Metal Maniacs | August 1995
Faith No More - No Joke
By Marina Zogbi
Saints alive, they're back. As far as this totally biased writer is concerned, a new Faith No More album is cause for celebration and general rapturous delirium because
A) there's really no one else quite like them musically, conceptually, metaphysically;
B) they've always been a volatile bunch seemingly on the brink of a collective breakdown.
But, HA, they're still together, much to the thrill of some, annoyance of others, and that's a great thing. What's more, they're back with this monstrously good KFAD...FFAL album. Though more straightforward and cohesive than previous LP AD, the music is still extremely adventurous and subject to violent mood swings, i.e. bludgeoningly heavy/painfully beautiful; the lyrics are comfortingly twisted and remarkable. It's classic FNM, except for a new guitarist (Mr. Bungle's Trey Spruance, since replaced by Dean Menta) and a new producer (the venerable Andy Wallace). But enough introductory spew.
Here's drummer Mike Puffy Bordin:
"When we made it, we honestly knew it was special because we put so much into it. Whatever makes you do that, whether it's pride or fear or whatever, you have to have something that drives you. You can't just make a record because you're supposed to and you're very satisfied and comfortable with yourself. You gotta keep reaching and digging." According to vocalist Mike Patton, "This is probably the on y one we've done that we've been instantly gratified with, and I also think it's going to last for a while. When you write a certain kind of song, you can feel what its going to be like live; what it's going to be like sweating and playing it, and that's really the only test we can give a song - if it's going to last two years on the road."
So, what exactly drove Faith to make such a focused work this time? "Number One, we've been through what we've been through and learned from those efforts,learned to be more effective at what we do," says Bordin. And Number Two, personnel-wise, honestly, we had everybody finally going in the same direction. Everything was written cohesively."
Patton compares this recording experience to his previous two with FNM:
"The first one, you don't feel any way, you just do it. The second one, you're doing everything you can to avoid what you did on the first one. You'll try twice as hard, run twice as fast, and you don't really move that far. I would say that we're probably pretty comfortable with not only ourselves, but more so each other...I think we're starting to come closer to speaking the same language."
That's pretty cool statement coming from someone who has made no secret of his discomfort with the band in the past, often appearing to put his other outfit (yep, Mr. Bungle) first. Maybe it's taken him this long to get over the trauma of being one of the most reluctant pin-up boys in rock, back when videos from TRT were all over MTV. Or maybe it's having Jim Martin - his polar opposite - out of the band.
Says Puffy, "I've known Jim for 15 years and I can't say 'The thing with Jim is this.' It's just who he is; he does things how he does. We feel very fortunate and gratified that AD came out as well as it did because it really was touch and go as far as none of the guitar was set until we recorded and we felt that we could have had it work more with the songs." He looks back on the last two years ,"We came off the road with AD and it had done really well in most of the world, we didn't sell as many here as last time, but not even by that much. We tripled what we'd sold everywhere else, so it obviously worked. We had success being who we were because AD was kind of us saying, We're really not that cute...Although there are some elements of whatever that might be in our music, we also do this.' We dug real deep to find all sorts of stuff that was really interesting to us. When we ended up playing it for two years, we got an idea of how to balance it or how we would like to follow it. We felt we wanted to do something that was a bit more stripped down and a bit more rockin and I think that was a direct result of not having as much guitar on the album before it." Therefore, "When it became obvious that we were going to have a new guitarist, it was exciting because we started writing stuff with guitar in mind, which was completely new to us." Since the band was already going through a major change, "We thought it would be wise at this point to change producers and try something new."
Enter Andy (Slayer, Sepultura, Nirvana, etc., etc.) Wallace. According to Patton, "He's a dry sort of guy and not having too much of a personality that he was forcing on the band or a certain trademark stamp that he could slap on us was nice. With our last producer (the unrelated Matt Wallace), there wasn't a whole lot of professional respect. We were more like friends, so if we would make a suggestion or he would make a suggestion, we'd both tell each other to fuck off. For this, there was a little bit of distance, so he was easier to work with."
As for the new guitarist switcheroo, Trey Spruance simply decided he wasn't up for the marathon touring that Faith planned to embark upon. "That's the end of the story," says Patton. " What can you say? Do what makes you happy." Bordin clarified, "When [Trey] came into this, Me Patton said, 'I don't want him in the band. Everybody thinks, 'O he got his guy in the band.' He was the dissenting vote. He said, 'I know him, he's a great guitarist, but he's undependable...We don't work like Bungle where it's: we work when we can or when we feel like it. We commit; we're committed all the way up to Christmas.' When Trey proved Patton right, I told [Trey], 'Im glad you're telling me now because I would kill you if you dropped out of this while we were on the road,'" says Bordin, who added, "I't's too bad because you helped us get the guitar that we wanted, and I enjoyed that.'" Trey was replaced the same day by Roddy Bottum's ex-keyboard tech who happens to be a guitarist, in a classic waiting-in-the-wings scenario.
"Dean's a great guy", opines Bordin. He's part of our family. Why didn't we try him before? He was pretty close; he lives with Billy and we didn't think about him. All the while he was on tour with FNM, He was watching us saying, 'Goddamn, I could do that better.' It's so funny because I thought, what's the matter with Dean? He's obviously not being part of the crew. I asked him one day and he said, 'I told Roddy I don't really want to be a tech guy; I'm a musician. I like you guys a lot and it's very frustrating for me to see something that I think I could do better.' Shortly thereafter, we started playing together at soundchecks because we didn't have a guitarist there a bunch of times, and Dean played great. It's a comfortable fit".
Aside from the guitarist situation, the Faith guys also had to examine their own feelings about this Thing they'd created back in the early 80s ."You know, music is a pretty goddamn self-aggrandizing thing," declares Bordin, and that's not something we're comfortable with. We always thought,' Are we being cheesy? Is this too corny? Are we being stupid?' There's self-examination going on. We checked it out and we felt that AD was something to be proud of and we felt that we had more to say. There were a few dark days there, but it sort of puts you in an extra gear that you didn't even know you had. You feel you're doing it for all the marbles. It changed our focus and I don't mean to say we weren't serious before, but when there's that danger, you really kick it up a notch. Replacing a guitar player, we knew we had something to prove but we knew we could do it. Working with a new producer, moving up to Woodstock for three months, all those things conspired to give us a tremendously sharp focus and I can smell it on this record, where there's not a lot of waste. There's not a lot of extra layers of anything, and that's what we wanted, for it to be quite lean and nasty."
One thing that helped was a slightly new attitude on Patton's part. Says he, "There were points in these last couple of years where we kind of had to stare into the fucking pit; you're looking at the situation going, 'God, this is it! Gee, this is what i do! This isn't a job anymore!' It puts you in your place, puts your head where it should be." Regarding Mike P., the band realized, "Yes, there was a hell of a lot there that we could do together, there was life there, rather than we made a couple of records and it didn't quite gel" says Bordin. "We grew together. He definitely has come into his own. 'Get Out', he wrote drums, bass, guitar, that's his song. To me, that sounds like a FNM song, and it's supposed to work that way. That's real gratifying and that's a big part of why we're still here"
Speaking of songs, Patton's other main contribution is the vicious, slamming 'The Gentle Art Of Making Enemise', while bassist Bill Gould's baby is the twangy, rather wistful 'Take This Bottle'. "He was uncomfortable bringing it to the table and showing it to us because he thought we'd laugh at it" notes Bordin. "To met, it's refreshing to hear this band doing something like that." While FNM has always toyed with different musical styles, they've often been tongue-in-cheek about it. Not so much with this album.
According to Patton, "When you think about the kind of musicians that we are, anything we do outside of playing loudly and aggressively, which is where it all started, is experimenting. We're thinking on our feet, it's a little bit risky and I think we're getting better at doing that. That's what we have to do to survive, or else you back yourself into a corner." He has no delusions, however: "I think we're just getting better at imitating," he laughs, "because that's what it is. Us hearing a bossanova thing, that's not bossanova. You gotta make that distinction." He's referring to the quite lovely Caralho Voador, an obvious nod to Brazil, a country that Faith has an ongoing relationship with. "It's just a function of what we've eaten over the past five years coming out," says Bordin. "You shit what you eat...We spent time in South America, we loved it." Patton's typically cryptic about its lyrics, some of which are in Portuguese: "Just picture a guy who's a really bad driver, tha's kind of what it's about"
Though the lyrics of KFAD seem to be a little more personal than his previous character sketches, Patton maintains that "I think it's important to always have the ability to step outside of yourself because nobody's interesting enough to write 14 songs about on a fucking album. You have to be able to not be yourself, to lie...I think there's personal stuff in there and there's also prefabrication"
Both Patton and Bordin cite the chaotic 'Ugly In The Morning' and 'Get Out' are some of a few new songs that'll be a bit rough to play live (at press time, the band hadn't yet started touring; it's been almost two years), but they both looked forward to it. "'I'm excited about that, because that means we're pushing it", says Bordin happily 'It's good stretch yourself, you move it forward." Patton is eager to play all the new stuff live. "I think it's the thing we need to do in order for this whole thing to seem real. We recorded it and now we're talking about it, but I don't feel like we really know it yet. We're talking about someone else's music at this point". As if it could ever be...