On January 29th 1990 Faith No More released Epic, the ground breaking second single from The Real Thing.
"Mean, Vicious, chunky and Funky, Faith No More continue to break barriers with their brain-scrambling amalgamation of seemingly counteracting styles. Rap with Metal? No problem mate. Funk with Hardcore overtones? Faith No More have it in hand. Hell, there's even a classical piano break at the end! FNM are the band to take Hard Rock into the '90s." - RIP Magazine 1990
In their interview history Faith No More have openly spoken about their dislike of their song Epic. Not about the music or lyrics but their boredom of playing it relentlessly for many years, and the fact that certain fans have showed up to gigs for this song above all others.
“It seems sometimes kids turn up just to hear that one song, we’re like stick around we’ve written all these other great songs, you just might like ‘em” - Bill Gould 1992But as fans, surely we have to admit we can't help loving this song, but why, and what is it that after all the amazing music that follows this song brings us back to this point in FNM history? That's the question, What is it?
For many fans it's the song that began a lasting love affair with their music, and there's no denying its a work of genius with all the right parts that make a great and popular song.
It's also certain FNM will always play it; you would be hard pushed to find a set list that didn't have Epic on it, strategically placed towards the end to keep the fans happy and make sure they stick around. Despite the band’s unwillingness to admit the importance of Epic to their body of work, they know their fans want to hear it again and again.
"Of course I knew straight away it would be a fucking hit! I already had a down payment on the Bentley and the bachelor pad in Paso Robles! However, I realised it wasn't an international smash when my speed dealer wouldn't even let me score on credit. Did 'Epic' spawn rap metal? Even it if it did, I wouldn't tell you. The again, the rest of the world seems to feel that way, so I suppose apologies are in order. OK, I'M SORRY!" - Mike Patton 2010It is most definitely the song that propelled the band to another level of musical stardom, From Out Of Nowhere had turned a few heads but Epic sent them spinning. The band themselves had chosen to release it in the US in mid 1989 as the second single from The Real Thing, but it wasn't until the single was released in the UK and Europe on January 29th / 30th 1990 that it found real success. In fact the record company Slash were it seems ready to give up on promoting the album until this point.
Epic peaked at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 (the band's only Top Ten hit in the United States), and was their first Number One single on the Australian charts.
Epic was ranked number thirty on VH1's 40 Greatest Metal Songs, number sixty-seven on their 100 Greatest One-hit Wonders list (unbelievable but understandable to those who go by such statistics) in 2009, it was named the 54th best hard rock song of all time also by VH1, also in 2009 it charted number 46 on the Triple J Hottest 100 of All Time, the largest music poll in the world.
It went on to be nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance at the Grammies, and Best Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Video at the MTV awards in 1991.
It is amazing that one song can have such a tremendous effect on the music industry and on the fate of the band in question. As fans we’d like to believe that they would've enjoyed success even without Epic but it is a fact of music industries that the media plays a part in the availability of music and the airplay it gets. The MTV generation with aid of the surge of popularity of music videos in the 90s helped channel FNM into ears and hearts of the world, Epic was played on MTV up to five times a day! The video was edited by MTV and FNM let them, not realising the impact it would have. Full of striking visions: an exploding piano, terrific lightening, that 'Master' t-shirt, that Mr. Bungle t-shirt and Jim Martin's nod to the late Cliff Burton. The imagery is reminiscent of the paintings of Salvador Dali with surreal dreamlike shots of framed hands with eyeballs peering from within, dark skies, and waves of liquid colour. The scene is set with a torrential thunderstorm that drenches the band to the skin. The direction of the video, by Ralph Ziman, is an accurate setting for the song without giving anything away towards the meaning. All that can understood is that it is five men against the forces of nature, a reflection FNM's musical blend of the crazy and the calm.
The Video ends with an astonishing scene, in unison with the smooth notes issuing from Roddy Bottum's piano, again highlighting this schizophrenic tendency with the grace of nature but adding a bizarre cruel twist. The fish has no meaning beyond its visceral effect, which is both oddly beautiful and incredibly creepy. As for animal-rights concerns, well, at least the fish was immortalized in a way his breaded and fried brethren never were. There are stories that the fish was stolen from Bjork at a party (started by the band) but it was simply bought from a pet store round the corner from the studio. Both Gould and Ziman claim the fishy idea was their own.
"The floundering goldfish was my idea. It was that kinda (cult director) John Waters thing where you try to get maximum attention for minimum money! The piano exploding was pretty cool, too." - Bill 1997
"I remember, the band had one day off from touring and they were in London. The record company had phoned us on very short notice and asked us to do a music video. The y made it sound like a really low priority. I think it was being done for Warner Bros. at the time. I just made a list of things I thought we could do. Exploding piano. A fish flopping around. We literally had one day to pre-produce it. So we handed the fish off to the art department. I can't remember what it was. If it was a carp? It was a fresh water fish. We shot that in London in some studios next to the tour venue. And we wound up letting that fish go into the river when we were finished. We had a couple of them. We would let them flop around, and then we'd swap it over, and we'd shoot another one. I don't remember what kind of fish they were, but the animal handler had brought them in because they were feisty." - Ralph Ziman 2010This tremendous whip-back success of the video and single kept the guys on the road when they were about to return home from almost two years touring.
“More than anything I remember us being in Europe, and our manager would check in with us maybe once a week. He called and said: ‘Your single is blowing up over here,’ we didn’t believe him. We thought he was buttering us up so he could keep us on the road, and we all wanted to go home. I remember landing in the airport, going to the hotel, turning on the TV by chance and seeing the damn thing and going: ‘Oh shit….the jokes on us!” - Patton 1995
“We toured for about 18 months before ‘Epic’ was even released as a single. It becoming a hit made a big impression on us, because it was something that we chose to release on our own instincts. It worked and it gave us a lot of confidence to do the next record." - Bill 1997It's true that other bands had experimented with mixing hip hop, rap, metal before this song but that was exactly what they had attempted, simply mixing these styles. FNM didn't set out to do this, instead they successfully wrote a great rock tune with elements of funk, hip hop and rap all fused together from their combined influences.
The music itself has all the unmistakable elements of FNM we love. Mike Bordin and Bill’s balanced, thunderous but impeccably timed rhythms. Jim Martin's powerhouse riff’s and ripping solo. Roddy’s graceful keyboard sounds and Patton's aggressive chants and melodic anthemic chorus. The mood of the song shifts depending on the listener, it can be the radio friendly bright and uplifting song labelled by the media or a dark and brooding experience.
Bill had this to say about the inspiration for the song.
"That was when we were writing ‘The Real Thing’- we’d just fired our singer and it was a song that was pretty spontaneous. Actually, it was like the release that came with loosing Chuck! I think with a lot our albums, most of the inspiration comes with the relief of loosing a member that’s too painful to keep! It’s like a sore that finally breaks, a storm that finally comes in.” - Bill 1997The meaning of the lyrics have been interpreted by the curious to be about sex, falatio, masturbation, drugs, religion and more. They do seem to suggest an unattainable something, be it power, love or faith. The genius of the lyrics is that 'it' could be anything...good or bad depending on the listener’s point of view. Mike is inviting us to guess the meaning and telling us 'it' is whatever we want it to be. Even though Mike has said his lyrics are more concerned with rhythm than meaning , which is very apparent in Epic, as fans we can't help but want attribute meaning so we can get that little deeper into the singer’s mind and understand better. Let's also not forget that Mike put the lyrics to the song in a matter of weeks while the album was being produced.
“A lot of our songs start music first, lyrics later, and it was called ‘Epic’ as a kind of code word, because before the words came along, it was kind of like the parting of the Red Sea! It was a preposterous grandiose thing! Y’know, we’ve always had a sort of campy, semi-serious approach to writing, with these big cinematic sounds. Patton wrote the words to it about a week after he joined the band. I remember him explaining it to me and I didn’t know him very well, so I wasn’t sure what to make of it.” - Bill 1997
"It was about sexual frustration. Sex and lack of sex. [masturbation] Most people just don't like to admit it, I'm here to tell ya, I love it. That's kinda of what Epic is really about." - Patton 1990
"Epic is sort of a warped sexual state of mind. It deals with more material and physical things like sex. The song kind of teases you. but it's frusturated at the same time because the song want's it too. But at the same time it knows that it can't have it." - Patton 1989
"Believe it or not, 'Epic' was my best attempt at impersonating Blondie's 'Rapture'. Lyrically, I was more concerned with the rhyme scheme than any other constant train of thought. The lyrics mean whatever you want them to mean. They don't belong to me anymore, they are your responsibility now."- Patton 2005
Epic stands today as a groundbreaking moment, in not only FNM's career but in music. It is also a shining example of where FNM were back in 1989 and how they were a different kind of brilliance than they are today. As a starting point for Mike Patton's career with the band, who's later input changed the music as well as the sound, it is a wonderful reminder of youth and enthusiasm.
This said it is wrong to consider the song a foundation for FNM as we know them, the band had already formed a great unity in music and forged their unmistakable sound on Introduce Yourself, likewise Mike had experimented with his many voices with Mr. Bungle. Epic is rather an important check point in the band’s career.
The only question still remaining is….. ‘What is it??’