Q Magazine

Guest Column - How to score a computer game by Health

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Health are, in frontman John Famiglietti‘s own words, “pretty loud and weird, man”. So how then did this fiercely experimental cult Californian group end up scoring much anticipated video game Max Payne 3? Famiglietti explains how they went about creating “fucking gnarly” music to shoot things to.

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We never imagined ourselves writing music for a video game. Ever. We were in New York towards the end of last year when we found out Rockstar Games wanted to talk to us. We were like, “Really?” Their music department is really on the ball so I kind of figured they were scouting bands for little bits in upcoming games – maybe they wanted to use one of our tracks in Grand Theft Auto, or something. But then they came to see us play at our show in Brooklyn, took us out to dinner afterwards and asked us how we felt about scoring a game.

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When we found out it was for Max Payne, were were immediately psyched for it. I remember when the Max Payne games first came out. Everyone was like, “Dude, this is so gnarly, what the fuck!” It’s really cool how dark it is as a franchise. It is really edgy for a video game. Ridiculously intense and violent, heads exploding everywhere, bullets flying around in slow motion, everything. This one is no different – pretty psychedelic and out there.

We were originally concerned about compromising, of listening back at the end of it and thinking, “we don’t sound like Health here”. We wanted to support the narrative and the things the developers wanted – creating something that aesthetically fit in with the concept and characters of the game but also our identity as Health. But we didn’t have to do anything that made us feel uncomfortable or unhappy. That was the cool thing – they hired us as Health, not as anonymous music composers. They hired us for our sound, what we could do with the game as a band. They were really up for anything we had to throw at them.

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After an audition process – we had to do demos for two levels – we got to it. A lot had to be turned around pretty fast because there are so many levels and a lot of music and time was running out! We had been hired pretty late in the production cycle for a game. We started with our own catalogue and pretty much used our sound palette as the influence. There were parts where we would reference other composers – Brian Eno, for example – but generally as a band we try not to be too referential.

It meant a lot to be be doing it as I’m a huge gamer. Especially now. I’ve been into video games since I was a kid. It’s only recently that I got a console – I was mostly into PC stuff when I was growing up. I don’t want to sound old but I was really into Balder’s Gate, stuff like that. We never imagined ourselves writing music for a video game ever. I don’t know if we’d be the best fit for most video games. If there’s any game in history I would have loved to have written the music for it would be Streets Of Rage 2 on the Sega Mega Drive. It was fucking amazing, man. I used to just play that game over and over just to listen to the music. I have all the classic Nintendo tunes on my iTunes. I fucking love that stuff.

Whether this will be a platform for us, I don’t really know or particularly care. I remember Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was like the first time you heard a real band song on a game and nowadays every sports game has bands on and there’s the radio stations on GTA. How much that exposure translates to real music fans, I don’t know. I don’t know who gamers are these days, but wither way, it’s been an awesome experience.

John Famigliettiwas speaking to Al Horner


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