Metal Cd | August 1993
With FAITH NO MORE just back in the UK for their recent headline at the Phoenix Festival. Jesse Hash meets with Bill Gould, who admits: "I have a lot in common with the Elephant Man". All will be revealed.
Leap Of Faith
Eleven years on and still people can't figure out Faith No More. Of course, that's just the way the band like it. Despite kicking out their original singer (Chuck Mosley) and recruiting a new one that nobody initially seemed to like (Mike Patton) and who already had his own part-time musical project (Mr Bungle), Faith No More have finally become one of the most vibrant, eclectic rock outfits on the planet.
Drenched in sweat after just stepping off stage after yet another gig in the band's interminable tour itinerary, with strands of lank hair plastered to his forehead, FNM bassist Bill Gould flops into an armchair in the band's cramped dressing room, slams the door shut and politely fends off any hangers-on or inquisitive crew members.
Does he want to shower before we do the interview? Gould shrugs, smiles and decides to wait. I light the first of several cigarettes and watch as the burly bassist starts to steam, the vapour rising off his shoulders as he gradually cools down. One lone drop of perspiration trickles off the end of his chin and lands on the floor... Shall we begin?
"Never in my right mind did I expect the band to sell as many records as we have - and to sustain it!" he announces with a combination of pride and perplexity, and exhales heavily.
FNM came into being in San Fransisco in 1982 as a "hippie hate band". They had a turbulent early career, discarding several would-be guitar heroes on the way before settling on the basic nucleus of Mike 'Puffy' Bordin (drums), Bill Gould (bass), Jim Martin (guitar) and Roddy Bottum (keyboards). As soon as vocalist Mike Patton Joined at the tail end of the '80s, the band's career seemed to go into overdrive.
The hit single 'Epic' (1990) was their real commercial breakthrough and their third album, 'The Real Thing', cemented the wisdom of staying with LA label Slash (distributed through London Records in the UK). But just as fans and critics alike had FNM pinned down as a vaguely wacky
hard rock group, a series of events made it clear that here was a unique band.
They released an uncompromising and uncomfortable fourth album, 'Angel Dust', in 1992. They toured briefly with Guns N' Roses but couldn't stomach the rampant sexism
of Axl and co. Roddy Bottum shocked the music scene by 'coming out' as the first wellknown hard rocker to talk openly about his homosexuality. Then they destroyed the Commodores' supper club ballad 'Easy' for a UK Top 5 hit.
"We try not to be an innocuous band, and doing an innocuous song like 'Easy' was an exercise in having fun," states Gould. "So when you make a record that was so much fun to do, it's really funny when everybody ends up liking it."
How have Faith No More adjusted to the business side of the industry - surely something they would have had to cope with even more after achieving commercial success?
"I think the only analogy I can probably make is the analogy of the alcoholic: how can you be drinking for 30 years and then stop for the rest of your life and never go back? How about we take this one day at a time? We Just do things in our own way.
"I don't know how we do it or why we do it. We just keep doing it because every day we wake up and we do it again," declares Gould. "When everything's going really well...why think about it?"
Did he ever think the band would be this successful?
"It's taken a long time for the band to reach this point. It's interesting to note that when you write songs you hear the potential in a song as soon as you've written it. It's an interesting feeling, because somehow you always know there's a lot of potential in what it is that you're doing but you really don't know what's going to happen next.
"'Epic' was interesting because we knew that it was a good song and we knew that 'The Real Thing' was a good album. But we had already been touring for six years, and we really didn't know if we were Just under some kind of delusion or whether that song and that album had the potential to go somewhere. So when it does happen it's really interesting, and it makes you think that your instincts were correct."
Prior to any success. Faith No More, like any other band, were forced to tough it out through a period of little or no acclaim and even fewer financial rewards.
"There were definitely more negatives than positives," recalls Gould. "And there's still more negatives than positives in being in a band now, even after having a Platinum and Gold record. It's very much a situation where if you didn't like the music you simply wouldn't be doing this. The negatives can come from so many different angles it's ridiculous."
"Well for one thing, no matter how hard you try, anything you say and anything you do will somehow be put into a package to be sold. Everything you do is being sold and becoming contrived, even if you're not personally contriving it.
"We've been together as a band now for 11 years, and it's only in the last two years that we haven't lost money on a tour. So that's a good nine years of that, which is a long time. I started this band when I was 18 - myself, Roddy and 'Puffy'. I can't believe it, I'm fucking 30 now!"
"I don't know. It's just a strange business being a musician," ponders Gould. "In a lot of ways the lack of respect is one of the negative aspects. Perhaps not a lack of respect; but a musician's place in the whole scheme of the music industry is interesting. I think there's a tendency in this business to keep musicians producing records but keep them stupid and ignorant, even though the musicians are the ones making the product that everybody else is making money off of. Musicians are definitely the lowest rung of the ladder as far as the industry scale goes. But if you like music and that's what you want to do, then you don't really have a choice."
The record company must surely have an idea in their minds of the image the band should have, and the band probably had their own idea. So how involved do they get to make sure the packaging of Faith No More is acceptable to them?
"We're strange compared to other bands, in the sense that we're a little bit different," laughs Gould. "And so the good thing about it is the record company pretty much lets us do whatever we want. They give us full rights to the packaging and full rights with the recording, and then we give them everything finished.
"The only tough thing about us and packaging is that there's five of us in this group and all of us have an equal vote. Sometimes, coming to a decision can be a real pain. But once we make a decision we get what we want. We started that from day one. So we've built a healthy trend towards doing what we want and I think that's just the way we operate."
So there's a good communication between band members?
"There has to be to operate. If the record company has a suggestion we always listen to it, but pretty much all of the product that we put out we put out ourselves. London Records didn't even hear the last record until after it was finished."
Considering some of the horror stories that have circulated about record companies dictating musical direction to bands, what does he think has prompted the label to give FNM so much creative control?
Gould hesitates for a moment. "I think..." he begins, searching, "it's because we started out doing it ourselves and we've achieved a certain degree of success doing it our way, so why mess with it? What they're really doing is giving us the opportunity to go further. But if we mess up really badly then we'll probably end up losing that privilege - then they might want to step in. But we've done well on our own and so there's no point in changing it.
"I'm not sure they really understand us enough to know what would be good for us either if we did fail and they wanted to step in," he continues. "I think our record company's attitude
has always been: 'I'm not sure what you guys are doing, but keep doing it because it's working'."
So what happens if, God forbid, something doesn't sell, and suddenly they need to examine everything and the record company doesn't understand them?. That could be very damaging to the future of the group.
"You do have to deal with a lot of prejudices," concedes Gould. "We really picked up steam in the hard rock/heavy metal field and we are, to a degree hard rock/heavy metal band. But I think there's a lot more to us than that.
"We can be a pop band; we can be play a lot of different kinds of music,
And with 'Angel Dust' we had a hard time just breaking the prejudice that we are not just a metal band. We don't have all the stuff that goes with being a metal band at our shows; we don't want a wet T-shirt contest going on between, acts. We're just not that kind of band and I'm not that kind of guy.
"But," he adds, with a sigh. "I guess we were on the 'The Real Thing', and all the people liked it. And all those people were like: 'Why don't you just do again?' We don't repeat ourselves...we don't repeat ourselves...we don't do that."
Then again, night after night on tour, surely it's unavoidable that a band end up repeating themselves as well as improving as a band.
"We toured The Real Thing' album for almost two years, so technically I think we got better as a band. Touring makes you a better group just because you're playing every night. I think we grew and I think it was in a positive direction. But you really don't know that when you're doing it. The clichés that we heard! When you play the same song for two years you really start looking at it through a microscope. And we knew that after a year straight of playing on the road there are things that you're going to start hating. And one of the things that we started to hate was playing those same parts all the time. So when you make the next record you go with the understanding that you don't want to do something that you're going to hate it in a year. So you challenge yourself to make it interesting for yourself, and you learn a lot in the process."
Does the repetitiveness of the whole process really allow them to have a sustained interest?
"That's true, it does get very repetitive. And when that happens that's when you hear the things you really don't like. Sometimes you put out a record and there are some parts and you don't like them that much, but they'll do because they simply work. But after two months of playing them live on stage every night you start to hate them. 'Epic' I could play forever. 'Epic' I could play for the next 20 years and never get bored.
"The interesting thing is when you start improving or you start changing, you always run the risk of learning so much more that you're almost becoming too technical for the people that want to listen to you."
So simplicity is a virtue?
"Yeah. There's a very fine line there."
How involved in the production process do the band get? Will just one member of Faith No More get more involved than the others?
"I like being there every day when we record. I like being around a lot. But the bottom line is that it's a vote. The majority gets what they want in the studio or anywhere else."
And who's the person at the record company you have to answer to?
"I haven't seen them yet," he laughs.
So it's a voice on the phone. And a signature on the cheque... Have they received a lot of royalties from the record sales yet?
"Well, The Real Thing' was a Platinum record, so we recouped all our advances," laughs Gould. "I really wanted to get a ranch, and so I bought a little area of land. And it's really not quite like a ranch, but it's half an acre in the hills. I've got three llamas now. And I went to a thrift store and I bought a little ride - you know, one of those rocket rides that you put a quarter in. So I'm working on it. I'm on my way to setting up my own little amusement park, and I've got a couple of exotic animals and a little farm to round it all out. It's only a half an acre, but after a few albums I might get up to Michael Jackson':
And have 3,000 species of fish?
"And a skin problem. Look - the signs of success are starting to hit me already! I'm getting darker!"
Did you watch the Oprah Winfrey interview with Michael Jackson?
"Oh yeah. I don't think it was Michael Jackson though, I think that was Bette Davis."
You're an entertainer, a musical person Just like Jackson. How did that interview strike you?
"I think Michael Jackson is just as weird as he was before he went on the air with that interview. Frankly, I don't think he has the chance of ever getting rid of that label. Not a chance in hell that he could make it walking down a normal street. That was a sad show. It was pretty morbid."
What were the things that made you feel that way?
"Well one thing he said was: 'What's this about the Elephant Man's bones? I don't want to buy these bones. What am I going to do with a bunch of bones?' I admit that movie really affected me. I cried when I saw it, because I have a lot in common with the Elephant Man. But I couldn't help but crack up at a comment like that!
"He also said his father beat him before every performance. And then Oprah says: 'He beat you?' Like it was some real surprise. And then she asks: 'Did he beat you, or hit you?' 'Oh no, he beat me'... A lot of really painful admissions. A lot of near tears. I mean, if this stuff is really on the level then it's pretty horrible. Real sad."
When you see that and you take a close look at yourselves, how does that make you feel about the extreme demands of success in the music business?
"I think that we've been unsuccessful long enough to know the benefits of that. I think that everybody in this group is happy just being able to live comfortably while making music. I mean, we'd be doing this anyway. We didn't stop when we weren't successful for years. I've been in bands since I was 13. I think the success part of it is easy to take or leave.
"We appreciate things a lot more because success didn't happen for us that quickly. That's made us appreciate where we're at a lot more. And you know how important that is."