Collaboration in music has become increasingly common across all genres, but HEALTH have gone above and beyond what this typically looks and sounds like. Their series of DISCO albums were previously companion remixes to their full-lengths, but now, they’ve reimagined them as massive collaborative efforts, with each song melding a different artist’s style with HEALTH’s visceral electronic sound.
The fluidity of how the band work lends itself perfectly to teaming up with new musicians on each song, and as they finished the first collab album, they saw the potential. Instead of poring over songs by themselves, they were able to rely on other artist’s judgments to find new creative avenues. Great minds tend to think alike, and with HEALTH choosing to only work with artists they personally enjoy listening to, the results are exceeding expectations.
They launched this second collaborative release with a natural pairing on “ISN’T EVERYONE” with Nine Inch Nails, but Jake Duzsik says they weren’t sure how that group’s fans would react. “They have such a dedicated fanbase,” he says. “There’s always a bit of worry that they’re going to be like, ‘Finally Trent and Atticus are dropping new music. Who is this guy ruining the new songs?’ We were pleasantly surprised, and we’ve communicated since then that the reaction to the song has been positive with their entire fanbase and ours. That’s a reason why it makes you want to keep doing them.”
With a new round of collaborations on the way in the form of DISCO4 :: PART II and another solo full-length on the horizon, Alternative Press spoke with Duzsik and John Famiglietti about why they wanted to continue their collaborative efforts, how it differs from their usual workflow and what they’re looking forward to when lockdowns come to an end.
DISCO4 :: PART I broke away from the other DISCO albums being remix records. What’s it like writing collaborative albums compared to making an album on your own?
JOHN FAMIGLIETTI: It’s freeing because a lot of stuff you just don’t have control over. That’s because of other people, time constraints and a lot of this has to be done remotely through emails. You have to wait a long time, so you have to go with what’s around and think on your feet. It’s nice because then on your album, you’ve gotta make a statement. A lot of these collabs are done over a long period, but the song with Ghostemane [“JUDGEMENT NIGHT”] was done in a day, which is shit that would never happen, ever, with our own music.
JAKE DUZSIK: It can be like a blind date. If you start going on dates after being in a long-term committed relationship, you’re uncomfortable at first, and maybe so is the other person. After you do it enough, it’s not like you have a new bandmate that you’ve gotten used to—you’ve gotten used to working with new people all the time. Now when we’re starting the process, you can sense a bit of reluctance from the other person because they’re dealing with the same thing we were.
One thing I try to make clear when we first start is every instance is going to be different, but what we want is a true collaboration. Ideally, we would like them to not be fully fleshed out because then you’re going to get what’s more akin to a feature. If there’s a musical idea that’s more or less there, you’re already supplying the sound palette. If you have a plan for a song, it’s always going to end up different, and that’s been exceedingly true of the collaborations. It’s like a magnification of that uncertainty that is alluring about creative pursuits in the first place.
Why did you want to do a second album of collaboration tracks again this year?
DUZSIK: It’s so rewarding because every song has a new sound palette that is brought by another artist. We’re only asking people whose work we like, so that is energizing, especially when you’ve been in a band for a long time. It gets you out of any sort of cyclical rut of your writing process. When you start writing music with a different band or artist for every track, it’s like a cheat code to not repeat yourself. The only expectation is to make a good track, and if it doesn’t feel good, you move on to a new idea.
FAMIGLIETTI: I did not want to put out an album and not be able to go on tour. Normally, we wouldn’t do two collab records in a row. We were still in this situation, and it’s like, “Fuck it, keep it going,” and I’m glad we did because, obviously, this is the result. The first collab record came along, and we never really planned to do it anyway. A big part of that was COVID.
HEALTH recently revealed a collaboration with Nine Inch Nails. What was it like working with the band?
DUZSIK: It was a very pleasant surprise to get a response back. In the past, we opened for them, and we did a track at his home studio with his longtime collaborator Alan Moulder. At the time when I contacted [Trent Reznor], everybody is fucking home. It was the middle of the lockdown, so if there was ever a chance, that would be the pie in the sky.
The part that made it real was when he sent a vocal track. It’s one thing when you’re exchanging emails, but he has a very iconic voice that I’ve been listening to since I was a kid. One thing that made the whole process of writing this track with Atticus [Ross] and Trent so easy is that regardless of their legendary status and unimpeachable career, they’re very relatable and accessible. Sometimes you could be worried about working with someone with that kind of profile to broach a subject because you don’t want to ruffle their feathers. There was no concern about that.
How do you manage to bring such a broad spectrum of artists together into one package without losing what’s unique about each artist you collaborate with?
FAMIGLIETTI: I think we’re malleable with what our sound is. Everyone we chose, we liked and we thought we could work with well. We’re trying to showcase them as much as ourselves and just do whatever’s right for the song. A lot of these songs the other artist began, and we’re adding onto it, or we go back and forth, and whatever we have, [we] just roll with that.
DUZSIK: We started doing collabs just to explore it, and then the light went off that we were able to supplant doing a companion remix album by doing a collaboration album. Remix culture in a more general sense was a way for labels to extend the life cycle of a record. We never had to do that because we weren’t making any money, anyway. We were doing it solely for the aesthetic and creative pursuit of it. If you heard the HEALTH remix album, it wouldn’t just be a bunch of tracks thrown together. When we’re doing the collab records, that blueprint was just carried over.
What’s most fun about the collabs when you start them is being able to say, “There’s no pressure.” The only idea is to make something that we think is good and [that] both bands are happy with. On top of that, [we’re] trying to assure the other artists that there’s nothing precious going on. I think a pitfall a lot of young bands get trapped in is the restriction of constructive criticism. Having that as a basis for the tracks allows them to be created in a way that does some of the work preliminarily towards making what feels like a cohesive record.
Touring is slowly becoming an option again, and you are creating a new full-length in 2022. What are you looking forward to for the next album?
FAMIGLIETTI: Just to get on the road because at the start of COVID, people were saying shit like there might not be touring for three years. [The fact] that people are booking to tour now seems great, so fingers crossed. To be able to put out a record and go on tour again is pretty exciting, especially with what people were predicting before. With every record, you want to grow or have some big moments, but all that is continuing on the rise.
DUZSIK: Ideally, to make our best record. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but it’s hard to want to make a record if that’s not what you’re trying to do. I feel like if you’re not trying to do that, then it’s almost impossible to make a good one. My goal is always to not alienate fans that have stuck with us for so long and also create something that could connect to new people. I don’t want to make pronouncements about what kind of record it’s going to be, but I’m hopeful that it will be something that we’re proud of.