The Health bassist on expressing the joy of games, being miserable in Demon’s Souls, and soundtracking Max Payne 3
Noise rock outfit Health’s brand of proto-industrial punk primitivism has gained it a huge following since its debut album released in 2007. Rockstar Games counts among those fans, and the studio reached out to the band for contributions to the Max Payne 3 soundtrack. That deal ended up going much further, as John Famiglietti tells us. Max Payne 3 was Health’s first soundtrack – how did that come about? It was really crazy. We just got a call saying, ‘Hey, Rockstar games wants to take you guys out for dinner in New York – they’re coming to your show.’ And I’m like, ‘Really? Cool!’ I’m a really big fan of Rockstar.’ And as soon as I heard that, I immediately started daydreaming about the idea of them asking us to score a game. But I figured they’d just take us out for dinner and say, ‘Hey, we’re Rockstar Games; would you let us license a track for GTA? ’But as soon as we started talking they said, ‘We’re doing this game – would you guys like to contribute some of the score music?’ And I was like, ‘Holy shit, man, did I just manifest that or something?’ We were originally brought in just to assist with scoring, but we got really ambitious. They gave us videos of two levels, so we entirely scored both, then gave it to them and said, ‘This is what we see for the game.’ They really liked that and it kept moving, and eventually we took over the game. How did the music develop from there? First and foremost was the narrative. We wanted to follow that. It was about the emotion – is [this scene] more tense, is it MALADY MAKER Health’s self-titled debut album was released in 2007, followed the next year by Health/Disco, which remixes the tracks from its debut record. The band’s second album, Get Color, came out in 2009 and was again followed by a remix album the next year, this time called Health::Disco2.
launched in 2012, and Health subsequently recorded a track for more scary, y’know? And of course Rockstar had a stem system, and they wanted particular moods, but what was incredible was they really respected us. They told us what they thought it should sound like, we created our music, and they let us know what was working and what wasn’t as they tested it.
We put in musical tones that inspire contemplation. If you’re this person in the game and you’ve killed 10,000 people in a row, and it was easy for you to do that, how would that weigh on your mind or your conscience? So we wanted to have these moments where you could detach and reflect on yourself as this incredibly damaged, depressed killing machine that’s able to perceive time slowly. How different was that process compared to creating albums? We’d never scored anything before, but we’re huge fans of movies; I’m a huge fan of games. With an album, you don’t know if anything’s good, and it’s always stressful: ‘Is this shitty? Do I suck now?’ But with a game or a movie, if you put the music against the image and it doesn’t feel right, you know it sucks. It’s very clear. So we could tell immediately if it was working or not. Is everyone in Health into games? No, I’m the only one who plays games. It’s very separate from most of my social circle and definitely my bandmates. Jake [Duzsik, singer and guitarist] is really into the extremely old games that he played as a kid – he loves Mario and Tetris, but that’s where it ends. Whereas I read Kotaku or whatever every day. With videogames there’s this weird translation problem where people who don’t play games either have no interest in them or it’s too hard to explain. I talk to bandmates and people I love about movies, music and art and how it affects me, and I want to talk in that way about games like Bloodborne, you know? But there’s no way for me to really relay it. Are you also a fan of the Souls games? They’re probably my favourite thing in the past few years. It’s really become an obsession for me. It’s the coolest shit ever. I started with Demon’s Souls, actually, and I was really blown away. You’re kind of miserable most of the time, but then when you do succeed and get somewhere, it’s really awesome. And I like that the storyline is built into the game mechanics. You’re in this existential hell because you literally can’t die. You’re living in a shithole where you have to repeat stuff, and the best thing you can do is just slightly advance. And which game is your favourite? That’s very hard. Because when I go back to my favourite games ever, like Baldur’s Gate II or something, it’s not the same. You get used to new stuff. I tried to play them again recently, and you can’t really go back… I feel weird saying it’s my favourite, but Baldur’s Gate was pretty good for me.
“Rockstar had a stem system, and they wanted particular moods, but they really respected us”