MIKE PATTON talks food, drink and 'Corpse Flower' with Mondo Sonoro
Mike Patton is back. On September 13 Ipecac Recordings released Corpse Flower, the brand new collaboration with the experienced French composer Jean-Claude Vannier . To celebrate this event, Mondo Sonoro had access to the almost inaccessible Patton to talk about the album from beginning to end and from an original perspective.
Text: Adriano Mazzeo
A while ago I concluded that Mike Patton is a real foodie. One of the passionate, not exactly one who photographs a multicolored ice cream and uploads it to Instagram. In my first interview with him for the newspaper Clarín of Argentina (where I am from and currently residing) we talked about fresh Italian pasta and I told him that, apart from working as a journalist, I also love to cook. On the occasion he came to Buenos Aires with Mondo Cane, his "Italian" band, he asked me to take care of the ravioli with scarparo and quattro formaggi sauces. Fortunately that was a success and right then began to develop a kind of friendship between us. In the successive years we were sharing some meals during his visits to Buenos Aires, two of them, classic Argentine roasts. In the first Patton was very interested in the cuts of meat we were tasting. “Entraña” was a name that caught his attention especially. I told him that we Argentines possibly knew the parts of the cow's body better than those of the human body. We talked about black pudding, gizzards, vacuum, roast strip, of the infinite meat vocabulary and its parallels in other countries. The guy was totally fascinated, like discovering a new world. "You should make a song with this theme," I joked. Three years later in the second roast, this time at my house, he took me by the arm and said: “Do you remember the song about cuts of meat? Well, I did it! ”, Laughing. In the midst of my surprise, I felt flattered and proud, and also amazed once again by Don Mike's creative resources. Right there he showed me the song and we drank a six-year-old Malbec.
A few months later, when the promotion stage of this album began, we devised an interview that would respond to this common passion: the idea was to ask Mike to combine each song on the album with a meal and a drink. Within an hour we talked about many things that go beyond the art of combining the culinary world and that of drinks of all kinds. I hope you like the menu Cheers!
1) Ballade C.3.3: Irish cucumber sandwiches, homemade elderberry wine.
Cool. You chose cucumber sandwiches and homemade elder wine. Cucumber sandwiches are something really simple and sometimes simple things are the ones that require more talent.
Yes, they are a very English / Irish thing. They use them for tea time, usually the upper classes. The reason I chose them is because the lyrics of that song are not written by me, but by Oscar Wilde. He's a fucking Irishman, and he once wrote something about these cucumber sandwiches. He liked to talk about how elegant they were. Personally it is not something that I usually eat, but I think they fit perfectly with the song (laughs). He talked about eating them with another poet, Walt Whitman, and in that text they said they used to make their own elder wine.
All right. The idea that comes to mind as a result of this choice is: if you have to make a dish with very few ingredients, you will have no margin of error in the way to combine them. Was it very difficult to find the right sounds to accompany this poem of Wilde?
No. On the contrary. The song came first and then we found the poem. In most of my experiences writing music, music comes first and then "the lyrics" (note: it says it in Spanish). But this was more a creation of Jean-Claude than mine, he basically wrote most of the music and brought the lyrics, I just said: "ok, let's do it".
2) Camion: Poulet Basquaise, fromage blanc, pastis. (Pepper and tomato chicken Stwe, French white cheese and pastis)
You choose a menu of home cooking, classic, with the subtle flavor of white cheese, and pastis ... well, it doesn't seem like a good option for a truck driver who goes down the mountain, as it says in the lyrics.
Well, maybe yeah! (laughs) The reason why I chose it is that, let's see, it's a song about truckers. There's a whole topic about what truckers eat ... In my country, they eat shit. They are all fat coz of fast food and garbage. The idea of the truck stop is a really horrible thing and would have to be changed. But in Europe it is a slightly different subject. In Italy, it's great, in France it's even better, they have that thing called Relais Routiers that is like a truck driver's guide. It's crazy. It's your own Michelin guide. There are places of family cuisine, very simple and very cheap where you drink very well too, that's why I put the pastis. That happens in France and this album is somehow there. So both in Europe and in South America, truck drivers know where to go, in the United States they are the worst diners in the world: never follow them. When I lived in Italy I learned that they do know what the thing is about. White cheese, by the way, is almost like a yogurt.
Similar to Quark cheese, right?
Yes! But it's great, especially with that chicken, whoah! ... Amazing!
3) Chansons d'amour: tartare, absinthe.
After watching the video, this menu makes a lot of sense because there you can see deep instincts and extremes of seduction, all very French. How did you feel taking your interpretation of this Vannier song to that terrain, to that vibration of French seduction?
I didn't have to do anything, just put my voice there and did it with respect. I didn't want to change it or adapt it, I just tried to be part of the basics of the subject. When, at first, he sent me this song, he was singing in French and playing the piano. I thought that I would like to give it a spin, make it a little more jazzy, and pass the letters to English. It is a rustic love song, with a feeling of tragedy. This is how love songs usually lie to you, they are all pure bullshit, this is a way to show another way for love songs, it is not pretty, but it also doesn't include false promises (laughs). That's why I love absinthe, because it's also something very serious that can drive you crazy and meat tartare is very basic, perfect for this damn love song.
4) Cold Sun, Warm Beer: corn dog, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer or manchamanteles, mezcal.
In this song, a character who seems not to care at all sepakes about what he puts inside his body, something like a night villain or an American truck driver.
Sure! Or as a tourist. A silly seventy-year-old tourist who would pay anything to get anything to eat. I don't know about you, but I was on vacation a few times and I felt like that kind of person, and that sucks! You go to that beautiful place, you have a good time but suddenly the menu appears and it's corn dogs and fucking bad, hot beer. I think there is a monstrous industry from this tourist world.
For me that song is about the disappointment of travelling. Sometimes you can be scammed, you can make the wrong decision and end up in a bad place. But I must also say that sometimes it seems that people like to be fooled. They like to have these kinds of experiences, and that's why this industry exists. And because the market of living like a douchebag also exists. Unfortunately, most people just want to be in a comfort zone, a recognisable place. They're not open to adventures. Don't step outside the known path. They are the same, whether in Venezuela or in Thailand, you know.
I remember that talk about a German restaurant in Chile that we both went to and we agreed that, while it was an experience, in Chile we should eat Chilean and non-German food.
Yeah! If you are spending all that time, all that money to go to a new, different place, it's stupid not to take advantage of it. For me it is like being in Faith No More: there I surrender, it is a place I'm gonna learn. I set aside my will and my intentions and learn. That's what I want to do. It's the only way to get rich: surrender and wait for the incentive.
5) Browning: bucatini cacio e pepe, Negroni. (Bucatini pasta with pepper and sheep cheese and Negroni)
Speaking of a mafia situation and with the choice you made, this song should be called "Marroni" instead of "Browning", right? (Laughter)
I'll tell you why it's this: Jean-Claude wrote the song a long time ago and the reason is that Browning is the name of a rifle.
Oh, perfect, I had no idea, I'm not good with guns ...
In the lyrics, everything I say is from the point of view of a weapon. The title of the song while we were working on it was Gangster.
It clearly has a mafia narrative.
It does. Browning seemed to me a much cooler title, more mysterious than Gangster. We had a discussion about it and everything. Most people won't know what a rifle name is.
Regarding this idea, I would like to ask you if when you lived in Italy you were interested in the mafia.
No. Let's see ... That culture is known to exist, everyone knows it in Italy, but nobody talks about it. Nobody. It's very strange because this topic led an Italian-American director, Coppola, to be very famous. There is talk of the mafia in the news, almost every night, either the Camorra in Naples, or the Cosa Nostra in Sicily or the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria; Each of the regions has its own version of the mafia. But on the street, nobody talks about it
What madness ...
Yeah. I learned it very fast. “What the mafia in this city?” I asked. And it was like “sh, sh, shhh. We don't talk about that. ” I hate painting Italy with that light, because, you know, I may end up dying there, that is my country, even more than the United States, and I would like to do good things for Italy. I hate to say things like this. The mafia is not what it used to be, but it is still there, it is more like young people dealing drugs and not those types of suits as seen in the movies. As in Gomorrah. That is the modern version of the mafia, of what is happening, mostly street marginals not very well organised, nothing to do with what you might think. I never felt it as a threat, but it also depends on where you go. That is the problem, people can be killed by talking, I understand why they don't. Including important politicians. You must respect the way people are, when I am there I don't talk about it. Sounds crazy, but that's how it is.
6) Hungry Ghost: Bagna cauda, Grappa.
Both choices are familiar to me because I am from an Italian family who emigrated to Argentina.
Even the beautiful lyrics of the song and that bridge that sounds like tango caught my attention. Do something to get my mind off the fact that this topic is somehow "Argentine."
I never imagined that bridge as a tango, but you are right! It started basically from that pre-recorded melody, from the female opera singer who sings on the bridge (note: he hums that part with difficulty), well I can't do that kind of thing ... Jean-Claude sent it to me, I was like “shit, this is awesome!”. It was a soprano and some strings accompanying that beautiful melody. So we thought about writing a song around that. It gave me the idea of lyrics that are a letter to a kind of ghost legend, a vampire story. I used the word "strigoi" that is a Romanian vampire, a very beast type of vampire. I chose the bagna cauda because it takes a lot of garlic, right? (laughs) and if garlic doesn't kill the vampire, grappa will (laughs).
7) Corpse Flower: roasted, Piedra Negra Gran Malbec.
It's clear why I chose what I chose, right? How could I put something else in a song that talks about cuts of meat? I just thought, while doing the lyrics, that the only culture that can make such a feast with a grill are the Argentines. Brazil may be able to compete, but Argentines are better, aren't you, bastard? It is the best meat in the world, and the best way to cook it in the world. It is not only the perfect ingredients but they know what to do with them. I love the "churrasco" of Brazil, but it's simply not the same. No one in the world matches them.
In Texas they are also very good at this ...
Yes, but it is just different. I don't know how or why, but I think that perhaps Argentines have a kind of applied engineering that nobody else has.
(Laughs) Not in the way! It is something natural for Argentines.
I fell in love with the grill culture in Argentina, I'm lucky to have been there many times. The less explanation I find the more fascinating it seems to me, it is a mystery to me. You can't put a piece of grilled meat and get that out. You can't. If you think of someone amateur, like me, I could never do it. That is why I have this obsessive respect for the culture of meat in Argentina. They do it all the time, better than anyone in this world and without any effort. Here in the United States is this that you make a grill of 10,000 dollars, that you must have the exact type of coal, which is a whole roll and the meat tastes like shit. Why doesn't that happen in your country? Because in Argentina there is magic, you bastard. And that is one of the great things for me about the world. In some places really great things are done and you cannot replicate them elsewhere. Otherwise what would we have? That the world would be a fucking Starbucks! One thing that is done exactly the same no matter where the fuck with it! And you know, in Oaxaca you can have a certain type of mole that is just there, it shouldn't be available in New York. Should not. That is what makes the world beautiful, I think. I don't want to dwarf the world, I want it to get bigger. That is my point: fuck globalization. I don't want to feel comfortable in Okinawa, I want to feel challenged, I want to learn something new, eat something new, meet new people. I don't want the same thing to happen to me as in whore San Francisco. Who wants that? I didn't fly a few fourteen hours for that, do you understand?
Totally, and I agree very much.
8) Insolubles: Canard à la presse, vin rose (Pressed duck and rosé wine)
This is a very solemn, sentimental and somehow tormented song, elegant and traditional like the culinary choices you made. It made me think that we are currently in a time when everything is questioned and discussed. Do you think it is good, from time to time, to cling to some traditions or classic elements? I mean in music, in food, in life ...
Yes! Absolutely. Nostalgia is not an enemy. Sometimes it can be a warm shelter or a nice place to go, because the world changes at a very crazy speed. For example, when I am at home, I often feel that all I want is something really simple to eat or to do. And then I go back to old habits, is that nostalgia? I don't know, but maybe it is. I usually go to my favorite oyster place, or for a few tacos to the place I used to go to when I was in my twenties and that I hadn't visited for a long time. Memory works with food and experiences in general, with music too! Sometimes, when I feel weird, I usually listen to Iron Maiden, you know? or Prince and that simple fact makes me feel better. It makes me feel that I am again in the place that belongs to me.
Returning to the chosen dish, the Canard a la presse is a very crazy move, French cuisine one hundred percent old school. It is a spooky machine that compresses the duck, all together: the bones, the blood, everything.
And with the blood they make the sauce!
Exactly! It's very complicated, they drink the juices, make a broth with it, reduce it, and so on. They separate the bones from the meat, it is a very long process. I only had the opportunity to eat it once in my life and it blew my mind. It took about an hour to do it. The press is done in front of your face, which is fucking crazy, it sounds incredible (note: it makes the sound of bones creaking), a delirium. Amazing. And then it's time to wait and wait. It is an experience. This song, Insolubles, sounds very nostalgic to me. Talk about the memories of two people who don't fit in this world, about the things they used to do together, the specific places they went to. It is sad, melancholic. Decadent and very tied to memories.
9) On Top Of The World: Whale sashimi, snake sake. (Whale sashimi and snake sake)
Both ideas translated in my head as that kamikaze way of doing things that the Japanese have. That extremism that put them at the head of the world in many ways. Something similar to what happens to you with the admiration that many people have for you. How do you take compliments of the style that was published recently that talked about you being the singer with the highest vocal rank in the world?
I don't take it well. In fact, I don't take it, at all, at all. It's fine, it's a nice compliment, but I don't put it in my body. It doesn't happen to be a part of me.
It doesn't make me feel comfortable. I feel comfortable just being me (laughs). And if someone says "You're the best, blah, blah, blah", well, cool, but I know that in the next second someone will say "You're the worst, blah, blah, blah". So I try to be in my center, you know? I know it's a zen-yoga part that I have, I don't want to be too high or too low. Let's see, it's great, I appreciate it, it's not something I dismiss, but it honestly doesn't affect my life. I need balance, tranquillity and focus. I consider these distractions and the world is full of distractions! As soon as I leave my house I can find a problem, or someone trying to sell me something, like on TV, all the time the message "buy this, buy that" or "look at yourself, look at me" ... all distractions. At a certain point in my life I learned that one must decide to try to eliminate such things. The compliments are beautiful, they are fun, I pay attention to them for a second and then I leave.
10) Yard Bull: snoots, Thunderbird. (Fried pork snouts, Thunderbird wine)
I didn't know what the Thunderbird was, so I had to investigate ...
(Interrupts laughing) I 'm glad you didn't know what the Thunderbird is! How lucky you are, I grew up with that ... it's a cheap wine, very bad. That menu is the smorgasbord (note: Scandinavian banquet) of those who eat garbage.
The song is about people who drive trains. "Yard Bull" is a slang word for cops who tend, generally violently, roads. It's a deep, weird song. I had to explain it to Jean-Claude. "What are you talking about?" He asked. I had an experience with this world when I was young and I wanted to write a song. It comes from the “jumping a freight-train” culture, something that is related to homeless people. We used to do this, Trey and I, but we did it for fun, and we ended up learning something from this scene, because it's a scene, it's very serious, incredible. As for the snoots, they are fried pork snouts.
Sure, they are a classic in Spain.
Really! In St Louis they are very famous. And very good. It is low-level cuisine. They are served with barbecue sauce or chips. They are a bit fibrous, but excellent and very cheap.
11) A School Girl's Day: Peanut butter / banana crepe, Ovaltine. (Banana peanut butter and Ovaltine milkshake)
This is one of my favorites on the album because the way the tension grows is simply magnificent.
Thank you! It was gonna be first on the record. I liked that idea, but Jean-Claude thought it would be too intense.
Yes, it's intense.
Was it extra pressure for you to have reverted some classic Jean-Claude themes as in this case?
Not at all. He may be rigid at some times, but at others I made suggestions and he was very open. In this I changed the arrangement quite a lot. The funky base is something I did, quite different from the original. Jean-Claude never made me feel afraid to suggest something. Throughout the album there are examples. His songs are very good, but I preferred to change some things and if he thought my option was better, I had no problem giving his OK. Even with the lyrics, in some cases there were none, I brought them and I had to explain their meaning to move forward. As in Camion, to which I added the sounds of trucks and other effects that he loved. "You hit the target, it's perfect," he said. The basic point is that I trusted him completely, basically I gave my life on this record, and he did the same with me.
The relationship is interesting because although he can be very relevant and modern in his way of writing music, you are still from two different generations.
Yes, and I love that. It's stimulating. I always want to work with people older than me, who know more than me. I want to learn from them. It's a wonderful challenge. In the same way, working with younger people can be fun, it's different, but it's great. I know that at some point there I have the responsibility of being the eldest, but in this case he is the teacher and I am the student. Come on, I brought a lot of information to the work table, don't get me wrong. It was a tremendous honor to do this with this guy and absorb everything he knows. To be honest, I was very lucky.
12) Pink And Bleue: Porterhouse Fiorentina, Martini. (T-bone Steak and Martini)
I think that the meat nobility of the t-bone symbolizes the simplicity of the act of cooking, at the same time the Martini would be the “seductive” cocktail par excellence. Something like singing "When I drink too much, I shit my pants" on an exciting and beautiful string arrangement, just as it happens on the subject. (Patton laughs loudly) How complicated is it to sound romantic, but not sweet, and at the same time maintain a certain level of sense of humor?
Jean-Claude sent me the song next to the lyrics, but, after translating it, because I couldn't sing the whole song in French, I realized that they didn't make much sense. He sent me a hint of reference voices and I said: "I will take what you sent me, I will respect it's spirit, but I will do it my way, with my own words." For me it's something like the Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra that I never did. The same for him. He told me: “I want you to croon like a fucking American from the fifties,” to which I replied: “Well, I think I can do it. I'll try". Our motivation was to create something in the Rat Pack plan. Something crooner, only with strings and voice. The lyrics he sent me said something like "when I get too drunk, I lose control," which is boring.
You were much more graphic! (laughs)
(laughs) Yes, I did it more my style, let's say. In general that song was like the most ... I would not say important, but I did concentrate a lot on it because I wanted it to go well. It is very special, a challenge, something that neither Jean-Claude nor I had ever done. That's what it's about.