Walk on the Wild Side
By Paul Brannigan
Fact: Faith No More are weird. Their singer ate his own shit, they hardly saw eachother while making their new LP, and one of them is called `Puffy`. Paul Brannigan isn't suprised to find Mike Patton carrying actress Jennifer Jason Leigh across a car park (Referring to a picture of the new video- Paul) when he arrives in San Francisco...
Within the labyrinthine rehearsal complex is a decaying area of San Francisco, four men in black are running through a new set of songs. A fifth man, attired with equal sobriety, sits on the floor, occasionally offering his colleagues suggestions. There's much work to be done so small talk is kept to a minimum, even though this is the first time the five have been together for months. But then, many would be suprised to find them in the same room at all. Because at the start of 1997, you wouldn't have bet on Faith No More still being around by now.
It's been two years since FNM (I'll abbreviate- Paul) released KFAD- a disperate, frustrated and hate filled album which was recorded in the wake of original guitarist Jim Martin's departure. It failed to realise the commercial impact of it's predecessors, 1989's RT and 1992's AD, and frankly, the band didn't seem to give a shit.
After a few month's touring, the quintet splinterd to work on individual projects; vocalist Mike Patton re-grouping with Mr. Bungle, keyboardist Roddy Bottum starting up Imperial Teen, bassist Bill Gould immersing himself in production chores, drummer Mike `Puffy` Bordin moonlighting with Ozzy Osbourne and new guitarist Dean Menta going back into obscurity. The same record industry which had devoured FNM's success now circled in predatorial fashion, awaiting their death rattle.
But FNM return with three UK live dates this month, and a new album, the cheekily titled `Album of the Year`, on June 9th. Question marks still hang over the bands unity though: given their other commitments and the fact that it was rare for more than two members to be present in the studio at the same time while `Album of the Year` was being recorded. These are hardly dispelled when snapper Leialoha's asks Patton the identity of the band's latest guitarist and he replies, "Some guy called John" (That'll be John Hudson, formerly of Systems Collapse and a long-time friend of Bill Gould).
Our first question for FNM when the finish rehearsing is simple: why are they still together?
"It takes a lot of work, but the bottom line is that if we weren't totally comitted to making music as FNM, we wouldn't still be here today," replies Gould. "It's not like we don't have anything else to do."
"Our new songs were good, so we wanted to keep going," says Bordin.
"While all the rumours were flying around, we were already back in the studio."
But it did look as is you were all more interested in your solo projects than FNM.
"Everybody needs the release of doing something different," sighs Gould. "and if you try to keep people from doing their own thing our group would be a ball of frustration and wouldn't function. It really is the only way we can operate."
With everyone so preoccupied with their own things, did you ever wonder whether FNM was a going concern?
"Absolutely," Smirks Patton. "But that happens every time we do a record. Every record has it's own little melodramas and paranoias."
His band mates nod in aggreement.
"We don't talk much about our other bands, so it's always a guessing game to see what everyone else is up to," admits Roddy. "Personally, I'd just as soon not tell the others what I'm doing. But then I feel maybe I should be checking in with them every now and again. I think FNM is always at the back of our minds as an unfinished project."
In truth, there is no logic to FNM's continued existance other than the pure drive of 5 musicians to keep making great music together. And they have made some truly great music.
It's impossible to overstate just how cool were at the turn of the decade: Their eclecticism and f**k-you exuberance made them stand out like a beacon in a pre-grunge sea of insipid, poodle-haired ponces. With their amalgm of rapped vocals, hip hop rythms, cocktail lounge keyboards and sheet metal riffing, they made rock credible again. Their survival is all the more surprising when you consider the fate of their peers- Soundgarden (defunct), Jane's Addiction (deceased) and the Chili Peppers (AWOL).
"Ironic, isn't it, since we're supposed to be the volatile ones?" Patton laughs, "most rock bands are portrayed as little teams- `us against the world`. Which is complete bullshit and definitely not what we're about. We're perfectly happy to talk about the problems we have wiht one another.
"A big part of being in a band is sticking up for what yo ubelieve in. And since we're honest with each other, we do fight a lot."
"But more important than how much we fight is how much we get on," interjects Roddy.
"When we started this band we were best friends, but it's way beyond that now." says Bill. "It'd be stupid for us to hand out together now just for the sake of it."
But is it still just as much fun?
There's a long pause. Way too long...
"Sure," Roddy laughs dryly.
That didn't sound terribly convincing.
"It's a different thing now," Roddy admits. "There's nothing like the excitement of going to towns for the first time with no-one knowing what to expect. When you get comfortable, it's very easy to forget that going out on a limb is really important."
The coolest thing about FNM was that they always seemes to do whatever the f**k they wanted; whether that be covering The Commodores' sickly soul classic `Easy`, or releasing techno remixes long before it became trendy. Yet the band themselves reckon that this very open-mindedness has hurt them.
"If people people didn't like KFAD, it was because they didn't like it for FNM," says Bill. "We went beyond peolpe's expectations."
But I thought that FNM's defining feature was that the fan's never knew what to expect?
"Oh, we have our limitations," Argues Bill. "I'd love us to do a straight up soul ballads record, but It'd fail so badly."
What happened to the artistic view that selling records is'nt the be-all and end-all?
"It's when you have to pay the rent, " snorts Bill. "We have made records for ourselves, but it's hurt us. Sometimes you fight against stereotyping so much that you end up losing your perspective."
That sounds extremely sensible.
"Shit, you've got to learn something in 14 years! " `Puffy` laughs. "Stick your dick in a light socket once and you're not going to do it again in a hurry."
It might seem weird for a band as unpredictable as FNM to be talking about practicalities of their carrear, but their unflinching honesty is another cool thing about them. Everyone in the band readily admits to having regrets over mistakes they've made in the past. But no one can understand the relative failure of KFAD.
" It was confusing, because it felt so natural for us, " Puffy sighs. "Maybe we are a little weird. But I think the record company is actually excited about this record. They definitely didn't get AD or KFAD."
"When you start off playing in a garage, you don't know anything about the record industry, " Adds Bill Gould. "Then you try to learn stuff so that you can use it to your advantage. But you end at the point where you go, `If I keep thinking about this I'm going to go fuckin' insane`, so you stop and say, `I don't give a fuck`. Thats the stage I'm at now."
But you've gone on record as saying that you reckon that the musical climate in America might be more suited to FNM now.
"If this record had come out last year it'd probably have been ignored-but now, who the fuck fnows?" Bill sighs. "It's cool that we can fit in alongside bands like Korn, but our fans are kinda strange. I don't know who buys our records or why they do, we're just grateful that people still give a shit."
"I think that we've always been a freaky bunch, " Roddy considers. "I don't see the general public ever embracing FNM as a trendy commodity."
If being different has not always helped FNM's cause, it's unfair to suggets that their appeal has become more selective. It's just that post Nirvana the stakes have been raised dramatically for alternative rock groups.
FNM's `breakthrough` record, `TRT`, sold a million copies, and while the group's sales since have consistently hoverd around that figure, they've not thad the same dizzying spell in the limelight.
Which is where `AOTY` comes in. The main impetus behind the record came from Bill Gould, who was twiddling his thumbs in San Francisco longer than the others. It wasn't an easy album to make due to the neccesity of integrating a new guitarist into the fold- in addition to the logstical difficulties involved. At least one band member laughs quietly when asked whether they turned up im the studio to find parts they didn't like added to the songs.
"Sometimes the majority rules- but majority decisions can be wishy-washy, so it can come down to how hard certain people push," Roddy smiles.
The main difficulties arose from the need to keep the band's sound moving forward.
"It's very hard now to do something which suprises any of us," Bill admits. "Doing the same thing over and over in music get rewarded a lot, but we take pride in standing aside from that and being different."
Which is where we could have left FNM- soberly reflecting on the difficulties of being one of the most maverick bands of the '90s- were it not for the fact that they're filming the video for `Ashes to Ashes` (The first single to be lifted off `AOTY`) the very next day. It's here that we'll see just how much of a hoot life on planet FNM can still be.
This is where Roddy Bottum will dress up as a sailor, Bill Gould will wear an outrageous hotel doorman's uniform, and Mike Patton will get to sweep a famous actress off her feet. She's Jennifer Jason Leigh, star of `Single White Female` and `Backdraft`, and now an FNM promo vid. As Patton carries her across a car park beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, Mike Bordin re-emphasises FNM's hunger for the levels of success they enjoyed with TRT.
"But next time around," he smiles, "I'd like to think we could direct the chaos a little better."