Mike Bordin of Faith No More rarely does press. He doesn't need to - which makes our cover story with the great man all the more remarkable. Listen up as the man with the dreads talks.
Drummer Magazine | October 2012
Words: Joel Mclver
Images: Tina K
For many. Faith No More are the greatest rock band of all time. Maybe it's the San Francisco quintet's effortlessly sophisticated fusion of metal, funk, post-punk and pop. Possibly it's the fact that everything the band do is laced with sarcasm and difficult to figure put, while also being highly memorable. Whatever FNM's secret, though, their powerhouse drummer Mike Bordin isn't overthinking it...
Bordin, who is approaching 50 but looks as if he could quite easily beat Drummer up when we meet him backstage at London's Brixton Academy, was once known as a famously hard hitter (of drums). Times have changed, though. "I don't know if I hit the drums extremely hard anymore," he shrugs." I don't worry about that any more, and I don't think about that any more. Now, I guess, I hit them ashard as they need to be hit, based on what the hell is going on in the world of the music at the time. I don't think I'm a light player, though."
Like all the greatest guitar bands, from Black Sabbath to Tin Machine and beyond, the rhythm section in Faith No More is a unit of almost telepathic ability. In FNM's live shows and albums, Bordin and bassist Bill Gould attack their instruments with both power and subtlety: the former's bass-slapping technique is as percussive as any drumming style. "Bill is a very physical bassist, so who knows - maybe there's some synchronicity there," nods Bordin. "We've been playing together a long time, probably more than half our lives at this point. We were 21 when we met."
Asked how he became a drummer, he explains: "I was born in San Francisco and moved to the East Bay with my family at a young age. I could tell you the exact record that was playing when I decided to play drums, but I'm not going to because the person making the music might get a little upset about it. You could probably figure out who it is!"
(Answers on a postcard, please.) "All my heroes were guitar players like Jimi Hendrix, Tony lommi, Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore, all of them," he continues. "We loved all of them and their music, so I went for the drums as a pure knee-jerk response. There was no drummer in my family, or anything like that. At first I played on a pad, just learning how to hold the sticks, like anybody should. I had a teacher, who was a jazz dude, a student of this really well-known guy called Chuck Brown, a local Bay Area teacher who had taught Terry Bozzio among others."
Bordin, then a teenage heavy metal fan, experienced a musical awakening shortly into his sessions. As he recalls, "When my teacher asked me what music I was into, I told him 'Black Sabbath; I said, 'Isn't everybody into heavy stuff? Everything else sucks!' He answered, 'You know, boy, I'm into Chick Corea and Steve Gadd and all the fancy stuff: He was in a band that was a lot like Yes at the time. He told me to go to the record store and buy this album by The New Tony Williams Lifetime called Believe It. He said, If you want to play drums, go buy that album and come back next week: That was how it started. It was a challenge - like, 'Where you're at is not that musical, and not that challenging. Check this out!'" Bordin adds, "So I got the record. Tony Williams was incredible. I studied, and got a practice pad, and began to play over and over again, trying to get that catch and release. I did that for the longest time on the pad: stuff that you don't need a drum set for. My drum teacher then said you should buy a Cameo set; which weren't being made any more at that time, but they were still high quality. So I found a bunch of mismatched Cameo drums: I started with a dark mahogany kit and sanded them down, trying to make them blonde, which didn't really work because it was streaky and there were still colours in the grain."
Better things awaited, he recalls."! had a lot of these drums, but the hardware was terrible, and I was already starting to break it, so we took it in my friend's truck to Leo's Music, which was a great music store in the Bay Area, and I said 'I've got all these Cameo drums: I want that Yamaha set right there: It had 15"and 16"racktoms,an 18"floortom and a 26" kick drum - which was only 14"thick. It was like a bicycle wheel! They were the drums from that old famous Yamaha picture of a kit with three full horseshoes of toms. So that was the first drum kit. It's in the 'We Care A Lot'[FNM's 1988 single] video. They had to figure out how to put a breather in, because it had concert toms"
Beginning with Bowie
Bordin's first musical collaboration was a duo featuring Cliff Burton, the bassist who went on to find enormous acclaim with Metallica before suffering a premature death in a coach crash at the age of only 24. "Cliff and I played together within about six months of each other beginning our instruments," he says. "The Jean Genie' by David Bowie was our first song. We were motivated as hell, because we just loved music. We worked hard - it wasn't casual. We'd found something we really liked and we got into it. We started when we were 13"
The roots of Faith No More have been well documented elsewhere, so let's just say that the group's early line-up (after a brief spell as Faith No Man and a short-lived singer called Courtney Love) was established by the mid-8Os as Bordin, Gould, singer Chuck Mosley, guitarist 'Big' Jim Martin and keyboardist Roddy Bottum. The band worked, Bordin thinks, because of the members' differing musical tastes and backgrounds. "We all came with what we had in the room, and then we found all this other music in the room that we all started together with. For instance, I studied African percussion in school with a Ghanaian teacher who couldn't play a drum kit to save his life, but he could play 30 different instruments with his hands, feet and elbows and sing different rhythms at the same time. I would come back from these drum classes saying, 'These African dudes are amazing, they told me that all drum rhythms are centred down because they go towards the earth!' The rest of the band got into this and we started speaking the same language. It all fit together somehow."
He continues: "We didn't know what we were doing, though.We were coming from really different places. I came from metal, in the East Bay. Did I know that there was more outside that? Absolutely - punk rock, jazz, reggae, blues. Cliff was the same way: he loved metal, but he knew there was a world of music out there. The FNM guys from southern California were into punk rock. Jim comes into the band and he's even more to the right of me: [his tastes were] real straight metal and nothing else. Being in the studio, we knew what we were bringing to the music and we were very well prepared. We were paying for it: working Jobs and saving up."
That first album - We Care A Lot (1984), partly replicated as Introduce Yourself three years later- debated Bordin's snappy, pocket-focused drumming to the world, although (like the work or any new musician) it's not his best. Asked if he listens back to his early stuff and hears errors, Bordin chuckles:"! try not to be too regretful: I don't like looking back. What I like to do is have my head in the game at the time and do the best I can with what I have: that works better for me. I did my best at the time!" The ascent of Faith No More was swift but parabolic. Switching Mosley for voice box extraordinaire Mike Patton and recording two extraordinary albums in The Real Thing (1989) and Angel Dust (1992), the group soon became one of rock's elite - touring with Metallica and Guns N' Roses and releasing a chart-topping cover of the Commodores "Easy'- before the wheel of fashion turned and the kids starting listening to nu-metal instead. Bordin doesn't care: he remained focused on his drums, as he did at the beginning, and as he does now.
"I've been with Yamaha forever," he says. "I cut the first FNM album with that brown Yamaha kit, and I even used it in Faith No Man. I probably got it in 1978. I never took any endorsements, although I was probably offered all of them. Yamaha was always the hardest one to get."
What, a band as big as Faith No More had trouble getting their drum endorsement of choice? Apparently so... "There was one guy who was Yamaha's gatekeeper, so to speak: a legendary guy in the industry who is dead now," Bordin remembers. "He was known to be kind of hard. He had Steve Gadd and Dennis Chambers way before that, but not many endorsing artists, and certainly not many rock drummers among them. But it got around to this guy that I was using Yamaha and holding out: I wasn't going to use anything else. I'll never forget - we were on tour in Australia, and we were in Brisbane one night. I was sleeping because it was three or four in the morning. The phone rings in my room, and I'm like 'Uuuurgh...'This voice goes 'I hear you like Yamaha? You want a deal?' So I'm like 'Uh... yeah!' and he says 'Call me when you get back to the States!' and hangs up the phone. And that was it. I got a black 9000 kit with a deeper bass drum, and we were off to the races. It was a 24" kick drum this time, plus 13"x15"and 14"x16"racktoms"
Watch Bordin play, and it will strike you that he hits his rack toms flat, an unusual position for a rock drummer as hard-hitting as he is. "It would be easier to bank the drums," he admits, "but I've never done it. My teacher told me about the physics of drumming: he said, 'Strike it up and down as much as you can and get off again'. If you're going in at an angle, you're going to have to pull the stick away again."
Giving his all
After years of drumming with Faith No More and, when the band were on hiatus between 1998 and 2009, with Ozzy Osbourne's band – is Bordin in good shape? Yes indeed: no injured trapezius muscles here. "I'm great. I'm good. Period. Exclamation point!" he declares. "As anybody in this band would tell you if they asked them, I don't do a lot of shit. I don't do a lot of anything. I'm here to do this, and I take it really seriously. I don't take myself seriously, but I take the drumming very seriously. I do everything in order to be ready to do the gig. That's the only reason to be here. If I want to see the sights, I'll go on vacation. I do what I need to do to give everything I have, every night. Granted, some nights you hit the mark better than others: that's just the way it goes. It was that way with Ozzy, it's been that way with Faith No More, it's all I have to give, and if I don't, I feel really bad"
Asked how Bordin views his career after all these years, he reasons, "I know more now: I know how to present music in the live setting better" +and anyone who has seen Faith No More's lavish recent shows will agree. Here's a band that, for once, isn't going anywhere soon, and we're all the luckier because of it.