REGRETS, THEY HAVE A FEW ...
Singer Mike Patton has occasionally made a meal of it. He's crapped all over the place. He's chewed on a Tampax. He's tasted a turd. And he's not afraid to make a tit of himself. Now, the newly mature Faith No More are about to tour the world, and elsewhere. "We're talking cockroach," they tell Phil Sutcliffe.
"I'm a fucked up individual," says Roddy Bottum, FNM's keyboard player, reviewing recent difficult times. He grins, sort of. He's sitting in the spartan basement lounge of the San Francisco studio where he's rushing to finish an album with his other band, punk-inclined popsters Star 69, in the three days before he has to start an 18-month, maybe 400-gig tour with FNM.
He has a cold and he says he's been up for a week. He doesn't look too bad considering his laconic observation: "I don't hang out with a real healthy crowd." But full-on hilarity is hardly within his emotional range just now because of what's happened to him over the past couple years.
He got addicted to heroin. He came out about being gay. He split with his boyfriend of eight years. His father died. So did several of his good friends, all within a few months of last year. He cleaned up.
Pretty damn useful then, you'd think, that FNM is a band of friends. The founder members go back a long way. Bottum and bass player Billy Gould, both 31 now, grew up together in Hancock Park, a prosperous Hollywood enclave, with much in common. They were sons of successful lawyers, Catholic, classmates at a boys' high school. From the age of nine, they rode their pedal bikes around the neighborhood making mischief -- bomb threats to supermarkets a rather avant-naughty specialty.
When they were 18, they left home together for university in San Francisco. Shared rooms, shared a spirit of rebellion against what Bottum calls "fructose sugar-coated sappy candyland horrific '70s Los Angeles." By 1981, with drummer Mike "Puffy" Bordin, they had formed FNM.
Obviously, by now they should know each other very well. Instead, when Bottum came out in January 1993, says Gould (talking earlier that day at FNM's rehearsal studio), "I found out by reading it in a music paper. I really hadn't known he was gay. It was never discussed. So it kinda pissed me off. It's not that him being gay is an issue, but hearing about it that way, I guess that I felt personally insulted."
"Pretty ridiculous, isn't it?" says Bottum. "I'd had girlfriends (Courtney Love was a brief fling) and I'd had boyfriends and I thought they were equally apparent, but, yeah, we never talked at all about who we were fucking, which is strange, perhaps, for good friends."
Then, on his addiction, he says, he was "outed" by his bandmates without being consulted, again in an interview. He bitterly resented the intrusion.
But Gould explains that he was wrestling with his own pent-up anger about his old friend's conduct. "It was hard because when he was on heroin, which was through the end of the 1993 tour, he was not the guy I'd known for 20 years. He was somebody else who I really didn't like. That's really horrible. It sucks. Roddy dealt with the problem. He's doing great now. But I'm definitely still working it out with him personally. It'll probably take a couple of years."
Roddy Bottum draws a breath and tries to get to the heart of the matter, the contradictory core of FNM's durability: "We're a unit that doesn't talk about things on a personal level. I hear this from you that Billy felt I became a different person when I was on heroin; it's not like he and I would have a conversation about it. There's a weird dynamic in our band, a very macho ethic. But the past year the shit that I've been through has been non-stop and I'm at a point where all I can deal with is honesty, talking about the things that matter."
You can't press Billy and the others to respond?
"You know what, I can and I do sometimes, but being the stereotypical fag, I have this paranoia about always being the one: 'Oh, there's Roddy being dramatic again, being overly passionate.'"
So FNM is a total communication breakdown then, a lost cause. Except for the commitment that's held the three founders together for 14 years and which Bottum will suddenly turn to proclaiming without reservation: "We showed admirable stamina when things were really shitty, when we were traveling all over America in a little van with no money, whining and bitching. It's this thing I've brought up with my friends and I feel really strongly about it. Just because it's a lot bigger and out of control, it doesn't make it any less personal to me now. I can't see leaving FNM even though there's a lot of shit to deal with."
Ah, shit. Well, it's a tough topic to keep away from around FNM, largely because of the scatological tendencies of singer Mike Patton. By common consent, he's a strange fellow. A dish, scientifically proven. One glimpse of him in flesh or photo and women sigh in that certain way. But it's his public words and deeds, on stage, record, and through the prints, that have landed him in trouble by, let's not be coy, the shitload and lent a peculiar aroma to FNM's reputation.
Notoriously, Patton has crapped in orange-juice cartons, defecated in hotel hairdryers and dumped on the bench outside Charles and Di's official residence. He's munched on a tampon left on stage by a member of L7 and then peed in his own boot and drunk the contents on stage. He's flaunted on-the-road impedimenta including S&M masks, picture books of embalmed corpses, a voodoo doll of unsavory provenance called Toodles, and a pickled human foetus in a jar. He's spoken up for coprophiliac pornography -- "Sometimes a shit-eating video is so much cooler than watching two people kissing".
His lyrics are hardly less calculated to agitate the excrement. Vivid, and for the most part, skillfully crafted, they have dealt with murder in Underwater Love, The Morning After , Surprise You're Dead and Crack Hitler ("Bodies float up/ from the bottom of the river/ Like bubbles in fine champagne"), with masturbation in Jizzlobber and, of course, with eating turds in the terrifyingly self-disgusted Cuckoo for Caca on FNM's fifth and latest studio album King for a Day, Fool For a Lifetime.
However, perched on the stairs at the rehearsal studio with Mike Bordin, Patton has fallen into defensive posture it seems. He's just read a story in which he "spoke for the first time", as the tabloids say, about having really eaten shit. He feels he's gone too far (again).
Yes, he knows he invited the question by writing Cuckoo for Caca, but now he's seen it in black and white, he hates it. "It makes you feel stupid," he says. "Interviews just become a pissing contest."
"To see if you'll piss on yourself," says Bordin sagely. "Well, there's always people slipping the dick to you in ways you've never had it before."
"You think, 'Aaaah! My God, I've never been fucked like this before.' There's a new position every day," says Patton and they both cackle merrily.
Lyrical analysis is always off-limits with Patton. All he will say, when pressed about writing the words for The Real Thing, his first album with the band, is that "It was no big deal, I'd just gotten out of school then so I probably approached it the same way as doing a project."
It's a reminder of how different he was when he came to FNM. Having fired their first regular singer Chuck Mosley -- an eccentric performer who once touchingly confessed, "I've never been able to conceptualize how to hit the right note" -- the band were hot for Patton's vocal power and variety. But they quickly realized they had acquired a true innocent, 21 and young for his age, whose inevitable rush towards experience could well prove unsettling.
Patton grew up in a village, population 30, near Eureka in northern California, and he admits he was naive. "It's more or less true, yeah," he says. "I hadn't traveled much, I was in school studying English, had a job. Lived with my parents, been in Mr. Bungle since I was 15 (they're still active as his 'other band'). Pretty happy. Pretty ignorant."
And what was it, then, about this apparently soporific background that led to the outburst of murder, mayhem and sexual misdemeanor in his lyrics for the Real Thing?
He snorts his scorn. He's not to be suckerpunched today.
"At the time I was living with a mean asshole lizard," he offers. Bordin guffaws. "It kept me awake at nights, so whenever I'd get pissed off, I'd go over to its cage and poke it, pull its whiskers ..."
And there we leave him deploying his prerogative to talk total, well, shit.
They often seem like a fucked-up band. On the other hand, throughout the 90s they have grown and prospered commercially -- their last album Angel Dust went to number 2 in Britain, number 10 in America and the post-ironic Lionel Ritchie cover I'm Easy was a huge hit. Further, critics have widely applauded their beyond-metal adventures in funk or country, and now, on KFAD, even Latino smooch (Coralho Voador) and big band swing (Star AD). They couldn't have come so far without some kind of solid foundation and it can only be the backbeat team of Bordin and Gould: drums, bass and solid bottom-line characters.
Bordin, who, like Patton, married recently, is a constant soul, a dedicated cultivator of dreadlocks which now dangle down below his belt. Refined of visage, he cleaves to the coarse basics when he speaks, as if verbal elegance might somehow prove corruptive.
He once recalled the moment when he realized how much music could mean to him: "All of a sudden you get it and you think, Shit, I'm finally whole, when you didn't even know you were half before." He's particularly intense about FNM maintaining a sense of proportion: "We've got to always remember why the fuck we're here, which is to make music, not to build statues of ourselves, not to start thinking our shit doesn't stink, not to lose ourselves so that it's only vanity that gets our knob moving."
Gould, cheery, chunky and conscientiously hospitable to media visitors, goes along with Bordin's view that the band exists to "scratch our own itch" self-expressionistically speaking.
"When I hear our songs, I hear me personally," he says. "That's what makes me put the effort in. I'm doing it for me. So it's easy."
Unbidden, he suddenly takes a sharp left to explain how FNM's jaggedly diverse sounds come about: "You know, the way we write is visual. We start by describing a scene to one another. Say there's a guy in a beat-up Cadillac with ripped upholstery. Empty Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes and malt liquor bottles in the back. And there's a baby seat. In fact, that image because Edge of the World. Mutated a little on the way (Patton's lyric is about a child molester)."
This singular aspect of FNM methodology actually proved crucial in sorting out the successor to Big Jim Martin, their determinedly bad-ass metal guitarist and noted simultaneous wearer of two pairs of specs, who finally outstayed his welcome at the end of 1993.
"Most of the guitarists we tried couldn't see those pictures I'm talking about and they couldn't express them musically," says Gould. "They were caught in a genre, thinking too linearly and literally, instead of visually."
Whereas Mr. Bungle veteran Trey Spruance, who recorded the album then bottled out, reluctant to travel, and Dean Menta, who has taken over for the world tour, both understood the pictorial lingo and filled the bill.
"The world tour? We're talking cockroach," says Bordin. "Physical survival."
"I only see the *work*," says Gould, not undaunted. "I'd like to have fun, eat good food, go out on a drinking spree for three days. But, fuck, have too much fun and the work will kill you; it'll fuckin' mow you down. I don't think I have the genetic propensity towards womanizing and consuming tons of LSD."
Could this be the onset of "maturity"?
"Not exactly! We're 30 years old and still talking about shit-eating for Christ's sake!"
Bottum views the coming months cautiously. "I haven't given it a lot of thought. I'm gonna try to just jump right in. If I think about it, it's gonna make me miserable. I wanna get on the plane, no suitcase. I don't want to be carrying a lot of stuff around Europe, just go with a couple shirts and see what happens. Wouldn't that be cool?"