MIKE PATTON & BILL GOULD | Interview Visions
Faith No More were interviewed by Dennis Plauk for the German publication Visions. We urge you to buy this edition but we are presenting the English version kindly and painstakingly translated by Mira Toybear, thank you.
Visions Magazine | Issue 266 | May 2015.
Helmut Kohl is German Chancellor, Lady Di has a few months left, a comet named Hale-Bop passes overhead, which a religious cult takes as a sign to commit mass suicide. In other words: it has been a while since FNM’s last record. A child born at the same time as Album Of The Year will come of age this year – and talking about the confident title of the album: they had to defend it against Radiohead (OK Computer), The Verve (Urban Hymns) and the Foo Fighters (The Colour and the shape).
It took the band 18 years to release Sol Invictus, their 7th album with which the crossover-pioneers, metal-lateral thinkers, and alternative-weirdos from San Francisco prove themselves to be in a league of their own. Just like 1995, when they released King For A Day – Fool For A Lifetime. History proved the opposite: kings of rock for a lifetime, fools only on the day they announced their split-up. Tired of their success? Worn down maybe, by internal tensions, their different personalities. FNM. The end of a partnership of convenience. FNM no more.
In 2009 they revised that decision. Singer Mike Patton and bassist Bill Gould smoked a peace pipe and behind the creative spearhead positioned drummer Mike Bordin, keyboardist Roddy Bottum and the forever new guitarist Jon Hudson, whose predecessor Jim Martin was unwilling to come back. FNM played a few festivals, went on a clubtour and got better and better.
“Playing live is one thing, a record something completely different” says Patton. On a Thursday morning we reached him by phone.
Hi Mike, how are you?
MP: what do you think? I’m giving an interview, other things are more fun.
I’ll try to make it as bearable as possible. You’ll get through the next half hour.
MP: (laughs) you can’t get into too much trouble in half an hour. So: get the motherfucker on the phone.
A line in your first new single. Is there a specific moment that marks the rebirth of FNM?
MP: there is indeed, but that was actually a while before the recording of Sol Invictus, even before our reunion tour. We had only just had the thought that we could play a couple of shows and had organized a rehearsal. I was late and the others had already begun. I stood in front of the studio, the door was closed so I sat down on the curb and texted them “Hey, let me in!”. In vain, of course, because I could hear them playing inside. Man, it sounded so incredibly good! To hear the old songs, from the perspective of a listener, a fan. It was 1988 again.
The year you joined FNM. Up to then you were a fan yourself?
MP: Exactly. And that moment in front of the studio, the waiting on the curb gave me faith in our reunion. It washed away all doubts I had. If we still had it, if people would still be interested, if we wouldn’t damage our reputation by failing It took the others a really long time to look at their cell phones and to let me in – but believe me, I would’ve waited for hours. I heard them play and thought: those are my boys, man, I’m a part of it! On the street it sounded amazing. Later then, on stage? I don’t know. I know no-one who was disappointed by your reunion shows. At the Area 4 festival you were euphorically celebrated like no other band that weekend. That’s nice to hear, but it was a long road to get to that point. At the first shows we were like a stuttering motor, the machine needed a restart.
On a personal level too?
MP: especially on the personal level. We needed to get to know each other again, find out who we were now. It was not as though there had been radio silence between us since the split, but we didn’t hang out daily with each other. This approach was exciting and very much worthwile.
Have you changed since the split?
MP: yes, a lot. For example we’re not like fighting brothers anymore, we appreciate each other.
So back then, at your peak, the impression of FNM being a community of purpose somehow being able to be more creative than others wasn’t deceiving?
MP: it was sort of a love-hate relationship. Today it’s different, we value our common past a lot more now. We’ve been through a lot together and we can look back on work that has apparently stood the test of time and obviously still means a lot to some people. To my surprise it feels good today to think of FNM. Maybe with a band it’s like with a relationship: while being in it you only try to keep your head above water instead of trying to appreciate what you have. You only realize when it’s over.
Don’t you tend to idealize the past?
MP: probably yes (pauses to think) All I can say is that right now I enjoy having the guys around me – and the freedom we now have. Independence.
You mean your own label Reclamation?
MP: Not only. Everything to do with the band is in our own hands. We have absolute control. We recorded the album ourselves, we release it on our own label, we decide to what extent we gonna tour.
FNM goes DIY.
MP: yes, and I derive a lot of energy from this. The idea that no-one can interfere spurs me on. I’m doing this for quite a while with my solo projects, but handling it the same way with the boys now means a lot to me.
A lot of work, too?
MP: man, you have no idea! (laughs) It’s a fulltime job on a daily basis, you’re constantly on the phone or emailing to deal with something new. But I like it that way, in the end that gives me great satisfaction. Not because I’m a talented organizer, but because, as an artist, I’m looking for adventures. Maybe, in ten years, we look back at this time thinking: “shit, we really managed this okay!” Or quite the contrary… (laughs)
Didn’t you have that kind of independence while recording Angel Dust or King For A Day? Those albums don’t sound like you had to make compromises.
MP: not creatively but organizationally. It’s about details: when, where and with who do we perform? What’s on our album cover? What should our video look like? Do we need a video at all? It’s an endless list of things that we should decide. In that regard we were a lot more naïve back then. I’m always open for ideas, but was it a good idea to tour with a band like Limp Bizkit? Being able to say No is probably the biggest achievement since our reunion. Learning when to speak up – or to shut up.
And between yourselves, is it easy to reach a consensus?
MP: surprisingly yes, we seem to have similar tastes today. Or we’ve mellowed with age. (laughs) Our album cover for example: everyone loved it immediately, we didn’t have to discus it.
That’ a good sign, isn’t it?
MP: At least I want to believe so. Have you heard the record? Do you like it at VISIONS?
We’ve just voted it album of the month.
MP: great! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wanna get a blowjob here, I only wanna hear a few opinions. That’s the problem with going into the studio on the quiet, without anyone knowing. There’s no feedback from outside, no objectivity. Do you think this album can be compared to our other records?
I’d even say Sol Invictus is the quintessence of your previous records. Like a best of, but sounding modern enough to indicate: the world kept turning in the past 18 years since Album Of The Year.
MP: I don’t know how up-to-date a band can sound after such a long break. I wouldn’t have been surprised if you had said: “Sounds nice, but pretty much dated.” Fact is: All experiences we’ve made since the first era of FNM have influenced this record.
Some more than others: I’ve recently listened to Mondo Cane again, your cover album with Italian pop songs from the sixties. That’s quite exceptional, even for FNM standards.
MP: Okay, touché! (laughs). In the end that record was also expressing the message Sol Invictus conveys: If life is constantly developing we should make sure not to stand still for too long. Never say never!
That’s a good keyword. About 2 years ago you categorically ruled out another FNM record in an interview.
MP: Do you wanna use that against me now? I challenge you and confront you with whatever statement you made 2 years ago!
Better not. I’m more interested in what made you change your mind.
MP: I hadn’t heard any new material at that time, I didn’t know what I was talking about. I had no idea what direction we would take. There was this situation in front of the studio at the time, an enlightenment so to say, but it was about nothing but a tour. Playing live is the one thing, an album something completely different.
How did it start?
MP: Our bassist Billy got me drunk.
MP: yes, we were out drinking. Then he took me home to his place and asked if I was interested in hearing what he was currently working on. Sure I was. I had no idea it was about FNM of course. Billy put on the songs and my jaw dropped: “Oh my God, wow! What is this?”
What was it?
MP: Matador. It was the first song he played to me.
And the first you played to your fans later. Live and without announcing that they’d hear the first FNM song in almost 2 decades.
MP: That was good, wasn’t it? People were discussing in forums for days what that song was. A cover? A previously unreleased B-side? Or maybe a new song? Might there even be another album?
Can’t be – Patton ruled that out.
(laughs) And then there was Matador. That was the beginning. But how it became an album you better ask Billy.
Without giving away too much: Billy didn’t really know either when we asked him about a week later. Sol Invictus is a perfect package, but Gould calls the completion a piecemeal. It seems that this piece of art of a comeback album leaves himself, the songwriter and producer, speechless, asking himself how his band was able to create such thing. Gould recorded the album in his studio, without a schedule and under strictest secrecy. For months no-one heard anything and only a few were suspicious. It was only when the band was confident enough they let the cat out of the bag: on May 29th they tweeted a jolly photo of Mike Patton along with the message: “The reunion thing was fun, but now it's time to get a little creative.” How creative they already were is flabbergasting: Sol Invictus is eccentric and eclectic, is rock and metal, is drama and great fun and it brilliantly combines heavy piano chords, easy flamenco-fills and eye-winking spaghetti-western sounds. A record without patina, maybe the first and only crossover-album of this century you don’t want to send back to the last century. Sol Invictus was worthwile the fighting for it and the incurable optimism of Billy Gould. After all he walked over dead – or drunk – bodies for this.
Billy, rationally speaking, you made your singer drunk to induce him to make a new FNM album. Was that really necessary?
BG: I was sure that Mike wouldn’t get into it without having listened to some music he could identify with. For the record - it happened more accidentally than deliberately. (laughs) You know, we were asked about a new album for years. People wanted it because we’re FNM, but that wasn’t the right motivation for us. Then again I wanted to have an outlet for my own ideas. There’s nothing worse than writing songs you know will never be released, because the lack of a band.
Or the singer wanting to do it. Was Patton the biggest element of uncertainty?
BG: let’s say it was a huge relief when he heard the first tunes and liked them. He even liked the wacky stuff.
Well, that doesn’t really surprise me.
BG: (laughs) Fact is: without him as our singer it wouldn’t be a FNM album.
After that night in question, was it easy for you to convince him of everything else?
BG: That’s a difficult question, I don’t know. Before it started with the new songs, before that night, there wasn’t much input from Mike. He didn’t seem to be too fond of making a new record. Afterwards it changed, he played an active role. If he was easy to convince? Maybe a little.
Mike and you, you’re the pillars of FNM, the creative counterparts. How would you describe your cooperation today?
BG: (contemplates) I need to go back in time a little to explain it. After the split up with Chuck Mosley we rehearsed with several different singers, one of them was Mike. We played the songs to him that were supposed to be on The Real Thing and he was the only one to immediately develop own ideas. He fit in quite naturally. Mike and I have a similar way of thinking and writing songs. Not that our music was too complicated but it’s hard to find someone on the same wavelength. I can introduce the weirdest ideas to him – he finds an approach to it. He sees what it’s worth, the profit. That’s invaluable and for this I’m willing to take the risk of things getting heated between us.
Maybe it helps that you can exchange ideas in emails these days – Sol Invictus is said to have profited a lot through this.
BG: yes, but it’s not a big difference to the past: Back then we exchanged tapes. Today it’s more convenient and more direct.
About 3 years ago, on the occasion of Angel Dust’s 20th birthday, we phoned and talked about a possible new FNM album. You didn’t say anything definite but you wouldn’t rule it out. Had you already started at that stage?
BG: To be honest: yes! (laughs) But it wasn’t definite yet, we didn’t trust the whole thing ourselves. This band is a sensitive construction and it would’ve put us under immense pressure if we had made it public that we were working on new songs.
With which one did you start?
BG: with Matador, that was the first step. We had played it at a few shows, we had fun doing it, but no-one said where we would go from there. Until I took all my courage in my hands and asked the others, one after another: “hey, I have a new song. Wanna listen?” The reaction was all the same, they all were excited. So we recorded it, and not even 2 weeks later it was ready. That opened our eyes: “Seems we’re in a good form. Let’s keep going!”
Which you obviously did.
BG: Well, it was a real piecemeal. There was no such thing like a normal day in the studio or a routine. We met occasionally, placed microphones and recorded whatever came to our minds. A had a few ideas but only with the drums they became songs. I then recognized the potential. The drums were the key to the album for me. After 1 week 3 songs were ready, that’s how things started moving. From that time it was easy to keep going.
That sounds like in all these years you still had it in you.
BG: but no-one wanted to be the one to wake it! (laughs)
You just called FNM a sensitive construction. Did you ever fear it collapsing?
BG: I never questioned the music, but I wasn’t sure if we would ever finish the album. If everyone would identify with it, if we were tough enough and how long it would take us. There was no pressure, but also no possibility to control the process in any way. We weren’t like: “that’s the deadline, we gonna be ready in 2 months.”, we were more like: “well, it’s been 18 years since the last record – it doesn’t make a difference whether we need 2 more months or 18 more years. The only thing that counts is that it’s gonna be great music.” In the end we needed about 3 years for Sol Invictus, from the first scratch to the release. I think that’s okay.
The recordings weren’t a walk in a park though?
BG: definitely not. That was probably the price we had to pay for being among ourselves, to avoid any pressure from outside. Imagine this: for weeks and months you record stuff you think is really good. Are you maybe deceiving yourself? What if you lose the distance, the objectivity, if there is such thing? If you miss the woods for the trees? There was no control room in the studio, no outsider who would tell us whether we were on the right track or wasting our time. Our music is not mathematics, it has no strict rules. You’re in the dark. We could only hope to get something done that could keep up with our previous work. We had to have faith and blindly trust each other.
A nice line, in respect of your band’s name. At what point did you allow someone to have a listen?
BG: Not long ago, six months maybe. We had a bandmeeting at Mike Bordin’s house and invited our manager. We put the record on – and he was all excited! It took a great load off my mind. Until then no-one, except for us 5, had heard a single note of Sol Invictus. I didn’t even play it to my wife.
Was the hide-and-seek worth it – were you able to work without any pressure?
BG: Honestly, I didn’t feel pressure at any time. The only explanation for this is: while recording Angel Dust and King For A Day, actually since Introduce Yourself, we did things people advised us not to do. Producers, people at our label, it was always the same: “The Real Thing was a huge success, why do you throw it all overboard? Don’t do this weird stuff!” But we trusted our gut instinct. None of the 3 albums was really successful at their release which seemed to vindicate the skeptics, we should have listened to. But, you know, 20 or 30 years later you look back and realize: Those are the albums representing FNM, maybe even a musical era.
What do you make of it for yourself?
BG: My ethos, our band’s philosophy: if it sounds good to us, it should be fine. If the new album flops – no big deal. Our other records did too and we survived anyway. We’re still curious, that’s the most important thing. I didn’t want a play-it-safe record, no imitation. It’s 2015, our new album should sound like it.
Not a bit! That I can today, at over 50, be a with FNM again, is not due to the fact that the world turned backwards, but forward. Each of us has their reason why they give it another chance. To me it’s important that we still have something to say. There’s inspiration and energy and apparently a need for us and it would be a shame to ignore it. It took us many years to find out what we want. Pursue shared goals, draw on experiences we’ve made.
Would you say you’ve never been happier to be a part of FNM?
BG: no, I wouldn’t. But it’s truly fulfilling, We’re having a good time right now and one day I’ll be happy to look back. But it’s not over yet!
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