Faith No More have long been the square pegs of the rock industry. We catch up with them to find out about their new guitarist, their new album - and why they're all looking so damn pleased with themselves.
Total Guitar | Issue 7 | Paul Thomason
FAITH No More are a conundrum. A five-headed chimaera of a band who exist to confuse, confound, surprise and slip out from under any label applied to them.
They first arrived on our shores in 1988 with 'We Care A Lot', a funk-metal track that combined an insanely catchy chorus with an equally bonkers lyric about Garbage Pail Kids, Transformers ("There's more than meets the eye!" sang the band with appalling glee) and the "welfare of all you boys and girls".
They were clearly disturbed - and we could do nothing but embrace them with open arms.
The band, Roddy Bottum (keyboards), Bill Gould (bass), Mike 'Puffy' Bordin (drums), Mike Patton (vocals) and new boy Dean Menta (replacing 'Big, sick and ugly' Jim Martin on guitar), has had a chequered history, swapping singers and guitarists several times since its
inception. FNM's trademark eclecticism is one of the few constants in their work - along with their delicious sense of irony and often vicious sarcasm.
Taking the story right up to date, the band have just had a really good time in the studio with fresh producer Andy Wallace (Soul Asylum, Nirvana, Slayer et al) and produced 'King For A Day.. . Fool For A Lifetime', which they describe as "the best thing we've done". Faith No More, for once, are full of the joys of Spring. Getting on with each other. Even smiling for photos, for Chrissake.
Just what is going on? Where are the sour notes? Where's the simple misanthropy that made singer Patton leave turds (his own) in hotel hairdryers when on tour (possibly the most foully inventive piece of tour madness I've ever heard of) - where has all that gone?
GOOD TIMES, BAD TIMES
The answer is simple. Years of mounting interband tension are now over, due to the departure of previous axeman, Jim Martin, who was fired in early 1994. And the sheer on-the-road insanity of their two-year world tour is a thing of the past.
Trey Spruance (guitarist for Mike Patton's other venture, the jazz-core Mr Bungle), was brought in to record 'King For A Day... Fool For A Lifetime', and he did a job they're happy with, even if he didn't want to stick around to tour.
According to bassist Bill Gould, "I wasn't surprised when I heard about Trey quitting, I'd been warned that something was going to happen sooner or later. You could smell it. Trey's the kind of guy who'll say anything to make you feel good, and when people do that I get suspicious."
Even when faced with all the hassle of finding yet another guitarist, FNM refused to pout, and remained determinedly happy. Their grins grew even wider when Trey was replaced by Dean Menta, keyboard roadie from the Angel Dust tour, "an excellent guitarist" and longtime friend of the band. Even though Dean had become familiar with the Angel Dust material during the massive world tour (often playing the songs at soundchecks instead of the absent Martin), he was thrown in at the deep end when it came to the new material. "I had about a month of rehearsals on the new stuff before the tour began," he says with a terrifying nonchalance. Working with his other band, Duh, and writing soundtracks for CD-ROM games must have given him nerves of steel, it seems.
THE NEW SOUND
Cut to a dingy corridor in the warren that is Manchester University's Student Union building. Billy Gould (small and intense, like a teddy-bear on speed) and Dean Menta (dark, quiet and goateed) hold forth on the new album, the state of the industry and anything that crosses their minds. "The Real Thing was one thing," starts Bill, "Angel Dust was something rebounded off that, and our new one is rebounded off both of them. It's a reconciliation of the two albums and it feels like our first great record. I think it's fucking great.
The best thing we've done. I know I wouldn't say anything different, but after all the shit we've been through, it feels good to like it so much."
Crucially, the fans seem to like it too - and that nights gig saw the new songs going down as well as any, even though the album release was, at the time, still a week away.
Bill says; "Yeah, it s going down pretty well. Playing the new stuff is partly a corporate thing - you've got to show the new stuff to people. I wouldn't like it myself if bands that I went to see played all new stuff either."
Watching them live, its obvious where their affections lie these days, though. The set might be pretty evenly mixed between The Real Thing, Angel Dust and KFAD.. ., but it's plainly the new songs that receive the biggest injections of energy.
After two years of touring the songs on Angel Dust, has the gloss well and truly worn off?
"I'm pretty sick of playing the very heavy stuff," Bill agrees, "it can be too sonically dense at times. I want more space in the songs, and I'm enjoying the new stuff a whole lot, 'cause they're less full, less of a wall-of-sound. The songs have room to breathe."
Given that the band have such disparate listening tastes - "Yeah, we listen to everything" says Dean is it any wonder that they can wrongfoot you like no other band? String-laden, world-weary ballads can follow full-on hardcore, and lead into spot-on country pastiche; all note-perfect, all instantly FNM, and all - until now - leavened with their twisted humour. "Could it be I'm gittin' stupider?" asks the white-trash protagonist of RV (from Angel Dust) as Mike Patton lays on the trailer-park-loser kitsch with a vengeance. Does it worry them that
their audience might not get the humour?
"It's not that important," says Bill. "If there's sarcasm there, or if people perceive humour in the songs, then fine. We might be making a joke about something, but the humour is mainly for ourselves, it's not integral to the music. It's usually a by-product of our environment at the time. For the record, we played this one (KFAD.. .) pretty much straight."
FOOLS FOR A LIFETIME
King For A Day.. . has a markedly different feel to the choked, enclosing atmosphere of their early outings. It's as expansive and open as its predecessors are claustrophobic. How much of this was down to having a new producer, and how much down to the band? "The songs were pretty much written in rehearsal before we went to record them," responds Bill. "Though we did do some pre-production with Andy Wallace. I think the difference comes from the fact that the new songs were dictated more by the sounds of the instruments we used, and from letting those instruments have the room they needed. I'm pretty bored with that dense, death-metal thing now."
So is this the last gasp for FNM, or are they really rejuvenated by the change? What's on the cards?
"We'll be doing another record," Bill asserts. With Dean involved with the writing too? "Yeah, I hope so," replies the guitarist. "They've asked me to put a proposal in to their manager about it," he deadpans, only cracking up when he catches Bill Goulds eye. He'll fit in just fine, I think then, and my opinion is confirmed a couple of hours later when Dean takes the stage and blends seamlessly with them, looking more at home than Jim Martin ever did up there.
Back in the labyrinthine bowels of this rabbit warren university union, the conversation changes tack again, keeping pace with Gould's butterfly mind and rapid-fire speech. He's offering advice to beginners on how to improve.
"When I was really shitty and couldn't play, what I did was get together with a bunch of other people who were really shitty, and we just played and played, learning how to do it. Learning how to write songs, how to be in a band, to get your music across, y'know? I think that learning how to interact like that and how to write good songs is more important than learning modes and scales and shit - although if you do take the time to learn that, it can help you express yourself better musically. I'd been playing quite a while before I started learning all that. Working with other people was the best learning experience I could have had."
Billy's enjoying himself now, relieved to be talking about the music rather than enduring the amateur psychoanalysis and pseudo-intellectualism of the music weeklies. I ask if he's bored with the 'cult of personality' interviews he does.
"Yeeeah, its funny," he continues, "its easy to complain about America, and all these bands that come from America. The writers there are trying to sell the rock star ethic, they're trying to sell cars and chicks and coke, and decadence. Okay, well, that's really disgusting, right? Over here in the UK, they're trying to sell anarchy in the same way whether this thing is subversive, or not subversive, y'know? Its all bullshit. Its whatever the writer decides they're going to attribute to you, and its ridiculous really. It s just another part of the industry. Its just corporate money structure."
So would FNM prefer to hand over the finished product straight to the listener if they could, bypassing all the image-making and mythologising?
Bill: "I like selling records, but I don't like to put ideas into people's minds that are created to make them behave. I don't think its right to control people. That's what's happening when you're made out to be subversive or 'rock' or stereotyped."
But even though all this hype goes on, all that will really be remembered by most people are the massive pop hits of the time - the Kylie Minogues,
the Take That's - shit lives forever, in the sentiments of FNM's own Cuckoo For Caca.
"The funny thing is that I don't think they'll remember even them anymore. That's the weird thing. Its got to the point now where people don't even remember their recent pop history. All there is, is new ways of reinventing old, proven methods."
And that's it. The tour manager approaches, soundcheck looms, time to go. As he's walking away though, Bill Gould turns and says one last thing, unable to go without making sure I get the point.
"This whole thing about whether it's about personalities or not, or whether we're sarcastic or not - it's all irrelevant. It s all about the music. You know, if we're sarcastic or whatever on top of the music, it doesn't matter, 'cos the music is the only thing that really matters to us."