Another great artcile from our archives, BAM Issue February 26, 1993.
THE POWER OF NEGATIVE THINKINGby Steve Stolder
FAITH NO MORE ISN'T OUT TO PROVE THAT EVERYTHING'S A SHAM ... THAT'S A GIVEN.It's mid-August and Billy Gould and Roddy Bottum are lazing away the afternoon at a cafe in San Francisco's mission district, an area teeming with taquerias, used book stores, secondhand shops, and cafes packed with boho coffee underachievers.
It's August 18th and Gould and Bottum are killing some unexpected downtime. FNM should be tagging along with Guns N' Roses and Metallica somewhere in Middle America about now, except that James Hetfield somehow started himself on fire in mid-performance in Montreal, after which GN'R took an early leave. Montreal was a riot ... literally.
Suffice to say, they haven't been enjoying this tour very much and are looking forward to getting out on their own. Gould and Bottum seem alternately fascinated and repulsed by Axl's antics. FNM -- led by brazen lead vocalist Mike Patton -- has earned few friends in the GN'R axis by openly disparaging their benefactors in the press. While in England, Patton even threatened to drop a stool (a nasty habit he's become infamous for) on top of Axl's TelePrompTer. Still, Billy Gould finds Axl's over-the-top garishness absurdly appealing. "You have to appreciate that", he gushes. It's like appreciating Ronald Reagan."
Angel Dust, the follow-up to FNM's breakthrough The Real Thing album, has just been released. Many in the press admire its challenging twists and turns, which take listeners on a roller coaster ride through metal, art-rock, industrial, and even easy listening excursions. The five members of the band, however, have already heard an earful about Angel Dust's capriciousness. "We got a little flack when our record company first heard it", Bottum volunteers. "I mean, initially, they were a little shocked."
More specifically, they say they were accused of indulging in "too many mood changes," "too many personality changes," and, most heinous of all, "gratuitous sampling." Gould picks up on the theme, paraphrasing the insider criticism they've endured: "'Alternative never liked you anyway. So I don't know why you're playing this shit.' All this kind of bullshit. But it's a good record. We're not like, 'I don't give a fuck what the record company says.' Because we work together, in a way. You work with a record company. They make suggestions and you listen to them, because you don't want to hate them. And they tell you these things, and you take it kind of seriously."
Gould, normally a mirthful sort, seems a bit bothered by the negative feedback. Conversely, the self-possessed Bottum responds with the verbal equivalent of a shrug.
"I think it's a great thing, in this day and age, to be able to do what you want to do," he remarks mildly. "As much money as is involved in Warner Bros. Records, to be able to set out to do something on your own and make it the way you want it to sound and know that people -- like the president of Warner Bros. -- might not like it, and be able to make it anyway, with their money, is a great thing."
Gould nods in agreement, but then ventures, "There's maybe a 50 percent chance it won't even fly."
"It's already done," Bottum responds. "It's already more than gold. And we made the record we wanted to make. I think it's a great thing."
In the interests of finding out how they view themselves in the context of rock n'roll, circa 1992, I read the two some of their recent press clippings.
From the New York Times: "Faith No More has been weaned on the smiling, hard-self fraudulence of television, modern politics, and modern rock. Its response is to suspect everything, to grab at fragments and to stay so vulgar and unpredictable that it sticks in the craw. With a self-mockery that undercuts even the band's own cynicism, FNM takes nothing seriously -- and means it."
Bottum pauses for a moment, then asks to hear the last part of the quote one more time. That done, Gould cuts in, "We're not out to prove that everything you read is lies and all that. We kind of take that for granted," he laughs. "It's not anything you have to prove; it's obvious."
"It's a stupid example," volunteers Bottum, "but look at The Simpsons and what a success that is. Or Ren & Stimpy. I'm sure that big network executives are shocked that America is that smart and in-tune to the sarcasm."
"Or that disaffected," Gould interjects.
"It's just a thing to always keep in mind," Bottum suggests. "You don't have to spell everything out, because people understand sarcasm. They understand where we're coming from without us hitting them over the head."
I try another quote, this one from Musician: "As their success has mushroomed, it's become fashionable to talk about FNM as leaders of a new musical movement. But no one can quite figure out who else is part of it."
Gould likes that one; he laughs hysterically. Bottum just smiles.
Mike Patton enters the La Cumbre Taqueria on a brisk January evening. The taco shop, coincidentally, is a just a few blocks away from the cafe Gould and Bottum had selected six months earlier. Angel Dust has now been out about the same time The Real Thing had before "Epic" started turning up on MTV and radio, kicking the album in a high orbit that peaked at 1.5 million copies sold. Angel Dust has moved some 800,000 copies, which, a few years ago, would have been perceived as something of an amazing achievement. The recording business being what it is, however, Angel Dust is seen in some circles as a bit of a bust.
Since the earlier Gould/Bottum interview, FNM has toured extensively, though Angel Dust dropped off Billboard's top 200. The press has reported extensively on infighting between guitarist Jim Martin and the rest of the band (spurring recurrent rumors of numbered days for the band); Bottum has begun to address his homosexuality in interviews with characteristic 'Nobody-asked-before' nonchalance; a state of the art techno remix by Youth of the single, "A Small Victory," has been released; and a poker-faced remake of Lionel Ritchie's 'Easy' has climbed to No. 3 on the British pop charts. FNM is in something of a state of disarray, which, of course, means everything's pretty much status quo.
Patton has radically altered the teen-dream look that millions of "Epic" video fans are familiar with. His once-trademark long locks have been shorn; he's grown a Vandyke; onstage, Lycra bike shorts have been replaced by bowling garb. There are stitches running up from his right eye onto his forehead. He takes a seat and explains that the wound was incurred New Year's Eve at a San Francisco show with his other band, Mr. Bungle. That particular gig has already taken on a certain legendary status, for, during the course of his performance, Patton spied a shoe that had been thrown onstage, urinated in it, and drank the contents. The obvious question: Why?
"There's no why, really," he responds. "Well, maybe there's a why, but there's no because."
He explains that he's recently pinched a nerve and separated some ribs. "Occupational hazard," he shrugs. (Currently, he's spending some additional down time trying to recover from shin problems that are the result of his masochistic performances.)
Another obvious question: Is it worth it?
"No, it isn't worth it even if your back doesn't ache. You may as well get something out of it," he chuckles. "If it has to be pain, well, OK."
All things considered, it's none too easy to make a convincing argument that not only isn't Mike Patton maladjusted ... he's actually well adjusted. Considering the circumstances of his fame (pulled, reluctantly and just out of his teens, from the far-northern California community of Eureka, thrust in a spotlight that proved to be far more intense than anyone expected; put in the constant company of four hardened and unmerciful veterans), Patton seems to have handled it all quite sensibly ... in a weird sort of way. While many others caught up in a similar maelstrom have responded by contorting themselves out of shape to fit their suddenly mutated reality, Patton seems to leave his contortions onstage. Offstage, he's self-deprecating, free of bravado, consistently forthcoming, and seems to find most everything ridiculously amusing. One certainly hopes that impressible youngsters don't follow his lead and take to swilling pee, but there seems to be little likelihood of that. And his habit of depositing dung in unlikely places is far from charming (after all, some overworked, underpaid soul has to clean that stuff up), but there are more heinous crimes.
Granted, Patton's prudence does take on some skewed qualities. Like Gould, Bottum, and drummer Mike Bordin, he's invested his earnings in a house in San Francisco (Jim Martin still lives in his family home in the Bay Area suburban community of Hayward). He explains the move by phrasing a question: "Do I ever want to have something to show for what I've been doing? I don't want a fucking gold record. I want somewhere to hide, at least."
But then he describes his dream home: "There've been many legends to it," he explains. "The one that I've heard most commonly, from building inspectors and the like, is that it was a bomb assembly plant. It's all concrete. There are three separate compounds to it. The other [legend] is that it was a meat locker. That's a little more believable. After that, it was a Laundromat and a toxic waste dump."
"Where I am, it's like a construction block. They're putting up all these new houses that were destroyed in the earthquake," he laughs. "Nice place to move, huh?"
"I, of course, had to check that out and sign this huge waiver and all that. But I talked to the lady who was there when the quake hit, and I said, 'What happened? There's no cracks. There's no nothing.' She said, 'This place was like being in a boat made of rock.' She said the ground was like liquid; it was floating back and forth. Nothing fell, nothing budged."
Patton readily concedes that he's consciously sabotaged his previous poster-boy pose, but he does so in a moderate manner. "Yeah," he laughs, "but you don't have to be a mercenary to be yourself, really. It comes pretty easily. You think about it as an education and you learn how to be defensive. That's the process of being in a band and becoming acquainted with the music business. All that it's been for me is putting my arms across my chest and deflecting things. People really do anything you let them do."
"The motives behind what goes on in making a record and selling a record are not hard to figure out. But you really waste time if you're bothered by it. It doesn't do any good to realize what a gigolo you are, or whatever. It doesn't change anything!"
Patton's appearance has changed so radically from what it was on the "Epic" video that it's not hard to imagine that he doesn't have to deal with being recognized a whole lot. But the band has definite pockets of devotion. In their hometown, they're revered enough to have received seven Bammie nominations, the UK seems to have always understood their brand of outlandishness, and in Brazil they're huge. The kind of worship he'd encountered in South America truly left Patton dazed. How did he respond to it?
"I don't know. I really don't know," he replies with genuine bafflement. "There's so many things coming in at once that you really don't know how you're reacting. You feel violent -- you want to be violent. You feel sympathetic. You feel ... kind of like, 'Goddammit!' You feel pity. You feel ... there's too many things. And you feel like, 'We're two human beings here. Let's just [laughs] work this out! What's the problem?' But none of it really ever works out, so you just kill yourself entertaining any of those possibilities."
"Once Roddy and me were walking to the beach," he recalls, "and a couple of Brazilian kids ran up to our faces and were like hyperventilating with tears streaming down their faces. I was really disarmed. I had no idea! It was like someone cutting off my arms and legs and taking out my vocal chords. I didn't know what to do. I just stood there and looked at her like she was an alien. And then you're thinking about it the whole next day, like, 'How did I react? Was that an exchange of any kind? What happened?' It's kind of like getting in a fight, in a weird way. It's this huge burst of ... something. And then it's over with, and you have no idea what just happened."
The Real Thing was partially assembled before Patton even signed on with the band. Angel Dust is a far more collaborative effort, and Patton's contributions are far more apparent in 1993 than they were four years ago.
"In a relationship, in the beginning, there's inhibitions," he explains. "After a while, all of those things fall apart, and that's how you get comfortable with somebody. I think that's probably how it happened. You learn how to fart and cuss in front of them. That's healthy. The way the band operates, politically, is, whoever steps out of line, everyone pounces on him. So if you're constantly afraid of doing something, nothing gets done. When everybody gets a little more comfortable, you can pull out any idea, and it can be manipulated, raped, made fun of, whatever. But still ... that's OK. Because that's how shit gets created; I'm convinced of that."
While Patton, like Gould and Bottum, chaffs at being lumped in with metal bands, he tends to be far more contemptuous of what he refers to as "cool indie bands." After a shaky beginning, he's clearly found a fit with the FNM mindset that embraces all of the more extravagant elements of pop music. In Patton's mind, gangsta rap and adult contemporary are pieces of the same puzzle because they're both shamelessly overwrought. As he inquires on Angel Dust's "Land of Sunshine": "Does emotional music have quite an effect on you?" It does? Then you may understand.
Hence, there's the next attempt to reawaken the album in the States: the new four-song maxi single 'Songs to Make Love To' and its key track, "Easy."
"That's the cutting edge: Muzak!" he insists. "For drama's sake, it's the most powerful."
Patton's clearly given some thought to this ... to the point of developing a strategy for breaking into a new radio market. "If we could get on Magic 61," he muses, referring to a Frank Sinatra/Tony Bennett-dominated San Francisco radio station. "Bill and I have been trying to contact them -- or have our management try to contact them -- to try to convince them that there's a younger generation out there that appreciates classic music. They need a new audience. Give us a t-shirt, do anything. We'll do anything!"
Inexplicably, the lights have gone out in the taqueria, but employees still man the grill by lamplight. Patton steps out into the evening air and stands in front of a neighboring clothes store, chatting about some of his artier tastes in music. The night-light from the store kicks on, and, simultaneously, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is piped into the street via the shop's sound system. Patton smirks and remarks, "Oh, listen. They're playing my song," then strolls back down the street toward his very own concrete bunker.