MIKE PATTON's MONDO CANE released 8 years ago!
The Mondo Cane album was released on May 4th, 2010. With the recent news that Mike Patton's most adventurous and extravagant work will return for live performances in Chile and Argentina this September, we thought it a great opportunity to revisit how the history of this musical project.
"A period piece loveletter to Italy."
How the Mondo Cane album was realised is a touching story, a record almost 16 years in the making. It all started in 1994 when Patton met and married the Italian artist Cristina Titi Zuccatosta. Patton moved with her to Bologna Italy, and soon became immersed in the local culture. He began to learn the language.
“The great thing about Italy [is that] if you just say two words, like ‘ciao bello,’ [they say], ‘Wow, that’s amazing! You sound just like an Italian!’ It really boosts your confidence. The whole attitude [in Italy is] toward acceptance and tolerance. The reason that I learned the language and did it so fast…is because the people were so amazing." - Patton 2010
During this time Patton discovered Italian / Greek vocalist Demetrio Stratos (1970s prog-rock revolutionary who explored the limits of the human voice) who helped inspire him to create his first solo album Adult Themes For Voice. He also befriended Italian trio Zu, who he would released music by on Ipecac.
It wasn't just the language that Patton became familiar with, after recommendations from friends and browsing record store he fell in love with classic 50's and 60's Italian pop music.
"I lived there for a number of years and got enamored with the music. It was none of the modern music, oddly enough. I found this radio station that played oldies, and it inspired me to think of a new way of interpreting them. The music made sense to me immediately, and I knew that some day I would do my interpretation of this kind of music." - Patton 2010
He envisioned playing this style of music in clubs with a small band.
"When I first had the impudence to do this, I thought I would be doing it with a five-piece band, and I would just do it around town in Rome and just be done with it. And that just didn’t…well, I threw it against the wall and it just didn’t stick." - Patton 2010
Over the next few years writing and touring with Faith No More and Mr. Bungle meant much travelling back and forth to the States, and his idea was shelved. However there are
hints at his new found obsession with Italian pop on both Disco Volante and California.
Fantômas and building the independent record company Ipecac were Patton's next projects and after about six years commuting between SF and Bologna he decided to leave Italy behind, but the time he lived there had been important to him.
"I have a strong personal connection to it. My wife is Italian and I lived there for six years. Even more than music, it was a really exciting period in my life when a lot of things were new. I was learning a new language, and living in a place that was new to me, and I was surrounded by all this incredible music. I developed a real bond with, not only the place and the people, but the music of that region." - Patton 2010
Mike has said that he will return, it's the place he'd like to go to die!
In 2007 Patton was offered a chance to perform with an orchestra by a friend who was funded by the AngelicA festival in Bologna, "Hey, I have this orchestra that's going to be working with my festival this year, do you want to write something for it? And I was like, wow! Y'know? Been waiting for that call for a long time."
This led to three Italian concerts in May 2007 but Patton now had to decide which songs to include in the set.
"I had a gigantic list of really great songs and I had to sort of wind them down to what I could sing, what I could translate, what I could pull off. Anyone can put together a list of favorite tunes, but the real trick is — and the key is — to come up with something you can pull off and interpret in your own way. Not all of my favorite tunes would I want to touch. If it’s perfect already, why f— it up?" - Patton 2010
Mondo Cane is an Italian phrase that means 'the world is going to the dogs', and although there is no direct connection the 1960's Italian shockumentary of the same name, Patton appreciated the reference.
"...of course I was familiar with the movie and all its connotations so I wanted to give a little bit of a – how would you say – unexpected twist to a record like this, which is pretty easy on the ears and pretty linear. I needed to balance that out with a provocative title." - Patton 2010
These concerts were a huge undertaking with months of preparation. The was music on a grand scale including a 10-piece band, and a 40-piece orchestra. Italian producer/composer Daniele Luppi helped with the arrangements, a different orchestra was employed for each of the concerts with a host of talented musicians. (The band would progress in 2012 to include some of his regular collaborators such as Trevor Dunn and William Winant.)
"It was fun. It was new. It was interesting. Orchestral musicians have a different approach than we do, and when I say ‘we,’ I mean musicians who don’t know what they are doing. I let the conductor deal with the orchestra, and I dealt with the band. The band is 12-13 people, yes, but I know how to deal with a band. But there were some different moods that an orchestra has that I am not used to, having played in rock bands." - Patton 2010
"I took a bunch of live recordings that we did and realized what I wanted to do, which was make a sort of…”illusion” record. Something that was basically based on live recordings, but sounded like a studio recording. That took a lot of time, you know, editing recordings. [I had] three concerts, and I took the best of the best, from bar to bar, from note to note, and second to second. So that was a whole lot of surgery. [I also had to bring] it up to the level where I wanted it to be. I couldn’t, at the time, when we were doing the concerts. We either didn’t have the time or the manpower to recreate all the arrangements and all the ideas that I had." - Patton 2010
The opening track Il cielo in una stanza, was written by Gino Paoli and originally recorded by Italian singer Mina. It was a commercial success in the early 60's and some may recognise it from the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas (1990).
"The reason I opened the record with it is that I thought it was one of the strongest songs that I had, one of the best sets of material that I was given to work with. It also happened to be a huge hit in Italy. Here, you know, I’m not so sure. I think it charted on the Billboard charts back in the day. Now, yeah, people know it as the Goodfellas song. But if they know it for anything, that’s not a bad association. I’m happy that people know it for anything. I’ve had to explain to [American] journalists that very fact, that this is not just some unknown… I’ve had to tell them, “No, this song was really big and even used in this film by Martin Scorsese, this certain scene where the guy walks into the room with his friends, explaining who Johnny Two Times is.” A lot of people don’t know that." - Patton 2010
An true inspiration for Patton during the arrangement of this album was legendary composer Ennio Morricone. Two of his songs feature on the album Down Down from the Mario Bava film Danger: Diabolik (1968) and Quello che conta. Patton grew up with Morricone's work but it wasn't until his mid-twenties that he realised quite how deep the maestro's music.
"What I am really inspired by right now is The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. It’s a Dario Argento film — one of his early films and a great one. Morricone did the soundtrack, and it’s just absolutely, mind-blowingly complex, and really fun. Really amazing. The instrumentation is just gorgeous — tons of shit going on, super dense. It makes what would normally be a slasher film into a really elegant affair. That’s a wonderful example of how influential a soundtrack can be." - Patton 2010