Happy birthday Mike 'Puffy' Bordin who turns 53 today!
To celebrate we have gathered some great articles and interviews with the Faith No More drummer.
HM Magazine | Issue November 1995
Men And Their Machines
The tied back dredlocks, African rhythms and a heavy handed mastery of the drums are his trademarks, but there is much more to playing drums in Faith No More than simply hitting things. Justin Owen gets behind the kit with Mike Bordin and his technician, Feely.
Introduce yourself Puffy...
"The drum kit is the piece of equipment that is going to have the most variation from night to night, that's why we try and use our own kit as often as possible. Otherwise it's like using someone else's toothbrush or wearing someone else's underpants, it just doesn't feel quite right."
Let there be drums...
"I learnt how to read music and drum patterns and how to hold my sticks. That was the first thing I learnt. It's a drag and takes time, but it's worthwhile. It's good to have solid training and solid learning but if you're smart then you'll always try and take it that much further. It's like riding a bike, once you learn the basics you can push it further and if you're creative and clever you can figure out the way that you can make it best for you.
"When I was learning with a regular teacher I used to get frustrated because I would always see people who could play faster than me and there were always people who could play flashier than I could and in the end it got kind of intimidating because I knew that it wouldn't end. There are always going to be people who are playing faster or flashier than you.
"Learning African rhythms with a guy from Ghana broke that mould, it taught me how to play things as I heard them. It taught me that if you hear five people playing drums, and you can hear what all those people are playing then you can play that, and you can do it all yourself. If you have the syncopation and the coordination, you can be your own ensemble, except it's an ensemble of toms and snare and hi-hat, you cna put those different drums in different patterns together and make a whole new thing. It was like learning how to speak another language. When you can speak one language sometimes it can only take you so far, but when you learn another language then sometimes that's exactly what you need to get you that little bit further."
A feel for things...
"For me, it's always been a search to get the sounds that I hear in my head. When someone says 'floor tom' or 'rack tom', I always hear the sound that it makes before I get a mental image of what the drum actually loks like. I don't see a picture of a naked chick in a magazine ad holding up a drum, or some sweaty guy posing, I hear what that drum should sound like.
"Feely and I kinda felt the same about the way that drums should sound, so from day one he's literally been instrumental in helping me get my sound together. When you're playing a kit where you haven't changed the drum heads for ages, you can sometimes end up with a sound that you like that just evolves over time. The challenge then is changing your heads all the time and having to get that same sound back every day, time after time."
Feely's tricks with sticks...
"When you're swinging a drumstick really hard, or even a cricket bat or a hockey stick or whatever, and you're tired and you're sweating or whatever, you lose grip. People try and put tape around them and the tape slips, or they wear glvoes and the whole stick slips our of your hand, I've tried it all and nothing ever worked for me." Feely: "Mike plays really hard and he wears a lot of water, there's a lot of sweat, lots of snot and a lot of water. "If you can, visualise a really fast, hard working machine, it's really hard to keep it under control and hold on to all the parts." "First you take off all the varnish around the stick with sandpaper, not smoothing it out just get it so that it isn't that glossy slippery finish. Then you go round the stick with pliers, and groove it out so that it cuts into the stick and splinters it up."
"We like darker sounds, I find the Zildjian sound is just a little darker than most, it makes it a little heavier and they don't sound tinny next to the drums."
"All the toms are birch, even the kick drum is birch. This creates a really dark sound, it's like swamp water.
"The snare is maple though, which has a clear, sharp sound, and when you put the two together, it's crystal clear, the sound cuts right through."
"We took all the toms to a drum doctor to get the bearing edges made sharper. When they leave the factory, the edges are sometimes a little rounded.
"Sharpening the edges creates less resonance. Mike hits them so hard and you don't want them ringing out for ages and ages. We try to create a sound that is deep enough to boom out heavily, but not one so low that it just gets lots in the mix."
DRUMS: YAMAHA RECORDING CUSTOM
13" x 15", 14" x 16" toms
16" x 18" floor tom
24" bass drum
13" x 7" snare
15" Avedis rock hats
24" Z heavy power ride
19" K china boy
19" K medium thin dark crash
18" K medium thin dark crash
18" Avedis medium crash
STICKS: VIC FIRTH
Drummer Magazine | October 2012 | Joel McIver
Rhythm Magazine | April 1995 | Ronan Macdonald
With a new album on the shelves and a world tour in your face, Faith No More are back to rock the house. Drummer Mike Bordin teaches Ronan Macdonald the true meaning of power.
OH, YOU'RE GOING TO UNPLUG MY CD player aren't you. How about the lamp next to it?"
This is strange... l'm having a strange day. For starters, I've just aided and abetted the Rhythm photographer in the trashing of Mike Bordin's hotel room to convert it into a photographic studio while he stood there and watched. And before the irony of that has struck me fully, Mike's showed me the most impressive collection of be-bop CDs I've ever seen, which apparently he takes everywhere with him.
This is Faith No More's drummer, for Chrissakes. He's supposed to trash his own room; he's supposed to be into Ministry and all that, he's supposed to rock.
Anyway, James (that's the photographer) has Just attempted to unplug Mike's portable CD player, and Mike looks a little concerned.
I don't want to piss this man off; I can't help thinking he might go nuclear at any moment. James tells him that the lamp has a round pinned plug, so no, he can t plug his lights into it. Cheers, James. "Is that the only one? It is, huh. I was trying to charge my CD player up... If you can find another one, do, but if you can't l'm not going to stand in your way; don't worry about it. And I mean it too - if you can't, don't worry about it."
There's something about the way he says this, something strangely intense. Perhaps it's the implication that were James doing something a bit more intrusive he would 'stand in his way' Whatever, it's something of a relief but at the same time a reassuring confirmation that Mike could get buckwhile should the need arise. And this is a man who clearly needs his music. "I was into music a long time before I started playing the drums," says Mike, tying his dreads-to-die-for back. "It was always really important to me, whether it was Creedence Clearwater when I was nine or ten or Black Sabbath after that."
Mike's introduction to drumming came through his teenage friendship with Cliff Burton, who went on to become Metallica's bass player and tragically died in 1986. "We were sitting in his house one day having a smoke," he remembers. "He was really into Kiss and he said he wanted to play bass. So I said, 'Well, I'm gonna play drums* He died and stuff and we miss him; we'd gone to a thousand concerts together. I don t know, I wasn't even particularly thrilled or moved by drumming as a 14 year old heavy metal kid. I liked Tony lommi and Ritchie Blackmore and early Michael Schenker... I liked heavy metal, and heavy metal s accepted as being a guitar-driven type of music. That was 18 years ago."
Nonetheless, Mike decided to find himself a teacher and go about things 'properly' A friend's brother happened to be a drummer (He was a really good technical player; he studied it) so Mike approached him and told him he wanted to learn.
"He was great. At that point I thought I knew everything about music and it was all heavy metal. I read Circus magazine, I knew what was going on. I went up to him with my big afro and he said, 'Okay, you like music? You wanna play drums? Okay kid... punk... Naw, it wasn't that bad really. He said, 'Go to the record store and buy this record. Go home and listen to it, come back next week and tell me if you still want to play the drums'. The record was Tony Williams Lifetime, Believe It, which to this day I carry in my bag. That record's a miracle, it's a miracle. So I started playing the drums."
Does this strike you as odd? A 14 year old metal kid having a musically spiritual experience thanks to Tony Williams? Er, Mike... I gotta tell ya, this ain't heavy metal. "Oh, but it was faking thunder. Oh man, it was thunderous," he enthuses, sitting up excitedly. "Believe Jr's not a heavy metal record, but there's a lot of guitar and thumping, thunderous drums. It just made a connection to me, I was interested. I wasn't too interested in school; at that time I was doing real bad in school, smoking too much and getting in trouble. Lo and behold, I started playing the drums and stopped smoking. I went to school and was a better guy, not so much of a jerk, and it was all because I had something I was interested in."
It's okay, this isn't about to turn into a moral tale, although perhaps it is a testimony to the hip power of drumming. Anyway, Mike threw himself into it whole-heartedly, taking lessons from West Coast doyen Chuck Brown. "He's a heavy guy, he taught Michael Shrieve and Terry Bozzio. His whole thing is matched grip - excellent control; control in the fingertips... He's a swinger."
Mike, as anyone who's seen him drumming will know, plays open handed. While he is left-handed using a right-handed set up, this technique isn't just there because
Brown couldn't be bothered setting up a left-handed kit when teaching
"My teacher decided to experiment on me. I had my kit set up right-handed, but what it did was to give me more power by playing like this. And it worked. Why don't they do that for everybody with matched grip? It's stupid to cross over anyway. He said it would either suck and I wouldn't
be able to do it, or both my hands would be strong and I'd be able to lead from both sides. It worked. He taught me a real style of drumming, a real technique. But it was hard!" he exclaims. "I couldn't get my wrists straight and I was playing like this and it wouldn't bounce straight and I kept hitting myself in the eye... I was shitty... I'm still shitty sometimes. But, you know, why not nobody's born beautiful. I worked at it and, lo and behold, I started relating to music rhythmically, and that was a big deal, a huge thing."
Although drumming kept Mike off the streets, so to speak, it wasn't all downhill for him emotionally by any means. There was a time for this temperamental artist when no matter how far he progressed, it was never enough.
"A strange thing started happening: as I got playing more and more I started feeling worse and worse. I was really frustrated and I didn't know why."
Mike's dissatisfaction with his playing reached such an extent that when he and his friends got together for regular jams, he'd often end up having what can only be described as a tantrum. "We were having these wild sessions, and it was, like, beer and fun - although even then I couldn't drink beer and play without getting arm cramps and dehydration - but I would be very unsatisfied at the end of the night and, more often than not, I would kick over my drums. I guess that's the kind of person I was then: real wound up tight and unable to gain a perspective. I started realising that the reason I was becoming unsatisfied was because it wasn't exactly right, you know? I was trying to play really fast, cramming four bar fills into two bars and all that stuff. At that point I don't think I'd heard Billy Cobham, but everybody in the world was trying to play like him, and that didn't work for me. I started realising that either I had to do that and be like some f**king racehorse, or give it up and be rid of it. It's all about style and substance - there's nothing wrong with style, if you worship style and that's what you're into. God bless ya. But there are other things, and I think you need both. The people who are into the substance need the
people who are into the style because otherwise we'd all be the same, we'd all be average and it would be boring. So I gave that up and started feeling better. That's a huge thing, even at that early time, figuring out where you can fit in and be comfortable."
At the same time as this revelation came a second turning point. The Ed Sullivan-enhanced Brit explosion many American drummers went through may have been before his time, but for Mike the best British music came along way after the Beatles anyway. "Around that rime, England exploded, and I was into it, it was good for me. The Stranglers were the bridge between heavy metal and the future. It was like heavy metal without the annoying guitar solos. That was well timed for me. It was all about feeling; there wasn't a lot of technique; it was all straightforward. It was good for me because I was burnt out on Ted Nugent and all that other dogshit." 'Dogshit'? Does Mike really see it all as dogshit now? He used to love this stuff. "It's like anything; it's like, out of 25,000 things that you thought were great, there'll be maybe 12,500 things that will stand up. I still listen to Physical Graffiti, and I still listen to a few Black Sabbath records for sure, but l'm into other things right now. At the moment I'm into music from the '40s and '50s, that's what this bag's full of." This is no exaggeration - it really is full. "I'm interested in be-bop, R&B, jump... That's what I'm into now, but I wasn't ready for it then. But anyway, the whole thing with rock is that you don t have to be perfect. You don t have to be Billy Cobham or Steve Gadd, you don't have to be. I really got into Killing Joke - Paul Perguson - and Echo and the Bunnymen Pete De Freitas. Those guys, man. That was as influential on me in the near present as heavy metal was when I was a kid. Killing Joke was like Black Sabbath to me."
After he'd finished taking lessons from Chuck Brown, Mike discovered another side to drumming that gave him a new perspective on his playing. "There was this guy at school from
Ghana, a master percussionist," he recalls. "What he did was taught a low key African percussion class for idiots, for f**king white people - football players and frat players. This guy was the other half of my musical education. The other f**ker taught me how to hold my sticks and write stuff down, and this guy was a whole different deal. He taught me how to make one limb play one thing and one limb play another, or maybe do things with my mouth. His whole thing was ensemble - the natural syncopation of many people playing different things together. Musically it's like DNA, it's the building blocks. And again, listening to people like Paul
Ferguson and Pete De Freitas, those guys weren't like 'Ringo Starr, Ringo Starr, ba-da-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da, Ringo Starr', they weren't that. Even before that, I was doing things with flams and torn patterns, but the African guy really firmed it up and there was no going back. The African thing is the four main beats with syncopation around it. There it is: the four main beats are in your hi-hat and you've got three limbs left to play with, so what do you want to do? What I wanted to do was go for power, so I connected up the toms and the kick drum a lot. The thing I said before about being unsatisfied was that it didn't feel mighty enough, so I'd kick 'em over. I was looking for a buzz, and I realised it wasn't going to come from playing faster; there was always going to be someone playing faster than me, flasher than me and doing some other f**king fancy assed dragster trick. I decided to use my 'fingerprint'. It may not be the greatest fingerprint, but it's mine and I'm going to make the most of it. That ain't easy to do when you see guys flipping their sticks and doing back flips and karate kicks.
"To me, drumming is up here," he continues, pointing to his head. "When people say, hey, do a clinic, you know what I would do? I would have lunch and talk about drums,"
Now, you may be thinking that Mike takes all this very seriously, and indeed he does. He's a serious sort of person. And his lucidity in explaining how he got to where he is now gives the impression that he*s reached some sort of equilibrium. "I don't have to think about it any more because I've made my peace with it," he explains. "I believe it, so I can move on and deal with something else. Pm not interested in somebody doing an impression of someone else, I want to know where we've been. I want to know where we've been so I can find out where I'm going. By the same token, about being frustrated and kicking over the drums, I'm satisfied; I get what I want at the office I don't mean that in a disparaging way - drumming is a job to me, and it's the best f**cking job I could ever have." He pauses and looks at me intently. "I say it's a job, I put my chest out. Journalists are like, 'Well, is this a job or is this, like, your art?' You know what I mean? It's not like that; it's like, Yeah, it's my job. I'm giving up my hearing and my body willingly. And my dme: my wife's sister had a baby last night... I wasn't there for their wedding either... I wasn't there for her father's funeral. Yeah, it's a Job and I'm f**king proud of it."
Faith No More have been through, a couple of line up changes over the years. Original singer Chuck Mosley was dumped for being too mad, and guitarist 'Big' Jim Martin departed because of... er, musical differences. But through all the bullets and bitching, all three core members
have remained: bassist Billy Gould, keyboard player Roddy Bottum and, of course, Mike Bordin.
The band originally formed when Mike met Gould (with whom he*s been playing for 12 years) through another musician.
"It was just after the time when the Stranglers and the Sex Pistols and the Ramones saved me from Ted Nugent, if you will. Nah, I don't want to pick on him, but just things generally in that vein. I was playing with some other bands and somebody said they knew a guy who was into that kind of music - Killing Joke and PiL and that kind of stuff - who was looking for a drummer. They said he was kind of weird. I went along and talked to him and he was playing with this weird, scrawny looking kid. That was Bill. We realised that we had more in common with each other than we did with him. We became pretty good friends and went to Black Flag concerts and listened to the Misfits and all of that."
And with Bottum leaving another band to join the duo, Faith No More were born, The whole thing started off as a jam situation, three mates gettin' busy in the garage, if you will.
"We didn't know how to write songs," admits Mike, "it was more about playing long grooves. Like the thing from 'Zombie Eaters', the main part, that was the first thing we ever did - me, Billy and Roddy. We'd sit there and play it for hours. It was amazing to us, we were all excited because we felt like we were going somewhere. In reality, we didn't know shit about writing songs, but we were doing something that was definitely within where we wanted to go. To some extent it's still that way, but we're better at writing now. As a musician, all kidding aside, f**k, you've got to get better, man. If you do it for a long time and take pride in it, you gotta get better. If you don't grow, you die."
One of Faith No More's trademarks is their use of keyboards. Keyboards in rock usually implies something along the lines of Europe or Ye Quo, but in this case they added a powerful and histrionic hi-tech edge to the band's sound. And while you'd think the loss of their full time guitarist would mean the keyboards came to the forefront even more, their new album
King For A Day features more guitars and less keys.
"On Angel Dust [their previous album], we wrote a record and we didn't get a guitar player to come in with as much guitar as we wanted, for whatever reason, all dirty laundry aside. Ask the
guitar player; ask the band - we would agree on one thing, that we didn't as much guitar as we wanted. That was the beginning of the end for that working relationship.
"When you have a keyboard player and a guitar player in a band, you have to balance them out; they take up the same frequencies and a lot of space. So what we had this time, instead of guitar, was keyboards, guitar. This time it is a bit different, and this is the first time ever, again as a bassist, a drummer and a keyboard player who write songs, that we've written songs with guitar in mind. Before, we'd write songs and then put guitar over them, but this time, without a
guitar player, we've consciously left space for it. It was like a new toy. Having said that, the
keyboards are in appropriate places and they make a few songs for me."
Faith No More's relationship with the media has never been overly cosy. A substantial amount of press has focussed on the fact that... well, the band don't seem to like each other, basically. Is this is hype or is it all really as fiery off-stage as it is on?
"Tension is overrated," says Mike cryptically. "Tension, while it may make you pissed off and maybe make. you play your instrument harder... I can think of a couple of other things that do the same thing. One is satisfaction and pride and motivation. The bottom line is that if we're not happy about it, we're not going to lie about it, whether it was the singer before this one, who we were pissed off and frustrated with, or whether it was this last experience with Angel Dust, where we made a record we were very proud of and that had success although we knew in our hearts we could have improved it one or two percentage points. Nobody lied about it. I think tension is overrated, yes."
Mike's getting rather animated, but I'm going to hold my ground. I ask him how they're all getting along now.
"Right now? We get along good. I was talking to this journalist friend of mine last night, and he said, 'You know how everyone's s saying you stay together because of your contract? That's bullshit! I've seen you guys since '88, and I've never seen you all happier on stage' And he's right. We don't f**k about really. This is important to us; if it wasn't then we wouldn't do it at this level."
Whatever their outlook towards each other, it's certainly true to say that everyone who's ever been in Faith No More has had the seemingly necessary qualification of a very strong
personality. While this may have caused its problems in the past, you only have to see them play to know that it also makes them what they are. And if Mike ever leaves the band, anyone thinking of taking his place should be told that this is a gig requiring you to give as much, if not more, than you take. Mike is a very firm advocate of the 'no pain, no gain' school of thought; even his sticks have been customised to this end. "My drum tech used to use a pair of pliers," he grins.
"He'd go round the sticks in a spiral and then rub them with the pliers to make very large splinters. I hold the tips and use them butt end. Things get pretty slippery; I have grip tape on my pedals. There's water, a lot of water, a lot of snot when I hit something hard, I'll blow a booger. It all comes out: there's water and there's sweat and snot and a lot of blood. My sticks dig in and they don't let go."
Literally, I would imagine. "Definitely."
Um... call me naive, but doesn't that, like, really hurt? "It feels great. It's my job." Mike Bordin is exactly as I imagined he'd be. He's got that Rollins-style, at times introspective intensity that
Faith No More's drummer should have. The fact that he's also so single-mindedly masochistic only serves to make him even more of a quintessential rock icon than he at first appears. "Yeah, I definitely feel a physical contribution to this," says Mike as we rebuild his
room. "It's a commitment, yeah. When I come off stage, I'm f**ked, I'm done. But if I wasn't, I wouldn't be satisfied, and that would be even worse I'm like a cockroach, I've adapted to do exactly what I need to to survive."
We’ve only been talking for ten minutes and already Mike Bordin is devastated, cut to the quick, nearly speechless. It didn’t start out this way: we were making amiable, getting-to-know-you, pre-interview chit-chat about fatherhood and the challenges of raising normal kids in a world of 500 cable channels, violent computer games, and IMs, when the discussion turned to the drummer’s thunderous work on the scalding new Ozzy Osbourne album, Black Rain. Having spoken to Osbourne a week earlier for another music publication, I asked the 44-year-old Bordin how he felt about recording the album piecemeal, and having his parts Pro Tooled and added to the mix, as if Bobby Flay were tossing jalapenos into a Cuisinart. It was a casual yet pointed question, and I had no idea I was dropping a psychological daisycutter on Bordin, who takes upwards of a minute to recover.
“That wasn’t the way it happened it all,” he says, his voice noticeably trembling. “Wait a minute. Is that what Ozzy actually told you?”
I refer to my text from the interview and quote Osbourne’s account of the recording process thusly: “I’ll tell you how we did this record: Zakk would come in, lay down some riffs, and then [producer] Kevin [Churko] would go, ‘That’s a main riff, that’s a verse, that’s a chorus,’ and so on. Then he would assemble everything with Pro Tools. So it was a different way of writing than what we used to do.”
Hearing this, Bordin exhales deeply, his mind reeling. “This is tricky for me,” he begins, “because I respect Ozzy so very much. But that’s not how it went down at all. What happened was, I got a call from Ozzy’s office on a Friday afternoon to tell me that Zakk was going into Ozzy’s home studio on Monday. Could I come in? I said, ‘Absolutely.’
“So I showed up at the appointed hour and Zakk and I went at it. Ozzy’s got a terrific new studio in his house. It was built by Audio One, and they don’t mess around. Ozzy told them, ‘Build me a studio and make it a great one.’ And they did. Anyway, the two of us went to work. Nobody from the label knew what Zakk and I were doing; everything we did was in total secrecy. Nobody was watching over us with budgets and schedules; nobody was telling us what to do. We were in Ozzy’s house, writing and playing – two adult men making big-time, hard-hitting rock music.”
Within days, according to Bordin, the two musicians fell into a rigid pattern of toiling and moiling. “Each afternoon we’d go into the writing room, we’d bulls**t for half an hour, and then Zakk’s ass would hit the piano stool and he’d start playing guitar through his super-cranked Marshall. Within 20 minutes, he’d have three changes; within 30 minutes, I’m playing them right along with him; and within another ten minutes we’d have an entire song recorded. Fresh. Real. True. Two musicians playing music together.”
After more than two decades of professional recording experience, Bordin has worked in a variety of settings, from rinky-dink studios to state-of-the art sonic palaces. “I’ve been there with 2" tape and razor blades to digital engineers saying, ‘Okay, just tap this and tap this, give me these samples and I can put it together.’ I’ve been there when people said, ‘Take it from the bridge and I can punch you in.’ But this album was different. To me, I feel as though we made this record by hand, the way bands used to back in the ’60s. I know that sounds funny, but I played complete passes on these songs, and I’m intensely proud of that fact.”
A Whole New Ozzy. One listen to Black Rain – a startlingly mature work from a singer who has made a name for himself by peeing on the Alamo and snorting a line of ants (to say nothing of his way with bats) – goes a long way toward underscoring Bordin’s claims. The results sound organic, boisterous, and spontaneous – as far and away from a pastiche as it gets. On slamming tracks such as “Civilize The Universe” and “The Almighty Dollar,” Bordin’s performances stomp and swagger with authentic, merciless authority. And on euphonious ballads like “Lay Your World On Me" and “Here For You,” he doesn’t just play drums; he plays songs. Bordin, as always, is a joy to behold, and the lightning celerity with which he unleashes on his high-and-flat toms – a forceful yet graceful battering that one can only describe as “balletic” – provides a fullness of feeling that amounts to its own kind of bounty.
The teaming of Bordin with bassist Rob “Blasko” Nicholson (who did, in fact, punch in his parts to guides played by Wylde; a minor quibble) makes for a rhythm section that is a rarity in the annals of heavy metal: sinuous yet playful, rock-solid and rubber band, an impenetrable fortress that occasionally opens up to let in a cool favonian breeze.
To call Black Rain a “concept album” would be a misnomer, but two recurring themes are dominant: the Iraq war and global warming. While previous Osbourne albums were weighted with Delphic pronouncements – with Ozzy’s bleak, despairing, and eerie voice often sounding as if it were sailing in on a ghost ship – this time the singer gets right to the point, hurling unambiguous diatribes at his enemies (politicians) who are hiding in plain sight, clearly visible in the crosshairs. “People have to remember, this is the guy who sang ‘War Pigs,’” says Bordin. “He didn’t write those words; Bill Ward wrote them. But over 40 years Ozzy took them to heart. They’re part of his DNA. On this record I think he wrote every line. Plus, he’s sober now too; he’s very focused. I know he watches CNN a lot and he reads the papers. He’s pretty fired up about the state of the world.”
Even still, Ozzy is Ozzy. Returning to the discrepancies in recording, I posit the theory that the singer’s powers of recollection, even sober (going on three years now), are not without his trademark (and famously mocked) ineluctable trains of logic; that he is, plainly speaking, simply being Ozzy: devoid of malice, true to his heart, but certainly not the definition of an expert witness – in anybody’s court, kangaroo or otherwise. To some measure, this placates Bordin. “That could be,” he says, “and that’s no slight to Ozzy. He is who he is, and he’s a great man and a great artist. And like I said, his vision is really clear now. But what really stirs me about this album is, it’s really something special. It’s the complete opposite of the last record I made with him, which was my first record with him.”
The Last CD. That would be 2001’s Down To Earth, produced by Tim Palmer. The songs were torpid and unmelodic, the vibe arid. All involved agree that it isn’t among the strongest of efforts in the Osbourne cannon (the singer himself expresses a profound desire to take the album back: “It just wasn’t me, it was somebody’s idea of me”). The band then comprised new guys Bordin, bassist Robert Trujillo (ex-Suicidal Tendencies and now a member of Metallica), and guitarist Joe Holmes (filling in for Wylde who had bolted to run his own band, Pride & Glory, which morphed into Black Label Society). They struggled to make magic, but according to Bordin, “It was a trying experience, personally and musically. Coming from Faith No More, which I was kind of co-owner of, a kitchen-sink kind of band where everybody basically got to do whatever they wanted, it was weird at first to be in a situation where it was all about Ozzy. I knew in my head that being part of Ozzy’s band was going to be about serving the master, which I was cool with, but it wasn’t until I was in the thick of things that I realized to what degree I had to set aside my own ego. But there’s a different ego satisfaction you get from a gig like this, and eventually I wrapped my head around the concept that I’m there to help Ozzy and do the best I can to make things look right, feel right, and sound right. But I didn’t feel as though I was doing that on Down To Earth. Dare I say, nobody did.”
The reason, as Bordin sees it, was typical record company interference – too many cooks, untrained and otherwise, spoiling the broth – and an intransigent producer whose obsession with detail proved to be the album’s undoing. “Tim Palmer insisted on endless, almost pointless pre-production,” says Bordin. “That’s the surest way I know to kill a musical vibe. Once you get a tune down, you have to move on or the life of the song is gone. Also, Tim was trying to mold Ozzy into an alternative artist or something; he wasn’t letting Ozzy be himself, and it showed.”
Before recording got underway in earnest, Wylde returned to the fold (a deal was subsequently struck that allowed the guitarist to divide his time between Ozzy and BLS). “Thank God Zakk came back because he really saved the day,” says Bordin. “Again, it’s not an album everybody loves – I know Ozzy doesn’t like it – but the band just wasn’t the same without Zakk.”
Playing With Wylde. Bordin and Wylde have now played together since 1995 – the longest pairing of any two musicians in the Ozzy Osbourne band. In appearance and temperament, they make for the oddest of couples: Bordin, the dreadlocked, soft-spoken model of moderation whose easygoing mien borders on a Zen-like aura; and Wylde, the Confederate flag-waving “Berserker,” a leather-and-chains-clad mountain man with a beard that would make Billy Gibbons green with envy, and whose daily beer intake could surely merit some sort of underwrite from Anheuser-Busch. Grown men have been known to run for the hills at the mere sight of Wylde, whose countenance ranks a close second to that of Li’l Abner. Bordin, however, finds the guitarist an ameliorating and inspiring presence. “You can never have a bad day when you’re around Zakk,” he says. “When we work together, we have fun every day. He’s very much on the fly, very off the cuff, and that pushes me as a drummer. He wants everything to be as powerful as it can be. Sometimes that translates into total heavyosity; other times it means making a melody as beautiful and memorable as possible. Let’s put it this way: he never wastes your time. And he doesn’t want the music to be a waste of time. To him, there’s no filler. As a drummer, I really respond to that. It keeps me on my game.
“He’s an unvarnished, no-nonsense kind of dude, and I mean that as a compliment. He’s on ten all the time. He lives life to the hilt. Here’s how I see it: every quarterback needs a pulling guard; every running back needs a tailback; every tailback needs a linebacker. If you had a band full of Zakks, it wouldn’t work. It would be too much of one thing, and that would make the music one-dimensional. The place that Zakk occupies on stage is his own. He’s passionate about what he does, he’s funny as hell, and he’s full of creative juice. His intensity comes from his creativity, and it’s very infectious.”
Bordin cites the song “I Don’t Wanna Stop” as an example. “That was a song where Zakk was playing vaguely reminiscent of Faith No More, where’d I’d normally play a lot of toms and I’d make everything up-front. But that’s not Ozzy. And I wouldn’t go up to Ozzy and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to remake your band in my image.’ So, lo and behold, there’s one part in the song where it was appropriate for me to play in my old style, but I wasn’t going to make it the basis of the song; I wanted to challenge myself and the material. I was looking for a primitive tom pattern, but one that wouldn’t necessarily sound like me, so I taught myself to play backwards – or rather, right-handed – which I’ve never done before.
“I didn’t change the position of the snare. My snare drum is played with my right hand – it’s an open style of playing. I use my left hand on the hi-hat, the ride cymbal and the China cymbal – all the effects are with my left hand. My kick drum is still the right foot, as normal. But I rode the floor tom with my right hand; I was completely out of my comfort zone. At first, it was strange to teach myself to play right-handed, it was an experiment, but it was a real breakthrough musically. Of course, now the joke is that I have to try to play it live every night that way, so I’m going to be practicing my ass off.”
When asked if he ever tries to prod Wylde to try similar musical experiments, Bordin haltingly answers in the affirmative, but he stresses that there’s a line he can’t cross. “If Zakk starts changing what he does because of my drumming, then I’ve made a grave mistake. He shouldn’t have to fit his incredible runs and solos around me – it’s the other way around. Same with Ozzy. I bring what I can do to Ozzy’s songs, not fit Ozzy’s songs into my drumming agenda. Drummers have to remember that we’re accompanying the music, the singer, the song. There’s no dishonor in doing that. Think of those great Motown drummers. Those guys were [incredible], but they never got in the way of the music. They served the music. Strangely enough, it’s the same with hard rock and heavy metal.”
Three Weeks Later. Bordin has left his home in California’s Marin County for Los Angeles. Rehearsals for Ozzy’s appearance at the yearly Ozzfest (which is now called FreeFest, as all tickets are being distributed for the bargain price of zip) are into their first full week, and the drummer is feeling energized. “I spoke with Zakk about what Ozzy said about the recording,” says Bordin, “and his response was something along the lines of ‘What the f**k?!’ Neither one of us can understand why Ozzy would say that. But whatever – I’m not going to dwell on it anymore. The album is great and I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
Bordin also happily notes that the band, in just one week’s time, is playing stronger than ever. Everybody is settled, broken in like a well-worn pair of shoes. Songs that once flummoxed the band have come together like second nature. Part of the reason, Bordin surmises, is he spent his spring months doing anything but playing the drums. “My new thing is, I don’t practice if I don’t have to. Once you get to a certain level – and I’m not trying to be cocky – you have to know when to let your instrument sit. Carry the music around with you in your head; carry it in your soul. That way, when you sit down to play, you’ll be dying to play, and everything will feel and sound new. After a while, too much practice gets in the way of playing.”
Another important aspect of the band’s new groove that is that this new tour will mark Blasko’s second run with the group. “He’s a true part of the team now. His playing is as solid as anything I’ve ever heard before, and we’re locking in together like a house on fire – which is funny in a way, because he’s so different from most bassists I’ve worked with. I come from the school of Cliff Burton, Robert Trujillo, Jack Bruce, and Geezer Butler – very strong fingerpickers, very melodic and all over the neck – and Blasko plays with a pick; he’s more of a ‘hold down the fort’ kind of guy. But there’s a comfort to playing with a guy like that, that makes this gig really fly. It’s not that he’s less of a musician, it’s just that he’s very dependable. You know where he’s going to be; you can set your watch to him, and that can really free you up as a drummer – less notes to deal with. Although when I played with Cliff, he could put all that information out there and you could follow him anywhere he wanted to go.”
The subject of Cliff Burton holds a special meaning for Bordin: the two played together as Bay Area teenagers. “We were in each other’s first bands,” Bordin says. “To me, he’ll always be a friend and a mythic figure. That’s why I get on with Zakk so well. He told me that when he was putting Pride & Glory together he ran an ad which said: ‘If you don’t know who Cliff Burton is, don’t even call me.’ That was our first bonding experience, and probably our most important.
Bordin sees his place in Osbourne’s band, going on 12 years now, as inevitable. Beyond the Cliff Burton connection he shares with Wylde, he holds Osbourne up on an even higher pedestal. “I was ten years old, just getting into music, when my mother died,” he says softly. “I could have gotten mean and bitter and things might’ve wound up very differently for me. But one of the bands that I gravitated to was Black Sabbath. Their music wasn’t being played on the radio, it wasn’t on jukeboxes at the pizzeria – you had to go to a friend’s house and discover it in the basement. It was an underground thing, which made it more special. It’s no joke that Black Sabbath saved my life. I always dreamed of meeting Ozzy and telling him that.”
That conversation took place in the late ’80s, when Faith No More was enjoying its first brush with success with the album The Real Thing. At a party RIP magazine threw for the band, not only did Osbourne show up, but he jumped on stage to sing “War Pigs” with the group (they had covered the song on the record). Afterwards, Bordin approached Osbourne and nervously introduced himself. “I told him how important Sabbath was to me growing up,” says Bordin, “how his music got me through a lot of tough times. He could tell that I was being sincere, that I wasn’t just giving him the standard lines.”
Years later, Osbourne, looking to shake up his band, remembered the dreadlocked drummer who spoke so sincerely of his love of Black Sabbath. When the phone call came from Osbourne asking Bordin if he’d be interested in joining the band, the drummer admits that he wasn’t surprised. “I was destined to play with Ozzy Osbourne. I had prepared for it all my life. I remember the phone call as plain as day. I didn’t freak. I didn’t get nutty – it just seemed normal in a way. Not that I wasn’t excited; of course I was excited. But there’s just certain things that are meant to happen in life, and for me, this gig is it.”
MIKE BORDIN’S 5 TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
1. Be a team player
2. Practice like a son of a bitch (despite what I said earlier about not practising)
3. Protect your hearing
4. Don’t be afraid of any piece of music
5. Love what you do, or don’t do it
Drummer Magazine | October 2012 | Joel McIver
Mike Bordin of Faith No More rarely does press. He doesn't need to - which makes our cover story with the great man all the more remarkable. Listen up as the man with the dreads talks.
Words: Joel Mclver Images: Tina K
For many. Faith No More are the greatest rock band of all time. Maybe it's the San Francisco quintet's effortlessly sophisticated fusion of metal, funk, post-punk and pop. Possibly it's the fact that everything the band do is laced with sarcasm and difficult to figure put, while also being highly memorable. Whatever FNM's secret, though, their powerhouse drummer Mike Bordin isn't overthinking it...
Bordin, who is approaching 50 but looks as if he could quite easily beat Drummer up when we meet him backstage at London's Brixton Academy, was once known as a famously hard hitter (of drums). Times have changed, though. "I don't know if I hit the drums extremely hard anymore," he shrugs." I don't worry about that any more, and I don't think about that any more. Now, I guess, I hit them ashard as they need to be hit, based on what the hell is going on in the world of the music at the time. I don't think I'm a light player, though."
Like all the greatest guitar bands, from Black Sabbath to Tin Machine and beyond, the rhythm section in Faith No More is a unit of almost telepathic ability. In FNM's live shows and albums, Bordin and bassist Bill Gould attack their instruments with both power and subtlety: the former's bass-slapping technique is as percussive as any drumming style. "Bill is a very physical bassist, so who knows - maybe there's some synchronicity there," nods Bordin. "We've been playing together a long time, probably more than half our lives at this point. We were 21 when we met."
Asked how he became a drummer, he explains: "I was born in San Francisco and moved to the East Bay with my family at a young age. I could tell you the exact record that was playing when I decided to play drums, but I'm not going to because the person making the music might get a little upset about it. You could probably figure out who it is!"
(Answers on a postcard, please.) "All my heroes were guitar players like Jimi Hendrix, Tony lommi, Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore, all of them," he continues. "We loved all of them and their music, so I went for the drums as a pure knee-jerk response. There was no drummer in my family, or anything like that. At first I played on a pad, just learning how to hold the sticks, like anybody should. I had a teacher, who was a jazz dude, a student of this really well-known guy called Chuck Brown, a local Bay Area teacher who had taught Terry Bozzio among others."
Bordin, then a teenage heavy metal fan, experienced a musical awakening shortly into his sessions. As he recalls, "When my teacher asked me what music I was into, I told him 'Black Sabbath; I said, 'Isn't everybody into heavy stuff? Everything else sucks!' He answered, 'You know, boy, I'm into Chick Corea and Steve Gadd and all the fancy stuff: He was in a band that was a lot like Yes at the time. He told me to go to the record store and buy this album by The New Tony Williams Lifetime called Believe It. He said, If you want to play drums, go buy that album and come back next week: That was how it started. It was a challenge - like, 'Where you're at is not that musical, and not that challenging. Check this out!'" Bordin adds, "So I got the record. Tony Williams was incredible. I studied, and got a practice pad, and began to play over and over again, trying to get that catch and release. I did that for the longest time on the pad: stuff that you don't need a drum set for. My drum teacher then said you should buy a Cameo set; which weren't being made any more at that time, but they were still high quality. So I found a bunch of mismatched Cameo drums: I started with a dark mahogany kit and sanded them down, trying to make them blonde, which didn't really work because it was streaky and there were still colours in the grain."
Better things awaited, he recalls."! had a lot of these drums, but the hardware was terrible, and I was already starting to break it, so we took it in my friend's truck to Leo's Music, which was a great music store in the Bay Area, and I said 'I've got all these Cameo drums: I want that Yamaha set right there: It had 15"and 16"racktoms,an 18"floortom and a 26" kick drum - which was only 14"thick. It was like a bicycle wheel! They were the drums from that old famous Yamaha picture of a kit with three full horseshoes of toms. So that was the first drum kit. It's in the 'We Care A Lot'[FNM's 1988 single] video. They had to figure out how to put a breather in, because it had concert toms"
Beginning with Bowie
Bordin's first musical collaboration was a duo featuring Cliff Burton, the bassist who went on to find enormous acclaim with Metallica before suffering a premature death in a coach crash at the age of only 24. "Cliff and I played together within about six months of each other beginning our instruments," he says. "The Jean Genie' by David Bowie was our first song. We were motivated as hell, because we just loved music. We worked hard - it wasn't casual. We'd found something we really liked and we got into it. We started when we were 13"
The roots of Faith No More have been well documented elsewhere, so let's just say that the group's early line-up (after a brief spell as Faith No Man and a short-lived singer called Courtney Love) was established by the mid-8Os as Bordin, Gould, singer Chuck Mosley, guitarist 'Big' Jim Martin and keyboardist Roddy Bottum. The band worked, Bordin thinks, because of the members' differing musical tastes and backgrounds. "We all came with what we had in the room, and then we found all this other music in the room that we all started together with. For instance, I studied African percussion in school with a Ghanaian teacher who couldn't play a drum kit to save his life, but he could play 30 different instruments with his hands, feet and elbows and sing different rhythms at the same time. I would come back from these drum classes saying, 'These African dudes are amazing, they told me that all drum rhythms are centred down because they go towards the earth!' The rest of the band got into this and we started speaking the same language. It all fit together somehow."
He continues: "We didn't know what we were doing, though.We were coming from really different places. I came from metal, in the East Bay. Did I know that there was more outside that? Absolutely - punk rock, jazz, reggae, blues. Cliff was the same way: he loved metal, but he knew there was a world of music out there. The FNM guys from southern California were into punk rock. Jim comes into the band and he's even more to the right of me: [his tastes were] real straight metal and nothing else. Being in the studio, we knew what we were bringing to the music and we were very well prepared. We were paying for it: working Jobs and saving up."
That first album - We Care A Lot (1984), partly replicated as Introduce Yourself three years later- debated Bordin's snappy, pocket-focused drumming to the world, although (like the work or any new musician) it's not his best. Asked if he listens back to his early stuff and hears errors, Bordin chuckles:"! try not to be too regretful: I don't like looking back. What I like to do is have my head in the game at the time and do the best I can with what I have: that works better for me. I did my best at the time!" The ascent of Faith No More was swift but parabolic. Switching Mosley for voice box extraordinaire Mike Patton and recording two extraordinary albums in The Real Thing (1989) and Angel Dust (1992), the group soon became one of rock's elite - touring with Metallica and Guns N' Roses and releasing a chart-topping cover of the Commodores "Easy'- before the wheel of fashion turned and the kids starting listening to nu-metal instead. Bordin doesn't care: he remained focused on his drums, as he did at the beginning, and as he does now.
"I've been with Yamaha forever," he says. "I cut the first FNM album with that brown Yamaha kit, and I even used it in Faith No Man. I probably got it in 1978. I never took any endorsements, although I was probably offered all of them. Yamaha was always the hardest one to get."
What, a band as big as Faith No More had trouble getting their drum endorsement of choice? Apparently so... "There was one guy who was Yamaha's gatekeeper, so to speak: a legendary guy in the industry who is dead now," Bordin remembers. "He was known to be kind of hard. He had Steve Gadd and Dennis Chambers way before that, but not many endorsing artists, and certainly not many rock drummers among them. But it got around to this guy that I was using Yamaha and holding out: I wasn't going to use anything else. I'll never forget - we were on tour in Australia, and we were in Brisbane one night. I was sleeping because it was three or four in the morning. The phone rings in my room, and I'm like 'Uuuurgh...'This voice goes 'I hear you like Yamaha? You want a deal?' So I'm like 'Uh... yeah!' and he says 'Call me when you get back to the States!' and hangs up the phone. And that was it. I got a black 9000 kit with a deeper bass drum, and we were off to the races. It was a 24" kick drum this time, plus 13"x15"and 14"x16"racktoms"
Watch Bordin play, and it will strike you that he hits his rack toms flat, an unusual position for a rock drummer as hard-hitting as he is. "It would be easier to bank the drums," he admits, "but I've never done it. My teacher told me about the physics of drumming: he said, 'Strike it up and down as much as you can and get off again'. If you're going in at an angle, you're going to have to pull the stick away again."
Giving his all
After years of drumming with Faith No More and, when the band were on hiatus between 1998 and 2009, with Ozzy Osbourne's band – is Bordin in good shape? Yes indeed: no injured trapezius muscles here. "I'm great. I'm good. Period. Exclamation point!" he declares. "As anybody in this band would tell you if they asked them, I don't do a lot of shit. I don't do a lot of anything. I'm here to do this, and I take it really seriously. I don't take myself seriously, but I take the drumming very seriously. I do everything in order to be ready to do the gig. That's the only reason to be here. If I want to see the sights, I'll go on vacation. I do what I need to do to give everything I have, every night. Granted, some nights you hit the mark better than others: that's just the way it goes. It was that way with Ozzy, it's been that way with Faith No More, it's all I have to give, and if I don't, I feel really bad"
Asked how Bordin views his career after all these years, he reasons, "I know more now: I know how to present music in the live setting better" +and anyone who has seen Faith No More's lavish recent shows will agree. Here's a band that, for once, isn't going anywhere soon, and we're all the luckier because of it.
Faith No More’s Mike Bordin Discusses Sol Invictus and His Hard-Hitting Playing Style
Any respectable list of the hardest-hitting drummers of all time simply must place Mike Bordin at or near the very top. Even at fifty-two years of age, the dude is an absolute warrior—an imposing pile of dreadlocks draped down his back, flexed arms ever uncrossed for maximum clearance and velocity, batting gloves gripping tree trunk–sized sticks, butt ends raised to the sky. His kit, too, looks like it was built for all-out battle. Massive ride and China cymbals tower to the left of a metallic tank-like snare, while perfectly flat, impossibly deep tom-toms sprout upward from a cannon of a kick drum. Most drummers tape their set list to their hi-hat stand. Bordin tapes his to the inside of rack tom number two—and his bands play a lot of songs, you dig?
Bordin not only drums with otherworldly levels of power and intensity, but also an understated and utterly unique sense of musicality, stemming from his myriad influences and distinct approach to the kit. A southpaw playing open-handed on a right-handed setup (sans the aforementioned cymbals), Mike was reared on punk and metal, but made his bones dishing out devastatingly deep grooves that, paired with manhandling bassist Billy Gould, would come to define the elastic yet airtight foundation for Faith No More, one of the alt-rock era’s most stylistically ambitious and inimitable groups.
Best known for their smash hit “Epic” from 1989’s breakthrough album, The Real Thing, Faith No More would prove over the ensuing decade to be so much more than a passing funk-metal gimmick. The versatility of vocalist Mike Patton—anchored by the pop sensibility of Gould and keyboardist Roddy Bottum—emboldened the Bay Area quintet to spread its wings and experiment voraciously. Subsequent releases Angel Dust (1992), King for a Day…Fool for a Lifetime (1995), and Album of the Year (1997) found Faith No More blurring the lines between disparate genres with cocksure aplomb—and complete irreverence to a mainstream music industry that hadn’t a clue how to market them.
And while Bordin lived out his childhood dream playing sideman to Ozzy Osbourne in the decade-plus following Faith No More’s seeming late-’90s demise, there’s little doubt that FNM is the band in which he was born to bash. For proof, listen no further than Sol Invictus, the band’s shockingly superb reunion record, and their first new material in over eighteen years. From the no-holds-barred bombast of “Superhero” and soul-soaked odd time of “Sunny Side Up,” to the operatic grandeur of “Matador” and campfire Kumbaya of “From the Dead,” Bordin and company have seamlessly updated their mutant strain of hook-laden hard rock for the new millennium, and have been hard at work spreading their gospel to the worldwide masses all summer.
During an all too brief tour break, Bordin took a moment to talk to Modern Drummer about why Faith No More got back together, the DIY ethos that drove the making of Sol Invictus, how he manages to deliver such a physical set every night, and much more.
MD: Sol Invictus sounds so organic and inspired—the music doesn’t feel forced, like reunion records often do. It’s familiar in the sense that it sounds like Faith No More, but it’s clear you weren’t deliberately trying to replicate anything you’ve done in the past.
Mike: Well, it was made for the right reasons. If we were struggling or stressed or grabbing at straws—well, we wouldn’t have made it in the first place. But if we had, it wouldn’t have been this. It wouldn’t have been, as you say, organic or unforced. And that was very important to us. It sounds kind of cliché, but we’re really trying to keep it clean and focus on the music rather than all the other stuff that bands can get sidetracked with.
MD: What was the impetus to get the band back together for the Second Coming Tour back in 2009?
Mike: Our manager called the core of us together and said, “Look, there’s a lot of people who are interested in seeing Faith No More—have you guys considered it?” Every one of us had a job, and I mean that in the best possible way. I was playing with Ozzy, Mike has a million bands, Roddy has Imperial Teen and he’s scoring films and TV shows, Bill is playing in bands and producing records. So honestly, we’d never even considered it. Everybody was pretty good with where they were, but that definitely got the conversation started.
We didn’t have a big plan. We just got together in a rehearsal room and it felt good, so we did some shows. And when the shows started getting into the couple dozen, and the band started getting pretty strong, we were like, “Okay, now either we’re done, or we’re going to have something else to say.” Because if you don’t have something new to say and you just keep carrying on, it becomes nostalgic. Nobody was here to do nostalgia. No one was here to recreate a time when we had less gray hair and more brain cells, you know? [laughs]
So new music came. It came honestly, it came gradually, and in my opinion, it came correctly. A lot of people will do it the opposite: “Well, you’re doing a reunion tour, you’ve got to have a new album to promote.” But if you haven’t played together in fifteen years, how the hell are you supposed to be comfortable with each other? We have our own language and it’s not only musical—it’s emotional and physical, as well. It’s a unique thing and we had to give it time to work. And that’s what happened. It’s been a crazy, cool gift to have a second chance to do this again with more experience and more perspective under our collective belts.
MD: The physicality with which you play certainly hasn’t diminished.
Mike: I don’t think so, no. We play for real, you know? We know how to deliver live music in an energetic and compelling fashion. And we’re not too old to where we physically can’t do it. On the contrary, I feel I work smarter, which allows me to be even stronger than before. At my age and the amount of shows that I’ve done, I know when to push and when not to push. But I still give you everything I have, and I mean that. Every single thing I have every single night. That’s what I do. That’s my role and I’m very happy to do that. There’s no drug like it.
MD: Are you doing anything differently in terms of diet or exercise or routine to stay in shape these days?
Mike: Well, I’m not one to go out and go ape-shit crazy on tour. What I do is mentally and physically protect myself, because I know that I’ve got a show to do and that’s my focus. That’s my primary consideration, just making sure my batteries are charged up enough so I can drain them out completely at the show. And that’s never changed. It’s a lot of quiet time, it’s fluids, it’s eating well, it’s getting plenty of rest—all that stuff.
MD: I always get a kick out of seeing your tech dump water over your head or give you a mid-song drink.
Mike: [laughs] Well, the guys don’t really like to stop between songs. They like to keep the momentum going and let our music speak for itself. It was different with Ozzy because he would spend time talking to the audience. But that’s not how we do it here, so I need to keep cool on the fly. Between songs, it might only be enough time to go “1-2-3-4,” and boom—you’re right back in it.
MD: It reminds me of a boxer or a marathon runner refueling without stopping—and really, it’s an athletic endeavor, drumming as hard as you do.
Mike: I feel so. And to me, that’s what live music should be; it should be physical, it should be in your face, it should be compelling and energetic and powerful. Otherwise, you might as well sit at home and watch it on your computer. I want some hair on it where it needs to be. And certainly all of our guys have that same approach. That’s just sort of where we come from. It’s that punk rock ethic. Musically I feel like I’m as much Black Flag as I am Black Sabbath, you know?
MD: Watching you play, it’s clear that you still just live and breathe drumming, like you were born to do only this. How old were you when you started?
Mike: I was thirteen years old. It was 1975 and I was sitting in my friend Cliff Burton’s bedroom and he said, “Hey man, I’m going to play bass.” And I said, “Okay, I’ll play drums.” It was a total knee-jerk reaction. It was completely unthought-out. And from the moment I started playing it kind of took over for me. It was an obsession, but it was positive. It was something that kept me out of trouble and defined those middle years where I could’ve gone way off the rails and gone the wrong direction. When I first met Ozzy I told him, “You don’t know me, but Black Sabbath saved my life.” And that’s the power of music. That’s the beauty of it. It’s transformative.
MD: Wow. Cliff Burton.
Mike: Yeah, we’d already been friends for three years or so—at that time that’s like a third of your conscious life! And we just loved music, all kinds of music. A major turning point was when the two of us saw the Sex Pistols at Winterland. Would you have guessed that judging by where Cliff ended up professionally? Maybe you would, but the point is, we were open-minded. We were open to evolution. Evolution is important. You’ve got two choices: you’ve got to roll with it or it’s going to roll right over you.
MD: Were you self-taught?
Mike: Well, yes and no. I learned the basics from a guy who was one of the satellite teachers for this dude Chuck Brown, a pretty renowned drum guru and old-school badass here in the Bay Area. We worked out of Charles Dowd’s Funky Primer and Benjamin Podemski’s Standard Snare Drum Method, stuff like that. Then a few years later I studied with this dude from Ghana in a class at Berkeley that was a group percussion ensemble that had nothing to do with the drumkit. He would dance and sing and talk in different rhythms, and clap his hands in different formations and patterns. At the same time I was listening to guys like Paul Ferguson from Killing Joke and Pete de Freitas, who played in Echo and the Bunnymen—guys who played these amazing tom patterns. So I would say that I walked up to the banquet table and tried all the different things in the smorgasbord and sort of took what worked for me, you know?
MD: How did the songs for Sol Invictus come together? I know “Matador” was being performed live for some time on the reunion tour.
Mike: “Matador” was very important because that was the first new song. Bill brought in a demo with some ideas and we all worked it out—face-to-face, all of us together—and then took it on stage. We didn’t advertise it, we just played the song. At that point I think we all felt that maybe we did have something more to say. From there, people brought in more demos and songs emerged from jams. But “Matador” was the first one, and I think it turned out beautifully on the record.
MD: There are shades of Angel Dust on “Matador” and also “Separation Anxiety,” with that dark atmosphere and powerful, hypnotic grooving. The tension builds so patiently and perfectly in those songs, and there so much space throughout the record. That’s something that always set you apart from so many other hard rock bands.
Mike: Well, thank you. My favorite part on “Separation Anxiety” is in the chorus, or the “B” part, I guess, when the downbeat sort of flips. The guitar changes at that point and kind of plays against the rhythm, which is really fun. I love the bass line on that song, too. It’s just smoking— especially in the outro. We’ve always been cognizant of leaving plenty of room for each other’s parts. I just try to lay down something good and solid and I trust that the other guys will have something good to say on top of it. I’m not trying to fill in every single nook and cranny, you know?
MD: Do most songs come from you and Billy working out a groove, or is it different for every song?
Mike: It’s different for every song, but at the end of the day, the bass and drums are pretty prominent in this band. It’s sort of counter to the norm, but it’s just…Bill and I were never put on a leash, you know? There were never any rules. We were always given leeway to take up a lot of sonic real estate. Songs like “We Care a Lot” and “Epic,” for instance, both of those just popped while Bill and I were jamming. But no, Mike writes songs, Roddy has written a few on this album. Jon [Hudson, guitar] is always bringing in cool stuff.
MD: Are there any other new songs that you’re particularly fond of from a drumming perspective?
Mike: I could say something good about every song, to be honest with you. Overall, I love the drum tracks because I think they sound very fluid and natural, and I still recognize them after they’ve come out of the other end of the mixing and mastering meat grinder. They still sound like the drums I played. They don’t sound too dressed up, or changed, you know? They feel honest to me, which is great.
Specifically, I really like “Black Friday” because I think it’s quite different—it’s something we haven’t done before. It’s got a good, brisk tempo with lots of acoustic guitar. I love “Superhero” because I like the power and the drive. A lot of times when you do something loud and aggressive in the studio, it can come off sanitized or flat, but I think that song is the opposite of that. To me it sounds like it’s going to jump through the speakers and grab you by the throat. “Cone of Shame” is just awesome. I love the way builds and explodes. And it doesn’t really repeat. It’s not a typical verse/chorus arrangement. It builds and builds and then it just blows up.
MD: What was drum tracking for Sol Invictus like? Did you do it all in one shot?
Mike: Just the opposite—it was a progressive process. We were set up in our rehearsal studio, which was fabulous because it was just us, mainly just Bill and myself. It was very comfortable to have my rhythm section partner also be the producer. And if Bill added a section or Mike altered a melody, I had the opportunity to rerecord a part that was sympathetic to those changes. So it was really an evolutionary process in the best sense. It wasn’t like back when the studio cost us three grand a day, and we’re borrowing the money from the record label and everyone’s like, “We’re going to need you to do all of your drum tracks in three days—hurry!” [laughs]
We did whatever the hell we needed or wanted to do to make the best record possible. Corners weren’t cut because of the label, because of MTV, because of getting a song on the radio, because of any other crap that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the music you’re making. That stuff has more to do with selling your music or marketing it, you know? Because we didn’t have that, it felt exciting, it felt energizing, it felt positive—all of those good things.
MD: Did you have negative experience in the past with producers? You were able to put out some pretty weird music on major labels.
Mike: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. Well, the answer is no, because Matt Wallace, a family member of ours, did the records with us and he was always on board with what we were doing. But the answer also is yes, because after the records were done the label would say something like, “The Real Thing is a really great pop record. This is what you are, so you have to do that again.” And we were like, “F**k you, we already did that.” The Real Thing, Angel Dust, King for a Day, Album of the Year—they’re all really different, you know? And every time we finished one, we encountered resistance based on what we’d done the last time. It would take a while for people to digest what we’d done, and then the next record confused them because they couldn’t put it in the same box. But that’s the nature of evolution. It’s what we do, you know? We’re not going to repeat ourselves. We’re not going to imitate ourselves, because we think it’s boring and dishonest.
MD: Your parts are structured pretty specifically. How much room do you leave for improvisation?
Mike: Well, the parts are the parts. I want my grooves and my patterns to be compelling enough to where I don’t feel like I have to justify my existence in the space of four counts between the verse and the chorus. So I always try to make my time really count and not just sort of say, “Well, now there’s singing so I’m not really going to do anything.” I always want my time to be interesting and make that the meat of the meal, you know? So there’s a definite road map, and I’m going from point A to point B, but certainly there are different points along the way that I may take a corner at a different speed or be in a different lane on the freeway, so to speak.
MD: You’ve always been a Yamaha guy. Which line of drums do you use these days?
Mike: The album was recorded on my practice kit, which are Absolute Maples—14″, 15″, and 16″ toms with an 18×24 power-sized kick. Live, I’m using a Custom Oak kit—same sizes. Those oak drums are just phenomenal. They’re so weighty, and I get so much tone and projection out of them, especially the kick drum.
MD: You also have a signature Yamaha snare.
Mike: Yeah, that’s such an awesome drum. The shell is a 2-mm chunk of copper, which I believe is almost twice as thick as their other copper snares. It’s 6.5×14 and the bottom half is hand-hammered by an old Japanese dude with a ball-peen hammer. That gives it a warmer tone than your typical metal snare. I just love it. It’s versatile as hell.
MD: Did you use it on Sol Invictus?
Mike: Absolutely, the whole way. At times I tried to put up a different drum to see if it sounded any better and it never did, so I just kept going with it.
MD: Speaking of signature gear, your giant rack toms and the way you position them perfectly flat is iconic. How did you arrive at this setup?
Mike: Well, with the big sizes I think it goes back to being younger and playing shows without a P.A., or playing shows on an un-miked kit set up on the floor, you know? You want something that’s going to cut through, something that’s going to give you weight. And with big drums, especially in loud, aggressive music, you’re going to get more weight behind you. And I like how you catch a little rim on your tom when they’re flat like that. It gives you a bit of additional percussion. I used to use a 14×26 kick, and that even got the toms up higher. And they used to be 15″, 16″, and 18″ toms! [laughs] I’d rather hit the drum less but have it stay hit once I hit it, you know? It’s a quality over quantity thing, and that goes back to the parts. Faith No More is pretty rhythmic, you know? And Bill and I always wanted to make our parts interesting and meaty—we weren’t concerned with crazy, gaudy fills and embellishing the music in that regard.
I’m also a left-handed person playing a right-handed kit. If you’re a right-handed drummer, your go-to drum is your floor tom, and you can ride on that with your right hand, you know? So it always made sense for me to start with a big drum because that number-one rack tom in some ways corresponds to a right-handed person’s floor tom. I’m starting bigger, rather than winding around backwards. Ultimately, it was kind of an experiment. I just figured out how to make these tools work for me in my own way rather than worry about what everyone else said I was supposed to do with them.
MD: Just by virtue of you being a lefty playing open on a righty kit, it makes your parts idiosyncratic. Even though they’re not overly splashy, a righty playing a righty kit can’t duplicate them verbatim.
Mike: I know, a lot of people say that and it drives them nuts. [laughs] But it’s not on purpose. I’m not trying to be tricky or confuse other drummers. It’s just how I turned out, you know?
MD: Does playing open-handed enable you to hit harder and get those crushing downbeats?
Mike: Absolutely. That was the whole point, to not be limited by the underside of your top arm. I was always looking for power. I was looking for that satisfaction of smacking the shit out of something and having a sound good. There’s a certain way that you’ve got to hit a drum to make it sound the way it should. You can’t go too soft. You certainly can hit it too hard, I get that. But you can’t hit too soft. So no question, keeping my hands open has influenced that.
MD: How often do you change heads? And how many sticks do you go though on a given show?
Mike: The snare head gets changed every day; the toms are every second show. Back in the day, it was several snare changes a show. I mean, like four or five a night. Especially with Ozzy and his long sets. Now there are no snare changes unless, knock on wood, something happens. And the same with sticks—I used to do eight or ten pair a night. Now I’ll break two or three pair at most.
MD: You’re one of the all-time great flammers.
Mike: [laughs] Thank you.
MD: Along with your tribal tom grooves, that’s always stuck out to me when listening to your playing. What’s the secret to achieving a Mike Bordin-sized flam?
Mike: You know, it’s nothing I ever worked on or thought about really. My flams are always a little bit open. Certainly you can hear it’s not the same note—it’s not one on top of the other. And how I play them is just…that’s kind of my fingerprint. That’s just how I feel it. It’s certainly driven recording engineers nuts back in the day with the editing block and the 2″ tape. They’d be like, “Well, shit, there’s not one snare hit, there’s two! That doesn’t compute. What am I gonna do?” [laughs] A flam is like a fist smacking you in the face. It’s like typing in all caps or something. It’s just always been a way for me to punctuate or accentuate a snare beat.
MD: You’re being emphatic and economic at the same time.
Mike: Totally! I’m not playing faster or playing more notes or anything. But I’m certainly going “Baahhh!” [laughs] It’s just more emphasis. And I’ve got a bass player who likes to hit his bass. He hits it, and you can hear that. So flams work well with the physical nature with which Bill plays. Hopefully I use them where it’s appropriate. Because it’s a seasoning, you know? You’re throwing in a dash of cayenne pepper where you need it, rather than spilling it everywhere.
MD: You’ve played with a number of monster bass players in your time. But you and Billy obviously have a special connection. Is it just sort of an unspoken understanding at this point?
Mike: It always kind of has been. You know, starting with Cliff—what a gift. Playing with Robert [Trujillo] and the great Geezer Butler, who’s the king of everybody—again, what a gift. But with Bill there’s just this weird language that we use to relate with one another. And I don’t think that particular language is very common, it’s unique to who we are as a rhythm section. And when it works well, in a collaborative sense, it’s really great because the result is more than just two people. It’s like the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And like I said, to get a second chance to play with Bill and all the guys—it’s just so special. I really treasure it.
Great Puffy Moments