HEALTH on How to Score a Video Game

Photo courtesy of Motormouth Media

With today’s release of Max Payne 3, Rockstar Games continued their trailblazing integration of music and video games, this time enlisting L.A. noisemakers HEALTH to score the latest adventure. HEALTH’s kinetic noise rock fuses propulsive drums, sharp bursts of guitar and layers of serrated electronic squelches to create violent, high drama blasts that fit perfectly with the bloody, flashy firefights of the Max Payne franchise. Like the noir trilogy, HEALTH’s music is visceral and dark, yet accessible, so it’s no shock that the two dovetail on this project.

Over a nine-month stretch, HEALTH put their third album on the backburner to create some six hours of music for the game. Any sustained period of output like that will naturally cause a band to evolve — and that development is evident immediately upon hearing the hazy industrial grind of “Tears” in the frustratingly short commercial released last month. Listening to the Max Payne 3 score, we heard a band who expanded its sound while streamlining it, vacillating between ethereal brooding (recalling “In Violet“) and incendiary pounding. So we called up HEALTH’s bassist/noisemaker John Famiglietti — who’s also the band’s resident gamer — to talk about the lengthy process. He gave us these five key steps in making the Max Payne 3 score.

1. Support the Action

“Rockstar was never like ‘Hey, make this part sound like this song, or like X. They just hired us to be ourselves, and would guide us at specific spots where they were looking for a certain amount of power when the music drops in. So we got to do what we wanted, but within the framework of the game and its narrative, which was awesome.

2. Mix It Up

There’d be certain levels, we’d just be like “alright fuck it, we’re not gonna try and sound exactly like us.” We’d take a unique reference point, and use that as the jumping off point for the level, so it was different from all the rest. A lot of stuff we would never do, like an ambient or suspenseful track, that you have to have in a particular scenario. We did tons of those in the game, endless things we hadn’t done before.”

3. Don’t Fuck With the Legacy

I know as a fan of shit, when you get fuckin’ pissed when they just fuck things up and they don’t stay true to the source material — of course people are pissed, man! That’s important to them. So I’d hate to be that guy to mess with it. We wanted to do our thing and bring something new and special to the game, but we did stuff for hardcore fans — a lot of references to the old music. Fans have an emotional connection to that, which is what you want. So when it came to the theme, we were really faithful. With only minor changes, we reproduced the cello theme from Max Payne 2 and the piano theme from the original. We just weren’t gonna fuck with it.

4. Push It

This was, by a bajillion, way more music than we’ve ever produced in the entire lifetime of the band. And of course, it’s not all in there. There’s a lot of concepts or tricks we came up with on scrapped songs that will live on with totally new HEALTH material. It’s an ass pain, and the length of time is definitely brutal, but we had to turn around so much music so much faster, I think that’s all very good for anyone who makes music. To get better at it, or just get faster at it.

5. Collaborate With the Company

With an album it’s like ‘do you guys like this? I like this,’ and that’s it. We’ve never had to bounce things off other people or get anyone else’s opinion. Rockstar was super cool. We worked closely with the music supervisors and developers or whoever, they’d tell us what things they had a problem with, or when it needed to go in a different direction. Totally different experience.

Max Payne 3 is out now and the HEALTH single “Tears” is available on iTunes. The full soundtrack drops on May 23 Sample “Tears” below:

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