Faith No More Keyboard player Roddy Bottum turns 52 today. To celebrate we have gathered three great interviews for your reading pleasure.
Kerang | Issue 452 | 17.07.1993ROD AGAINST THE MACHINE
by Steffan Chirazi
Roddy Bottum - FNM's unique keyboard player works hard to come with new sounds to prevent the band ever fitting into any pigeonhole. Here he tells Steffan Chirazi how his efforts have got the band into legal trouble (!) and might one day, er, drive them into the kitchen...
Like the band's music, FNM keyboard player Roddy Bottum's style has never been what you might call orthodox. Although classically trained at an early age, he has ever since strived to make his instrument do something *different*. Here, he tells Steffan Chirazi that can mean anything from employing Techno-style sound loops, to sampling saucepans and Brazilian airline announcers...
FNM are one of this era's most important success stories. Their sound - and unconscious carefree fusion of rock, metal, pop and rap - broke through the nation via MTV's endless rotation of the track 'Epic' from the band's third LP 'TRT'. That platter's success (two-and-a-half million sales in the USA alone) proved that you don't need a uniform 'pigeonholed' sound to be a massive commercial hit.
Their latest album 'AD' (another platinum certified success story), has seen FNM further prove it's musical versatility with a range of genre- busting cuts, from the thick metal-esque rage of 'Jizzlobber' to the poppy strains of 'A Small Victory'.
A premier reason of FNM's unique blended sound, is keyboardist Roddy Bottum. From his childhood days in Los Angeles, Roddy was always interested in music.
"My mom got me into piano lessons when I was young. She herself played a lot at home. I only ever played classical piano for years, until I moved up to the Bay Area when I was 18 and started hanging out with Billy Gould."
Early days of experimentation with what he refers to as 'a cheap Juno keyboard' kept Bottum's creativity wandering ever-further. Indeed, for the era he grew up in, it's amazing that Bottum emerged scar-free from the times when keyboards equally stodgy Rick Wakeman-style progressive '70s pomp. A combination of his early classical piano training, and an astute interest in the use of samples and modern technology, saved him from the Hammon organ et al.
"I never ever liked any of the 'cheesy' stiff like Moog synthesisers, it always sounded stupid to me." remembers Bottum. "I liked Kraftwerk a whole lot, they were one of the first real influences. And when I first heard The Young Gods, they were just amazing. Also, early on,I was able to relate to Elton John when I got into rock stuff because he used a lot of piano in his music."
"I get really turned on by current influences," he continues, "what I'm listening to. Recently that meant a lot of the Techno stuff that's going on, that whole basis of taking a sound and looping it, using that as a sound source and getting the accidents that occur, those strange arbitrary noises. Those are very important to what I do, as often the best stuff comes from messing around like that."
"These days I've been using computers a lot, in particular this program called 'Studiovision' which allows me to use 99 tracks with sequencing. I have my EMAX 2 keyboard with a hard disc and then I have this CD-ROM player with a sound source that just collects sounds and I put these down over a drum beat."
The 'AD' album saw Bottum throw in a bunch of everyday forgettable noises, and turn them into beautifully textured pieces.
"The break in 'A Small Victory' is very typical of using sound sources and being a more rhythmic keyboard player. In that particular song, the sound sources were things as opposed to programs, strings or pianos. Most of that stuff was recorded with a DAT player, just whilst wandering out and about, and then I put them into the keyboard itself."
As Bottum goes to explain, sampling may very well have to become a more sinister and clandestine affair as lawyers and cheap-shots come out shooting in increasing numbers.
"It's certainly reaching that point. In another song of the album called 'Crack Hitler', we sampled the voice of this woman who's pretty famous in Brazil. She announced flights for Varig Airlines, we all really liked the voice and she pretty much summed up our whole Brazilian experiences. So we taped her, used the voice and now she's suing us us for using her voice without permission."
Does this mean a whole new approach when it comes to writing new material?
"You just have to be really careful when it comes to copyrights and sound. The other alternative is to become sneakier so far as disguising what sounds you use. But ultimately, if I'm forced to bang a few pots and pans and record those for a sound source, that'd be fine, because with continuous looping anything can happen..."
As for the FNM sound, Bottum describes it as being "all about five people coming in with their own very strong ideas and blending them together."
For example, if I got the 'pop' extremes with my stuff and Jim goes to the 'Metal' extremes with his stuff then you're going to have some challenging music. But it's all about keeping up your extreme stance, making sure you never dilute your ideas for anything."
Advocate | 15.07.1993HEAVY METAL HOMO
Faith No More's Roddy Bottum goes public about being gay in the homophobic world of metal music
By Lance Loud
To those who have remained blissfully ignorant of the ear-crunching brand of rock and roll know as heavy metal, Roddy Bottum probably sounds like the nom de plume of a graphic-sex novelist with a spanking fetish. In actuality he is the keyboardist of Faith No More, the MTV-generation group that Spin magazine named Band of the Year in 1990. Other high points in the band's career: The Real Thing, released in 1989, went platinum, and its single, "Epic", went to number 5 on the Billboard charts.
"One of the keys to what makes Faith No More unique is the way Roddy Bottum's keyboard works in the music," says Roy Trakin, editor of Hits, a national pop-rock magazine. "Most metal bands use the keyboard as a rhythm instrument, but Bottum uses it to build a melody. He's all over the place: He'll play the theme from Nestle's chocolate in the middle of something, or the theme from Midnight Cowboy will pop up, or there will be cocktail-lounge-type tinkling segueing into funk techno in the space of a single song. There's a definite camp sensibility to what he's doing."
Adds Tom Sinclair, rock writer for The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly: "The band isn't really like the other metal bands. They have elements of the thrash metal sound, but they are hardly limited to that. They're sort of like the thinking metal fan's band."
Last winter many of those fans were forced to do some deep thinking about stereotypes and innate prejudices when the 28-year-old Bottum made the decision to go public about his homosexuality. "I'd like to say that I'm totally together about it," he says, "but it does kinda freak me out. From now on anytime my name will be brought up, my sexual preference will be one of the first things discussed. It's a way of categorising people that seems kind of creepy to me. I mean, it shouldn't be like that, right? How many aspects of a personality are there? So many."
A name like Roddy Bottum would be pretty hard to bring off if you weren't gay.
[Laughs] It's a good name, isn't it? It's actually Roswell Christopher Bottum III.
And are you?
No, a bottom?
[Laughs] Oh, well. I think role playing is very important in relationships.
Does role playing strengthen a relationship?
_Switching_ roles strengthens a relationship. Back and forth, taking turns.
Let's talk about how it got to be known that you're gay.
A woman from NME [New Musical Express, an English rock newspaper] was doing a big story on the band. She was also friends with the band we were touring with, L7, who I've known for years, and she asked them to ask me if I would be willing to discuss my sexuality in the press. I had no problem with that whatsoever and told the reporter to ask whatever she liked.
Were you happy with the story?
Not really. I thought my coming out was an important angle, and I don't mean that in an egocentric way. Kids who are into hard rock and who may be dealing with the possibility of being gay themselves don't see a lot of positive role models. But as it turned out, that was only a small part of the final article. The writer had a thing for our singer [Mike Patton], and that's who she ultimately focused on.
Do you think the writer felt that your coming out made you less of a relevant subject for the audience she was writing to?
Maybe. But if that's the case, I'd certainly love to shatter that illusion. There's just as much homosexual infatuation in rock music as heterosexual, and it's about time that it's recognised.
Why didn't you bring up your homosexuality before?
I never thought it was that important. Since I went public I tend to see the prejudice that's being levelled against homosexuals. Before, I tended to think of it as a gossipy sort of a thing. Now I think of being openly gay as a political statement, something that in some small way furthers the gay rights movement.
How did your band handle the news?
My singer and I talk about our sexual exploits. When he joined the band, I said, "Listen, you know I'm gay, right?" And he said, "Yeah, I kinda figured." From there on out we would tell each other what we were up to.
What about the other band members?
We don't have that kind of rapport. And it never came up as an issue until the NME thing. Their attitude was "Do what you gotta do," but I think they felt it might have been better to talk about it with someone who would treat the subject a little more seriously.
When you came out to your parents, were they supportive?
They were really good about it. I thought it would depress them to no end, and I felt really protective of their feelings. My parents are very Catholic, and it had always been a very touchy subject. In the end, though, when I did finally tell them the news, they were really good about it. [Pauses] Well, my mom took it a little hard. She cried. But my dad was very good, and he helped Mom get through it.
As a gay man in the predominantly heterosexual - and often homophobic - world of heavy-metal rock, do you ever find it hard to take?
It's pretty difficult. I mean, if there is any crass, disgusting masochism in the music business, it comes from the heavy-metal side of things. As a band on the road, we're subjected to a lot of really ugly things. The whole groupie aspect is such a sexist throwback to a bygone era. It's pretty disgusting to have to be considered that type of band.
How was touring with Guns N' Roses?
Knowing their beliefs and the sexist, racist, homophobic things they've said in the press, I was kind of tickled by the fact that they were touring with us - a band with someone gay in it.
But talk about crass sexism - the actual experience was disgusting. We left every night after we played. The only time I ever talked to Axl [Rose, lead singer of Guns N' Roses] was the night our band had to stay after the Guns N' Roses set to get a tongue-lashing. We'd been talking shit in the press about Axl, and he got wind of it. He was really upset and talked to us for an hour. At the end of it, one of his people came in and wanted to show him something. We'd just been raked over the coals and felt obliged to go along.
We went into this trailer, which was filled with guys. It was dead silent. Everyone was looking at something going on in the back: Lying on a bench were these two really out-of-it women, stark naked. One was eating the other out, but it was anything but sexy. The girl who was being eaten out looked like she was dead. It was so creepy. All you could hear was the whir of the video camera. My lead singer started yelling, "Oh, my God! I cannot believe you people would do this!" Everyone just shushed us, and we all left immediately.
Being gay in rock has always been one strike against you. Do you think that's changed?
As far as the kids in the audience go, I honestly don't think it really affects them the way it used to. The majority of kids these days are out to prove they really are open-minded and willing to accept people for what they are. They want to prove they're not shocked by anything. Of course, there are homophobic hatemongers, fag bashers, and all that, but those are the minority, not the majority.
Do you think there's any connection between one's creativity and one's sexual persuasion?
In a real subtle way, yeah. Our guitar player is the most macho, heterosexual figure in our band, and it reflects in his playing. To combat that, to reach the balance that gets the sound we strive for, a feminine side has to come into what we're doing. Can that be construed as homosexual? Probably. But it's really important as far as the yin and the yang goes to combat the male bombast with the feminine and humorous side.
When you first realised you were gay, who did you fantasise about?
Superman. He was a big ideal to me as a boy - strong, handsome, bullet-proof - all good qualities to look for in a mate. When I was a teenager, I really looked up to Freddie Mercury. He was pretty cool.
Did you listen to any Pete Townshend records during that time, maybe "Rough Boys" over and over again?
He's bisexual. It would have only mixed me up. [Laughs]
If you could out anyone, who would it be and why?
George Michael. He's pretty creepy. I respect and admire his work, but I wish that he would either say he wasn't gay or just come out and make a big show of it. His coy act is getting a little tired.
Who are the gay role models in rock and roll?
Boy George. I respect him. If King Missile gets more successful, Chris Xefos would be a really powerful role model. Bob Mould of Sugar is good. And Gary Floyd, the singer of Sister Double Happiness, is really a good person for kids just coming out to look up to.
And how do you think you rate in the role-model department?
I hope that if I'm considered a gay role model, it will be to show kids that sexuality is only one part of their lives, not everything. And I hope they will learn not to be tormented by what other people think.
Did you talk to your friends Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love about going public with your sexuality?
I talked to Courtney about it back when the NME thing first came up.
What advice did she give you?
None. She only talks about herself, her life, you know. When I told her that NME was going to put me being gay in their article on the band, her basic response was "Well that's nice, but Kurt's gonna be on the cover of The Advocate."
Kurt is one of my very best friends. But as for his Advocate interview, he can talk about his homosexuality or bisexuality or whatever as much as he wants 'cause he's so publicly married. It doesn't make much difference. But he's a good inspiration. Just the fact that he was on the cover of the magazine was a very powerful statement.
Which rock stars have you slept with?
Well, I slept with Courtney. Courtney and I used to go out.
How was it?
I didn't marry her.
Which rock stars would you like to sleep with?
Kurt Cobain, of course.
Do you believe in monogamy?
Oh, yeah, pretty much. I've been going with the same guy for ten years. He works in video production, making videos for software companies - demonstrational videos. We're really different from each other, different enough so that it makes the relationship constantly interesting. He's a really challenging person - and very difficult to get along with. But I think the more difficult a person is to get along with, the easier the relationship's gonna be.
How involved in the gay community are you?
Well, I'll go to bars and hang out, but I'm not involved with the whole Queer Nation sort of thing. But I want to say this on the record: As far as my band goes, we'd be more than open to participate in fund raising efforts for gay rights or for something that benefits [people trying to end] the AIDS crisis.
The video for your cover of "Easy," the Commodores song, features some very raunchy drag queens. Was that your idea?
It was kind of everyone's. When we first started talking about doing the video, we were toying around with doing a low-budget realistic perspective of the band. Someone - not in the band - thought it might be nice to get shots of us hanging around in the hotel room with girls.
My mom saw the video and told me she couldn't believe that we had used real girls. When I told her that they were really drag queens, she was shocked.
Have you ever worn women's clothes?
Yeah, sure. I have no qualms about that whatsoever. Growing up, me and my neighbours used to put on little fashion shows by rummaging through my mother's wardrobe and getting dressed up. And then even in the band, we used to get dressed up in drag once in a while, just for kicks.
And what about today?
Well, sometimes if women's clothing is lying around, I won't hesitate to try it on. I mean, I live in San Francisco. We have a pretty open-minded city here. And in the world of heavy-metal rock, what guy isn't in drag? It might not be classic drag, but it's drag all the same.
Do you think your gayness will affect your band's audience - either positively or negatively?
Faith No More has made a career out of confusing people. I think it's going to test people in a real positive way. It's a challenge to our listeners: This band you've been into that has never been associated with anything remotely gay or androgynous now has a connection to homosexuality. I think it will be a real test for kids.
On your records the entire band is credited for each song. Have you done any of the words for the music yourself?
In the past I've done lyrics for a song or two on each record. On our last record I did the lyrics for the homoerotic song, "Be Aggressive."
What's it about?
Swallowing. [Laughs] It was a pretty fun thing to write, knowing that Mike was going to have to put himself on the line and go up onstage and sing these vocals.
"We Care A Lot" was one of your biggest hits so far. What do you care about?
I care a lot about justice. I care a lot about equality. I care a lot about annihilating prejudices, and I care a lot about confusing people, about making sure people don't feel safe or complacent.
Why are you doing this interview with The Advocate?
I'm hoping The Advocate's readership includes young aspiring gay kids who will see me in the magazine and think, Look, he's a part of this so-called macho rock band and he's a fag - but it's OK! That would be great.
Will your fans be shocked by your appearing in the largest gay and lesbian magazine in America?
Some of the greatest rock was considered shocking when it first came out. And if people are shocked by the news that there are gay people in rock and roll - that's it's not just this straight man's game - good. That type of shock would make me very happy.
Noisey | 20.03.2015
THE UNTIMELY DEATH AND GLORIOUS REBIRTH OF FAITH NO MORE
Did you not like the last couple of Faith No More records?
It was just hard for me to concentrate on anything at that point of my life because of all those things I mentioned earlier. I think I got on board with it eventually, but it was a hard sell for me at the time. It was a hard time in my life.
So Faith No More breaks up in 1998 and you play again for the first time 11 years later. What was that first reunion show like?
It was really, really crazy. I don’t know if you have these kinds of dreams, but I have these dreams where I’m back in high school and a test is coming but I haven’t studied. I used to have that dream an awful lot. And then sometime after Faith No More broke up, it turned into this dream: I’m showing up for a Faith No More show, and I’ve forgotten how to play the songs. It was a nightmare that kept coming back and coming back. So when we played that first reunion show, it was this crazy reckoning of getting through that nightmare, addressing it, and moving on in some weird, pivotal way. It was super, super emotional. The band was so much a part of my youth, you know? Going back to it and having it be a good thing after all those years was really, really empowering. It’s an opportunity that no one gets. I don’t know who gets to rebuild those bridges that have been burned in their lives.
Was it understood that Jim Martin would not be involved, or did you initially reach out to him?
Oh, we totally reached out to him. I was of the mind that, of course we would not do this without Jim. There’s no way. I think we all felt pretty strongly about that initially—well, some of us maybe more strongly than others. Jim was a real contentious person in the band, but I loved him. He’s a great guy, and a real oddball. He’s the total polar opposite to what I’m all about—you could not find two more different people in a band than he and I—but I like him and I’ve always liked him. I wanted him to do it, and I actually talked to him about it. I thought it was going that way, but it just didn’t work out.
Did he just have no interest?
I think he had interest. But I think he also had really pent-up resentments about the way we broke up. I think it was difficult for him to come back into the fold, and he set it up in such a way that… I think, unconsciously, he was gonna cut off his nose to spite his face. Like he was so damaged from resentment that he dug a hole and didn’t come out of it. Which is a shame. That’s my take. I’m sure he’d tell you a different story, but he’s a very masculine, closed person who doesn’t really talk about that sort of stuff.
He’s a championship pumpkin farmer now.
Yeah, we talked about that. I think he has two daughters and he’s married. I think he still makes some music. And he grows pumpkins. He seems happy.
How did you end up deciding to make a new Faith No More album? It’s one thing to get the band back together and play the old jams, but making a new record is a big step. Was there any concern that the old spirit would be elusive?
You know, that was the last thing that came up. I don’t think that was ever a concern for anyone, that we wouldn’t be able to pull it off creatively. It was a situation where we played a bunch of shows, and then we agreed to another leg of the tour. As we were doing it, it kinda felt like hauling around a dead horse by just playing old songs. It felt a little bit cheesy. So we decided to at least write one new song for the last leg, which we did. It was really comfortable and satisfying. It was a language that we all speak together, and it was clear that it was still there. Then we decided that we wouldn’t play any more shows unless we made more music. So we did.
To me, the new album is classic Faith No More—like you never went away. Does it feel that way to you, and is that important?
It is kind of important, but I honestly feel like there’s no other way we could do it. We’re just gonna sound like the way we sound. We’re not gonna sound like anything else because we’re not really capable of it. But thanks—that’s very nice to hear. For the first time, I’m talking to people who have actually heard the record, and it’s cool to get their take. It’s interesting to hear you say that.
I have to admit I was skeptical at first. When bands get back together after an extended period of time and write new music, it’s not always so good.
Yeah, I don’t blame you. I feel that way, too. If a band that you love when you’re younger gets back together, it’s like, “I’m scared. I don’t even wanna hear it.” It’s a hard thing to pull off. A lot of bands try to sound current and it doesn’t really fly. I was really rooting for the Pixies, you know, but it’s a hard thing to pull off. For us, I think part of the success came from not telling anyone we were doing it. We did it behind closed doors and didn’t have any outside expectations. There was no one else involved except the five of us. So we did the only thing we’re capable of doing, which is sounding like ourselves. But there was an intention to sort of take it back to our roots. I’m pretty confident that we pulled that off.
The first single is called “Motherfucker.” It feels like a statement of some sort, and the song itself is not very representative of the record as a whole. Was that intentional?
Faith No More often gets blamed for spawning bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. Do you feel any sense of responsibility there?
No responsibility whatsoever, really. That’s out of my realm. I don’t even really know what those bands sound like. But I certainly don’t feel an affinity towards them. That’s a weird breed of music. I’m in the fortunate position of having brought the sort of feminine sound to the band, so I feel safe. I’m never gonna be tagged as the aggro one, you know? [Laughs] But I guess there’s elements of the band that other people pick up on and focus on. I don’t really hear it myself, though. But I do find that people who make bad music often have really good taste.
Lance Loud interviewed you for The Advocate in 1993, which was pretty much your coming-out party. What kind of perspective do you have on that process these days?
In 2015, it seems like way less of a big deal for an artist to come out as gay, but in 1993—especially in the heavy music realm—it seemed like a very big deal.
In that era, for sure. There were a lot of people back then who weren’t open about their sexuality—especially in that realm. At the time, I think we were on tour with Guns N’ Roses and Metallica, so it was a really odd kind of undertaking. But at the same time, it felt really profound. It felt very extreme to come out in that kind of environment. It seemed to make a point. And I did get an awful lot of words of encouragement and gratuity from young gay kids who were rockers. It meant a lot to a lot of people, so it made me feel good. But it’s a whole different world today. I don’t really find it to be an issue for kids.
You beat Rob Halford from Judas Priest by five years. He didn’t come out until ’98.
That’s funny, because we were just in Australia playing a festival that Judas Priest played and I made it a point to meet Rob Halford. He’s awesome—he’s so cool. That kind of music was never my bag, but I saw their show and thought it was really cool. Mike [Bordin], our drummer, is really into them, and he was saying, “Oh, no—Rob’s been out of the closet forever.” I was like, “No way—not before me.” We were actually about to Google it but then we got distracted.
Were you concerned about any potential backlash at the time?
No. One of our managers at the time tried to put the brakes on it. He said, “You might wanna think twice about this. It could cause some problems for you guys selling records.” I was like, “Seriously?” But he was from, like, Bumfuck, Florida, or something. He wasn’t the kind of person whose words I was gonna heed at all. Even back then, when people did maybe care about that shit, I don’t think we sold any less records. I don’t think anyone said, “Roddy Bottum’s gay, so I’m done with Faith No More.” I doubt it happened to Rob Halford and Judas Priest, either.
You recently wrote an opera called Sasquatch: The Opera. We’re gonna need the full rundown on that.
[Laughs] It’s not a traditional opera—it’s more like weird little operettas. I grew up in L.A., but I moved to New York specifically to get into opera, and I had this preposterous idea for a Sasquatch love story. I wrote the story, I wrote the music, and we’re gonna premiere it next month. It’s just gonna be three scenes from the opera, but then I’m gonna elaborate on it and build it into a bigger production.
You know, my favorite characters are the kind of gentle giants like Frankenstein or the Elephant Man—a misunderstood monster who it turns out is very sensitive and has a high intellect. That always gets me. It felt like Sasquatch could satisfy that really well. I’m moved by the big thug who has a heart of gold.