It’s 4:30pm on a dull, grey Tuesday afternoon in Manchester. The band have just arrived at their next gig, The White House in Salford; a music venue arbitrarily situated in an industrial estate just on the outer rim of the city. It begins to rain as I stand in the doorway of the club, staring at the factory buildings in the distance as they pump out light hues of smoke from their tall chimneys – towering over mesh fences and brick walls laced in barbed wire, with broken glass scattered all over the dilapidated roads. I chuckle over how perfectly this environment encapsulates the band’s image. John Famiglietti approaches me with his typically jovial disposition and asks if I want a beer while they get ready for soundcheck. The band are slightly jetlagged from their flight a day or so ago, but they’re in good spirits as they titter and jest over various things whilst setting up their equipment. Shortly after, as with my own assessment of the area, the band’s guitarist and singer, Jake Duzsik, gleams “this place is so Manchester, I love it!” For those who have felt the post-punk undertones (Joy Division, New Order) in the band’s works, talking to Jake affirms that influence, as it’s clear he has a huge amount of reverence for this city – which is largely down to the pantheon of incredibly important bands who spearheaded the post-punk movement in the 80s. After a little small talk about how the tour is going, we head off to talk about Disco4, Iggy Pop, their Patreon and Discord, the new album, and why Manchester is Jake’s favourite city in the UK.
Firstly, congratulations on Disco 4, now that it’s fully completed.
What was the impetus that kicked Disco4 off?
Jake: Every LP that we’ve ever put out, we’ve had a corresponding remix album. Our first LP [HEALTH] had HEALTH//DISCO, and then after the second LP, Get Color, there was HEALTH//DISCO2, and so on and so forth. When it came to the fourth record… We’ve been doing this a long time, and when we started, there was this incredibly fertile underground remix culture based around blogs, and a band like The Knife would come out with a record and there’d be like fifty great remixes, all disparate in style, of the 10 or 12 tracks that were on that record. Just like any sort of zeitgeist movement in art, film or music, because it was exciting all these young and engaged and talented people were making really interesting remixes, but as with all things in music, there’s this waxing and waning and cyclical nature of what is popular and what becomes unpopular. At the same time, we are very interested in symmetry in the band; there’s a uniformity to the artwork, and an aesthetic continuity. So, we didn’t want to just jettison the idea and not have a remix-corresponding album, but at the same time it felt like maybe that wasn’t going to be the most exciting thing to do creatively, you know?
For the first two Disco albums, it was so easy to just find young kids on Myspace where you’d think “this guy is making really cool music, let’s ask him if he wants to do a remix.” And we’re not an established band, so there’s no money, but people just want to do it on the strength of making something artistic and cool. By the time we got to the third one [Disco3], we were really proud of the album, but it definitely felt like it was getting a bit more laborious to get enough material. We don’t look at remix albums in the way that they would be traditionally used by like a major label for a huge artist or something, which is – that’s not to cast dispersions on it, but…
They’re used as cash-ins.
Jake: Yeah, essentially, they’re used to prolong a marketing cycle. Like, “we have this huge album so let’s pump out a remix.” Obviously, that’s not what we’re doing, so if it doesn’t have any artistic merit or if it doesn’t have sufficient artistic merit, it wouldn’t make sense to keep doing it. So, then we’re like, “what if, instead of remixes,” which are a collaboration of sorts – that’s what’s exciting about them, is you’re melding musical styles with someone else’s take on your production or your melodies or your voice – “we make a collaborative album?” I think the idea of doing a collaboration record was to make a continuation in the spirit of those Disco records, the corresponding remix albums, but refashion it in a way that makes it feel interesting to us, and hopefully it generates material that feels exciting. We didn’t want to do another remix album, but we didn’t want to stop doing it, and so we thought maybe this would work. And it seems like it did.
Obviously Disco4 was a collaborative effort but what made you want to do Disco4+, was that just like a supplement to add to it?
Jake: Our really dedicated fanbase know that we give out remix stems, we’re not gatekeepers where it has to be approved. Any fan of ours that wants to try their hand at remixes, we’ll send them the stems, so there was still a demand for people wanting to do remixes. We want to have this no-barrier-community relationship with our fans, so there was still a lot of remixes generated, and people took time and effort to create a song, and to have an opportunity for it to be released. So, Disco4+ is like the continuation of the normal remix system that we had.
Whereas for Disco4 :: Part I and Disco4 :: Part II, which we’ll get to, there wasn’t meant to be a Part II. The reason there’s a Part II is because the pandemic just kept fucking going on and on. Most of Part II was written remotely, with those artists in other countries, other States, and everybody, ourselves included, [had the pandemic stopped after Part I’s release] would have gone back on tour. [During lockdown] The smart thing to do, and what a lot of bands did, was make a new record so you had a new album ready to go for when you came back. But I had just had a kid and before vaccines, there was really no way for us to work in person, and I didn’t want to make a new HEALTH record without being in the same room as the band. However, if we’re working on a track with Poppy and she’s in Europe or in New York or whatever, and we’re just emailing each other… or NIN – we did that with them because Trent and Atticus weren’t working together either. Everybody was remote; we’d do phone calls and the drummer would send us a little snippet of drums, and then Trent would add a piano, and then I would add a vocal line, and then Atticus and John were mixing it. And [the process] it kind of sucks, right? But the pandemic made it all very conducive for that kind of work.
This was actually going to be one of the questions later on, but while we’re on the subject. I always had a little chuckle listening to the Disco4 albums because I had imagined the collaborative process to be like that music video for Run DMC’s “It’s like that”, or the Run DMC/Aerosmith music video where you’re all in a room and you bounce off each other. For Part I, what was the process actually like?
Jake: Some of the tracks in Part I, and even a couple of tracks for Part II, if it was an LA band and we could share the same space, we would. I’d have to look at the tracklisting, but there are a couple tracks on Part I that were completely remote, but most of those we would try to schedule a day – like with JPEGMAFIA, that was in L.A. and we did a day with him and then the song got finished by respectively sending each other music. Or the Ghostemane track that we did was done in one night, and we were all together in a studio. I mean, when we were finishing Part I the pandemic was still fully on, so for the likes of the original track that we did for Part I, which was “Cyberpunk 126.96.36.199”, that was the first HEALTH song to be written where Beej, John and I weren’t in the same room together. I wrote a guitar part and then John added production and then Beej wrote the drum beat, and we just kept refining it down until we had a song. I’m really happy with how that song turned out, but at the same time I definitely felt like I didn’t want to make another record in its entirely this way again.
Sort of the virtues that people have been trumpeting for remote work, I’m sure that’s true if you’re like a fucking corporate accountant or something where it doesn’t really matter, but I didn’t have some epiphany where I thought “oh, I’ll move to the mountains and I’ll just work remotely.” It’s fucking miserable to me. It’s not how I want to write music. But when you’re working on collaborations, it doesn’t seem like that much of a barrier because you have this opportunity to work with someone that you wouldn’t normally get to, you know? For example, that NIN track would never have happened without COVID. It’s a small silver lining, but you get a HEALTH/NIN collaboration, because normally those guys would be too busy. And, you know, the reason I hit them up was because I was fully aware that everyone was at home; you couldn’t go anywhere, there was nothing to do. That was pre-vaccines, so there was nothing out there, nothing was going on.
How did you guys decide on who the line-up was going to be for the project?
Jake: There was never a master list or anything, it was pretty organic how it all came about, because you work with one person and something in that process would make you think of someone else, or something that will move into your field of vision where you’re listening to something and it reminds you that this band is like that band. The criteria wouldn’t be based solely on do I like this music? but do I think that it would somehow work with our style? Would the styles potentially complement each other where I think it could make something interesting. So, some [artists] we directly contacted because we were already friends. For us the one that was on the list was NIN, just because we thought about it more pragmatically. What’s a legendary band that I think would actually work well with our style? And for us, they were #1.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you already know Trent Reznor, don’t you? Wasn’t he involved with Death Magic?
Jake: No, but he was involved with a track on Disco2, and we had toured with him and done some shows together, and he’d always be very friendly and helpful to us. The scenario wasn’t I asked my manager or our label to reach out, that would never have worked. I already had a direct contact line that was established on a friendly relationship, so I was able to just ask him directly. Send him an example of something we’ve done for Part I and say, “hey, this is what we’ve been doing – I’m sure you guys are really busy, but if you’re interested, we’d love to do it with you.” To my surprise, he said that it sounded great.
It’s not the kind of thing I would have even thought about [specific artists to add on the line-up]. I mean, there’s some that I [would love to collaborate with], like Iggy Pop is on the same label as HEALTH. I really wanted Iggy Pop, and I made a couple of different tracks that I thought his voice would work really well on, and our label was sending them to his manager. And you know, if I had NIN and Iggy Pop on the list, I’m fucking done (laugh). We had some other weird ones; I had our manager try and track down John Cale, but it was just crickets. I never heard back.
Oh, man. Worth a shot though!
Jake: Well, that’s what I’m saying. If I knew John Cale and could fucking send him an email… that’s how the NIN one worked out.
It’s clear Disco4 is an ambitious project, but I don’t think a lot of people realise the level of hardship that goes into something like Disco4. From your perspective, you’re no longer writing as an intimate three-piece, you’re collaborating with a massive line-up of diverse artists and you’re not only having to rely on their commitment to the project, you’re also tasked with making this armoury of styles palatable. What were the main challenges in bringing Disco4 together?
Jake: I think honestly the biggest challenge is just time management of the other artists. There can be a predilection from a label to want a schedule – you know, like “hey, let’s wrap this one up, we need to get this track done,” but you kind of have to remind them that the ball is not entirely in our court. We can’t just crack a whip and make someone finish; people have complex personal and professional lives. They might be finishing their own record, or something came up, or they had a family issue, so on and so forth. So that was hard, just juggling all of those different things at once. Most of the tracks that we ever started got finished, so that was quite surprising. I think that’s part of the reason we did two of them; if the first one had been like pulling teeth to get it done and we were beating our heads against the wall trying to communicate with other people, and then losing interest and not feeling like it was a process we wanted to repeat, we wouldn’t do it again. But it was fairly fluid, where I guess the issues lied in it being a time thing.
You know, there’s this Great Men fallacy throughout music history like, “Nirvana started grunge,” and that’s not really how it works. The reality is there’s this coalescing of all these people contributing to it, and there are just things around in the culture where you’re thinking about certain things. And I think that at the same time we were making this, some of the Press were like “you guys are doing this flagship thing,” but collaborations have been a thing in hip-hop culture and pop culture for a long time now, with features and combining different artists. Yet, in underground music and in rock and metal, there’s a little bit more of a vestige preserving the sovereignty of the artist – like, “this is my band, so I write all the music and I control everything and that’s how I demonstrate my artistic genius.” But I think that’s kind of melting away culturally, it’s just not as valid, and so all these people that wouldn’t have done collaborations before, like ourselves, are now open to the idea. So, we had the idea to start doing these things at the same time as all these other people who were thinking about experimenting and what would be interesting to do. And that’s how it kind of worked out. We didn’t have any sort of masterplan. It’s not too dissimilar to the reason I brought up the analogy of remix culture earlier. At the time we released the first Disco record, there was this moment where all these people were interested in it and saw remixes as a piece of art, which is indicative of its value in the musical landscape at the time. And so, I think the collaboration thing is having that moment right now. We just happen to be lucky enough to do it all at the right moment.
I definitely feel like you’re being a bit humble. I kind of get what the Press are saying – that you’re spearheading this sort of thing. I mean, like you say, it has always been there, but I feel like you guys have really got a hold on it. You said before that you’ve obviously analysed which other artists would better suit your sound, but was there a conscious effort to go “shit, how can we make this album sound cohesive?” Because, honestly, when you listen to those two albums together, it’s amazing how cohesive it sounds – it shouldn’t sound that cohesive – and I think a lot of bands fail with that, but you guys have got a handle on it. Are you very much aware of planning things out?
Jake: I mean, we’re obviously going to be acutely paying attention to what we’re doing and the kind of artists that we’re asking, but you have less control than you would do making your own record, but it is similar in that it’s still a kind of random-happy-accident process. If it comes across as being humble or something, I think that’s maybe because I’ve been doing this long enough to know that you can have all kinds of plans and try to be really strategic, but in the end, what happens is a series of random accidents in terms of the writing process. I think that it is lucky the record seems so cohesive. I mean, some of that is down to the tracklisting and the way we want it to flow and things like that. After we get five tracks, we start looking for a bit of balance – we need some more musicality, we’ve just had a bunch of fucking heavy tracks – and that’s the same way we would go about writing a record, where we feel like we’ve got a single but we need a ballad or we need an opener, and now we need an ender. It’s like a puzzle, or you’re trying to uncover a fossil.
If there’s one virtue I think we have – because we’re a fucking punk band in ethos: you know, I don’t play guitar very well, I can’t really sing – it’s that we’re very much students of music, and we love music and paying attention to what we think is interesting, what we think is cool, and I think that is the attribute or the component that put us in a position for the collaboration album to work out well; because we are still very much engaged in trying to pay attention to what other artists are doing. One thing to think about is that we don’t really have a genre to sit in, which has been a blessing and a curse. Now we’re the closest we’ve ever been to having a genre, which is this neo-industrial sound. But one of the benefits of that is, if you’re a band like Interpol or something, you’ve come out of the gate with a record where everybody loves that sound, and now that’s your band.
It’s such a distinct sound, yeah.
Jake: It’s fucking great because instantaneously all these people can fall in love with it, you can become a star and all these things. But then, how do you change that sound? It’s very difficult to do. Whereas we don’t have that problem. Our first album sounds like a no wave record, and it’s barely musical.
It’s structureless (laughs)
Jake: Yeah, it’s like we were really into process music and I was into Stockhausen and 12 tone music, so you can go anywhere from there. So, moving forward, we were able to try on different hats, and this is like another phase of the band’s experimentation.
I’m glad I’m actually interviewing you specifically for this question. I might be massively over-analysing this, but the opening guitar part and overall aesthetic of “Dead Flowers” captures the zeitgeist of the first Max Payne soundtrack – namely “Max’s Nightmare”. Was this a cheeky nod or was it purely incidental?
Jake: Purely incidental. For that song, which sounds nothing like anything we would ever write or any song Poppy would write, the very genesis of that track was like a phone demo Poppy sent us. There was this very rough sketch on an acoustic guitar – with a vocal melody which never got used – and the guitar was in like drop D or something, so I tried to preserve the feel of what she was playing, and I did it in this weird surf-riff kind of way, which is my way of interpreting it, and I did it like that to honour the melodic structure and melody she sent, whilst putting my own spin on it. Because we did the score for Max Payne 3, I’m familiar with the original score from the Remedy games, because we had to do the theme for it but no, it had nothing to do with Max Payne.
But here’s the thing – that’s what’s awesome about it: I just shouldn’t have answered that question, because it’s way cooler when it’s open to interpretation. It’s like maybe it is about that, but it isn’t. You kind of ruin it when you answer the question. It’s like lyrics, I try not to give any direct answers. I mean, the lyrics are usually never very direct anyway, but when you do that, I think you sometimes risk ruining a song for someone.
You kind of answered the question earlier with Iggy Pop, but what would have been a dream collaboration? Is there anyone else you would want to work with for future works?
Jake: It’s very sad. We were trying to do a Power Trip collaboration, but Riley passed away. We met with them and they were going to send us stems of one of their songs and then it was cut short by his untimely death. So, that was one we were really excited about. I mean, there was some other ones; years ago, we did some Australian dates with Wire, the post-punk legends, and I really wanted to have that one, and we got in touch through a mutual friend, but they were making a record. Mine always tend to be these old guy ones.
Well, it makes sense to do it with bands you have a reverence for.
Jake: Yeah, well it’s just shit I came up on, you know? Like Iggy Pop.
Man, that would have been crazy.
Jake: I have a song that I think he would have just fucking killed it on. Maybe it’ll happen someday, because I know that he’s played a couple of our tracks on his radio show, so he’s aware of us.
I’d really like to do some ambient collaborations, like Brian Eno. And you know, since we’re in Manchester, I would love to do a New Order/HEALTH song, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
One of the great things to come from the first lockdown in 2020 was you started a Patreon, complete with Discord access. During lockdown I was on there quite a bit myself, and I was blown away by the community; it’s a humble space with plenty of great memes and the opportunity to hang out with members of the band and like-minded fans. What brought the idea to fruition?
Jake: We have a friend who helps us with some digital marketing kind of things and he’s very plugged into gaming culture. John’s a gamer himself, and ever since Max Payne we’ve had this connection to gaming culture, and our fanbase has grown alongside people who are also into games. For John and I initially, we were like “who the fuck wants to go on our Discord?” and definitely, “who the fuck is going to give us money?” But, obviously, in the Streaming Community, people are doing that all the time. They give their favourite streamers 5 bucks, because they want them to not have a regular job. And there’s also this element of we’re kind of friends, in the same way that you would be in touch with a friend remotely.
At that time of indefinite lockdowns, when you were playing sweaty unventilated 500-cap clubs packed full of people, you’re thinking this isn’t the end of music, but is this the end of my music career? Because what if it takes years to come back. So, we weren’t sure if it was going to take. We thought maybe people would sign up for a Patreon, maybe people will use Discord, but then, particularly the Discord Community, it just sort of exploded. The one thing that I take away from all this is we have a really cool fanbase, because people have got into relationships in our Discord, and all these friends will fly to shows to meet each other. And like you said, it’s a very humble space where people have felt comfortable enough there to come out as trans or come out and make life changes that have been facilitated by being supported by other people in the Discord that are like-minded. And we’re just blown away that anything like that would happen. So I have no idea why it worked so well, but going back to our friend, he was very much a part of gaming culture and he would just say “it will work for your fans” and he’d say, “I’m a fan, I know.” Because we just sort of have this self-deprecating old man thought process that doesn’t see the bigger picture.
It’s really funny because I remember at the time someone trying to explain to me what Discord was, and now I completely understand what it is, but it’s not like I feel any better explaining it to someone.
Is there a new album in the works?
Jake: Yes, there is.
We’ve talked about how you guys don’t have a regional sound, so is it going to go down a different path?
Jake: It will be the darkest and potentially heaviest record we’ve ever made, and I think it’s probably indicative of how shitty everything has been.
I mean, we are literally living in an 80’s sci-fi film.
Jake: We didn’t mean to be prescient or anything, but we’ve always been kind of making this Skynet post-Terminator 2 kind of music, and then we just kept doing it fucking long enough that it happened. So yeah, it feels sort of prophetic, I guess, but I’m really excited about the music we’re writing so far.
It sounds really cliché to say, but is it on its way to being the best thing you’ve ever done?
Jake: I would hope so. It feels like that to me. I don’t want to jinx myself but, we’ve made other records in the past where I’ve felt unsure in the process of what we were making, and in the end still chipped away at it and felt like we made a really good record. I mean, with any record you always have regrets, and if you don’t have regrets about a record you made then you’re probably not paying attention, or you’re too much up your own ass. But this definitely feels like we are making the record we’re supposed to be making right now. So just in that way alone, that to me indicates that it could be one of the better things we’ve done.
It feels like a culmination of everything you’ve ever learned.
Jake: Exactly. Some of the things we’ve touched on – our band not having a genre, doing a video game score and doing compositional work, and then doing a collaboration record with other artists that we really admire that all have totally disparate styles, and then the fucking world falling apart with COVID and the war in Ukraine, and the global financial crisis and impending doom of global warming, and my nightmarish first flirtation with fatherhood. All these things all at once, it sort of led us to this moment. On the bright side, it feels like we’re making a good record.
HEALTH (From left to right: Benjamin Jared Miller, Jake Duzsik, John Famiglietti.)
A fun question now. What do you think is great about the UK as opposed to the US. What do you appreciate about the UK?
Jake: Well, it’s funny you ask that. One thing I would say, because it pertains to this conversation is, UK music interviews are so much more thoughtful and articulate than in the US, it’s fucking shocking. And I don’t want to say something to disparage music journalists in the United States, but music journalism in the US is more systematic in the sense that it’s like a Press release. In the UK, it feels like any time we do interviews with someone – big or small publications – they listen to the music beforehand and really have a thoughtful question to ask you about each thing. There’s nuanced research and well-spoken attributes to journalism in the United Kingdom, as far as music journalism goes. And I think for us it’s like, England’s a little hard for me because I fucking hate the weather. I grew up in Seattle, so I grew up in very similar weather to the UK, and I hated it. The rest of the band are all Southern Californians, so for me personally, I always thought I was just moody and dark –and I am – but I didn’t realise I had Seasonal Affective Disorder, and then I moved to California and it was apparent I couldn’t live in that kind of weather anymore.
You felt good when you moved to California?
Jake: Oh, so much better! Biologically, I need sunshine. To which, I know it’s ironic from the kind of music that I make, but oh God, imagine me here? It’d be terrible. Like, if I had to live the rest of my life in Manchester – it’s nothing against Manchester, it’s just the weather. I want it to be fucking sunny and warm and everything. I can handle a little bite-sized tour, and we’ve been here a lot. I mean, I think that this tour for us, what we love about being over here, is that it’s a reminder that you can get back to doing the thing that you love. To do and see different kinds of things and people in different places, and that there’s something beyond your fucking Netflix account and your house, you know?
I wouldn’t call myself an Anglophile, but I don’t know. I was just talking to someone when we were driving here, for me personally, I don’t know if there’s any city on Earth that per capita has produced as much music that I love as this city, right? If you go through all these bands, some that you didn’t even know were from Manchester.
Yeah, the city is a hotbed for bands.
Jake: I mean, obviously the Factory Records scene had a pretty big effect on our sound from the band’s inception, and not just musically.
Is that one of the reasons why you always tour Manchester? This is something that pisses me off, but there’s a lot of bands from oversees that neglect the North West, is that why you always come here, because you love the city?
Jake: The first DIY, playing house shows, tour we ever did was with a band that was from Manchester, so this was kind of our home base. We stayed here quite a bit, so we got to know the city a little bit more. And the dudes that are promoting this show, Now Wave, they’ve always done our shows in Manchester and everything they do is incredibly tasteful. There’s a uniformity to the poster art and the venues that they put their stamp on; it just seems to have this continuation of what I love. There’s no cooler city than Manchester, so I can’t imagine not playing here if you’re going to come to the UK. I don’t really know why anybody would neglect playing here, like I said before, because we like in the US, to us everything here is so close. If you’re going to play a show in London, you might as well play a show in Manchester.
You’d be surprised. You get a lot of bands that do a couple of London dates and then they’ll do one Scotland date, like Glasgow or something.
Jake: I can see how it’s tricky here. To do Manchester and Leeds, they’re completely different cities. They have completely different styles, accents, feels, but they’re 35 minutes apart from each other, so it can be hard. You know, we’ve done that before where it’s like “are we gonna do Leeds or are we gonna do Manchester?” And we’ve had great shows in both. I guess for me, as a student of musical history, I just love Manchester, so we always try to play here. I’d say Manchester is my favourite UK City, I think. For London the shows are awesome, but London to me is gargantuan, it feels like the way New York feels to me, which is like, I love New York, but it’s so prohibitively expensive, I think it’s killing art. How do you live in a city where young people can do all this cool shit and play these cool shows in underground venues, but also have a job where they work in a coffee shop? You can’t have an apartment in London and have a cool job, and that’s what’s happening in a lot of American cities too – it’s finally starting to happen in Los Angeles. We’ve lived there for so long, and the coolest thing about L.A. was that even though it is such a huge place, for the longest time it was very affordable.
Yeah, it’s terrible now, isn’t it?
Jake: It’s terrible now. Everything is totally priced out. You’re fucked. The same kind of thing, it’s not as bad as New York or San Francisco or London yet, but we have a housing shortage and things, so. The English have more of an inveterate class system. For Americans, the dream of the middle-class for our parents’ generation was that you could have a regular job and buy a house and be a homeowner, and it’s just totally gone. And I think that is why in the United States you’re seeing men aged 18 to 35, the leading cause of death is drug overdoses, because there’s no veneer or fake dream of “I’ll get a good job and then I’ll get a house and I’ll have a family.” You need to literally have millions of dollars to buy a house now, unless you live in like Wyoming or something, but then you need to work out where you’re gonna work.
I think you guys have a little bit more familiarity with [accepting] you get fucked by the class system. (laughs)