk to. He tells me he’s in a grocery store, checking out apple juice and I assume getting breakfast.

NT: You put your phone number at the end of the “NEW COKE” video what was the inspiration for that?

JF: Well it’s something that I always talked about doing, at the end of the “Get Colour” video we had a number but it’s a fake number, I think back then it was harder to get a number until google voice. and we’re like “Ah we gotta use this opportunity, I”m making that number” so we’re like who’s number should it be? Oh, Google Voice just goes to my cell phone and we’re like, “that’s fuckin’ hilarious” so we did that.

NT: Is puking up milk painful or easy? I imagine it’s kinda gentle..

JF: I mean, you still feel like shit and you’ll have stomach problems for the rest of the day, but it doesn’t hurt your throat there’s no acid feeling cause it’s fuckin’ milk. Definitely the easiest puke I’ve ever done

NT: Was there a hardest?

JF: Oh, yeah…

[chews sandwich, I mean, it kinda sounded like a sandwich]

JF: This one time, we’re on tour and we have this like, 3 day trek through Montana with no shows, we had to drive like 12 hours each day, and I had this meal, this chilli, and I get like, insane diarrhea, and there’s no way we’re gonna pull the van over, every 5 minutes for me to explode, so I’m like “ugh, I feel so bad, but I just gotta make the drive” so I get an Immodium at a gas station, popped an Immodium. I’m so fucked up I pass out in the back seat, so when I wake up I thought “oh I’ve been driving all day, better make sure I don’t shit the bed.” So I pop another Immodium what I hadn’t realized was, I had only fallen asleep for like, 30 minutes and I woke up and I thought it was like, 8 hours later.

So I double dosed on immodium, and I just couldn’t shit, and I didn’t shit till I made it all the way across the country, then we were in some fuckin’ Applebee’s in, I don’t know, Idaho or some shit, and I was in extreme pain and it just kept getting worse and worse cause I couldn’t get this fuckin’ poison out of me. I was lying on the bench seat and there’s this: [midwestern/southern accent, think Nancy Gribble] “Is he okay?”, and I went to the bathroom had the most violent and painful, horrible, like coming out my nose… all over the bathroom and then shot the rest out of my ass. So yeah, it was one of the worst tour experiences I’ve ever had, just four days of pain and misery.

NT: Wow.

JF: So never double dose on Immodium is the moral of the story. Remember not to do that.

NT: I certainly will. So you’ve been a band for almost 10 years now. I mean the Elphaba/Health split was out back in 2006 do you think you’ll still be doing this when you’re 50? Music aside, your live shows are pretty intense.

JF: No, I don’t think so. I mean, unless i’m like, really making money. I don’t really see ourselves doing it.

NT: Have you figured out the retirement plan yet?

JF: Fuck no, man! [sounds more like “fuck off”]

NT: So you grew up in San Diego, what was the first CD you ever bought?

[John tells me he grew up in San Diego in what he describes as a pretty bro-y scene. When I ask him what he was like in high school, he described himself as a “dude in baggy shorts with a Germs t-shirt”]

JF: The first CD I ever bought (with money) was The Stooges Fun House, so it’s kind of made me a dick my whole musical life cause I was told before I bought it that it was considered the greatest record ever made by my older friend who got me into music. So, I’ve always been kind of a dick musically, had a chip on my shoulder from the very beginning.

NT: Your friend that got you into music?

JF: Yeah I had a friend like, two years older, who got me into music. He got me into like, Dead Kennedys and shit and facilitated all my early drug experiences when I was young and I really looked up to him. He told me that Stooges’ Fun House is the greatest record ever recorded and all critics agree and the only dissent was that some critic said Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation is a better record. So I was like, I listened to half and I went out and bought it and I thought “I have the greatest record ever made, and I like it.”

NT: Was this the guy you started playing music with?

JF: No. Well, that same kid, he lived in Colorado so I’d go and visit him sometimes. He just stole guitars from the music store and then he stole like, this amazing Strat so he just gave me his old shitty guitar. And I took it home, I tried to learn, I didn’t have an amp and I couldn’t get the fuckin thing in tune. I wasn’t really getting anywhere and I wanted to make a band. So one day my cousin called me and said “Hey John, do you want a bass guitar?” “Yeah.” “I’ll drive it over right now.” He just dropped off a bass and an amp that he like, in the 90s or something. So I was doing the math: “if every kid plays guitar, I know one kid that plays drums, if I can play bass, I can have a band like, tomorrow.” I was like, “Sold.”

NT: What was you first band?

JF: HEALTH is really my first band, but back in high school I had a band.

NT: What were you called?

JF: Blood Meridian.

NT: Blood Meridian?

JF: After the Cormac McCarthy novel, yeah. We played the high school battle of the bands and shit.

NT: So after that, you went to film school, what made you want to do film?

[HEALTH was a way for John and his friends to get involved in the scene that was going on at The Smell, an important DIY space in LA. He mentions how he thought it was cool how Jim Jarmusch had a punk band before he started directing films. In some ways, HEALTH was kind of a cool notch to have in your belt as an artist, having a band]

JF: I was just really into movies as a kid, I figured “you like music but you don’t seem to show any particular talent in it” and as a kid you think “I can do that! I’d be good at that”, you don’t really think things through that much as a kid.

NT: So you directed the “DIE SLOW” video and the “NEW COKE” video [this is after he corrects me on who directed them] who did the “STONEFIST” video?

JF: That was Andrew Barchilon and Kitao Sakurai. They’re the producers and directors of The Eric Andre Show.

How was doing that?

[HEALTH were on the Eric Andre show where they smashed their instruments into blenders and lettuce while Eric played Russian roulette with himself]

JF: We were actually on the pilot episode of Eric Andre. They never aired that episode, they just showed the network. We played a fake band in it, a fake indie band. Beej [drummer BJ something] was also not in the band when we played, he was a part of the house band and we were really hoping that he was gonna be part of the cast, but it didn’t work out.

NT: Was he the guy that Eric takes out at the beginning of the show?

JF: Yeah, in the pilot. Then they were all like “Oh we gotta put you in the show”, then finally we were on season three and we’re like, “sweet”.

NT: You said the Max Payne score was legitimizing and validating?

[John explains to me that you can make music that’s “cool” but that kind of music will only be accepted by people who like “cool” music. “I’ve always been on the side of ‘cool’” he says. But there’s something very validating when more mainstream audiences start picking up on your sound; “People that like, don’t like something just because it’s cool… I mean, I’m not gonna say that all the mainstream pop stuff is great.” he notes, but it has a greater staying power than the stuff that “cool” people listen to and hype up, which is usually forgotten about 3 years later.

This coming from a guy who’s in probably one of the “coolest” bands I can think of sounds truly enlightening. HEALTH hold no illusions that their music will be taken in by everyone, but there is a palpable excitement that their sound’s been picked up by a wider audience]

NT: Do you feel like you’re a rock and roll hall of fame bad now? or at least a staple?

[“Do your family listen to HEALTH?” I ask, “My mom heard Death Magic and asked if I was listening to someone get killed.”

John kinda chuckles at the thought of that.

JF: “Oh no, I mean, my mom doesn’t really know what I’m doing beyond: ‘Hey, I’m travelling a lot’ and she’ll say: ‘Oh, travelling’s good.” Or like, “I’m making money”, “Oh, money’s good.”

I think of my own parents as he tells me this.]

[John admits that being successful in art is very much like winning the lottery. There’s definitely a sense of gratitude that HEALTH have for getting this far in their own career. “I mean, I get surprised when I see guys quitting their projects that are already doing well, I mean, you’re already doing well man, why stop?”]

NT: Do you feel like Death Magic was shooting for that successful record?

[ DEATH MAGIC is certainly poppy, it’s far more melodic than the previous two records. John admits that it’s really more of a fourth record, with the Max Payne soundtrack informing a lot of the sounds. “But,” he says “ it’s not like we all sat down one day and said “this is what people want.””]

JF: Yeah, in certain ways definitely.

NT: Working with Haxan Cloak and and Andrew Dawson [Kanye West’s go-to sound engineer] for the record. How did that come about?

JF: Well we were talking to the label about who might be interested in the record and we had one meeting where we were trying to figure out this production issue, and one guy casually just said: “Why don’t you talk to Andrew Dawson?” We talked to him and he was really interesting, and we decided to just check that, so that was the start of the process.

NT: And you’re working on DISCO 3 right now?

JF: Yeah we’re trying. The climate’s really different and the remixes for the other DISCOs were surprisingly easy to come together. We’re just trying to get enough good remixes for our record.

NT: I understand when you did DISCO, and DISCO 2, you just said “I like these people and I want them to do the remixes” Is it the same approach right now?

JF: Yeah, the difference is now, back then they would say “Hell yeah,” but now they say “Hey I’m a big fan, I’m actually really busy right now.” Remixes aren’t really as much of a thing as they were back in the 2000s. It’s a different climate.

NT: You compared Death Magic to the making of Duke Nukem Forever…

[If you don’t know, Duke Nukem Forever is the Chinese Democracy of video games. It was meant to come out in 1998 and ended up being released in 2011 because production kept adding things in and updating it so it would be the most advanced shooter game ever made. Upon its long awaited release, it was just a big ol’ turd]

JF: OH Yeah, well that was my fear. I just remember reading this Wired article and I was like “Oh My God…”. My fear of thinking: “Oh, we gotta update! This new record came out. We gotta sound like this.” Which is what happened to that game for 15 years.

NT: Earlier, you mentioned that doing an analog recording for Get Colour was a really stupid decision, why exactly was that?

JF: Well, one: it was just stupid it makes no sense in this day and age. I mean the fuckin’ tape drifts… and I mean, there was this whole thing, this whole, lofty thing about all these classic records we love and of course those were recorded on tape. We had all these lofty things and we worked with a guy who was pretty low on the totem pole, and really janky, really limited and he did a lot things that pissed us off and we got pretty burned by the experience. So we were just like: “never again.”

And the difference with this one too, after an unfruitful and losing battle on any sort of budget we’d be able to do at the time was trying to do this classic sounding analog piece especially the way that we went about it when you know music in this day is coming out with a real jump in production and quality and this is actually attainable now we’re just happy how this is actually attainable nows and it’s more exciting because it’s loud and fresh. You can be in the moment and it’s always way cooler.

NT: Oh and you’re Twitter’s hilarious is that you?

JF: It’s me and Jake [Duszik]. We don’t have personal accounts. Oh I wanted to include, BJ has his own Twiiter: @beejhaus.

NT: Thanks for everything man!

JF: Cool man, thanks for callin’.

See HEALTH at their loudest and freshest on tour.

interview by Graham Caldwell