CMJ New Music Monthly | Issue April 1995
Faith No Moreby Tom Lanham
Looking disgruntled and grungy after a full day of interviews and photo sessions, the five members of Faith No More tromp wearily into a San Francisco hotel lobby just as the sun is setting. Keyboardist Roddy Bottum wants to go home and change out of his fuzzy pink sweater. Drummer Mike Bordin wants to phone his wife, bassist Billy Gould is also thinking about heading home, and spanking-new guitarist Dean Menta just sort of stands there, looking confused. Group mouthpiece Mike Patton, however, is already off in a corner, his brow knitting with concern as his manager delivers a blue-streak bulletin: before doing *anything* this particular evening, Faith No More must convene for a top-secret meeting upstairs. Period.
Like little kids at the end of recess, they scowl, grumble to themselves, then dutifully form a line behind big cheeses Warren Entner and John Vassilou. After nearly an hour, Bordin and Patton emerge, visibly shaken, and sit down to discuss their genuinely disturbed new Slash-Reprise disc,King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime. "We were just hearing what our life was gonna be like until Christmas," says Bordin, taking a deep why-me breath. He runs down the itinerary while Patton shakes his head dejectedly: "We're gonna have about six days off between now and them. First we make a video next week, then we'll be practicing, breaking in our new guitar player, then we go to Europe for six weeks starting in March. Then it's five weeks in the States, off to Australia for festival shows, then festivals in Europe, then a summer tour of the States." And that's it? "Nope," Bordin sighs. "We've got a fall tour of Europe, then it's down to the Southern Hemisphere where it's warmer-South America, Australia again, even Japan. Then we start all over again."
"And at that point," Patton interjects, "you step and kind of evaluate what's been happening."
Which is a pretty good question to ask right now. What *has* been happening with the Bay Area's jolting juggernaut of a rock combo? Sure, there's the obvious stuff--1991's hit single "Epic" pushed its parent The Real Thing album to platinum-plus. The '92 followup, Angel Dust, took off on skewed new sonic tangents, challenging listeners to keep up with the ever-shifting strata. After a monolithic world tour, one leg of which was spent opening for Guns N' Roses and Metallica, bespectaled axeman Jim Martin himself got the axe. Trey Spruance was recruited form Patton's side group Mr. Bungle for the King sessions, but quit after spying that demanding tour schedule. Along the path, of course, there's always Patton, a charismatic 24-year-old performer whose onstage antics have reportedly included a) unleashing the aftereffects of an enema onto the front row of a New Year's Eve concert crowd; b) peeing into a shoe at the same show, then drinking from it; and c) seeking out the darkest recesses of a theatre during soundcheck, and surreptitiously defecating there. What, fans may wonder, can Faith No More possibly do for an encore?
As Geena Davis warns in The Fly, be afraid. Be very afraid. King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime is not for the squemish. There are certainly moments of tenderness that temper its dogged brutality--"Just A Man" dabbles in reggae, "Evidence" functions on an Issac Hayes/ '70s soul riff, and "Take This Bottle" sports a twangy country motif and the deliberate Tex Ritter-ish crooning of Patton, who's usually a cartoonish grab-bag of nasal or grunting voices. But these feel like the brief caress of a dominatrix before she reall starts flogging your helpless hide.
Better bolt the furniture down for "Cuckoo For Caca," a grindcore shaker with Patton growling like a grizzly just awakened from hibernation. Then there's "What A Day" (a manic bass/drums ballbuster), "The Gentle Art Of Making Enemies" (fueled by pure punk adrenaline), and the leadoff single "Digging The Grave" (which recycles AC/DC through the FNM combine and offers hooks lurking deep within the miasma). But, as "Epic" hinted, the group's greatest calling cards are its labored marches (on this disc, "King For A Day," "Ugly In The Morning" and "The Last To Know"), which are indeed epic, and parade through yor peakers like a legion of flesh-hungry army ants. Once you've finished the record, it's wise to not jump up from the armchair too quickly--it takes a while for the dizzy verigo to dissipate.
Despite the aural onslaught, King is not an assault, says Patton. "I think it's us being us, more than anything. I think we finally had the resources to be us on this record." And he's definitely his own man--wiry in his White Castle T-shirt, ragged jeans and worn sneakers, with a scraggly moustache and grasy brown bangs, he eerily resembles some rough-trade Midnight Cowboy-type hustler. The bearded Bordin, 32, who has dreadlocks snaking all the way down his back, looks more like Ma Alien on a rather bad hair day. "This is not a martyr-y record," he chimes in. "I don't think it's pointing at anybody in particular. To me, it was just us getting through the shit we've gone through and feeling really glad and uplifted that we got through it. It was totally necessary as a process to go through Angel Dust and learn from that, so we could come back to a more natural place and do this."
Lyrically, however, you could still give King a "V" for Vendetta. In "Cuckoo," Patton woofs "They have no legs but chase us anyway/Wipe the shadow of your best friend/Gave birth to something we don't want to be..We'll retire with a turd on our lips." In "What A Day," he sees a "row of teeth and an encouraging word," then chastises himself: "I should've noticed it, I should've noticed it before." "Get Out"-- a song demoed by Patton which the band later adopted note-for-note--ponders "What if there's no more fun to have/And all I've got is what I had?," while "The Gentle Art" gets down to bare-knuckled basics: "Don't look so surprised/ Happy birthday, fucker/Blow that candle out--we're gonna kick you." Is it the music biz under fire here? Ex-guitarist Martin, maybe?
Patton swears that "the words are the very last thing I put it, an obligation." But both he and Bordin admit that Martin's performance on Angel Dust gradually got them sharpening the old FNM guillotine. "The guitar was a battle, a war, it was real difficult," Bordin recalls. "In a nutchell, what happened was [Martin] wanted to work on his own outsed of us, and what we'd heard him doing at watershed points--three months before the album, two months before, one month before--made us very, very nervous. We felt we weren't gettin what we needed from him into the songs, but every month as recording got closer, he said 'Don't worry-- you guys are fucking with me, don't worry.'"
Now Patton's getting angry. He doesn't look very nice when he's angry. "We came into the studio [for Angel Dust] and there were parts that weren't written," he snarls. "So we had to fuckin' scramble, reall think on our feet. It's like, you've gotta leave town on Wednesday, and Saturday you're sitting around the house going 'I'll do it tomorrow, I'll do it tomorrow,' until you've finally got one day to do it all--pack, rent a car. There's no way you're gonna get it all done. You just can't do an album that way."
Remember, this is the vocalist who once mixed Ipecac syurp, castor oil, and a football-sized burrito in his gullet, just so he could spew its contents on the glass counter of a certain San Francisco business that wronged him. He's not abouve a little righteous retribution. "Revenge is good," he says with a foxlike smirk. "I think revenge is healthy too, and if you can use music in that way, a sort of theraputic way for yourself, it can't do any harm. So if King is angry in any way, it's angry in a random, chaotic, healthy way. Like the guy who goes into a building, shoots a bunch of holes in the wall and then leaves. He didn't kill anybody."
Patton starts cakling--a high, weird Tex Avery laugh more animated than his surreal singing personas--and the effect is more unsettling than seein him mad. Perhaps he is mad, and Faith No More fans are mere visitors to a sort of traveling asylum. After all, why would a rational human being leave a trail of droppings across U.S. stages for hapless cleanup crews to discover? And is that what this "scat" singer is celebrating alongside Bottum's soothing-but-funkified keys on "Evidence"? "Step beside the piece of circumstance/ Got to wash away the taste of evidence," he groans, painting a visceral but nonetheless stomach-churing picture.
"I, uh, don't remember, I claim ignorance," Patton weasels when quizzed about the track. "I wrote the song and that's enough--you have fun with it. I don't have to tell you shit." The point exactly. Oddly enough, he doesn't shy away from thos purloined-doodle rumors. "You do what you gotta do to get you through," he explains. It sounds quite logical. "It's like , you're a musician, right? You wake up at 2:00 in the afternoon, you don't have any responsibilities, you don't have any certainties in your life, other than the fact that you're gonna play that night. So you may as well throw a couple of others in there, something to look forward to."
Bordin seems to understand his teammate's curious credo. "But we don't like living in the past," he chortles. "We've gotta find some new habits to do this time around."
"I'm gonna leave part of my colon behind this time," Patton declares. "Yeah!" Bordin responds. "It'll look like little pieces of sausage casing!" Then the duo breaks into happy hysterics, infatuated with its own morbid sense of humor. But Bordin--a founding father of Faith No More along with Bottum and Gould (Patton clambered abourt on Real Thing, the band's third release)--suddenly stops laughing, turns poker-faced serious about the telltale "Evidence" cut. "That's th one I'm most proud of," he says. "All the loud songs turned out really great on this album, really aggressive, and we've always done that really well. But the smoother songs I've never felt we've gotten exactly right. And this one is pretty damn close to being *exactly* right."
It all comes down to creative control. The group switched co-producers (from Matt Wallace to Andy Wallace), hired artist Eric Drooker to design the oppressive snarling-dog cover art, and worked piecemeal but steadily on the project until all concerned parties were satisfied. Timekeeper Bordin confesses that Faith No More does wield a signature marching beat. "But we've tried to break out of that with this record and do different tempos."
As a sign things are changing, both musicians point to the lonesome, subtly-brushed tearjerker "Take This Bottle." "It's like a Guns N' Roses song!" purrs Patton. "Maybe Hank Williams lyrics, but definitely GN'R music." Bordin strokes his fuzzy chin and suggests that "it's more Bob Dylan, I think. And we wouldn't have done that on the last record because it just wouldn't have fit. Billy-- the guy who was largely responsibe for that song--said he initially didn't even know if he should play it for us."
Patton continues the thought: "It's like when a certain member has an idea, and he's a little embarrassed over it, you know there's gotta be something good about it, it's gotta be worth doing!" Bordin agrees. "We're just not the kind of band to say 'never'. I would say we wouldn't ever do something, because we'd do it just to fuck each other up. Like if we're writing songs, and I mention 'I'm really glad you didn't write a song like *this* because it'd *really* piss me off.' guaranteed, the next song through the door would be a song like that."
Patton is snickering again. A bad sign. "We try to fuck each other in the ass as much as anyone would," he says cheerfully.
Bordin believes that the future for Faith No More-- indeed, for jumanity itself--lies beyond physical ties like pleasure and pain. Talk shows, the OJ trial, an information superhighway, constant input without ever leaving home. "We're headed toward nobody having a physical body because it'll be unnecessary," he says. "We'll all be little brains in tanks. So what do you do to fight that? You encourage people to think for themselves, you don't tell people everything. But then you get a hard time from the press who say 'They're a bunch of dicks because they don't tell us everything.'"
Patton sees where his partner is going with this and pick up the thread. "Or if you don't tell someone what they wanna know, if you're shitting onstage or whatever, then you get hassled for that--you're a little fuckin' baby if you're just trying to provoke some thought. If you kick someone in the teeth for following you like a stupid cow, are you an asshole for doing that?"
Hmmm. That's a good one. Bordin looks puzzled. Patton himself looks puzzled. And the question just hangs there in midair for a few uncomfortable moments. Time for a helpful non sequitur, and Bordin obliges: "To lead people by the hand is wrong, so we just keep doing what we're doing while trying to not be too disgusted with ourselves."
Or, as the always-highbrow Patton so apltly puts it in closing, "We just wanna be the happy bums that we are. That's all."