"I don't know how people perceive my music, and I don't honestly care," states Mike Patton bluntly. "If you give that notion a moment's thought, you'll quickly realise it would be like fighting a losing battle. I learned that very early on. You just can't win."Kerrang | Issue 876 | 13.10.2001
This week sees the release of the debut album from Tomahawk, the latest in a long line of projects to which Patton has lent his name since the messy conclusion of his former band, Faith No More, in April 1998. Masterminded by former Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, and also featuring former Helmet man John Stanier and ex-Cows/Melvins member Kevin Rutmanis, Tomahawk combines the seminal Chicago slugger's off-kilter sound and Patton's unmistakable vocals. Ironically, considering the latter's backseat role, it's to closest thing to a new FNM that fans of the band are ever likely to hear.
But then Mike Patton has always been a bastion of contrariness. One of music's true mavericks, his solo output has far and away outstripped his former band in terms of weirdness. FNM might have helped drag alternative rock into the mainstream, but during his decade long tenure fronting the San Francisco fivesome, Patton seemed out of place - and often downright uncomfortable - within the band's ranks. Consequently, he indulged in various low-key experimental solo projects (most notably 1996's 'Adult Themes For Voice' and 97's 'Pranzo Oltranzista' albums), all of which were the antithesis of his parent band's work.
Since the demise of FNM, Patton's wilfully off-kilter musical vision has led to a slew of eclectic, challenging releases. He's worked with Japanese oddballs Melt Banana and Milk Cult, put together Fantomas with Melvins frontman Buzz Osbourne, and continued to front Mr Bungle, the outfit he put together as a 15-year old in Eureka, California and has resurrected sporadically ever since. And then there's Maladoror (an experimental noise collaboration with Merzbow's Masami Akita), Peeping Tom (a pop album recorded with Gorillaz DJ Dan The Automator), a planned collaboration with East Coast screamo-types The Dillinger Escape Plan, Patton's own label, Ipecac, and of course the Tomahawk project. Life, by the singer's own admission, is "busier than ever", to the point where he suggests that there isn't enough time to realise a 10th of the ideas he has. "While I can, I still like to put questions out there and purposefully not give people what they think they want" he argues. "I'm out there, more than anything, to cause people problems."
Does it annoy you that people refer to you as 'ex-Faith No More frontman, Mike Patton'?
No. They wouldn't be lying! I was in that band. If that's their reference point, that's fine. I'm not ashamed of those years. It was a pretty good ride and I learned a lot from it. I'm going to stay away from the forthcoming tribute album album though. I'll probably hear it some day and have my hearty belly laugh. I'm not sure why these Nu-Metal bands say Faith No More influenced them. I mean, do you hear anything of what we did in what they're doing now? I think it's quite a stretch of the imagination. I think it's just an era thing. They're kids and probably around the time we were in the public eye, those kids figured out they wanted to start a band too. I personally don't want to be held responsible for the swill they're putting out into the world.
You released your solo albums 'Adult Themes For Voice' and 'Pranzo Oltranzista' while you were still in Faith No More. Were these projects something you had to get out of your system?
They were snapshots of times in my life. I recorded the 'Adult Themes...' album in hotel rooms. I was on tour and needed to let off some steam. For the 'Pranzo Oltranzista' album, I got a band together, recorded it and mixed it in one day. It was more ambient than the other stuff I've done. When I feel as though I'm being backed into a corner, I react.
Did your bandmates in FNM encourage you to pursue other interests?
No, not really. Too bad. I think people are pretty short-sighted to view what I've done as seeking pleasures elsewhere, as a drag or even criminal behaviour at times. They probably see me as some sort of musical adulterer. I'm way over feeling guilty about that shit, but for a while I did. I was a kid and I was really enthusiastic about it. It still doesn't make a lot of sense to a lot of people, but it's something I have to do.
Do you get bored easily?
I'm not that self-absorbed. One of the great things about playing music is the oppurtunity to work with new people. Unless I'm putting myself a little on a limb, I personally don't feel too satisfied with what I'm doing. I'd love to work with (easy listening overlord) Burt Bacharach. Hook me up, man.
Was Burt Bacharach an early influence?
The first music I was probably exposed to was early '70's crap that was on the radio when my parents took me to the supermarket. Styx, Kansas - some shit like that. At that age I wasn't at all interested in music. I only got into music when I couldn't hang around anyone else. At school, I was a hyper geek and I got hassle from the jocks. I wanted to be one of them, that was the thing. So one of the first things I got into was collecting old 45s, beginning with The Partridge Family or something. Then I got into death metal and hardcore: anything that was fast, loud, nasty and retarded. There wasn't that much to do in a small town in America. You either start up a meth lab or get into music.
When did you start getting into avant-garde and experimental music?
In my early 20's, I had got to the point when I realised all I had played in were rock bands and thought I could do other things with my voice and put it into contexts that have nothing to do with rock music at all. There's a whole world out there and it's your responsibility to go out there and find some good shit.
Avant-garde jazz pioneer John Zorn produced the debut Mr Bungle album and you've subsequently worked with him in various guises. Was he a strong influence on your more experimental projects?
When he produced 'Mr Bungle', it was a really comfortable fit and we've been friends ever since. He was certainly one of the main people who have made a huge impact on my musical life, without a doubt. He put me in many compromising positions and held my hand, so to speak. That's the only way you can learn.
You reputedly used to steal records from the store you worked at when you were a student. Was there one particular genre of stock that went missing?
Yeah. Anything that was disgusting and had to do with Satan, splattered with blood and guts. I went through phases like that and I still do, I guess. My ears get turned on to something and I devour it the best I can, get as much as I can by a certain artist and do my research. Try and make sense of it. That's the way I still listen to music.
When you formed Ipecac Records with former Alternative Tentacles head Greg Werckman, did you have a specific manifesto?
Yeah, to put out good music that doesn't otherwise have a home. And there's a lot of it out there. After a while, I realised it was made by most of my friends and people who had been on major labels and indies, and were still making incredible music but didn't have any comfortable place to put it. I thought this could be a perfect time.
Is that why you picked up The Melvins?
Definitely. They're one of the few rock bands I can still listen to. They continue to amaze me. I tell Buzz this all the time. Each album is its own little universe. The Melvins have been in-between labels all their fucking lives. Lifers in music need a place to go. The music business is not set up for that - they're more interested in making a quick buck, a one night stand. It's an arrangement that most musicians are very happy with, unfortunately.
How do you put together Fantomas and Maldoror's music?
They're so both very different. Maldoror was improvised. Masami Akita and I recorded together for a few hours. I edited it down and overdubbed and stuff and tried to make little tunes. Fantomas is thoroughly, hyper-composed. Every little sound, every scrape, every cough is meant to be that way. We rehearse it and play it the same way every night precisely. Music's about detail and if the detail's are right, what's the point?
Have you retired the Mr Bungle project or now?
Maybe. I really don't know. Right now, it's gotta take a rest. There's a few of us that aren't even ready to face it again for a while. We'll put it on the shelf for now and see what happens to it and hopefully revisit it again.
How did the Peeping Tom project come together with Dan The Automator?
We both live in San Francisco. He's got a label and I went to his offices. He was interested in the project. We're starting to record in a couple of days. I gave him a few rough, home-made ideas to see which direction we'd take it. It won't sound like anything I've done before. The ideas I've been working with are more electronic-based - a place I haven't been before. There'll be DJ work, orchestral stuff, and I'm trying to keep it in a pop context, in terms of song structure. I have to give myself boundaries for every album I do, otherwise it'll sound like a hideous mess. I grew up with a lot of pop music and I'm taking a stab at it. Albeit a sideways stab.
Are Reprise, the record label Peeping Tom are signed to, expecting a string of hits?
They were until they dropped me recently! The world of majors is so fickle. Maybe 10 years ago I would have gone ballistic. But I've grown up and figured that if that's the world I live in, I have to accept it. I've gone back to the drawing board and we're talking to a bunch of labels. We're recording now because I can't sit on this egg much longer. I've got too much to do to be waiting around.
Is it true that INXS approached you to be their frontman?
Yeah, unfortunately. The same way you approached me for the interview. A few phone calls and that was it. They called and asked with a straight face. But I couldn't answer with a straight face. They were really pissed off with me because I've told people about it. They wanted me to be hush-hush because I'd turned them down. They don't have a clue what they want, that's the funny thing about it. They just wanted someone who had a bit of a name behind them.
Do you think you've held back from making easily digestible records on purpose?
To me, they all sound perfectly digestible. It's where I'm coming from. I can't concern myself with what I think people might want to hear or what people expect of me. I haven't felt like doing any straight up rock or pop for a little while, but now the balance is swinging back and I feel comfortable doing some of that now. I've got a few other projects that lean, wink and even hint at that too. Got to keep a balance. Tomahawk, to me, is the closest thing to a rock band I've been involved with since Faith No More.
What ambitions do you have yet to fulfill?
Too many. There's just not enough time time to do everything and I feel as though I'm behind right now. My worst fear is an empty plate. I'm very gluttonous and greedy when it comes to working. If I've got an empty space in front of me and I don't know what to do with it, I start to get a little nervous.
What does the future hold for you?
I don't know, and that's why I feel like I have to jump on while I can and get the most out of doing it. It keeps my fingers in a lot of pies and keeps me real active. I do feel confident and good that this is my life. There is nothing remotely close I could think to occupy my time with. My dick could go limp at any time. It could all dry up in a matter of days.