Kerrang! | 14.03.2009 | Issue 1252
From Out Of Nowhere | Paul Brannigan
After an 11-year split, FAITH NO MORE are reforming for this year's Download Festival. Here's the story of how the San Franciscan nut jobs became the finest - and most shocking - band of the '90s...
LAST NOVEMBER Kerrang! got a tip-off that Faith No More were reforming. The news caused much excitement. Before their dissolution in April 1998 the San Franciscan quintet were one of the most respected and revered bands of modern times, a platinum-selling arena act with a distinctly non-mainstream agenda.
Influential as much for their subversive, maverick attitude as their eclectic, inventive sound - this was a band whose biggest UK hit was the 92 straight faced cover of easy listening soul superstars The Commodores' syrupy ballad Easy - Faith No More were cited as an inspirational touchstone by acts such as Slipknot, Lost prophets, Deftones and The Dillinger Escape Plan. We duly contacted the band's bassist and founding member Bill Gould to confirm the news.
"I've heard this story as well," Gould responded in an email, "but I have to let you know that if anything like this were to happen, it would have to come from the band, and I haven't spoken with any of them in over a year: when I did nothing was brought up. 'So as far as I know, there isn't anything to talk about, and I'm pretty sure that if you were to contact (FNM-turned-Fantômas/Mr. Bungle/Tomahawk/Peeping Tom vocalist Mike) Patton he would tell you the same thing. Sorry."
The rumours didn't die down, though: in fact they only intensified as speculation grew about upcoming summer festival slots. On February 25 we contacted Bill Gould again. This time the bassist had a rather different response: "Faith No More has always stood out as some sort of unique beast... Its music almost as schizophrenic as the personalities of its members," a prepared statement read. "When it worked, it worked really well, even if the chemistry was always volatile. Throughout our 17 years of existence, the mental and
physical energy required to sustain this creature was considerable and relentless. Though amicable enough, when we finally split, we all followed paths seemingly destined to opposite ends of the universe. Yet during the entire 10 years that have passed since our decision
to break up we've experienced constant rumours and requests from fans and promoters alike. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, none of us kept in regular touch, much less to discuss any possibilities of getting together.
"What's changed is that this year, for the first time, we've all decided to sit down together and talk about it. And what we've discovered is that time has afforded us enough distance to look back on our years together through a clearer lens and made us realise that through all the hard work, the music still sounds good, and we are beginning to appreciate the fact that we might have actually done something right.
"Meanwhile, we find ourselves at a moment in time with absolutely zero label obligations, still young and strong enough to deliver a kick-ass set, with enthusiasm to not only revisit our past, but possibly add something to the present. And so with this we've decided to hold our collective breaths and jump off this cliff... BACK, GOD FORBID, INTO THE MONKEY CAGE!!!"
The finest band of the '90s are back.They always were a bunch of contrary bastards.
FAITH NO More were already a hip name to drop among alternative rock fans before 20-year-old Mike Patton joined the band late in 1988. Their debut album We Care A Lot - a wired amalgam of hip-hop rhymes, metallic guitars, classically inspired piano lines and post-punk rhythms - had attracted a cult following, while 1987's marginally slicker Introduce Yourself had seen the band patronisingly dubbed A Metal Band It's Okay To Like, by the more trend conscious British music magazines. Losing their singer on the eve of recording their much anticipated third album wasn't part of the game plan.But then Faith No More never had much of a plan at all.
In the beginning in fact, the band didn't even want a proper singer. When Bill Gould, keyboardist Roddy Bottum and drummer Mike "Puffy" Bordin formed Faith No More in late 1981 - bonded by a love of Killing Joke, PiL and punk rock—they decided that they would have a different singer (among them a young Courtney Love) and different set-list for every show they played.
"We were having fun being stupid kids," said Bill Gould in 2002. "It wasn't so much music, as just expression. We just played whatever came into our heads. And that felt kinda good."
In 1983 Faith No More played LA for the first time. An old friend of Bill Gould's, a bratty skate punk called Chuck Mosley, then fronting a band called Haircuts That Kill, had come down to the gig, and was dragged to the microphone for one song by the bassist. He would go on to spend the next five years with the band.
"I wasn't a singer, but I figured I couldn't make it any worse than it already was," Mosley recalled with a laugh in later years. "I knew Billy was into chaos and aggression so I just fed off that and had a blast."
The chaos only intensified when guitarist Jim Martin joined this group of cynical, sarcastic smart asses the following year, replacing original guitarist Mark Bowen. Mike Bordin loathed Martin, a Black Sabbath-obsessed, wholly unreconstructed macho rocker recommended by Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, a mutual friend: Roddy Bottum, meanwhile, thought the guitarist came from "another planet". The tensions were obvious, but the jarring, disparate characters made the band's live shows and new songs thrillingly unpredictable.
"I'd compare that band to a spider web pulling in five separate directions with equal force," noted Matt Wallace, the band's producer and unofficial 'sixth member'. "If one guy tried to lead the band the others would be like 'Fuck off. There was no mellow guy in the band."
The tensions within Faith No More finally spilled over into violence in 1988, when Gould physically attacked Mosley during a band rehearsal. The singer was sacked soon afterwards.
"When Chuck was good he was really, really good," Gould recalled. "He had great charisma and personality. But having a working relationship with him became really impossible. We were working really hard to get somewhere and it felt like we were being sabotaged."
The band already had a full album's worth of new material written. Once again they were on the lookout for a singer. It was Jim Martin who suggested the band try out Mike Patton, a young singer who had passed a demo tape of his band Mr. Bungle to Mike Bordin following a FNM show at Humboldt College in Northern California the previous year. Patton was studying for an English degree at the college when Martin phoned: his nice middle class parents (dad a sports coach, mum a welfare officer) must have been just delighted when he announced his intention to ditch his education in favour of trying out for a band of obnoxious, hate-filled misfits. He had just two weeks to write lyrics and melodies for the band's third album before producer Matt Wallace was due to set the tapes rolling.
"I was really impressed with Patton," Matt Wallace recalled in 2002. "He really rose to the occasion. He's the most phenomenal singer I've ever worked with, and when he's backed against the wall he's absolutely brilliant."
Released in June 1989 in the US, The Real Thing showcased a totally different Faith No More. The sound was slick, the song writing streamlined, the band's diverse influences converging into an assured, cohesive whole. Older fans grumbled that the band had lost their anarchic edge, but beneath the surface sheen beat a dark heart: the tinkling cocktail lounge jazz of Edge Of The World was written from a paedophile's viewpoint. The Morning After detailed the aftermath of a murder, Zombie Eaters painted childbirth as a deviant, parasitical relationship between a malevolent infant and a weak, subservient mother. For a new generation of rock fans brought up on Metallica and Guns N 'Roses the band's scattershot, subversive approach was fresh, fun and impossibly exciting. Kerrang! awarded the album a full 5Ks upon release, noting "as usual expect the unexpected".
Not everyone got it, though. Faith No More's US record company was confused, label executives telling the band, 'It's a great record but radio won't play this, there are no singles'. The endorsement of peers such as Metallica didn't help much either: when the metal superstars took their Bay Area buddies on the West Coast leg of their ...And Justice For All tour Faith No More were spat on every night for five weeks. And despite enthusiastic media support in the UK, the album's first single Epic limped into the charts at number 37. Six months after The Real Thing hit the shops it had sold only 45,000 copies, and had yet to trouble the Billboard 200. But the band stayed out on the road and their hard work began to reap dividends, with From Out Of Nowhere giving them their first UK Top 30 single. And eventually, embarrassed by the band's critical acclaim and overseas sales, MTV conceded to fan requests and put a re-released Epic on their playlist. The effect was immediate: with MTV on board, The Real Thing began to sell in excess of 40,000 copies per day.
"It was like a sick joke," Billy Gould recalled. "For the past 12 months we'd worked our asses off and everyone had been telling us how great we were, but we weren't selling any records and we were fucking broke. And then just as the label told us that the record was effectively dead, it all kicked off, and we had to start all over again.
By the end we hated those songs so fucking much."
"I had absolutely no perspective on fame when The Real Thing took off," Patton stated a decade later. "I was just goofing around with my new band I had my head in my ass and I didn't know what was going on. It was bizarre, a total out-of-control nauseous carnival ride."
I witnessed Patton's distaste for his new-found fame first hand in April 1990, when the quintet played their first Irish shows. In Belfast, a gaggle of fans had gathered around the Ulster Hall's stage door hours in the early afternoon in order to meet the band: the four older musicians happily chatted and signed autographs but to his bandmates' obvious disgust, Patton completely blanked the waiting fans, refusing to even acknowledge their presence. As he disappeared into the venue without a word to anyone, muttered comments of 'what a c**t' rang out.
Patton's behaviour only got stranger, the clean-cut college kid replaced by a twisted misanthrope out to explore the furthest extremes of human behaviour. Having had his own head fucked by fame, the singer seemed intent upon screwing with everyone else's sanity in revenge. He'd talk about his love of "scat" videos. He'd routinely drink his own piss onstage. He carried a three month-old foetus named 'Cedric' around in a jar. And he was determined to make the band's next album as fucked up as he felt.
If Warners Brothers were expecting the quintet to record The Real Thing Part II, they were to be horribly disappointed. At war with one another and within themselves, Faith No More weren't about to pander to anyone - not the label, not the fans, not each other. 1992's
Angel Dust was a daring, challenging album, the songs more twisted, more schizophrenic and plain nastier than ever before. The whole album was shot through with paranoia, sickness and self-loathing. It was brilliant, but the label were horrified.
"Don't you think it's great to see someone twitch?" gloated Patton. "You know, when they get really nervous. That happened with our record company. They tried working on each of us individually, persuading us that we didn't know what we were doing."
"No-one could understand why we were fucking with the formula," says Gould. "The key phrase from the label was 'commercial suicide'. It was the beginning of our downfall as far as America was concerned."
"Angel Dust was such a brutal record to make," stated Matt Wallace. "You could see that the foundations of the band were falling apart. Jim Martin's dad had just died and Jim's such a macho American guy that he couldn't just admit that it had really floored him. And then Roddy had just come out of the closet and that upset the applecart because Jim was such a man's man: from day one, if Jim didn't like a song he'd say, 'This is a bunch of gay disco'."
Given their already fragile equilibrium it perhaps wasn't the smartest move for Faith NoMore to begin promoting Angel Dust with a European stadium tour with Guns N'Roses, a band who represented pretty much everything they hated about mainstream rock music.
They found the tour "intimidating, confusing and funny".
"The question every night was 'What the hell were we doing here?'," said Gould - but it helped push Angel Dust to Number Two in the UK charts. When Nirvana declined Axl Rose's offer to open the band's mammoth US co-headlining trek with Metallica, it made business sense for Faith No More to jump in bed with the Devil once again. With all the drugs and debauchery surrounding Guns N' Roses, four-fifths of the band found the circus repellent. Jim Martin loved it.
"Jim works really hard at being the official party animal for Faith No More," Patton told Kerrang! with barely suppressed disgust. "What a guy!"
"It's four of them against one of me," responded Martin. "Sometimes I hate those fuckers."
Something had to give. On November 30,1993, Jim Martin was informed by fax that he was no longer part of Faith No More.
"It's funny to think that the perception at the time was that poor little Jim was being picked on," Mike Bordin said later. "Jim was the hardest motherfucker of all of Us, he was a huge shit-stirrer. When the band started getting hot, everyone went to different places and started checking out different things, and everyone was too interested in themselves to worry about pissing off Jim. We never really found out what happened with him..."
IN TRUTH, Faith No More were never quite the same after Jim Martin's departure. The recruitment of Mr Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance, for 1995's King For A Day... Fool For A Lifetime may have solved the guitar problem temporarily, but the album was recorded in the midst of Roddy Bottum fighting heroin addiction and battling depression brought on by the death of his father and several close friends, including Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. Bottum actually saw the singer a week before he killed himself.
"I knew the situation was bad and I went to see him hoping there was something I could do to help," he told Select magazine in 1995. "When it became clear that there really wasn't, I left. Knowing what would happen. The last thing I said to him was, 'You're going to die'. I felt pretty guilty, but there was nothing I could do."
Bottum was largely absent from the writing of the new album, and his trademark keyboard flourishes were missed. The band suffered another blow when Spruance informed them that he wouldn't tour the album. King For A Day... charted in the UK at Number 5, but there was an increasing perception that Faith No More had peaked, a perception that wasn't exactly helped by various band members appearing more interested in their side-projects - Patton's Mr. Bungle, Bottum's pop band Imperial Teen. Bordin moonlighting with Ozzy Osbourne - than their day job.
Things were even more fractured when it came to recording the follow-up. 1997's cockily titled Album Of The Year it was rare for more than two band members to be in the studio at the same time. with Bill Gould being left to patch together the songs from parts recorded individually. The end was clearly in sight.
ON APRIL 20th 1998 Faith No More released a press statement announcing their split.
"After 15 long and fruitful years," the statement began, "Faith No More have decided to put an end to speculation regarding their imminent break-up... by breaking up. The decision among the members is mutual, and there will be no pointing of fingers, no naming of names, other than stating for the record that Puffy started it."
Faith No More were over. The only real surprise was that it had taken so long. Bill Gould was gutted.
"For better or worse I identified myself with the band and psychologically it was tough," he told Kerrang! in 2002. "If I look back on the whole experience I have a really unpleasant feeling. From day one it wasn't that fun in a lot of ways. If it wasn't for the fact that people still appreciate what we did, I'd say all those years in Faith No More weren't worth it."
And that, in theory, was that. Gould set up a record label named Kool Arrow and continued his production work, later resurfacing to play guitar with German alt-rock band Harmful. Mike Bordin was installed as Ozzy Osbourne's drummer, Bottum continued to make pop music with Imperial Teen. Patton, meanwhile, had countless projects to keep him busy, and it was he who seemed most keen to distance himself from the past, not least when a new generation of metal bands began citing Faith No More as their key influence. "I wholeheartedly accept that every rap-rock band out there is rubbish," he told me in 2001, "but I accept no responsibility for those morons. Whenever I hear these bands say that Faith No More made them what they are, I just shrug it off, because if I were to stare too much into the mirror I would have committed suicide long ago."
Asked in the same interview if Faith No More would ever reform, the singer's response was unequivocal: "I won't be singing with them if they do," he said. "We'd said all that we had to say and to keep the band going would have been chicken shit," Patton explained. "If you go back on your words and try to relive the past you will get what you deserve and bad things will come your way."
Nostalgia is big business in the music industry these days. Twenty years ago, rock's biggest headline draws were AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Guns N' Roses and Metallica: in 2009 these bands still rule the roost and are the first names on festival promoters' lists when it comes to booking headline acts.
It's unsurprising then that big money is being dangled in front of legendary acts to re-join the party. But Faith No More's reunion has still come as a shock. Typically, the news hasn't come without controversy sources close to Jim Martin - excluded from the reunion
in favour of Jon Hudson, who played on Album Of The Year - have claimed that the potential reformation was sold to promoters on the basis of the classic The Real Thing line-up touring in support of that album's 20th anniversary. The band themselves are saying nothing, insisting that, as with Rage Against The Machine, they will be doing no interviews to mark their return.
The final word then must come from their prepared statement: "We can only hope that the experience of playing together again will yield results erratic and unpredictable enough to live up to the legacy of FNM," they say. "Who knows where this will end or what it will bring up... Only the future knows. But we are about to find out!"