How Five Quite Distinct Individuals Add Up To One Of The Breakthrough Bands Of The Year.
Bay Area Music Magazine | 05.10.1990
The Epic Adventures Of Faith No More
By Steffan Chirazi
Listening closely it almost seems like the high-pitched screams and squeals aimed by the crowd at New Jersey's Meadowlands arena at Faith No More are counting off "One million, two million, three million, four million" in fanatical unison. This uncompromising Bay Area quintet has actually reached the big top, becoming the latest, greatest occupants of the pop celebrity circus and bedroom wall.
Whether it's Penn Gillette of the comic/magic team of Penn & Teller congratulating them and roaring, "Fuck the fish, I hope it died" (in reference to the hit "Epic" video) at NBC headquarters in Manhattan, or camps of teens waiting for the band in a Boston hotel lobby at 4 a.m., one thing is becoming desperately clear: for now. Faith No More's celebrity status isn' t going to go away.
The question is: Is there anybody in there after fourteen months of hard touring in support of the Top 20 album 'The Real Thing'. Certain comments in interviews have revealed cracks.
Drummer Mike Bordin whined recently in a Rolling Stone feature about 'not having any money yet!' while vocalist Mike Patton complained of having 'wasted the last year of my life.'
But a quick scan of those involved reveals no signs of change. Guitarist Jim Martin, a man with cockroach-like adaptability, is still just Jim. Bordin is the same intense thoughtful sort. Keyboardist Roddy Bottom continues to display a veneer that's pure, smooth velvet, while bassist Bill Gould remains the mischievous joker. And Patton is seemingly a rejuvenated man in fine form. He's certainly not the confrontational figure he's appeared to be in the recent past. In fact, now that there are more tangible signs of success (including a slot on the current Billy Idol tour). Faith No More is a happier bunch.
Indeed, Gould is quick to point out the circumstances behind all the apparent complaining in the press. "This is such a huge industry that it's easy to feel like a mouse on the treadmill," he explains. "And when you're touring for months and months, you're gonna really feel like a large rat, because you're in the same routine every day, and the only people you hear telling you you're great are people who are directly benefiting from you."
For Gould, it's hard to measure success in terms of the arena shows the band now plays.
"To us, a big show or a small show is a matter of personal satisfaction," he says. "Did we have a great show? Did we enjoy it? Regardless of the amount of people that's how you judge a show. You don't say, 'We're playing bigger shows, they must be better.'"
So playing with Billy Idol has had no bearing? "No. Well, OK...I'd be an asshole to complain about it, obviously. I mean, half of a band is touring and half is writing songs - maybe more than half. Writing's what you do, touring is a by-product. It's being salesmen, and I know that's what you have to be and - good - people want to buy our stuff. That really is excellent. But the whole apparatus was set up twenty years ago - a fool-proof type thing, it's kinda like when people feel frustrated with the government. It's a giant apparatus. Who do you complain to if you don't like the way your tax dollars are spent? Well you can write a letter to your congressman, but you know that's not gonna do jack worth of good, right? It's the same feeling being a musician with the apparatus.... For an industry that centres itself around what you do, often your concerns and needs are the least important thing to it."
So it's frustrating to see the FNM camp get bigger and more formidable? "No, no, no!", Gould answers. "That's great, it's what we've been working towards, of course. But just with regards to the whining side of things, like that Rolling Stone story. I'd just like to say that the thing about the money being brought up once - Can Axl Rose lend us twenty bucks? - that was the Puff [Mike Bordin]. He brought the whole band down with his one statement. He's the guy who said it. And another thing is, Axl Rose sent us a letter with a note and a twenty saying, 'Sorry you feel this way. Here's twenty bucks.' And he should have sent it to the Puff. I'm embarrassed. Me and Jim are gonna write a letter back to him saying we didn't say that.
"But, you know, at the time.....OK, all these bands like us, everybody loves us we have this great sold-out show at the Ritz. OK, that's the great side. The downside is that, personally/ I don't live anywhere. I don't have an apartment. At the point those stories were written, I had no prospect of getting one even when I was off tour. I had gotten nothing from the band then - no money. Maybe the odd check to keep certain bills paid. I had $13 when that [Rolling Stone] article was written. I'd also been on tour twelve months straight, seven days a week. I'm gonna get pissed off. Of course we're working towards things and you have a good attitude about that, but on paper I was making less than a McDonald's employee. Everyone was in the same position as I was, and it hit Puffy worse because he was paying rent.
"People see you in all the magazines and, boom, they assume many things- the image that leaves in people's minds. Business is all about projecting images upon people that
they'll buy, and now we're one of those images. To put the facts straight right now, just because I'm on the cover of some magazine, it doesn't mean I'm like some rich guy making a lot of money.
"I think a lot of any dismay I have comes from seeing kids who want to be musicians and I feel an obligation to tell them that it sucks in a lotta ways. You're buying kind of a lie. The reality of that lowers the importance of the musician and I think a lot of musicians don't want that to happen - especially when they feel like God or something. I hate to perpetuate that idea, that myth of being a god or whatever. It's important to keep a human element."
Just as we all have our ways of trying to understand life, Gould has his: an interest in criminals and weirdos, anything from Charles Manson to South American drug lords.
"Reading the dirty side sometimes gives you more of an insight into the way the world works than reading the straight side," he insists. "The same thing with preoccupation with violence, understanding morality and things like that.
"Having read what I have, rather than seeing some guy I hate and thinking, 'I'm gonna punch him,' now I think. 'I'll just get his credit card number and run his credit up, disconnect his phone, have his mail routed to New Zealand!' So that's the education I get from this sort of reading. Face it, a lousy punch isn't gonna get me anything but a criminal record. It's all about making your time more efficient - positive development, working in a positive direction and getting your life." Gould then laughs like a deviant bad-seed child.
Jim Martin never really says a whole lot. He simply takes things in stride and saves his thoughts for the privacy of his own mind.
"Whaddaya mean," he protests when I tell him that. "I complain all the time!"
But while he'll complain about things that can be immediately rectified (like sound problems), he seems calm amidst the swift rise in fortunes.
"I don't feel it has been that swift of a rise at all," Martin says. "We've been working at this for nearly six years. It's been a very gradual-type deal. It's been getting a little better all the time, or that's how it seems to me.
"What it's made me think of the industry is that for the industry to get behind you, it comes down to individuals. Individual people being interested. Like somebody's secretary liked us, and they'd play [the album] in the office, tell their boss it's great....It really does start from the bottom, mostly. I mean, maybe you'll be lucky and the head guy'll catch right on to it and decide they like it, but it still comes down to individuals."
Which might explain the success of the "Epic" video, which MTV initially ignored before pumping it madly.
Rumor is that Warner Brothers President Lenny Waronker complained to MTV about the video not being played.
"He's actually a fan, so I don't know if it's true but I can believe it," Martin says.
Does Martin share any of the "shoulda happened six months ago" frustrations that have seeped out of the FNM camp?
"Not Really," he responds. "You could say that, but it doesn't make any difference. Obviously we needed six more months of work before we could do it. Maybe folks weren't ready for it. Everybody might have just passed on the record if we'd passed on it."
How much of a fight does Martin, a self-confessed hater of "disco-beat music," feel is in store when it comes time to write new music given the dance-music influences of, in particular, Mike Patton.
"That's something I've actually considered lately, and I could worry about it now, but I'll wait and see what happens," he says. "However, we have a man [Patton] who's joined the ranks and he's a big fan of disco and rap music, stuff like that. So it's really hard to say what's gonna happen. I mean, I'm still gonna play what I play, and if there wasn't any room for it, then I guess I couldn't play! I'll do the best I can to adapt to a situation, but I'm not gonna do disco music 'cause I don't like it.
"I mean, nobody really knows what they're doing, so just think you know what you're doing and do it."
In a locker room in Mansfield, Massachusetts, I ask Mike Patton about his remark about having wasted the last year of his life. I tell him the comment aggravated me and he laughs:
"At that point, whenever I said that, that's how it felt. I don't know when I said that, but it was looking back and thinking, 'God, this could've happened so much sooner'. It just made no sense, and all of a sudden it happened and we start over."
I ask if he was aware of how the music industry worked before he joined the band and he responds that he didn't have a clue.
"Neither did we," Roddy Bottum pitches in, "in as far as if everything was perfect, the record probably should've started selling as soon as it came out. It's like a whole year where nothing happened."
"It was real confusing and real frustrating," Patton adds. "But I mean, when I sit down and really think about how long we've been doing this...it bums me out. Even though we're doing so well now, really, that's how I feel when I think about it too much. I mean, at the time we were playing those three-hundred capacity clubs, it was fine, great. I wouldn't have wanted to be doing anything else. I was happy to club and play and put out a record.... It's the retrospective that's dangerous, like regret and things like that."
"That achievement is much sweeter from my standpoint," sighs Roddy, who with Martin, Gould and Bordin formed the veteran core of the band that Patton joined just before the recording of The Real Thing. "From ours, we've been working a lot longer, doing the same thing for however many years.
"We didn't know whether [the album] would hit or not," Bottum continues. "We considered that the album just might not happen. There was a time, I can't remember quite when, we were all in a car going over the Golden Gate Bridge saying. There's this band, the critics will talk about this band and album. It was great and whatever happened? What happened to those guys?'"
What did the early Metallica tour do in terms of confidence? It was said that reactions from Metallica's fans weren't always that great.
"I know," states Bottum. "I've heard that, but I thought we went down really well. It was fun, it was a blast."
Patton: "Insane! It was a gift! We were doing fifty people before then! I mean, I think we kinda deserve [the Idol tour], but we didn't deserve Metallica no way. I think it went over
pretty well, but I like it when people say we got slagged," Patton laughs.
Mike Patton would find that funny.
I tell him that, in my opinion, he used to love confrontation, aggravation and the prospect of escape from FNM...until recently.
"You're just paranoid," he responds. As the case may be, but what about the others who read his comments and wonder about his place in the band?
"I've always felt pretty settled, actually," Patton answers. "But I enjoyed watching people squirm, and I still do. It's a situation in the first place which warrants just so much controversy and ridicule. People already hate me for what I'm doing and I haven't actually done anything yet. Just think when I release an album or whatever.
"I suppose I'm just getting more used to it. I'm adapting to it. I still say the wrong things at the wrong time, but I'm getting better at not doing that. But at the same time, things are changing now - fans, walking down the street, hoopla. That part of it I'm uncomfortable with because I don't really know how to deal with it. But it's not like I'd want to do anything else."
Bottum, on the other hand, seems perfectly comfortable with the increasing stardom. "I think we all came from good families," he explains, "and I think what it comes down to is the way we were brought up. The way we all deal with it is that we're pretty good with people. We all have pretty good manners. We were brought up with good families. So when it comes to kids wanting autographs, it's more a case of, 'Oh, you wanna talk to me. Sure, we've got time.' I think I could, in the future, became a bit more of an asshole, though. Generally speaking, I think it'd be good for my character. Too much of the time I say yes to too many people and just spread myself thin... But if I could be an asshole immediately and say no - just be a little more honest - that'd be a good character development for me."
Slumped low in a chair, Mike Bordin looks pensive. Displaying the same intensely furrowed brow he always has, Bordin would to be the band member who would have the
hardest time adapting to becoming a celebrity. Does he feel discomfort, perhaps?
"Yes!" he responds, then adds, "Maybe yes, maybe no. Let me start again. Yes, we're guilty of always wanting to be successful. In our own backwards, lazy way, we've been ambitious - keep touring, get better as a band. But when we thought of being successful, we never thought of screaming teenagers, screaming girls. It's uncomfortable to walk and have somebody scream at you, yes.
"it's more like when you're used to dealing with people personally...when there's an exchange of opinions, when you can talk to them and make a connection ifs different from people looking at your face and just screaming at it. It's just silly. It makes me uncomfortable. I don't mind signing autographs and shaking hands, people saying, 'Nice drums' or 'Nice record.' I like to talk about that. That's fine. But when people scream,
"It makes me want to get away from it. The best example I have was when we were in Washington, D.C. There were people walking around the place. I was looking for a friend who was over there anyway. They're saying to me, 'You scrum. You're wearing the same shirt as six months ago.'" Bordin's voice drops to a whisper and he continues: "And all of a sudden there's this screaming, this screaming right in my ear! To me that's not a positive thing. I mean, if that's the only way they can react, then whatever. I'm not saying that they shouldn't, but..."
And what do those screams mean?
"I dunno... you're catching me totally half-baked. This is just stuff I'm spewing off the top of my head. I may not even agree with it tomorrow. You're getting me into a strange subject. Basically, it just seems very unreal to me. It's that simple. It's uncomfortable, that's all."
It's now a reality of your life, I tell him. "Yeah," Bordin responds, "and I wonder whether those people who scream tonight will be there six months from now. I mean, that's the way I look at it."
And what of his financial complaints that surfaced in the 'Rolling Stone' story?
Bordin answers: "You've gotta remember that things which come in the press are highly contextualised. The press will pull something out in its nakedness just so as it'll look outrageous. What I think about money is more like we've been touring for fifteen months. We're selling a lot of records, things are beautiful, people are paying attention to us, but we haven't seen a large check. So what! Big deal! That's all, that all and that's all. Of course you can't expect to get paid overnight. How could you? It's not true. The point is, what we're trying to say is that it hasn't changed our real life, the bottom of the line, everyday life. We're still staying in the same hotels, we still have to save money, we still have debts. That's all, that's all. We've been touring for too long to think that when you sell a bunch of records, suddenly everything's OK and great. I mean, come on!"
I ask how he feels about being represented as a man who's constantly evaluating and engaged in thought?
"I am very misrepresented like that," he answers. "I can sit there like this [stares blankly] and people will ask what I'm pissed off about when I'm not thinking of anything. People can read a lot of things into things, like you did with some quotes."
And what of the constant attention within the band camp - the 'Puffy Phenomenon'?
"I just try to be off to the side," Bordin says. "I try to be myself. I try to do things easy. Two, three, four people might be hanging out and I'll be off to the side doing my thing, sitting in the corner, hanging out, whatever. "I do what I need to do....Butting heads, bitching, having fun, letting off steam, I don't like if it makes me feel uncomfortable....It makes me feel unpleasant. If I see something unpleasant, I want to get away from it. I don't want to confront it or fight it. If It's unnecessary, I don't want to have to see it. But when you're on long tours you have to expect detours and you learn what you need to do your job properly.
"I know what I need: a little rest, a little bit of quiet, enough food to have energy and that's all. I don't need late nights out partying. I don't need speeches at 5 a.m., that doesn't help me here. And everybody needs different things to do what they do. I know that.. .but I can hang here and do what I do. That's all I'm saying."
The Bottum Line
There's an air of serenity and class to pretty much everything Roddy Bottum does. Polite, chatty and pleasant, Bottum fits the stock image of a civil keyboard player. However when it comes to the ivories Bottum has little time for convention and composure.
"I use two EMAX keyboards [He hopes to rackmount them soon]. I started out using an Oberheim OBXA, but I just wasn't comfortable with it. I used it for a long time and hated it so much I'd cover up the label so people didn/t know I was using it.
"But EMAX is really good, and I switched to those nearly three years ago now. They're a Northern Califomia-based company. Really good shit. They were the first people to manufacture samplers."
Obviously Bottom's been offered a sponsorship...
"No, no. It's weird, but until a week ago, I'd heard they didn't do them. But [Bay Area singer-songwriter and Billy Idol keyboardist] Bonnie Hayes told me they do actually sponsor people, but it's usually a cost-price deal so that'd be nice."
Why does Bottom play keyboards? After all, they weren't the hippest instrument of his youth, particularly in the genre of music he specialises in.
"Mostly my mom," he responds. "'Classical piano was what she was really into, so at five I started playing a lot of that. By the time I reached San Francisco and started hanging out with rock people, it made sense to switch to electronics. It wasn't so exciting back then sampling wasn't being done in a rock context, it was mostly Moog synthesizers, real cheesy, stupid stuff. I liked Kraftwerk a whole lot, that whole 'Planet Rock'
thing, which was really good stuff because I'd never really liked keyboards in rock.
"I'd never really liked anybody, because right up until I was 18 years old and in San Francisco, I played classical piano. There wasn't even a musician as such that influenced me. Only my mother as I grew up, but I can't think of anyone I really like. I mean, rock keyboards - Rick Wakeman and all that - totally annoys me. I really like the keyboard player in the Young Gods [AIain Monod], I think what he's doing is very revolutionary. It's insane, man! He has all these samples! So I guess that's the only keyboard player I really look up to right now. I liked EIton John when started getting into rock stuff: he uses a piano a lot more, which I could relate to.
"Usually when we write - when I start writing a part - I'm looking for atmosphere, creation of a mood I mean that's what really bugs me when I think of keyboards in a rock sense because with few exceptions the melody lines are so standard and cheesy. I mean, coming from the background that I've described hating keyboards in rock - I've really got to struggle to prove that it can be done.
"Doing that Metallica thing was horrifying. Knowing that we would be in front of these kids who were into Metallica, knowing that the furthest thing from their mind was keyboards. Going into it, I felt stuff would especially be thrown at me. So it's always struggle to prove that keyboards can belong in rock.
Superficially, I suppose I'm constantly trying to prove myself, but the writing's always going to come from the heart. Whatever's natural..."
The highest compliment you can pay Roddy Bottum is to state that without his keyboards. Faith No More simply wouldn't work. That is simply undeniable.