FAITH NO MORE founding member and bass player BILL GOULD turns 52 today.
Faith No More Followers team would personally like to thank Bill for all his help, he is always ready to answer our 'fan boy' questions and, when his memory serves him right, help with facts for us to post. He has been a fantastic support to our work and that of other fan pages. Thank you.
Please join us in wishing him a very happy birthday, and enjoy our tribute to Guero Sin Fe!!
Here is an in depth interview will Bill featured in issue 96 of Bass Guitar Magazine in 2013, reposted here with the kind permission of author Joel McIver.
You Gotta Have Faith
By Joel McIver
Photos by Tina K
Billy Gould of Faith No More slaps. He picks. He uses his fingers. He plays bass like no-one else. Heavens above, is there nothing the man can’t do, asks FNM fanboy-in-chief Joel McIver.
If you’d told me, as a pustule-covered kid with a mullet in 1986, that one day I’d be on stage before a Faith No More concert, asking Billy Gould about his new Zon Sonus BG4, I’d never have believed you. And yet that is exactly what is happening, a mere 26 years later. Damn, I love this job.
“These are active,” says Gould, gesturing to the Sonus he’s holding on stage at the Brixton Academy in London. “Passives are really cool, but for my purposes actives are better,” he adds.
This makes sense. As you’ll know if you’ve been paying attention to Faith No More’s career over the last three decades or so, Gould has an unusual bass style, composed mostly of beating his instrument into submission while leavening the violence with some pretty exquisite fills and rests. This means that his signature Zon, developed in the last two years, needs to be built to take the punishment.
“It’s taken a lot of abuse,” sniggers Gould, “and there’s a tiny bit of rust, but that’s it. It’ll last me my lifetime, that’s for sure. Look at what great shape it’s in, I haven’t had lots of things done to it: it’s just built really well. There’s only one knob on it, so the tone is actually in the pickups.”
As a high-profile bassist since FNM’s first major-selling album, The Real Thing (1989), it’s a bit odd that Gould hasn’t had a signature bass until now. He shrugs, “I’d known Joe for years but I’d never thought about a signature bass. Eventually, though, I guess people had asked him about the kind of basses that I play because my tone is kinda unique, so he said ‘We should just make a bass that you can get in on,’ and I said ‘That would be really cool’.”
The Brazilian rosewood-bodied BG4 is accompanied by a BG5, although Gould himself isn’t a fan of five-strings (“I don’t like them, because I can’t dig in there and be physical”) and indeed any string configuration more than the usual four (“I can never see myself doing that unless it would be for a special tone on a record or something”). Its graphite neck ties in with his priorities – simplicity and reliability – because he knows it will play the same every night. As he recalls, “The great thing about the graphite necks is that you can fly, take them on a plane and the bridge will be exactly like it was at the last gig. I had Aria Pro IIs before these, which were cool. Cliff Burton [of Metallica] introduced me to those and I loved them, but if it was a sweaty night, the neck would be totally fucked. If it’s cold, it’s totally different. So I was never happy!”
Take a look at Gould’s amp, swathed in white sheeting as part of Faith No More’s elaborate production and anonymous as a result, and you’ll see a mysterious box atop it. “I’ve just got a tuner, there’s no effects, but I do have this unit here,” he explains “The idea with this is that the more strength you put into the strings, the more overdrive you get, and the more you hold back, the more you get a cleaner tone. It has to do with your personal dynamic. After a while, it’s like driving a car: you figure out where its strong parts are. The tone is where it should be. Sure, the way I play is very unconventional: it’s not the proper way to do it, but it’s the way I learned!” On which note, why not accompany us back to the FNM dressing-room to find out how it all happened?
Ensconced on the sofa backstage, Gould explains how all this came about. Most of the band aren’t around, apart from drummer Mike ‘Puffy’ Bordin, Gould’s longtime partner-in-crime in the rhythm section. The rest of them – singer Mike Patton, guitarist Jon Hudson and keyboardist Roddy Bottum – are no doubt off exploring glamorous south-east London.
“When I first started playing I was about 12 or 13,” begins Gould, who was born in 1963 in Los Angeles. “I liked progressive rock – Yes in particular – and in fact my tone is like Chris Squire’s, in a strange kind of way. I always liked that aggressive kind of tone. I had a Rickenbacker when I was a little kid and I was in a band that was a bit like the Buzzcocks – very fast, sixteenth-note type stuff.”
“Then, when I moved to San Francisco when I was 18, I met Bordin, whose drumming style was totally different to any other drummer I’d known before that. He really got me thinking, because his strengths and weaknesses are different than the average drummer. I learned to work with the way that he works, and we found a way to work together. Even to this day I have a hard time playing with other drummers, because they’re on a different cycle and a different rhythm. He definitely accents things differently. He hits hard, too, and he has a little bit of a delay in his hits which I’ve made part of my rhythm as well. If you delay things and hold them back, they’ll come off a little heavier, and we got into similar stuff together. Even though I’d been in bands for five or six years I’d say that these were still my formative years when I was 18. I was still discovering dub music, for example. Public Image was the first album to me which was groundbreaking.”
An early ally was the aforementioned bass legend Cliff Burton, a childhood chum of Bordin’s and, when Gould first met him, about to embark on a tragically short but undeniably stratospheric career with Metallica. “We’d go down the street and visit Cliff, who was recording in Denmark at the time,” remembers Gould, “That was a huge deal to us. In our early days he’d give us a lot of advice. For example, we fired our first managers because Cliff said they were thieves, ha ha! He was the one with the experience, and that was really crucial in 1982, ’83. We were playing really weird music in San Francisco and we couldn’t find any bands to play with. We knew we had something really cool going on, but we didn’t really have a way of getting it out there. It wasn’t like there was a crowd of people who knew we were out there: we were outsiders. I remember Puffy was talking to Cliff at a party and he asked us, ‘How’s it going with you guys?’ and we were like, ‘We don’t even have a manager, we don’t have a record deal, we don’t have anything’ and he was like ‘You’re on step five – you should just think about step one!’ That was very sobering advice, actually. It really made a huge difference: after that we were like, ‘Let’s just work with what we have’. And things did work out for us after that.”
That’s understating things a touch. Faith No More, alongside the Red Hot Chili Peppers, were largely responsible for establishing funk-metal, a movement which mutated over time into alternative metal and/or rock and ultimately into the nu-metal wave which plagued the airwaves until about 2003. But that wasn’t FNM’s fault: by the mid-1990s the quintet had transcended their original pigeonhole and were making albums that were by turns abrasive, progressive, luxurious and textured and which still can’t be easily categorised or summed up all these years later. Much of this was down to the disparate influences which the band-members brought to the table.
Asked about his early musical education, Gould explains: “I got into punk rock pretty young: I was probably 15 or 16, so by the time I was 18 I was over it. I’d already moved on. The IQ seemed to go down and post-punk was a little more intellectual and was more interesting in terms of the playing. I was inclined towards darker stuff – Siouxsie & The Banshees, A Certain Ratio, Bauhaus a lot. Japan not as much, although other guys in my band did. I never liked fusion, really, apart from a very brief period before I got into punk when I liked King Crimson, John Wetton, Chris Squire of course. Gentle Giant, maybe. But after that it was all about the Stranglers and Motörhead – bassists with aggressive tones. Later, Joy Division were absolutely, completely, totally an influence.”
So where did the funk elements of Gould’s sound come from? “When I was in high school I worked for a pharmacy,” he says, “and I used to do a lot of deliveries for them. I spent a lot of time driving around South Central, LA, dropping off supplies, and when I’d get out of my car, people would be blasting Parliament-Funkadelic. I didn’t even like it that much back then, but it became part of who I am because I was so exposed to it, if that makes any sense. It wasn’t really that cool at the time!”
An early expression of Gould’s funk leanings came with FNM’s 1985 single ‘We Care A Lot’, one of the first – and perhaps the very first – singles to feature a slapped line, although ‘repeated popped fill’ would probably be a better way to describe it. “It’s funny,” Gould muses, “I don’t slap that much, but because of the way we were writing at the time, and because Bordin is a very deliberate hitter, it was about making the most of what I had to work with. I wanted to make maximum impact and push the speakers. Slap has that metallic sound, like a hammer, and if you did it with a pick it wouldn’t sound the same. Actually, I do that with a pick on [FNM’s hit single] ‘Epic’, which is a very similar bass-line to ‘We Care A Lot’, but it’s a different feel.”
By 1990 and The Real Thing, Gould had evolved his playing a step: listen to the odd, syncopated feel of ‘Woodpecker From Mars’ for an example. “That whole song is fingers,” says Gould, asked how ‘Woodpecker...’ came about. “What happened was, when we were in school, Bordin went to take some drum classes from an African guy and he totally changed the way he looked at music. He would come back and show me stuff like playing on and off with him. I went to those classes too, and learned a language which was away from 4/4 playing. ‘Woodpecker From Mars’ is a very African-sounding bass rhythm.”
In a sense, the funk-metal/funk-rock tag didn’t really do Faith No More justice, even in their early career, because the group had so many more strings to their bow. “I can’t play slap in the classical sense,” agrees Gould. “I can’t do what Flea or Les Claypool can do, although I can do some of it. Louis Johnson would kick the crap out of me, ha ha! But the truth is that’s not what I’m looking for. I see making music as street fighting. It’s like kickboxing, it’s not like painting a picture. I’m not interested in that.”
A curious analogy for a guy who comes across as so mellow, I suggest. “I am pretty mellow, but not when I play!” he laughs. “It’s just that that approach unlocks something in me. I do a full hit on the strings, literally every time. I used to break a lot of strings but now I change them every gig, because otherwise they will break – and that sucks because it affects the whole song. I don’t want to think about my bass when I’m playing it, so I have my tech stretch the strings to death beforehand. If it’s done right I don’t have to tune the bass at all during the show, no matter how hard I hit it.”
After the band split in 1998, they spent a decade on various other activities, fielding endless queries from journalists about when they would reform. I admit I was one of them: I interviewed Gould in 2000 and 2004 and whined a fair bit both times about how FNM were needed more than ever before. When FNM finally got their act back together and returned in 2008 for one of the most anticipated comebacks in history, Gould was feeling more than a little nervous, he reveals.
“There was no way of knowing how it was going to go,” he says. “I mean, there’s a whole lot of bad reunions out there that we all know about, ha ha! I didn’t want to be one of those, and I was extremely paranoid about getting into something that I’d regret, because when we split in 1998 it was on a high note and we were proud of what we’d done. But we gained trust among each other and I’m really glad about what we’ve done.”
One area of little concern was Gould’s bass playing, which had improved, he says, during FNM’s time off. “I play much better now. I never stopped playing, although I haven’t recorded anything apart from guest appearances since the Faith No More albums. I do warm up my hands nowadays. I don’t want to get cramp in a song, that’s the worst possible thing, especially because I downpick a lot and I really need that strength.”
Health has become more of a priority, says Gould, simply because it affects your performance as a bass player. “Back in the day I was in horrible shape,” he says, “and I was in pain all the time. After we did the ‘From Out Of Nowhere’ video in 1988, my neck got frozen for about a week. I was really worred about getting old and wearing out my neck and taking a lot of Advil, but it doesn’t hurt me at all any more. I think a lot of it had to do with my diet and the inflammation it caused: now I don’t eat a lot of bread and grains before a show and I don’t drink beer. Maybe it’s gluten. I feel way better now than I did then. I have heard from chiropractors that musicians – and especially guitarists – are regular customers because you’re leaning over a heavy object in an unnatural position.”
The smallest things can make a difference, he explains. For example, his strap is now permanently fixed at a given height for good reason. “Back in the early days I was constantly frustrated,” he says, “because every time I picked up my bass, it was in a different position to the night before and I’d get cramp in my hands. That would make me all pissed off, so I’d drink more than I should and then I’d be thinking about all this other stuff instead of just playing the song! So the object is to minimise those things from happening.”
All things considered, Gould and his band are in a great position. They aren’t allied to a record company, for one thing, and so they call their own shots. “Business is good for Faith No More, and there’s no waste, but we don’t have a manager or a label and we don’t really do any press,” he explains. “If you look at it by the book, we’re actually not capitalising in any way as well as we should – but at the same time, it’s giving us what we want.”
Pressure from hacks like me to talk about a new FNM album is constant, of course, but Gould swerves that line of questioning like a pro (“That’s a big question: for many people it’s the elephant in the room. All I can say is that relationships in the band are very good”), preferring instead to look at the wider picture. “I have a lot of ambitions still to fulfil,” he says. “I got a million songs that I want to put out. Fortunately, I feel better than I did 20 years ago and I’m having a lot of fun doing what we do.”
Any advice for our readers, we ask? Gould pauses before replying, “My advice is to start a band with somebody and play live. Even if you suck, keep playing gigs, because you can’t waver when you’re playing on stage: you’re forced to stand up straight and play.” Sounds as good to us as it did back in 1986. Listen to the man.
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As an added bonus what follows is an interview by Joel McIver that featured in Terrorizer Magazine in 2009.
YOU GOTTA HAVE FAITH
Sometime Faith No More bass player Billy Gould faces up to the Terrorizer Q&A. Popping the questions: Joel McIver
Is nu-metal your fault?
(laughs) Well, it’s kind of interesting. When we split up in 1998 there was this wave of nu-metal bands that used us as an influence. But the thing is, I don’t make the connection. There are loads of other bands — like Flatbush out of LA — who sound much more like us than the Limp Bizkits and the Korns.
How are relationships between the FNM band-members these days?
Hmm. Not that bad, actually. Let’s see: I went to Puffy’s 40th birthday a couple of weeks ago. I talked to Roddy at the party, too. I’ve seen Jim a couple of times at shows. I respect him, I think we respect each other. I haven’t seen Mike Patton for a couple of years.
Did you hear the stuff he did with the Dillinger Escape Plan?
Yes, I liked it. I thought it was really good. He works hard.
How did it feel to be called a ‘funk-metal’ band in the late 1980s?
It was so funny, because I don’t think we really wanted to be funk-metal. It was just that rock music back then didn’t really swing. We were just missing the groove.
Why did FNM’s career slide after the Angel Dustalbum (1992)?
It was MTV and the radio that really made us sell those records. That was something we really had no control over. So we realised that we should just keep doing what we were doing — whether things worked or not was out of our hands.
Whose idea was it to cover ‘Easy’?
At the time we were doing ‘War Pigs’ and touring with Metallica, and we felt like we were being packaged into something we weren’t. We were at a bar and we had a few drinks, and when ‘Easy’ came on we looked at each other and said, that’s it! This’ll get us out of this mess (laughs). Ironically enough, it was probably the biggest hit we ever had in Europe. It was so surreal. You look at it and you think, who the fuck knows why things go as they go.
FNM was the support act on the Metallica/Guns N’Roses tour in 1992, which was famously a disaster because those two main bands hated each other. What was it like?
It was like working a shitty job. Axl Rose had an army of lawyers and nobody was gonna do any direct confrontation with anybody else. When you get into the big stadium rock shows, there’s a lot of organisation and a lot of people get in the way between the artist and the audience. On paper, this tour looked like the greatest opportunity in the world, to play in front of millions of people. But actually, it dragged on for like four or five months, and it was tough on our heads because we had been playing clubs before that. It was like working for a big corporation.
Courtney Love was in FNM for a while. Why?
We had a really hard time finding a singer and thought she would be really good. When we played a show and there was only five people in the audience, she’d make sure they were all paying attention to her. I’ve done some crazy shit with her and it was really a lot of fun.
Why was Jim Martin fired?
I came from a punk background, and he was from a metal background. After a while, people get tired of compromising with each other. Actually this is probably the reason the group finally split in 1998: if you look at the direction everyone’s gone in since then, it’s so wildly different, and you can see that this was inside of people but it couldn’t get expressed.
What would it take to get you guys to re-form?
If someone said, will you do it for a certain sum of money, it would make me want to do it even less. I think it would take us to bump into each other somewhere, be in a good mood and have a nice evening together and just say, why don’t we fuckin’ do something? That would be the bext reason to do it. But rather than become a covers band of ourselves, I’d rather just leave the band dead.Money’s great and all that shit, but it’s my life too.
Do you know that there’s a whole fanbase out there, dying for you guys to re-form?
(regretfully) Yes, I know. It’s tough. It was really hard for me when we first split up because I felt like this was a big family we had. We had a lot of intelligent kids who had a lot of creative energy, and they made the whole experience better. But what can you do? It’s kinda the way life goes.
Here’s the million-dollar question. Did you sellout?
Well, I guess we did and we didn’t, right? We sold a lot of records and we had the radio hit. We really put a lot of effort in. Maybe too much effort. Maybe we second-guessed ourselves a little bit, to try and keep our intentions pure.