On April 26th 1999 Fantômas released their debut album. The first ever release for Ipecac Recordings.
Hello friends of Ipecac Recordings. As you probably know Ipecac Recordings is a fledgling label getting ready to take our first leap into the deep end. I would like to thank you all for joining us on our maiden voyage. Our first release, the self-titled debut from Fantomas, already has people talking and it doesn't even hit the streets till April 27 1999. Considering the musicians involved in this collaboration, and the fact that they've been selling out multiple nights at venues like the Knitting Factory in NYC and Slims in SF there's no surprise the world wide curiosity level is surpassing even our level headed, ever-so-jaded expectations.
Fantômas is made up Buzz Osborne from the Melvins on guitar. Dave Lombardo, formally of Slayer, on drums. Trevor Dunn from Mr. Bungle on bass and the ring-leader of the whole shebang, Mike Patton from Mr Bungle, formerly of Faith No More, creating odd sounds and vocalizations. The important thing to remember before listening to this CD, is check your pre-conceived notions at the door, Fantomas does not in any way resemble Bungle, Melvins, Faith No More or Slayer. Like the antihero of the same name from the pre World War II French crime-thriller novels, Fantomas is anyone and no one, everywhere and nowhere, waging an implacable war against the bourgeois society in which he moves. The Lord of terror! The perfect title for a band whose tempo and moods change as fast as it's namesake's personalities.
Fantomas' musical concoctions consist of short, sharp bursts of sonic explosions They slice and dice their way through genres like hardcore, death metal, sound effects and even explore soundtrack experimentation in such creative ways as to avoid falling into stereotypes. Patton sees these pieces as "pages in a book " The pages are made up of cells of music that move like frames in a comic strip With a multi-octave vocal range.
Patton's vocal treatments go from sounding like the Tasmanian Devil on crack to a sweet crooner. Those familiar with Patton's compositions on John Zorn's Tzadik label, will appreciate what Fantomas is trying to accomplish with this unique foray into sound.
Mike Patton | Kerrang! | 2001
"A record like that takes so much time. People think we improvise that material on the spot but I'm not that good. If I could do that stuff off the top of my head I'd do it 24 hours a day. It's like building a castle out of matchsticks or playing chess, it's a pain in the ass although I enjoy it. A lot of people hear it as total garbage, and know it's not going to appeal to people who like rock songs with lyrics, but if you're ready for it it might make sense. If not, stay away. Haven't you fuckers learned by now?"
"It was like writing down a Christmas list, and it wasn't a very deep one. I got all my first choices. I didn't know how they would respond to it. I knew Buzz, but not that well. Trevor was really my only sure thing, he was like the security blanket, meaning if it all went belly-up, I could cry on his shoulder."
"I saw Slayer a little while ago with Dave, and I'd seen them when I was a teenager of course, and loved it to death. But seeing them again, and seeing how effortless that music is to him - I thought I even saw him yawn a couple of times, while bashing his brains out and driving that band."
"Over the years, I always thought he was great, but playing with him, and making him jump through every hoop imaginable and watching him do it - he's wide-eyed. Any bizarre suggestion or anything that might be unfamiliar to him - 'Yeah, sure, why not? Let's try it! This is great!' He's just so excited about this stuff that it's energising and empowering."
Having a supportive group is crucial (in a 'consent of the governed' sort of way: Fantomas is anything but a democracy). Sure, Patton was assembling a bunch of guys he wanted to make music with, but rather than waiting to see what came out of that creative confluence, he brought them together to perform a specific set of tunes, in a very particular way.
"Like I do with nearly everything I write, I basically made a rough recording of myself playing all the instruments, which can be very comical. When you're starting a band, it's like a chemical experiment. You don't know how guys are gonna respond, especially to music that's as angular and abstract as Fantomas is. I didn't know how Lombardo was gonna hear this. I had no idea. I write down everything, put it on a tape, and say, 'That's it. Play it. And you know, a lot of it's hard to decipher, so I'll have to sit down with Buzz or Dave and show them exactly what I want, and if there's a part that comes along - well, I'm open to suggestion, let's put it that way. But that music is, more so than any of my other groups, about precision and execution. There is a right and a wrong way of playing it. And I really feel like my rote is to illustrate very clearly what to do and what not to do."
The group's self-titled debut from 1999 mimicked a comic book in its structure. It was labelled Book 1. and featured 30 tracks, each named for a page and listing a number of frames, or panels, of action. The only track that didn't follow this pattern was number 13, which was two seconds of run-off from track 12.
"I've always been curious about what you can and can't do when indexing tracks on a CD. I wondered if you could skip one. You can't. If you notice, on the CDs, track 13 appears. It goes for one and a half seconds, which is the bare minimum that it can be, and I indexed it at the end of 12 so you barely notice it. But it does appear, for one and a half seconds. I never really got rid of it. And initially, I just thought I wanted to have an idiosyncratic thing on the Fantômas records, and I want to keep it that way every time. I chose 13 for obvious bad luck and protection reasons, and wanted to keep doing it throughout all of our records. But after [2004's] Delirium Cordia, I realised I'd broken the mould, so fuck it."
That Fantomas debut, which was also the inaugural release from Patton's Ipecac label, set the mould for the group's future albums. The music has all the precision of Prog rock, but it's as compressed as Grindcore. The longest piece is just over four minutes, the shortest just under 30 seconds. Each track features multiple riffs, which rarely repeat, and there are no solos. During the slower moments, guitarist heaviness as its own reward comes to the fore, as the group burrow into a post-Sabbath trench before launching itself over the top, into another high-speed assault. Patton, for his part, refuses to seize the foreground. His voice is clearly present but it's in the middle of the mix, just one more instrument, and there are no lyrics, only shouted interjections, screams, roars and babble.
Mike Patton | Kerrang | 1999
"Ipecac really only came about because we couldn't find anybody to put the Fantomas record out. When everybody heard the band's line-up they got a hard-on. But those people with hard-ons walked out of our live show with limp dicks, and we didn't hear back from any of them. Then Greg talked with me, and it became something I had to do with him. "As much as I've pooh-poohed it over the years, there is a community of people I like to work with, whose music I love and who are friends."When I started writing 'Fantomas', it came from frustration. I wanted to make a metal record that I would buy. I timidly called Dave Lombardo, almost apologising for the music, telling him that I didn't know if he'd be into it. He called me back, saying, 'It's incredible, can't wait to play this'. Some kids will like it, others will think it's artsy-fartsy horse-shit."
Mike Patton | Decibel | 2013
"I thought that I had some unfinished business with hardcore and death metal. It had always been a part of my lingo, so to speak, but I never felt like I'd channelled it right and made it my own. I wanted to do something a little more jarring. Vocally, I didn't want lyrics to be involved at all. I wanted the voice to sound like another instrument. It was definitely liberating to do, and I realised very quickly that it made sense to nobody else."
In fact, it didn't even make sense to the drummer he initially enlisted for the project: Igor Cavalera, formerly of Sepultura.
"Igor and I really wanted to work together, but I think he just didn't get the music," Patton recalls. "Then I thought of Dave. We'd only been sort of acquaintances in the past, but I reached out to him and he was probably more excited about it than anyone. He called me back leaving a rambling message about how much he was into it. He was doing, like, mouth-drumming on the phone. That's when I realized, 'I think I found my guy.'"
Trevor Dunn | Decibel | 2013
The rest of the line-up fell into place like super group clockwork. Patton recruited Buzz Osborne on guitar and his old friend Trevor on bass.
"I was blown away by the demos he gave me, but when he told me who was in the band, I couldn't believe it," Dunn enthuses. "I'd met Buzz a couple of times, but I didn't know Dave at all. I mean, when Slayer released Reign In Blood in 1986, that was kind of it for Mike and I as far as metal goes. We figured it couldn't get any better than that, so we kind of stopped listening to it. I thought he had a lot of balls to call those guys up, but he did, and they were both into it."
Buzz Osborne | Decibel | 2013
"Mike had all the music worked out in advance," Osborne says. "For the record, I have nothing to do with the music in Fantomas. No one other than Mike does. We do not jam, ever. There's no discussion of any of us coming up with anything that's different or better. People always ask me what it's like to collaborate with Mike Patton, and I always say I have no idea. I've never done it. It might be fun, but I've never had that experience. I think Mike's a super-talented guy, and I'd really like to do a real collaboration with him in some form of another. But I've always wondered why he didn't just put the Fantomas demos out. I thought they sounded fine, personally. I didn't understand how we were gonna make it any better, I still think he should put them out."
Greg Werckman | Decibel | 2013
"Howie Klein was still at Warner Brothers and he was a good friend of both Mike and I. I told him about Fantomas and he goes, 'I hate to be the bad guy here, but we have first rights of refusal on Mike's new project.' Now, you gotta remember—on paper, before any music came out, Fantomas looked potentially appealing to a major label. You've got Mike from Faith No More, Buzz from the Melvins, Dave Lombardo from Slayer and Trevor Dunn from Mr. Bungle. Kind of an ugly super group, right? So, Howie told me to come down and bring some music. Over the phone I was telling him, 'I'm sure this isn't the right fit for Warner Brothers.' and he was like, Well, we love Mike.'"
Werckman relented and flew down to Los Angeles with the Fantomas album. "I'll never forget being in Howie's office and popping in the CD," he laughs. "He listened to about 10 seconds of it, which was probably about three songs, and was like, 'Oh, you're free to do whatever you want with this. The meeting lasted about five minutes at most. I don't even think I got a free meal out of it."
Patton and Werckman decided to strike out on their own. Werckman called his contact to set up distribution for their as-yet-unnamed label on the strength of the Fantomas album alone. "We figured if we could get like 10,000 people in the world who would buy Fantomas, it would be a huge success," Werckman recalls. "If we could find 20,000, we'd do cartwheels down Market Street and then hand each other gold records. We decided to press 25,000 CDs and hope for the best. Then our guy at Caroline calls and says that pre-orders for Fantomas were already at 30,000. So, then we start thinking we've maybe got a real label on our hands. At that point, Buzz mentioned that the Melvins didn't have a home, so we should do the next Melvins record. What's funny is that Mike and I had already had a meeting where we made a list of bands that we'd like to get if we were to start a label. The only two we could agree on were the Melvins and the Cramps. We actually did try to get the Cramps— they were very nice to us, but they wanted to stick with what they were doing."