NME | 18.02.1995 | Gavin Martin
Defecation In Venice
It's been a stormy 18 months for FAITH NO MORE - guitarist Jim Martin found his P45 on the doormat and inter-band ructions threatened to tear the band apart. With a brand new album in the can, GAVIN MARTIN wonders whether the band's firebrand front man MIKE PATTON has lost his raw passion for rock'n'roll high jinks - and hears how fecal snacking can broaden your horizons.
Faith No More have gathered in Venice, an icy cold, stinking, sinking city nestling in the armpit of the Adriatic sea. As the setting for the start of their promotional tour of Europe, Venice where architectural splendour is surrounded by the pervasive whiff of decay - seems poignantly apposite.
In the past 18 months, the band whose music and activities have often gloried in rot, ruin and anarchic upheaval, have themselves come close to total collapse. In 1993, after their last live show. at the Phoenix Festival, they ditched their most easily identifiable, stereotypical metal member: groupie-shagging macho man guitarist Big Ugly Jim Martin (nicknamed Oedipus because, despite the brazen exploits, he still lived with his mother). Though characterised by his former colleagues as a sluggish vulgarian who had long ceased to contribute to their creative output, Martin's sacking was - and still is - seen by sources close to the band as a commercial risk.
"There was a lot of pressure not to get rid of him," admits founder FNM member, bassist Bill Gould, "but work's gotta be done, my life is my work. That might make you a less interesting person in a vulgar sort of way, but you have to make a choice."
Trey Spruance, the S+M obsessed, rape-mask-wearing Mister Bungle from singer Mike Patton's other band, was drafted in as a replacement. Indicative of the cold calculation that exists between these permanently jaded, chaos-loving Californians, Patton advised against having his childhood chum join the band. The guy might be a good musician, reasoned Patton, but he was a spoilt rich kid (an heir to the Du Font industrial empire) who wouldn't last the course, who would prove to be an even bigger pain in the arse than Martin ever was.
Spruance only lasted to the end of the making of the new album, 'King For A Day ... Fool For A Lifetime' before he too was replaced by a former FNM crew member. Dean Menta. And as the album was being made Bill Gould succumbed to pneumonia and keyboardist Roddy Bottum, mired in a heavy drug habit, grieving over the death of his father and the violent deaths of several friends (including Kurt Cobain, husband of his former girlfriend and fave pop idol Courtney Love) was rarely present. Now, although back on board, Bottum seems more excited about plans to record an album with his new group Star 69 than Faith No More's forthcoming world tour.
GIVEN THIS background. there's a slightly chastened atmosphere in the FNM camp, accentuated by the absence of any on-the-road tour madness. Asked individually how long the band can keep going, they can't see past the next tour. Venice is where they get over jet-lag, venture into the bollock threatening cold for some very sub-standard, hideously overpriced tourist nosh, hold business meetings with their manager and, on the last night, reflect on the madness they've been through.
Only the founder members are present. Drummer Mike 'Puffy' Bordin - married ten years, a keen carpenter, wild flower cultivator and archival Jazz collector - and bassist Bill Gould - telephone call prankster, Internet businessman, International traveller - mull over the past. Like the time they headed up the Amazon on a week-long break in Brazil, fished for piranhas and watched pink porpoises jumping in the water white zonked on Roddy's generous supply of Valium. Then there was the riotous excess of the Guns N'Roses tour - the party where Axl presented everyone with a kilo of raw Japanese beef; champagne bottles flung across hotel rooms at luckless East European waiters: spoilt and wanton displays of greed and avarice in countries where locals were lucky to make it over the poverty line.
He fondly recalls times spent in London's Columbia hotel, where no matter what they did - letting off fire extinguishers, roaming the corridors and banging on doors where hot, climactic sex was in progress - they were never banned. A lot of Gould's stories naturally centre on Mike Patton. Who else would have surreptitiously pissed in a record company lawyer's pint and then watched him drink it?
Who else would have been bundled off stage into a waiting car at an Italian Monsters Of Rock gig after regaling the audience with the story of how one of the headlining front men could, to put it bluntly. suck his own cock.
The athletic poodle rocker in question was watching in the wings, horrified, when Patton made the announcement. But though he was baying for blood, he was hurt too. He admired FNM and their young front man maniac, he really wanted to be friends with him, wanted his respect and there he was ridiculing him in front of 100,000 people.
Some weeks later, he contacted Patton by phone in the early hours of the morning and launched into a sad, self pitying whinge about how he was fed up with people insinuating he was a fag. Patton explained that wasn't what he had intended at all. He just thought it was extremely amusing that anyone could perform such a remarkable feat "What's funny about that? Can't everybody suck their own cock?" said the stoned poodle rocker. "Well, no. actually." said Patton, bemused. Though he was and is capable offer more outrageous, downright shocking and stomach-turning behaviour, that was one act he'd never mastered.
"In that case," said the poodle rocker, rapidly losing respect for the front man, "you must have a realty small cock."
WHEN FAITH No More get back on the road, all eyes will be on Mike Patton. Will he still be a terrorist and marauder, making an outlandish spectacle and atrocious exhibition of himself?
Five years ago when he joined the group - as a fresh-faced replacement for crack-addled original front man Chuck Mosley - he had so much to fight against, so much territory to make his own. Mike proved up to the task, a sick puppy with a ready arsenal of shock tactics to keep the world at bay.
At first he raved about hardcore porn and wanking as being far superior to sexual intercourse. Then he took to drinking his own piss on stage, shitting in hotel room hairdryers, on park benches, in cartons of orange juice. He collected shit-eating videos, books that showed mutilated corpses, bought some other 'medical' exhibits that were even sicker and possibly illegal. Patton, still only 25 and the baby of the band, took their penchant for cruel cynicism and outrageous excess to extremes.
What would he do next? Market spunk milkshakes? Sell his arse as a bike stand? Get married?
The latter, actually. In Venice Patton keeps his own counsel and is seldom out of the company of Titti, his Italian wife of six months. They've been on holiday with her folks in Bologna and he views the prospect of interviews interrupting their Venice sight-seeing jaunt with
barely concealed disdain.
Asked how a guy who once went to great lengths to keep women at bay got himself into what appears to be a happy, loving relationship and he snaps,"I don't want to talk about that, not at all. That's something else, y'know? It has nothing to do with your magazine, motherf—er."
Spontaneous and extreme on record and on stage, Patton now has a furtiveness about him in person. He squirms, pathologically uncomfortable with the media spotlight or any attempt at analysis of himself, his music or his actions. These days he's adopted a greasy, low-rent pimp look, with a moustache and poorly etched beard, isolated tufts of hair sprouting at random on his physiognomy. But beneath it he's still the wide-eyed West Coast skatepunk, Bill or Ted's sleazier, sicker next-door neighbour.
Asked what it felt like when he played his last Faith No More gig at Phoenix and he grimaces.
"Oh ho ho, that was a bad time, an ugly time. I think we were totally lucky to be alive and still have some skin left. In terms of... everything, really. The personalities in the band, what was going on, the music.
Everything had reached its boiling point with everyone.
"We'd been playing the music much too long. It wasn't actually the music itself that was the problem, it's just that certain people were bringing certain things and certain people weren't. After a while it was like a clown act. Things that should have been dealt with a lot sooner - Jim, some things with Roddy - turned into nightmares."
Then the word was that Patton, not Martin, was going to leave the band, an impression he was pleased to foster.
"Hey, whatever makes people salivate - fine. Everything was true at that point. I was never going to leave the band but we always got a kick out of whatever the latest gossip was. But the thing that was really aggravating after a while was that was all that was left. Baby talk,gossip, horseshit - everything was a joke by that point. It was very obvious that something was wrong.
"We didn't stay apart for that long after the tour finished. We all knew it wasn't going to work out with Jim. The process of obligation, trying to make it work out, was painful. But that happened, and when it was over the air cleared. It was much easier to breathe, so much easier
to operate. We felt so much more comfortable with each other."
What was your own personal problem with Jim?
"Well, I have to say that in the five years I played with him maybe I talked with him on the phone about twice. So we weren't close, let's just forget about that and talk about music. Well, I didn't respect him as a musician - he didn't bring anything to our band. He wanted to be himself, whatever that meant, which is fine; he can go ahead and be Jim, but being Jim in this band meant it would have to become Jim's band. That wasn't going to happen.
"Being in a band is like being in any relationship. You have to know how to adapt, how to lobby. It's very political, you have to know how to sneak, how to lie, everything."
Diplomacy might not appear to be one of Patton's strong points. What had his parents felt, watching him change from porn hound to shit terrorist, from bored teenager to piss drinker? Weren't they upset by some of the things he'd done?
He grins and starts into one of his unnerving manic laughing fits.
"No, where the f— do you think I learned them from?"
What - your father would shit in the orange juice as a practical joke? "No, really, they don't... umm... I mean they've lived with me long enough..."
So drinking your own piss, taking a shit wherever you want - these things are still a part of you?
"I suppose so - I did them."
You'd do them again?
"Sure, why not ? Why the hell not?"
Well, there's the hygienic aspect, the risk of catching or spreading disease...
"Sure, it depends on whose. .. It's supposed to be cleansing, drinking your own piss."
This isn't such a revelation.
Actress Sarah Miles has gone on about the health-giving properties of piss-drinking for several years; Gandhi drank pee; gargling urine is said to cure a sore throat; it's actually a remedy practised by many singers - though, curiously, not one their publicists care to highlight. But given Patton's fecal fascination I wondered - had he ever tasted a turd?
Your own shit?
Is that a sort of therapy or does it just taste nice?
"No it doesn't taste nice."
Why do it then?
"(Sighing) Oh, I don't know.
"Why would you take acid one day?"
It's a psychedelic drug, it causes hallucinations, rearranges the way you see the world. It's a journey, an experience.
"Well there you go - it (eating shit) is a journey."
But I wouldn't imagine eating shit brings on an hallucination.
"Well, I guess every asshole has his own thing, I mean, I'm not a shit-eater or anything."
IN THE weeks that follow the interview, Patton's matter-of-fact admission haunts me. I'm told there's an "end of culture" movement in California where shit-eating is seen as a barrier breaking act, some sort of commentary on the state of the world, a symbolic gesture in accordance with the coming millennial meltdown. Something for people who have tried everything else to test and taunt themselves with, perhaps.
A risky business, too apparently shit-snacking can cause Jakob's Syndrome, the human equivalent of Mad Cow Disease. Someone else tells me that "in certain circles" shit is used as a dildo, straw being eaten the day before to produce waste matter of the required
length and consistency.
Though keen to point out that just because he's eaten shit he s not a shit-eater or anything , Patton has put his excremental enthusiasm on the new album in the screeching, scouring, divebombing delivery of 'Cuckoo For Caca'.
Lines like, "Everybody needs to lick the surface clean," and, 'We'll retire with a turd on our lips, and the recurring jubilant / anguished scream of "Shit lives forever" take Neil Young's ode to Disposability at its word - 'Caca' is a real piece of 'crap'.
Would you call it a shit-eating manifesto?
"I really don't remember, if I could sit here and write the words out I might be able to remember."
A lyric sheet is laid before him, he glances at it.
"It's just... shit. Shit is... shitty people, garbage, everything. What do you think it's about?"
Mankind's struggle to reach the evolutionary stage of the dung beetle, possibly.
"Not bad, not bad. lt's ecological, our Greenpeace number. An ecological tract."
As Patton talks; the full incongruity of the scene becomes apparent a waiter arrives with coffee (nothing to eat, thankfully) and yards from where we sit, the famed Venetian waterways are ferrying well-heeled tourists on to the place considered a jewel in the
crown of European culture.
And yet, all the regal postures of the nouveau riche, the fur-dad, expense-account promenaders, the singing gondoliers, the whole elaborate Venetian façade, everyone seems engaged in a conspiracy of ignorance and denial. Even in the luxurious hotel where we're sitting, the ancient convect heater ensures there's no escape from the rancid smell of the city sewer system.
Can you smell it, Mike?
"Yeah, sure. it's amazing isn't it?" he says, beaming, vindicated in the knowledge that shit lives forever. You can't kill it.
THE MUSICAL brief on 'King For A Day...', from crude brutal rampages ('Get Out', 'Digging The Grave') to horn-bolstered Jazz-funk ('Star AD), from hysterical pomp power epics ('Just A Man') to devious, insidious ballads ('Evidence'), is far wider than anything Faith No More have previously attempted. It is an album that will leave much of their fan base puzzled and, given the strictly defined radio formats in their homeland, may well struggle to make up ground lost by 'Angel Dust', which, although successful in Europe, failed to build on the Stateside success of 'The Real Thing'.
Shot through with images of wracked horror and caterwauling confusion, it is remorselessly heartless, amoral and deeply ironic. Confirming their status as the band who are out of step with the passionate, bleeding-heart instincts of their peers, Faith No More emerge as curators of the bizarre and the depraved, glorifying the sick, sour and dismembered.
For Bill Gould, it is a natural response to the world around them. "Things like Michael Jackson in the media - I like it. I like to read the bad news, it speeds up the process to total breakdown. I just want to know the bad things. The quality of life is actually very low in America, people work like dogs for very little.
"it's got to the point in America that people don't know what happened five years ago in pop culture, nevermind outside world events- Candy culture. American people are conditioned to be cows. they have the virtues of cows, they police themselves like cows: they work, produce milk and get killed in the end. The virtues of cows - consume as end. The virtues of cows - consume as much as you can, and he who dies with the most toys wins."
Gould says that he thinks Patton's lyrics are "pretty literal, self explanatory". "But then, he adds, "I'm wrapped up in his personal experience."
To outsiders, though, the words are abstract and opaque, and talking to Patton about them is like pulling teeth.
"I can't actually write words before music. The words are the last thing; before the words, I hear sounds. Sometimes the words have no connection to anything, they just have to fit into the sound. I'm sure a lot of what was going into the words on the new record were things that we were all going through at the time. Kind of subtle ways of getting revenge on those people. People you see everyday, situations you're in everyday that maybe it's better if you don't confront them. Everyone will know what it's about but no-one will talk about it. It's a beautiful thing.
"We sometimes think of songs in visual terms. When you see an image and you can't get rid of it. It's best to just describe that image. Rather than force a bunch of words Into a space and call it a f—ing song, it's better just to follow it through and leave it at that. I think 'Take This Bottle' was nice and true to form. Maybe it doesn't reflect a particular experience of any of us. But what do you see when you hear that song?"
A hangdog country lament with an undertow of eerie menace and dire self loathing.
"Like a kind of seasick sort of thing? Here's a little clue - we always have code names for our songs based on what they used to sound like or what we want them to sound like. That one was called 'The Guns N'Roses Song' . You can kind of see the long-haired conductor up there with his stick, the guy doing the guitar solo on top of the piano, the crowd swaying below them, falling over themselves. You get the idea?"
The piss-take strategy of striking an ironic pose is a favourite Faith No More ploy. Roddy Bottum thinks it may be a weakness but it's an approach that works to great effect on 'Just A Man', the album's operatic closer, which builds into a chord frenzy of pomp rock, Greek mythology and elemental derring-do. It sounds like a lavish exposition of something that could have started life on a Queen album.
"I don't think we actually had much distance on 'Just A Man', and it probably benefited the most. Queen? Oh gawd! A rock opera anthem. I think it's a little more obese than Queen, a little bit more like if you were in your 40s and gambling, sweating, a little overweight and In love, that's the way we saw it anyway.
"With something like that, you have to be kind of embarrassed by it in order to do something good, to make it what it is. When you do something good you can laugh at it, without having to laugh while doing it. We didn't have to stick our tongue out, it just kind of ruins It. When you're able to carry something like that through, it's real satisfying."
So the performing and writing of the song is a chance to play out a role?
"It's a great thing to be able to do, a nice weapon, a nice tool to have on your side. If you were writing about your own experience on every record for ten songs you'd have a really empty record, very boring. You have to be able to step outside of yourself and know when to do
it. You have to know when to lie."
At whatever cost (and think of the money he may have saved on loo roll), Patton has negotiated his tussle with mainstream fame more ably than many of his peers. Perhaps his solid, if eccentric, family background has helped, perhaps he's just made of sterner stuff
"Certain people get really depressed and down. I don't get that way. I'm not sure why. I probably should more often. If you have outlets it keeps that sort of thing at bay - I try and divert myself by making music, reading, doing anything to take your mind off whatever it is that may depress you. Everyone has their own tricks."
These days he stays in a lot, watches laser discs (Peeping Tom and Midnight Cowboy are his favourite movies) and makes music which may be for Faith No More. Mister Bungle or "other projects". He says neither of his groups is more important than the other.
"I have to do both of them, it's a reflex, a bodily function. I have to do it."
SEVERAL lyrics on 'King...' seem to snarl against the trap of celebrity, entrapment and the ageing process. But Patton dismisses any suggestion that the Kurt Cobain saga had any effect on him ("I didn't know him or anything").
As a singer in a rock'n'roll band who may have gone through some of the same things that he did, you had no thoughts or feelings about the whole business?
"What can I say? (Laughs). What can I say 'I'm sorry'? Bad things happen, Y'know I'm sure it wasn't as great as everyone thinks it was."
"His suicide, I'm sure it wasn't such a glamorous event."
You don't feel any sense of embattlement of being at odds with the industry or celebrity?
"Not particularly. Bands are almost expected to do that now. No-one's supposed to be ready for superstardom, everyone's expected to take a stance. That's become the norm now, and that's just as contrived as going up onstage and saying. 'We love you all'."
You don't feel that singers in your position operate in Kurt's shadow from now on?
"From now on? I don't know, what does it have to do with anything? For someone like me, I don't see why something like that would change anything I do."
REM. Neil Young, Pearl Jam and Bob Mould all claimed to have been in affected by it in some way,
"Maybe we're less morbid, I don't know. What should we do, write a
F—ing elegy? (Laughs)."
How long will Faith No More stay together?
I don't know, hopefully for a while. Definitely for the next few years because we're going to be f—ing touring our arses off, I think we're all ready, we've been Sitting around for a long time. It felt good to make this record, we can actually look each other in the face now and I think we're going to have a-good time. I think we're going to play and it's
going to be fun."
WHEN HE joined the band. Patton recoiled from the girt groupies that followed them, and didn't have much time for the boy groupies either. The ones who slapped him on the back, offered him pot and just wanted to tell him he was a cool dude. On stage, he became famous for flinging stage invaders who got in his way back into the pit, or perversely, dragging them back on and demanding that they perform for him. How does he view his relationship with the audience now?
"It was probably a lot more 'f— you' than it needed to be. I was more interested in shoving people away than saying. 'Come on and let's have a good time'. But I think that was a reaction, just like everything we were going through playing with a guitar player we didn't like - we started hating ourselves too.
"We started really feeling like rats: 'This guy over here doesn't like this guy and This guy over here has this going on,' and... it was like The Village People. I think we're more like a real band now. I would hope that would mean there was less characterisation, less cartoon role playing- musically, personality-wise, every way. Hopefully we can go out and play as a band and be more of a unit."
What have Faith No More done that you're most proud of?
"The Guns N' Roses' tour, I'm proud that we stuck it out. We did it in spite of ourselves, and it was probably the lowest point of the whole cycle. When you look back and see how low it was, you've got to respect it somehow."
When you were tying to keep the audience at bay, was it a means of self-protection?
"Yeah, I'm sure. Sometimes it's a lot safer not to get involved. But we made the choice - you join this band, you deserve all the fucking bullshit you get. Then was the time to complain about it. You deal with these things, I don't think that shoving it away and saying 'F— you'
is the way, it's as childish as kissing ass and sucking dick and playing the game."
So how would you deal with all that now?
"Probably just a little more calmly, we're going to take things in our stride. I think that we've learned better how to deal with those things. It's like learning how to behave when you're in a police car - don't start banging your head against the window because you're not
going anywhere. Do we really want to make ourselves understood and pour out our darkest secrets? No, why waste the time? As they say in the police car, you can do this the hard way or you can do it the easy way."
Who do you look to as having a good handle on all that?
"I don't know of anybody, I can't point at anybody and say, 'That guy's doing it right'. I think anybody who's alive and is still a person after being in the industry and doing this... My hat goes off to them. I think that's the object, to get out alive."
So why continue? Couldn't you retire on what you've already earned? "I wish. But, no. that's not true at all. We have houses now, that's what's changed. We've started to try and cultivate lives, which is very ambitious but I think that's what you have to do after being alive for 20-odd years."
Faith No More are the folks who live on the hilt. All four of them have houses near each other, overlooking the San Francisco bay. Patton has no plans to move.
"San Francisco Is a pretty great city. You end up feeling pretty jaded and spotted there because it's kind of like an Island. There's not many cities like that. There's great food, you can go out and do stuff, it's easy to get around. I don't know anything about community, I don't
feel that. We're away too much to be part of that. When you're away for hours a day, in the study, in a dark room, do you want to come back and be part of a community or do you want to take a shit, eat and go to bed?"
Don't you have friends there who can offer friendly chat, encouragement and advice?
"You deal with these things yourself. When you go back, your friends may not be your friends anymore."
TWO WEEKS later, Mike Patton is in a car going across London to a curry house. He's sniggering into a portable phone, telling me he's glad the whole promotional jaunt is over. In Paris he managed to blow $2.000 on a jazz record binge with Mike Bordin, but other than that it's been pretty dull work. I tell him some people think that Faith No More may no longer be on the cutting edge, that next time out they may be a professional outfit, a business arrangement, the old fire gone out. "I don't give a fuck what they think. I don't care; we're happy we've made a good record and we can't wait to play it. The only responsibility we have is to keep ourselves interested. We've been doing it this hard for this long, we're kind of almost like monkeys at this point."
I try to ask him another question about shit-eating but he cuts it short. "F— that shit, y'know? Get over It. Deal with it. If a contradiction image or some sort of signal is sent out by us, make some sense out of it hate it or like it, do something.
"Weird things happen - so what? We're trying to provoke some sort of thought, y'know? Maybe it'll mean people won't behave like a bunch of f—ing cows, maybe they'll leave the show thinking.
"If that can happen, that's great. Too many people listen to music passively that's not how we play music and it's not how we listen to it. When you see something with a big question mark on their head, you just want to kick em."