Fifteen years, three singers, and four guitarists later, Faith No More is still as unpredictable as ever. Just like the weather in the Midwest...if you don't like it, wait a few minutes. In other words, don't judge Faith No More's new record, Album of the Year (Reprise), by its high-impact opening rock track.
Keyboard Magazine | September 1997
Faith No More - The Making of Album of the Year
The music on this disc zig-zags through funk, pop, metal, soul, surf, Arabic, and even touches of ambient electronica. Once again, the band stands out for their signature use of keyboards in a "guitar/bass/drums" environment, solid songwriting, and the amazing voice of Mike Patton.
Many things changed with Album of the Year, though. They picked up a new guitarist, as you'll read below, and unlike any other Faith No More release to date, this one was self-produced in both home and commercial studios. However, Swiss mastermind Roli Mosimann was brought in later in the process to assist during mixdown. And man, did he mix. With Pro Tools and a massive hard disk in tow, he poured the band's taped tracks into the Mac and edited for weeks. More on this below, as well.
Rewinding back to the beginning of the project, the first order of business was to shorten the production cycle. "Usually we put out a record every three years," says songwriter/producer/bassist Billy Gould, "and then we tour it to death for a year or so until we're sick of each other. The last thing we want to do after a tour is go right back into the studio, so on the last tour [King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime] we decided to cut it short, stop while we were ahead, and get back into the studio and crank out another album while we had some momentum."
Faith No More's initial plan would hit a crucial snag early on. "We rehearsed," says Billy, "but we weren't coming up with anything that any of us liked. It was a drag because Dean [Menta], our guitar player at the time was really good live, but you never know if the chemistry is right until you start writing together. We tried to write for six months, but it was just a frustrating thing. So we said, 'Forget it.' And after that happened, the momentum just shut down and everybody went off and started doing their side stuff."
Specifically, keyboardist Roddy Bottum launched Imperial Teen, singer Mike Patton rejoined Mr. Bungle, drummer Mike "Puffy" Bordin went on tour with Ozzy Osbourne, and Billy held the fort in San Francisco, writing songs and cutting one-off tracks for compilations and the like.
"My schedule was pretty hectic at that time," says Roddy, "but to tell you the truth, everybody's schedule was hectic. And so it was a situation of making the record around people's other projects. It was sort of precarious, but it ended up coming together pretty well. We've always done records as a group together in one studio at one time, but this one was all done in parts."
During this period, rumors of a Faith No More dissolution ran rampant. "We've been trying to break up for about ten years now," jokes Billy. But then came Jon Hudson, formerly of the band Systems Collapse, who signed on as the band's fourth (and current) guitarist. Before long, a new group of songs emerged.
Back on Track
"We wrote something like 12 songs," says Billy, "and of those 12, we probably axed eight of 'em. They're still around, they're good, but they were leaning a certain way that we didn't want things to lean towards. They were...they were just a little bit too nice. They were pop songs, but there wasn't enough feeling, enough balls. The first two songs that came out and really worked right away were 'Ashes to Ashes' and 'Paths of Glory."
Using "Ashes to Ashes' as an example, Billy says, 'The bulk of that song was written the first week. We arranged it here, and then we sent Patton a tape. He was in Italy, but he came up with the lyrics and the singing right away. It was one of those songs that just clicked -- one of those songs that we do most naturally. That's our sound."
Patton also wrote the songs 'Got That Feeling" and 'Home Sick Home," and he wrote them "in about a day," says Billy. 'He was really inspired. I remember him coming over here one day, we did some stuff, and then he went home, wrote the songs, recorded them, and gave them to me the next day." And not just melody lines, "He'd written everything: the drums, guitar, bass, and the lyrics."
Since each bandmember has his own home studio setup, some of the songs were initially written offsite and then hammered into shape by the full band in a rehearsal studio environment. But other songs sprang from jam sessions. "Roddy, Puffy, and myself like to jam together," says Billy. 'We're the guys who started the band, so we like to get in the same room and play. A lot of my playing comes off the drummer. So when we get together, we can really work things out together and fine-tune stuff. A lot of times we come away with a bed to work from."
Billy's home studio is the most elaborate of the bunch, equipped with a PowerMac running Opcode's Studio Vision Pro and Digidesign's Pro Tools (among others), an Alesis ADAT, a Mackie 8-bus, a Kurzweil K2000, and a rack of MIDI and effects modules. "It's funny," he says, 'I've done a lot of interviews where they'll ask how I wrote a song, and I'll say on a computer. 'No way!' They just can't believe that our band would do stuff on a computer."
Singer Mike Patton's rig is a bit simpler. "Mike has a drum machine that he plays manually," Billy grins, "and he has a Powerbook 100 that he runs [Opcode] Vision on. But basically, he just uses it like a tape deck. He doesn't really sequence, he just records parts."
Even more lo-fi is Roddy Bottum's mini setup. Yes, Roddy's. The keyboardist tells us his home studio includes a "4-track cassette and one Yamaha keyboard. No sequencing. I just do everything organically. Like, if I'm doing a drum thing, I'll just bang on something. If I need to play a melody, I'll just do it on a guitar or sing it I'm sorry," he laughs. 'I'm the worst keyboardist to talk to about this stuff."
Producing your own record might sound like a good idea, especially if you're a seasoned band like Faith No More. just don't tell the label, though. "The thing is," says Billy, "if you tell a record company you're going to produce your own record, they usually don't like it. So we told them we were going to make 'demos' of these songs, but we knew all along that we wanted to keep them as final tracks."
Basic tracks for the first dozen songs were recorded at Brilliant Studios in San Francisco. "And then we started back from square one," says Billy, "repeating the same [songwriting and recording] process. After the second time, we had something like 20 songs to choose from, and we started to realize, 'Hey, we're pretty much there." So, in a stealth-like way, recorded our album without anybody really knowing we were doing it ourselves.' The tally for basic tracks: 'Two trips to the studio, four or five days per trip, for a totaI of 10 days at Brilliant." (Additional keyboard and guitar overdubs came later.) Not bad, considering some bands - Metallica, for example - block out a commercial facility for months on end. At Brilliant Studios, the tracks were recorded to 2" analog tape, but Billy also had ADAT tapes made so he and his bandmates could experiment with overdubs in a home studio environment. "The cool thing about my studio here is we could really spend time working out parts. It saved so much time, because if you think about something like a [Roland] JV-1080, it can take hours to scroll through sounds, and then, once you find the sound, you have to really tweak it and make it fit. so doing it here saved us a lot in [commercial] studio time."
When it came time to overdub keyboards, Roddy and Billy were armed and ready. "Roddy uses a K2000, and he's got a [Roland] JD-800, and an [E-mu] Emax II. Lots of samples. I have a JV-1080 and a K2000 as well, which is good because we can exchange the same sounds. But with the 1080, I can find sounds that he doesn't have, and that's good because every module sounds a little bit different."
Once all the tracks were on tape, it was time to mix. And that's when the band "started to get cold feet," says Billy. "So we sent a tapeto Roli [Mosimann, who produced the Young Gods, among others] hoping to get him to mix. Roli is the man. He's knows how to make things work. So we were glad when he said he liked the tape, but he also said there were some things that he'd like to change in Pro Tools." once onboard the project, Mosimann did precisely that.
"A good example of Roli's editing was the song 'Mouth to Mouth.' It wasn't sounding right to us at all. It was almost a throwaway song. But Roli really liked that one, so he ended up taking the [acoustic] drums in the choruses and moving them to the verses in Pro Tools. It gave the song a whole new life."
To make the digital editing sessions possible, Billy first had to borrow a 2" analog tape recorder and wheel the beast into his home studio. Then, with Mosimann alongside, the duo "spent two days straight, like 15-hour days, just transferring everything from analog tape to Pro Tools, 'cause we only had a couple of [A/D] converters. Then, when we finally got all the stuff onto the hard disk, Roli spent a month just fixing little things here and there."
The song "Stripsearch" was a prime example of Mosimann's magic. "Roli programmed the beginning of the song," explains Billy, "but then he took a drum loop from the intro, chopped it up in [Steinberg] ReCycle, and matched each piece of it to Puffy's drum track, one by one. I think he said there was something like 30,000 edits, or something ridiculous like that. But that was the kind of thing where it's Puffy playing so it doesn't sound like a machine, but it really makes a difference, Coming from an analog recording background, we would have never thought of doing things like that. But still, those weren't extreme edits: It was just putting little sounds in there, making it grittier, and it made the whole sound change."
Mix & Master
After the Pro Tools sessions in Billy"s home studio were completed, all of the tracks were poured back to tape. "We rented some really good Neve mic preamps," says Billy, "so everything coming out of Pro Tools went through the Neves and then onto the tape deck. We got that tape saturation coming back out, and it sounded great. After that, we mixed it like a regular record."
The mix sessions were conducted at The Plant in Sausalito, California, on a G-series SSL. "We mixed one song a day, pretty much. And as it goes on many records, your mixes usually get better as you go, so We turned back later and did the first couple over again."
Even though the SSL was fully automated, little programming was needed because of careful pre-planning during the Pro Tools phase." We spent a lot of time in front of the computer screen," says Billy, "and it was easy to see what was fitting where. So most of the editing and fader movements were done before we even dumped it back to tape. We didn't have to gate things for noise, because that was done in Pro Tools.
"Mastering was interesting," he continues. "We went to New York [Masterdisk], and Howie Weinberg has these huge speakers the size of a wall. We added a little bottom on things, but things were pretty straight-ahead. We did very little to it. Nothing sounded out of place, and that's one thing I learned on this record: Nothing stood out, and that's how we knew it was a mix. The songs sounded like songs, and everything fit its spot. I've never had that attitude before. It was always, 'We've got to make this part stand out.'"
Inside the Songs
Listening to Album of the Year, we found no shortage of interesting keyboard parts and production techniques from track to track. So, to appease our selfish curiosity, we sat down with Billy Gould, slapped the CD in the tray, hit play, and took notes as he told stories about each.
"A lot of the really cool sounds in this song that sound like guitar are actually keyboard string sounds running through a [Tech 21] SansAmp," says Billy." You can really mangle keyboard sounds with a SansAmp; you can get some amazing dark, ugly textures."
The odd rhythmic element in the verses. was written by our new guitar player." The verses are built around a 4+6/10 riff, and the choruses are a straight 4/4. The Spanish-speaking voices you hear later in the song "are from a short-wave radio. That was Patton's idea. He has a short-wave he takes on tour. I've got one too, and you can get some really cool, eerie stuff. I noticed on the Nine inch Nails record they used a little bit of that too."
The cool vocal delay effect is from "a Yamaha SPX900. That's classic Roli - a filtered delay with a sweep on it."
"The loop in the beginning made such a difference. Before we put it in, the song sounded more like Queensryche. But after the loop, it sounded more like Portishead or something. It gave it a darker, different slant. It didn't sound like a rock band anymore." [in case you missed it, refer back to the "Editing" section on page 31 for more on the making of this song.]
"This song was also a study in layers. Getting keyboard layers to really fit can be hard. You can have five different modules, each with its own piano or string sound, but for a certain song there's always one that fits in like a glove. So we did a lot of searching for the fight kinds of electronic sounds."
The percussive noise effect in the intro "is Patton making noises with his mouth." Mosimann spotted the sound on a vocal outtake and recorded it into Pro Tools. "My favorite part on the whole record," Roddy Bottum adds, "is the simplest thing...and that's the bleeps [in the intro of this song]. It was just a simple tone that we tapered downso it sounded like an SOS, or Morse code."
"Last Cup of Sorrow"
"The toy piano idea basically started as a loop in Studio Vision, where I was playing bass and guitar," says Billy. "The piano was added as a rhythm element. That's all it was: rhythm." The piano sound resides in Billy's Kurzweil K2000, "Clockbells number 91," he laughs. "The thing about that song...there's a reggae mixer named Mad Professor The idea was to do something like he does - pick the types of sounds he uses. But we also wanted to make it heavy, so the end result was a cross between Chrome and Mad Professor
A subliminal but effective technique was the slight pitchbend on the sustained strings late in the song." Pitchbends with a little bit of delay can be great for giving that certain unsettling feeling." As for those great, harsh vocals in the verses, "Mike can do a lot of wild things with his voice, for one. But, yeah, he sang through an old Telefunken tube mic and we compressed the living shit out of it."
"Naked in Front of the Computer"
"Actually, this song is about email. Patton is kind of obsessed with the idea of how people can communicate and have relationships over the computer without talking or ever meeting. So this is an extreme version of that concept. Funny thing is...the image of someone sitting naked in front of a computer might not have made sense to people a few years ago, but now everybody knows what it means. It's become part of our culture."
The quantized sixteenth-note percussive effect in the song "is a sequence. That's a Roli thing. He popped those sounds in there, and then mixed "em very quietly."
The twangy, lo-fi guitar sound in the intro is no more than "a shitty guitar through a shitty amplifier We wanted something that almost sounded like a rubber band."
The organ you hear in the verses "isn't a real organ. It's a JV-1080 patch called '50s Organ. The one thing I've noticed about the Roland modules...they might sound kind of slick on their own, but when you put 'em in with the band, they tend to sit really well in the mix. I think the guys who do the sound design at Roland are very aware of how things fit with other instruments. Anyway, that organ blended so well with the other instruments. You know it's there - it really adds, but it doesn't stand out. It's not harsh. It doesn't strike your attention that it's organ, but it really compliments the melody."
"Mouth to Mouth"
"This song has an interesting story. Last year I went to Albania. I got an old car, and I drove through the country - a country that's been isolated from the world for like 30 years. So I went in there, and one thing I noticed were a lot of thug-type guys running around in leather jackets with ghetto blasters, but they weren't listening to heavy metal music: it was this loud Arabic music, and it was really inspiring." Later, Billy bought an Arabic version of a K-Mart-style Kawai portable keyboard and composed the theme of the song.
Back home, Mike Patton sang the accompanying vocal line through a cheapo Casio VA-10 keyboard. "Actually a lot of the vocals on this record were recorded through the VA-10," Billy chuckles. "Seriously. It has a mic input, so you can use it kind of like a vocoder. Mike would sing into it, and the output would go directly into the tape deck. It's got that perfect cheesy sound."
Billy also reveals that the song was "hacked to pieces, and stripped down to just the raw soundfiles and built back up again [in Pro Tools]. That's something we've never done before, and it ended up saving the song." [For more on what Mosimann did to this song in Pro Tools, refer to the "Editing"section on page 31.]"Ashes to Ashes""The idea for this song came on the K2000, in a hotel room, ten minutes before we were supposed to leave for a gig in Perth, Australia. I remember it well because it had been three or four dry months before that."
"She Loves Me Not"
"This song almost didn't make it on the record. We almost didn't even record vocals for it because it's so different from all of the other songs. I wrote this song, and I was almost embarrassed to play it for anybody in the band because it's so soft - but at the same time it's a good song. It's like a Boyz II Men song of something. I didn't play it for anybody for, like, a half a year, and then finally I played it for Puffy. He thought we should give it a try, so I gave it to Patton, and he said, 'I wrote words, but they're pretty over-the-top.' But we went forward with it, and he really sang his ass off." Indeed he did.
Even more impressive, Billy claims that Patton "recorded the majority of his vocals for this album in about six hours. He just went in, did it, and he was gone."
"Got That Feeling"
"This is a Mike Patton 100-percent original. Basically it's a song about a guy who's a compulsive gambler. I think it would make an amazing video." And it's the only song on the record without any keyboard tracks." Next!" [Laughter. ]"Paths of Glory""This song is all about a mood. It's not: 'Entertain me.' It's a vibe."A key mood maker in the track is a low growling texture in the verse." That's a looped, sampled guitar chord. A K2000 sound, actually, and I think it's called "Grunge-a-Roni" or something like that. There's a lot of pitchbend on that too. The whole part is played with a pitch wheel, actually, and that's what gives it the creepy sound."
"Home Sick Home"
Another interesting low sound on this song, as well." It's my bass through a [Tech 21] SansAmp. Good ' SansAmp. A Peavey amp for the sound of its speakers, and the SansAmp for the color."
"This song took quite a bit of work in the studio because there are so many big open chords of distorted guitar, which doesn't leave much room for anything else. You've got room for drums, vocals, and maybe a deep bass, but trying to get the strings to cut through was a challenge. We spent a lot of time EQing and working with them to get hem placed just right."While we were in Billy's studio for this interview, he played us a remix of "Pristina" that he'd just completed using Pro Tools, an E-mu Procussion module, and loads of samples, Look for it on a future B-side.
Faith No More recently completed a short warm-up tour in Europe, but now they're preparing for a year of dates, starting with a run of summer festival shows in Europe. Roddy's keyboard rig for the tour is centered around a Kurzweil K2000. "And I got one of those new ones, the K2VX," he adds. "We use a lot of string stuff in Faith No More, and Kurzweil is sort of the king of strings."Onstage, Roddy prefers to keep it as simple as possible." Live, I compile all the sounds together and make banks on the Kurzweil. The Emax is still used, but mostly for other sounds - the sampled stuff. Everything is pretty much recreated live the way it was recorded. There are a couple of songs we haven't been able to do yet, but we're working on them. Like, "Stripsearch" is a pretty hard one to do live, but we've finally been able to pull it off. The loop starts off the song, and then I bring in the other sounds, but when the drums kick in, we drop the loop out."When recreating a song onstage that has two simultaneous keyboard parts, Roddy gets creative with samples. "What we've done in the past, for example, is we've sampled a chord, and put it down on one note. Like a string chord. It's a huge absence if you play something and the string sound isn't there. Or the disappearance of a pad. That's a big letdown."Roddy says the band experimented with using occasional sampled backup vocals on the recent warm-up shows, but they "ended up sounding pretty cheesy. So we're gonna try to do them all live now. I think it's better, for a band like Faith No more, anyway."
"This record took a year and a half to make -serious hard work," Billy reflects." I mean, the reason I'm the producer is because I've been living with this thing every step of the way. I couldn't rest until this record was finished."Comparing the past two releases to this one, Billy says Angel Dust "was like a hurricane coming - a big, ugly storm. King for a Day was like when the storm was hitting you, with all this stuff flying all over the place. And this record...this record is kind of like digging through the wreckage and pulling out bodies afterwards."