Reflex Magazine | June 1992 | Jem Aswad
For all its dubious wonders, the most amazing thing about the mainstream American music industry is its cluelessness. To cite just one telling example: Every year for the last five years, a band whose album was at least a year old suddenly became a "next big thing." Each album enjoyed a year of reasonable semi-underground success, and then suddenly (for whatever reasons such things happen), a video started to get heavy airplay on MTV. Sales figures went through the roof, the enormodome-tour offers and Grammy nominations started to roll in, and the previously uninterested minions of the music biz launched a dog-eat-dog megabuck bum-rush to hitch their wagons to the rapidly rising platinum coattails of a band who probably thought their LP had long since flopped. Granted, no one can predict these things (last year Nirvana were a welcome and unprecedented exception to the rule, altho' the long-smoldering Nine Inch Nails and Alice in Chains weren't), but doesn't it seem that the powers that be could've supported Guns N' Roses (1988), Living Colour (1989), and especially 1990's least-likely-to, Faith No More, a little earlier?
"Better late than never," yo mama. Due to fatigue and overhype, these belated "breakthroughs" (who are mere mortals, after all) are usually courting has-been (if not Section 8) status before they've even unloaded the tour bus. By the time The Real Thing began to catch fire (doubling in one week what it had cumulatively sold in the 10 months since its release), Faith No More had been touring for almost a year. In order to "capitalize" on the album's sudden sales spurt, they committed to eight more grueling months of trying to make the same 14 songs interesting every night.
"We didn't!" says vocalist Mike Patton with exasperation. "There's really no way to. We just reveled in boredom! The only thing you can do is humiliate yourself further, and then you realize that, and you just keep milking it, and it's really sick, and... you just *wallow* in it. I think we all felt the same way. Every once in a while, I'd throw in a few lines from a cover song or something, but that was the only glimmer of hope! I don't think any of us really got burned out from touring itself--it's just that we didn't have any other material to play. I mean, we were touring on one record, and when you come back to the same place six times and you're playing the same set, it's like, wait a minute! Who's gettin' ripped off here?! I'd be pissed if I came back to see a band that I liked and they played the same thing. We toured for... uh, *too long*!"
The pressure to record a new album before the 2,000,000 inhabitants of the globe who bought The Real Thing moved on to a real *other* thing was complicated by Patton's commitments to Mr. Bungle-- the Eureka, CA-based band which he'd been a member of since high school (he'd joined FNM on the condition that he'd still be free to tour and record with Bungle)--which would keep him busy for several months.
But Faith No More are no ordinary band, and it should come as no surprise that --almost three years after The Real Thing's release-- Angel Dust is by no means a "safe followup," nor is it Use Your Protrusion, 7th Symphony, 12th Movement ("God, I hope we never get that self-indulgent. That's the worst," groans Patton.) Culled from some 20 potential candidates, its dozen songs find the band working with the same basic formula, but with greater ambition and a much greater willingness to get totally weird-- "Jizz Lover" and "Caffeine" take "Surprise! You're Dead!" to an even scarier level, while "Small Victory," "Mid-Life Crisis," and "Kindergarten" sound like the band that recorded The Real Thing after being kidnapped by a white slavery cartel.
"I think we've stretched what we are to an absurd level this time, which is great," Patton says. "I think we would all be really happy if people took this record home and went, 'What the hell is this?!' I think that's gonna happen-- and I think that's a good thing. The record company tried to turn the screws a little tighter this time around, I have to admit. There are a lot of samples [including Simon and Garfunkel, Diamanda Galas, Z'ev, and music from The Wizard of Oz!], which was one of the things that kinda freaked them out." He mimics a concerned exec: "'Gee, there's a lotta *sampling* on this! Don't you think a ROCK audience would be CONFUSED by this SAMPLING thing?'"
Although Angel Dust is certainly a progression, it's still the same band. "I just think we've gotten better at playing what we hear in our heads," Patton explains. "Before, we used to kinda cheat around, and play around what it was. We could never translate it into the band, and we're getting better at doing that. Like, we wanted to do a real lazy, sappy kinda ballad, so we covered the theme from Midnight Cowboy! And there's even a song that sounds like The Carpenters!"
In a laid-back, Southern California drawl, where every sentence seems to end with a question mark, keyboardist Roddy Bottum says, " Over most of the period between the albums, we were on tour, so we were listening to stuff together. Mike listens to a lot of speed metal, so some of his vocals are completely-over-the-top, full-on screaming with almost indistinguishable lyrics. [Bassist] Billy [Gould] was listening to a lot of really easy-listening stuff, like 1001 Strings! We're kinda thinking that we might release an EP of covers like that --since Metallica did Garage Days, we should do a Back to Our Roots EP and play 1001 Strings covers!" (Their current favorites include Godflesh, Ween, Young Gods, The Sugarcubes, and a collection of Henry Mancini's film soundtracks.)
"There are a few songs on here that are like genre songs-- they're cool because they're a certain thing," Patton continues. "'Crack Hitler' is like a sleazy version of the Emergency theme, like a '70s TV action show. It's got like a Shaft guitar line and siren samples. You picture five cops with guns chasin' a guy through an alley! It's like bad, bad disco--*bad*! Horrible!" He pauses a moment before continuing, "I also wrote some songs when I was experimenting with myself."
Pondering Patton's piston-palpitating paeans to porn on the Mr. Bungle LP, your humble interviewer can only summon a weak, "Oh?"
"Yeah," he laughs. "I was doing some sleep-deprivation experiments, staying up with coffee for as long as I could. And one song I wrote mostly from fortune cookies! I bought bags and bags of fortune cookies and took phrases from them. Another song, 'Land of Sunshine,' is just a grotesquely positive song, so I watched a lot of late-night TV to get in that frame of mind. We also did a new version of 'As The Worm Turns,' and a Commodores song that we always play live, 'Easy.' I don't think they're gonna be on the album--they'll probably end up being b-side-type things."
At any rate, Angel Dust is every bit as uncompromising at its title. Gould recently told Melody Maker, "A lot of people who bought our last record did so on the success of 'Epic,' you know, a lot of little kids-- ha ha ha! And I don't think they're really going to like this new stuff! Ha ha ha ha!"
Come back with me--will you?-- through the mists of time, to 1982, when the intriguingly monikered duo of Gould and Bottum, who knew each other from the LA punk scene, moved to San Francisco to attend school. The pair united with drummer Mike "Puffy" Bordin, and played for a time as Faith No Man with an endless succession of vocalists and guitarists. One vocalist was Courtney Love, now married to Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and currently courting cult-dom as countess of the confrontational, controversial, contentious, corrosive, and cantankerous combo Hole. "She was around for six months or so--quite a while, considering that we were switching around singers a whole lot at that point," Bottum recalls. "[The music] was kinda along the lines of what we did on the first record. We would just play riffs over and over again-- we thought we were *so* inventive," he laughs, "because we thought it was so driving and so heavy. But she was really good. She did a lot of screaming stuff, and we had a lot of slow melody stuff too. When she sang with us, she was punk rock; now she says she's always been punk rock, which is not true at all. After she left our band she was totally into--I mean, with a sense of humor, but really hardcore pop sorta stuff. We all were at that point--we used to do a cover of Van Halen's 'Jump.'"
Eventually, the band settled on guitarist Jim Martin (who had played with late Metallica bassist Cliff Burton in a band called Vicious Hatred) and singer Chuck Mosley, whose half-punk/half-rap, staccato delivery combined with Martin's unbridled thrash riffage to ignite the fusion of styles that became Faith No More's sound.
Unable to find any backers, the band pooled their money and recorded five songs, including the bruisingly funky, tongue-in-cheek world-unity anthem "We Care a Lot," which caught the ear of one Ruth Schwartz, then forming an indie label called Mordam Records. The gave the band enough money to finish an album, and 1985's We Care a Lot became Mordam's first release.
"I still like it," Bottum says of the LP now. "There are parts of it that are really amateurish, but I think it's great. It's pretty representative of the time." Which is more than he says about Introduce Yourself, FNM's 1987 major-label debut, which garnered a good buzz but exposed the growing riff between Mosley and the rest of the band.
"I liked what we were doing, but I think we had almost run our course at that time. I think a couple of people in the band were really bothered by Chuck's inconsistency, plus, we were fighting a whole lot--I think fighting is really good and really healthy in a band, but we were *hitting* each other!"
The battered band completed a shambolic tour to support the LP, and then returned home to regroup. "We knew we wanted to continue as a band," Bottum says, "but it's a pretty audacious step to take: If I'm really into a band and they change singers, I pretty much dismiss'em right away. The worst slap in the face [were accusations that it was] a racial thing, like we wanted to get a white singer, which was really insulting. But it went pretty smoothly, considering..." (Mosley recently left the Bad Brains after a year-long hitch.)
By January of '89, the four had written all of the music for The Real Thing before auditioning singers, and asked 21-year-old Mike Patton--the first person they auditioned--to join. After four years in the twisted world of Bungle's quick-cut, jazz/rock/funk mutation, Patton had only two weeks to write lyrics and melodies for the songs.
"It was *strange* for me," he says, "because I had spent every musical moment with the Bungle guys, and we have our own thing--we're Nintendo kids, so we get into a studio and there are all these little *knobs*, and we've just gotta play with the dials and push the buttons. [Mr.Bungle] basically doesn't know how to write songs--they're like A-B-C-X! -- so it was weird for me to try and put something over a song that was really linear, and very verse/chorus/verse/chorus. So I think I did what was really...*obvious*," he says, not a little dismissively. "That's fine, but since then, I've definitely vowed to spend a lot more time and put a lot more into anything I do."
And then came the tours. Inside of 18 months, the band toured England and Europe *five times*, crossed the US first with Bay Area homeboys Metallica, then with Voivod and Soundgarden (where you'd sometimes find Patton singing with Soundgarden while vocalist Chris Cornell body-surfed in the crowd, and vice-versa), and stadium tours opening for Robert Plant and Billy Idol, as well as countless headlining dates mixed in.
The war stories are long and many, but highlights include being in Berlin when the Wall came down ("I think the closest parallel that I've ever experienced would be San Francisco when the 49ers won the Super Bowl," Patton laughs. "It wasn't like a real historical, spiritual thing--just everyone yelling and getting drunk"); encountering seriously mixed reactions from Metallica crowds ("At that point, no one knew who we were," Roddy says, "and we were getting up in front of these huge crowds in these weird little cities. Sometimes people would totally spit on us and treated us like shit, but to get that reaction out of anyone is pretty flattering!"); and, on the last date of the tour with Billy Idol, "We went out onstage naked with bags on our heads and did a go-go dance in front of him!"
After a long break, the band played the Rock in Rio II festival last spring, then returned in the fall for a 10-date tour of Brazil before touring Japan and playing Frisco's legendary annual "Day on the Green" with Soundgarden, Queensryche, and Metallica. They also contributed a "lounge version" of the Dead Kennedys' "Let's Lynch the Landlord" to the Virus 1000 compilation. Yet the individual members have made their own messes, as well: Martin made his acting debut (as "the greatest guitar player in the world") in the second Bill & Ted film, Bottum and Bordin did sessions with various Bay Area bands, and Gould produced demos for California's White Trash Debutante and Hispanic grindcore band Brujeria, as well as traveling to the South Pacific island of Samoa with FNM producer Matt Wallace to record the island's indigenous music. Gould also compiled his personal camcorder tour footage in an extremely controversial video for "Surprise! You're Dead!" that may or may not ever see the light of day. "I think we're gonna send the cut version out to MTV," Patton says. "But the *good* one, I think we're just gonna make tapes of for our friends. I think we should send it to MTV anonymously in a paper bag, 'cause it's...man, it's...[laughing] um, *disturbing*! It's an axe and a chicken's head! I won't say who did it or anything, but it's... quite an image!"
Patton performed with John Zorn's Naked City (a "jazzcore" outfit that fuses jazz and ethnic musics with the blistering, bilious approach of grindcore) and recorded and toured with Mr. Bungle, whose brilliantly mindfucking debut was released on Warner Bros. last year (Bungle have also composed an as-yet-unreleased string quartet for the Kronos Quartet). Working Faith No More's schedule around all this might not have made Patton the most popular guy with the band or the record company.
"Uh...no one would ever *say* that," he hedges. "But you can always speculate! I took a block of time and just said, 'I'm gonna be doing this.' It was something that we worked around. There was a lot of hostility at the beginning, but I think now that it's happened and it's worked, so to speak, everyone's a little more relaxed about it."
How did he find time to work with three bands at once?
"No sleep, living in filth, no laundry," he laughs. "I've just lived outta boxes. That's okay with me. It kinda feels natural when you wanna move on to the next thing. I don't have to sit down and designate what's what; it kinda separates itself and I'm glad, because it would be really sterile for me to sit down with a ruler and draw the boxes and try to fit each little idea into each box."