SKY magazine | December 1992 | Simon Witter
Photographs by Julian Broad.
Mike's pierced eyebrow epitomizes Faith No More's finger to the world. With a trail of trashed hotels and hospitalized fans behind them and a singer who, ahem, doesn't use the toilet, FNM make most grunge bands look like The Osmonds. Simon Witter joined them on the American leg of a tour which has now hit Britain.
Mike Patton is running wild-eyed through the foyer of Grand Rapids' Club Eastbrook, dragging a chunky skinhead by the collar. "Get on stage and fucking stay there!" he shouts as they head back to the auditorium. Tonight Patton is not the bouncers' friend, but then security has been winding him up something rotten. Not that it takes a lot to wind Patton up. On stage he seems born to be intense.
"On our last tour I jumped into the crowd and broke this kid's nose," he reminisces. "I tried to get him medical aid but he said he'd rather have a t-shirt. It's bad. What do you tell his parents? The other day I met a guy who had a scar over his eye, just like mine. I asked him how he got it and he said: 'You did it to me, but it's cool'."
It's better than an autographed forearm, I reassure him; at least it won't wash off. But Patton is inconsolable. Off stage he becomes the kind of caring, thoughtful guy who helps old ladies across the road. And it is this contrasting nature -- like the angelic swan and the slaughterhouse carcasses that adorn the respective sides of their album sleeve -- that characterizes everything FNM do. The day anybody understands what this band is really about, they'll probably hang up their guitars for jobs at Taco Bell.
I knew something was wrong on our first meeting in Marquette, Michigan, a picturesque, Twin Peaksy one-street town on the shores of Lake Superior. Sheltering from the rain in a doorway, the band who trash hotel room and shove shit in hair dryers probe relentlessly about the state of the pound, the ERM and the future for Maastricht. It's like one of those Wayne's World sketches where Wayne speaks fluent Cantonese or Alice Cooper discourses knowledgeably about the state of world socialism -- only FNM aren't joking: they know their stuff. I'm devastated. A real American rock band would hardly be able to name the capital of France, let alone understand or care about the intricacies of the ERM.
The next day in Grand Rapids I catch Patton speaking perfect Spanish and accuse him of betraying the fundamental yank-rock tradition of imperialist arrogance. "Hey," he counters, in a pathetic and not entirely serious attempt to save face, "we're only learning Spanish so that we'll be able to talk about drugs and groupies in Spain."
Repeated warnings that I would under no circumstances be allowed on to FNM's tour bus have left me suspicious. Its interior must either resemble Dante's inferno or, more likely, hide a secret that could ruin the group's bad-boy reputation. Hell, once aboard, FNM probably form a knitting circle that would make the Whitby WI look like a Led Zep orgy.
FNM were born 10 years ago, when Bill Gould (bass) and Roddy Bottum (keyboards) moved from LA to San Francisco to go to college, where they met drummer Mike "Puffy" Bordin. The trio planned to use different guitarists and singers for every show, but a year later had solidified their lineup with guitarist "Big" Jim Martin and former front man Chuck Mosley. At the time there was a thriving underground scene, but little record company interest.
After their 1985 debut LP We Care a Lot, FNM began criss-crossing America supporting everyone from Metallica to Red Hot Chili Peppers, but by 89 the big break still eluded them, and Mosley's behaviour -- including once, apparently, falling asleep on stage -- had alienated the rest of the group. Mosely was given the heave, Mike Patton discovered in his home town "void" of Eureka, California, and a deal signed with Slash Records. MTV took the new-look FNM and their new album The Real Thing to heart, pushing the single Epic into the US Top Five. The big time had finally arrived, and FNM boarded the grunge train they had helped launch and rode it for all it was worth.
From We Care a Lot (a sarcastic take on the Live Aid generation) to Midlife Crisis (a rip-shredding look at the thirty something generation), FNM's attitude has been consistently irreverent and in-your-face, but the music never stands still. Just when people thought they had a handle on them, this summer the group released its third album, Angel Dust, a baroque pomp-punk brew closer to Rush on acid than the acerbic funk-thrash fans had come to expect.
From the all-out sickness of Be Aggressive to the syrupy sincerity of their Midnight Cowboy cover, Angel Dust pig-headedly refuses to deliver a follow-up hit, just as the band refused to be grateful or well-behaved when Guns N' Roses took them on a three-month US and European tour. FNM are currently touring America as headliners; this month they bring their relentless, slamming show to Britain.
Pictures and performances may suggest unity, but the band has an odd makeup. While Mike, Puffy, and Billy are in conference at the back of the bus, the group's furry-freak-brother guitarist, Jim Martin, lies in a parallel universe of his own, smirking at the puerile obscenity of an Andrew Dice Clay video. It's not that Jim (who played The World's Greatest Guitarist in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey) is any less nice than the rest of the band -- all shockingly pleasant and unpretentious -- he just appears to have joined the wrong group. In appearance and attitude Jim seems to have zoned in on a tardis from 1975. At the Marquette sound check he jams Led Zep riffs, while the rest of the band are playing something completely different, and at his side of the stage three teenage groupies dance with inappropriate abandon (rock sound check are slightly less exciting than watching Newsnight). None of the others would even consider entertaining groupies.
"Our manager sent us a fax the other day," jokes Patton, "saying that since our record isn't doing so well, we better start hanging out with groupies to boost sales."
"No, we don't do anything like that. That to me is a rotting corpse. It's just something that is stinking and it's there. It's a whole decomposing art form." Roddy Bottum
People know the rest of the band don't do it -- all Roddy gets is boys saying, "Can I buy your hat?" But Jim is obviously so into it. "He does what he does, and is constantly the butt of every joke, the scapegoat of the band. But the weird thing is that he really IS that way."
On-road entertainment is clearly important to a band that spends as much time touring as FNM do, but for the other members fun, music, and workaholism suffice. In the brief periods they have off, Patton plays with his performance art group Mr. Bungle, while bassist Billy moonlights as the only white member of LA's "Mexican answer to NWA." Having just finished three months touring Europe and the States with GNR, FNM are now on a headlining tour of their own, on which (for entertainment) they had hoped to bring along Right Said Fred. "We wanted them to tour America with us," says Patton, "but when we shopped the idea around the promoters -- which is what you do when you set up a tour, throw some bait in the water -- the reaction wasn't too good. It's too bad, cos I would go to a tour like that, out of morbid curiosity." FNM's Marquette fans are heavily clothed in Ministry, Chili Peppers and Rollins Band t-shirts. It's hard to see any of them wanting to spend an evening with Right Said Fred.
"It would be great!" gleams Patton. "Oh mean, there'd be brawls. But that's the beautiful thing. People like that should be fucked with, they should have one arm behind their backs. They would be perfect for that. I don't know why we like Right Said Fred so much. Maybe it's the baldness -- they're so slick. They're crass, commercial and goofy at the same time. They're amazing. Also the fact that they worked in a gym is great. I love that."
But FNM do have their fun. They always come on stage to the tacky strains of Europe's The Final Countdown, and play a version of the Commodores' Easy so sincere it almost hurts. Another similar band might do it as a joke, but there's not a hint of irony or camp about FNM's version. From Mike's soulful croon to Jim's searing guitar solo, this is as true to The Commodores as FNM can humanly play it. That it gets not a barrage of missiles, but the night's biggest cheer, is all the more strange in the context of FNM's crazed teen crowd, most of whom spend the whole show stage-diving with the frantic futility of hamsters on an exercise wheel.
"Usually we just do songs we like," says Patton, explaining the group's cover policy, "so we have to do them sincerely. If we did a Commodores cover and chuckled at the end of it, it would make everyone else feel a lot more comfortable with it, but that's not the point of it at all. It's stuff we like and we deliberately put it between two noisy songs to make people take a step back."
A step back is just what FNM's record company took when they heard the group's new album, calling it (rumour has it) "commercial suicide." "I think everyone sees Angel Dust as this big sword in our neck. A lot of people think we're saying 'Fuck you!' to what we've always been. In a way that's great, because I think bands should challenge people and redefine themselves, but I don't think this is that huge a departure. We can't go where we've been before. It's fucked, it's boring and it's insulting. But maybe I'm overestimating people."
Wonderful though it is, the baroque pomp-punk brew of Angel Dust contains neither a formula follow-up nor anything closely resembling a hit single. "If I like a record by a band," argues Patton, "I'll buy their next one just to see how they've become warped, that's the most fascinating thing. Because certain things in life just fuck you. You'll see someone two years after they changed jobs and they're completely different people. Bands are like that in microcosm, because there are five or six people living in close quarters like rats, and the changes that come out of that are immense."
The changes in FNM have mainly occurred in the vocalist department. Patton is the last, and most successful, of a string of people to fill the position. The day FNM play Marquette, one of their former vocalists, Courtney Love, is on TV with alternative superbeau Kurt Cobain, denying rumours of drug dependence during pregnancy. "She was only with us for about six months," says Roddy, "but she's still one of my best friends. Being in a rock band can be a real boyish thing, and I think Courtney quit because she found us way too macho. She needed a group who would let her write all the songs and do everything she says, and it wasn't gonna be this group. She's not in any way bitter about the success we've enjoyed since she left, but then it's not like Hole are doing so badly."
The next day, in Grand Rapids, Patton discovers a Mexican restaurant where no local white folk go and dinner costs $4.50 a head. A wall-mounted dispenser ominously labeled "Pain Relief Center" serves four kinds of medicinal potions, and anyone who wants booze has to do so out back in the car park. Mike has been here all day. "After food like this, how can you not feel like a king?" he asks, as he leads me and Billy in after the sound check.
Two days into this odyssey, and I've yet to see any sign that any of FNM (bar Jim) are anything other than the kind of guys you'd want your sister to marry. So open, trusting, kindly and hospitable. Where did they get their reputation?
"A lot of pieces written about us," explains Patton, "selectively edit together all the vile and disgusting stuff, which is fine, cos nobody wants to read about us making coffee."
"But I don't think we buy into a lot of the myths of what we're doing. We just lived with that for three months [GNR], and saw so much of it... The whole idea that there has to be something outrageous and abnormal is washed up and gone. I mean we do our own thing, like I don't use toilets -- I just don't. It's not a wild rock n' roll thing; it's a hobby -- shit terrorism. I did a shit on the bench outside Charles and Diana's palace, but that didn't cause any rumpus. It could have been anyone's shit really. The consistency wasn't so good. It wasn't a prizewinning trophy."
They've caused offence in other ways too. Although GNR gave them their big break by specifically inviting them to support them on tour, FNM hardly seemed grateful at the time. All the press generated while FnM were touring with GNR was bursting with vitriolic attacks on Rose & Co. They simply aren't able to put a sock in it. "Oh, it was real ugly!" says Billy.
"We said a lot of shit, and didn't realize how bad it was until we got caught. Axl was real straight with us, but it was an ugly scene. He said: 'It's like I went away and came back home to find you guys fucked my wife.' We were thrown off the tour for five hours, but we apologized. It was like being in the principal's office. He said, 'I only like you guys, Nirvana, Jane's Addiction, and two other bands, and all of you hate me. Why do you hate me?'" "We're still hoping he hasn't read some of it," Patton chips in. "We were just being honest, and that felt great, but it can also get you killed. As far as the press was concerned, we were like caged animals. They'd throw us a little bit of meat and we'd attack. And we realized that we were the ones who were getting screwed. The interviews that we did belonged in the National Enquirer. We were like a gossip column rather than a band."
Their latest diversion is a herbal health-food drug. Patton explains: "You mix it with water to make you go to sleep, but if you have too much, this other thing kicks in. It's like drinking a six-pack of orange soda and sitting in the back of a hot car. It's a nauseating, piece of shit high, and most people end up vomiting. But it's fun cos you never know what's gonna happen. Three of us took it one day, and we ended up sleeping with our bodies in positions they should not have been in."
On stage in Grand Rapids he performs like someone who is no friend of sleep, or indeed of standing up straight, lurching around the stage like a latterday Quasimodo on speed. Afterwards it takes him ages to come down off his natural energy high.
On the FNM coach Puffy is nodding to the Beastie Boys' Check Your Head as he flicks through his priceless collection of jazz and blues CDs. Roddy Bottum is chatting with his parents, the only members of the entourage that night not wearing Noise Husher earplugs. On the other side of the coach windows, a girl's lapel badge reads: "I need a good laugh. Show me your penis!"
As the bus heads off into the night, a sweaty, muscle bound 18 year old who has been hanging around the stage door asks me how I liked the show. "They were great," I mutter.
"They were way better than that, man," he says, aghast. He's looking at me like I just suggested his mother eats rats for a living. "They ripped!"