Metal Hammer | January 1995 | Martin Carlsson
"We don't screw groupies or take ecstacy," declares Bill Gould, bassist with San Francisco's most twisted quintet. But then again FAITH NO MORE have never played by anyone's rules. With Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance on board and the Big Sick one out of the picture, Mike Patton and co. spill their guts to Martin Carlsson about the 'difficult' times and their shockingly aggressive fifth album.
Life has not been easy on the Frisco bunch. Following years of arguments and rumors, Big Sick Ugly Jim finally got the boot in December 1993. Even though there's a new album in the pipeline, 'King for a Day ... Fool for a Lifetime', at this point there's a lot of interest in the far from amicable split.
"Jim had a real big image," says Bill. "He had a cowboy hat, a cigar and a beard. In a way we had to make a decision, because he had an image, and a lot of people associated the band with his image. You have to choose if you wanna put up with this fucking shit for the style or sacrifice the image for the substance. You're gonna be like Whitesnake and Poison or you're gonna be real? A lot of people were telling us that we were doing a lot of stupid things. We had a hard time convincing people that we knew what the fuck we were doing."
To outsiders, the entire circus surrounding the Jim Martin 'situation' seemed absurd. Both parties used the media to blast each other in a fashion that brought back memories of the hateful relationship that Don Dokken and George Lynch shared in Dokken.
"Our mental health is the most important thing," Bill continues. "If we're gonna do something, we have to be somewhat mentally healthy. I think it's a lot healthier to deal with problems with anger instead of burying them. There was a lot of humour and ridicule in there too. It's just the way we operate. If we didn't we wouldn't exist."
"That was the point," agrees drummer Mike Bordin. "It was like digging a trench around your garden because your toilet overflowed, and letting the shit run somewhere else rather than pollute your fucking food!"
Hard words indeed. However, they don't even come close to the verbal abuse that outspoken vocalist Mike Patton threw at Jim Martin on stage. At concerts he declared his hatred for the Big One and even went as far as throwing the mic at him.
"You fuck someone and you have an orgasm," says Mike Patton, trying to explain his behaviour. "Then you fart and cry and everything just kinda comes out. That's what it's like sometimes on stage. It feels good to talk shit on stage, and afterwards, I'm going, 'Oh shit, what did I do? That was really stupid.' This definitely worsened our relationship. But you gotta do what you gotta do. We're not so good at communicating. We're getting better, because it used to be really bad. You hear things and there was never any real confrontation. I think towards the end we should've had more of that. The stage was almost this playground where anyone could say anything and it would be okay. That's bullshit, because you're supposed to be up there playing, not fighting."
The massive tension was already out in the open at the time of the release of FNM's last album, 'Angel Dust,' in June 1992. So why did they prolong the misery if they knew that the inevitable was to come?
"Jim *had* to be in the band for that record," believes Bill. "We wrote the record under a lot of difficulty, but we had to do two years worth of touring. It's tough then! Let's say that we knew that it wasn't working."
Did Faith No More really give it their best shot though? Jim Martin has explained that he felt the others gave up too easily. So had the relationship deteriorated to a point where all hope was gone for a reconciliation?
"We really gave it every attempt," responds Bordin. "The last gig we did was the Phoenix festival. When we came home, especially me, Bill, and Mike realized that what we'd done on 'Angel Dust' was actually pretty cool and it worked really good. There was stuff we could continue doing. We wrote some songs, and a couple months after that we played them to Jim. We asked him, 'Hey, what are you gonna put on this?' It's always been us writing a framework and he's thrown parts on top of it. It was obvious that it wasn't working. It was impossible, but we gave it a chance to see what would happen. Because we knew it would be a big hassle to do this, not only legally but time-wise."
When Jim was finally fired, was there a time when you had to re-examine what Faith No More was all about?
"Yeah, in a way we did without thinking about it," nods Bill. "We'd been playing with each other for so long that we assumed we could just get another guitar player who would think like we do. We've always considered ourselves a band that doesn't have any kind of sound or image, we can do what we want. So we couldn't figure out why it was difficult to find people to jump in and do it. We started realizing that we *do* have a style. We don't know what it is, but it definitely is a language that we communicate with."
After going through lots of hopefuls, the diminished group eventually hooked up with Geordie, from the legendary Killing Joke. And for a while early last year, the guitarist looked set to join.
"He was a member in my mind," confesses Bordin. "I really wanted him to be in the band. We all really liked that band (Killing Joke), that was a *great* band. In their day, that was the fucking shit! It was really cool to play with him."
So what was the problem then?
"It's weird," muses Bill. "Geordie hasn't played with a lot of other bands, and he came into a situation where we had a lot of songs already written. It would've taken a lot of time to work things out, and we just wanted to move ahead and get a record out."
"Geordie's thing is that he did this amazing fucking thing, but it was like one thing," clarifies Bordin.
Enter Trey Spruance, the wild and wicked one who'd been lurking in the shadows ever since the spot was vacant. At first, however, his association with Mike Patton did not work to his advantage.
"You kinda complicate things with me and Mike being in another band together," thinks the newcomer. "And I don't necessarily want to spend every waking hour with him, ha ha!"
"Mr. Bungle are slowly taking over our band," jokes Bill.
"I was actually against it," reveals Patton. "You don't wanna be too much with someone. It gets a little incestuous. It was like we'd been married for a few years and now we could go and fuck our brains out and play with some other people. It was like being reborn. It was liberating. I'd had some bad water under the bridge wtih him and I didn't wanna be in another aggravating situation. But you do what's best for the music."
Bearing this in mind, is there a risk for yet another explosive situation to loom? Faith No More's volatile background does hint in that direction, especially when you're virtually sleeping on top of each other on tour.
"Sure," agrees Patton. "But anything could be a problem when you're on the road for two years. Are you gonna go to sleep every night and wonder if there's gonna be an earthquake? Maybe, but you just have to deal with it. We're grown-ups."
Really? When I ask if they had some kind of ritual to welcome the arrival of Trey, the reply surely casts a doubt over their sanity.
"It's funny that you mention that," smiles an amused Bill. "I don't know if we should talk about it. We have this ring, like a 'circle of protection.' On a full moon we made him strip down naked, and we had this circle of candles. This *is* serious. It happened to Trey. Were you pretty scared when we did that?"
"I'm still kinda scared, because it makes you question everything," Trey responds, almost philosophically. "The ground under your feet is stolen by a bunch of guys that you don't really know. It's frightening, and you have to reassemble the world and rebuild yourself. So I'm kinda on my way back to the world."
So, it would seem, are the rest of the guys. After "being locked up in a cabin" for a few months, they're feeling a bit out of touch. It was new producer Andy Wallace who insisted on the band deserting San Francisco for the remote Bearsville Studios in upstate New York. Twenty songs were recorded, of which 14 made the album. Faith No More hope to release the other material, including "some really heavy ones that would suit a soundtrack to an action movie," as a mini-album later.
"We've actually only joked about it once in the studio," says Bordin of the irony in finally replacing long-time producer Matt Wallace with yet another Wallace (though not related).
The outcome of this clean break (new line-up, new surroundings, new producer) is Faith No More's boldest recording yet. At times shockingly aggressive, 'King for a Day .... Fool for a Lifetime' still possesses -- and expands -- the unmistakable honey-sweet melodies.
"To me there was more frivolous stuff on 'Angel Dust'," says Bordin. "We had some difficult times, and we knew that if and when we did it, this was gonna be the record of our lives. It had that all-or-nothing feel to us. I don't wanna sound like it's dead serious, but it's *not* a joke!"
In many respects the new album is a continuation of 'Angel Dust,' a record that they amazingly brand their first good one! However, things are taken to a much more extreme, with Patton frequently screaming like Donald Duck on speed and then suddenly adopting a soothing lullaby-style voice. And interestingly, some songs, like "What a Day" and "Digging the Grave," take on an almost poppy direction.
"Instead of putting everything into every song, we wanted to take things out and make them a bit simpler," explains Bordin. "Perhaps that's what you'd call a 'pop' or lighter feel."
These extremes are the reason why Faith No More sell albums. Paradoxically, that's also why they *don't* sell albums. In a world increasingly full of pretenders who make it and then disappear, Faith No More is one of the few bands that boasts a truly unique and challenging style. This has proved a touch too much for some.
"We are just bums who play music," declares Bill. "We definitely don't subscribe to the American 'Keep repeating the same fucking thing and you'll sell millions of records' ethic which seems to be the way things work. People think we're weird because of that; we're weird because we try to make things interesting to ourselves. We don't screw groupies or take ecstacy.
"Take 'Velvet Hammer' for instance," he continues, all fired up. "We've never done anything like that before. The same with 'Take this Bottle.' It's so fucking simple that it sounds like a folk/cowboy song. 'Star AD' has that Las Vegas feel that's so beautiful to get into. It's cool to do something like that and hear all the other shit bounce around it."
"This time we actually followed our impulses," says Patton. "We did what was in our heads. I don't know if we should've done it, but at least we did it. I think this is a pop record."
Lyrically, Patton is as twisted and bizarre as ever. " A line like 'If you wanna open the hole, just put your head down and go' (from the dreamy "Evidence," which the record company hopes to get on a big soundtrack in the fall), shows what goes on inside *his* head.
Then there's "Star AD," which states: 'Your body's dry like a fact of history. When you die you become someone worse than dead. You become a legend.' A reference to Kurt Cobain perhaps?
"Kurt?" asks Patton. "God no! It's about a phenomenon. And if that guy happened to be one, I don't know. It's one of those things that happen; it's a Vegas thing. What could be more shameful than having to change your colostomy bag on stage?! Vegas is great, though. I love it. Welcome to America."
Perhaps the most interesting piece is "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies." A vocally distorted Patton seems to be barking, 'I deserve a reward cos I'm the best fuck that you've ever had. And if I came on my horn you may never see the fight again.' This mis absorption on my part actually proves to hold the key to his entire weird lyricism.
"Ha ha. Oh my god! My favourite thing, especially on this record, is to write lyrics and not tell the band what I'm singing, and then have them guess what I'm singing. Usually they go, 'Are you saying what I think you're saying?' and it's better than what I wrote. So I just use what they wrote instead. Instead of the word 'horn' it's supposed to be 'hole', and 'came' is not in there either. But I didn't wanna correct you, because it's just too beautiful."
On this cold day in San Francisco, Mike Patton looks absolutely dreadful. His teeth are yellow and covered in plaque and he seems to be quite beat. Has it been a tough year?
"It's been a little tough with a lot of unknowns; a lot of problems in the band, a lot of insecurity and wondering *if* we were gonna make this record. Really."
Was it that serious?
"Yeah," he answers. "You lose a guy and maybe you can continue or maybe you can't. There were some problems with Roddy (Bottum, keyboards), but this one ... We weren't a band for a while. Of course we wanted to continue, but there are other circumstances that play a part. We're getting old (*Patton is, wow, 26!*). You can only put up a facade for so long. You get a new guy after new guy, and it's like, how many facelifts can you get?"
Listening to Patton talk (or in your case reading between the lines), it's easy to get a feeling that he doesn't really believe in a long, prosperous career.
"Well, y'know," he drawls, "We're not gonna have guys drop off and get new ones, and then have Faith No More reunite in the year 2000. The way we do it and the way we tour, it's gonna be tough to do this for another 15 years. We do a record and then tour for two years, and I don't think we can do that for 15 years. Maybe we'll find an easier way and perhaps don't have to tour. Wow, that would be nice! Even if we were R.E.M. and had a big record, I'm not sure if we could *not* tour."
The fifth album, 'King for a Day ... Fool for a Lifetime', hasn't even been released yet and already Patton appears to be despondent! To liven up the somewhat gloomy atmosphere, Mike Bordin comes to the rescue with a witty comment: "We only kick people out on the even number records. Haven't you figured that out yet?"
Faith No More are back and intact -- at least for another couple years.