FAITH NO MORE | Planet Rock | November 2018
Planet Rock | November 2018 | Issue 10
True Believers | Paul Brannigan
Hate-filled provocateurs, fuelled by chaos and mutual loathing, Faith No More were one of the most contrary, anatogonistic and downright weird rock bands of the 80s. They they wrote a million-selling album about vampires, paedophiles, murderous lovers and malevolent babies, and warped the mainstream forever. This is the story of The Real Thing...
TO THEIR NEIGHBOURS in LA's affluent Hancock Park district, William David Gould jnr and Roswell Christopher 'Roddy' Bottum were little angels. Catholic school class mates and boy scouts, the pair were charming, well-mannered, articulate and intelligent boys. When the teenage best friends left LA to attend college in San Francisco in 1981, it was assumed they would one day return as architects or doctors, or perhaps lawyers like their fathers. Instead, the pair plugged into their new hometown's anarchic punk rock community and went rogue.
The San Francisco music scene had diversified and darkened since the Summer Of Love, when artists such as Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin's Big Brother And The Holding Company and psychedelic hard rockers Blue Cheer ruled the airwaves. In 1981, the likes of the Dead Kennedys, Romeo Void, Mutants, Offs and Pink Section were making confrontational punk and new wave sounds in SF's underground clubs, while a nascent thrash metal scene, inspired by the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, was also stirring in the Bay Area. Bill Gould loved the energy and free-spirited vibe of his new environs.
"Compared to LA, San Francisco was an amazing place," he recalls. "It was this giant wasteland with a million artists and a million bands. You could basically do anything you wanted. We lived in the Mission District and the police really didn't care what you did: you could have afterhours clubs without permits, you could put on shows anywhere, you could have parties in your living room. On a Saturday night you'd walk down the street and see an open door and you'd walk in and there'd be a band playing and a party happening. It was a really great creative atmosphere and there were a lot ofheretical ideas being passed around. It was a good place to find yourself and learn who you are."
Within weeks of relocating to northern California, bassist Gould had joined a band. Sharp Young Men featured vocalist/guitarist Mike 'The Man' Morris, keyboard player Wade Worthington and drummer Mike 'Puffy' Bordin, who was studying African drumming at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1983, after changing their name to Faith No Man, the quartet recorded one single (Quiet In Heaven/Song Of Liberty) on an 8-track studio in the garage of Gould's mate Matt Wallace, before Worthington quit.
Bottum - a classically trained pianist and, by then Gould's flatmate - took his place; and he,Gould and
Bordin began cutting classes in favour of "smoking a lot of pot and making a lot of noise". When an irritated Mike Morris tried to rein in the musicians' experimental meanderings, the trio simply quit his band, and regrouped without him. In time, their new band, Faith No More, would turn this kind of wilful insubordination into an artform.
"WE WERE HAVING FUN being stupid kids," says Bill Gould of Faith No More's early days. "It wasn't so much music, as just expression. We just played whatever came mto our heads. And that felt good."
Keen to preserve a spontaneous, improvisadonal edge to their sound, Gould, Bottum and Bordin determined that their new band should have a different singer and set list each time they performed live. For their debut gig at a Tenderloin club called The Sound Of Music, the trio borrowed vocalist Joe Pye from local punks Pop-0-Pies and guitarist Jake Smith from hardcore punks Crucifix. Bottum's pre-gig decision to try crystal meth for the first time only added to the messiness of the evening.
"We had this thing where there were no rules, and if somebody fucked up, that was just part of the performance," says Bill Gould. "We didn't really fit in anywhere. Our closest peers were a band called Glorious Din: we'd rent halls and put on shows together, because getting onto the established club circuit was tough. [Legendary promoter] Bill Graham still ran the local scene, and was pretty hardcore about shutting down punk clubs, even though that scene represented no threat to his world.""
Singers came and went. Among them was future Hole star Courtney Love, who lasted long enough to tape a cable TV show with the band, an "awesome and frightening" tape which Mike Bordin still possesses. "I'd never seen anything like her," says Bordin. "No one wanted to sing for us, and Courtney had the fucking guts to try to do it. We didn't play very good, she didn't sing very good, it was the perfect match. It was a tornado of shit, drama everywhere. It was wild."
"She was really good, very provocative," Gould remembers. "She'd insult anyone within 10 foot of the stage. It made things really fun."
The collective played Los Angeles for the first time in late 83. Gould's childhood friend Charles 'Chuck' Mosley, a bratty skate punk then singing/rapping in a group called Haircuts That Kill, came to the gig and was dragged to the mic. He would remain there for five years.
"I wasn't a singer, but I figured I couldn't make it any worse than it already was," he later told this writer. "I knew Billy was into chaos and aggression so I just fed off that and had a blast."
Despite Mike Bordin's reservations - "I hate this guy, he's a fucking asshole," he told Gould - the group then recruited unreconstructed metalhead Jim Martin, a close friend of Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, as their permanent guitarist. From the off, the mix was combustible. Bottum thought that Martin came from "another planet", Mosley viewed Gould as a toxic smart-ass, Gould considered his best friend Bottum "complicated". But these tensions and personality clashes made for compelling, visceral live performances and unpredictable music.
With Mosley's hip-hop delivery colliding with Martin's Sabbathesque guitar lines and Bottum's classical piano influences juxtaposed against Gould's post-punk bass lines and Bordin's Killing Joke-inspired drumming. Faith No More sounded like no one else.
"It was hard for us to find our place initially," recalls Gould. "We were invisible in the media, and if we played to 40 people that was a good crowd for us. But, oddly, perhaps, we never doubted ourselves: we were very self-confident about what we had, always."
In the summer of 1985, the band and producer Matt Wallace decamped to Prairie Sun Studios in Petaluma, northern California to record a five track demo featuring their signature tune We Care A Lot, a sneering, syncopated punk-funk anthem written by Roddy Bottum as a sarcastic riposte to the crocodile tears of music's biggest stars in the Live Aid era. Gould then passed the cassette to a room-mate who worked in a San Francisco record shop. Ruth Schwartz, an editor at punk fanzine Maximum rocknroll, happened to be in the store one afternoon when the tape was playing, and she approached the desk to enquire which band was playing on the in-house stereo. Upon discovering that the band were unsigned, she placed a phone call to Gould, and Faith No More were dispatched back to Prairie Sun for a second weekend to record more material. In November 1985, the We Care A Lot album became the first release on Schwartz's new record label, Mordam.
As they embarked upon their first national tour, the buzz around the colourful, combative unit grew quicky Faith No More would play Van Halen songs to wind up the punks, and perform Black Sabbath's War Pigs to confuse college crowds. Mosley would spend entire gigs delivering his lyrics lying on the venue floor in the middle of the audience. No two shows were alike. Within the year, Slash, a label affiliated to Warner Brothers, took up the band's contract, and funded the recording of Introduce Yourself, their second album.
As MTV threw their support behind the video for re-recorded single We Care A Lot, word started drifting across the Atlantic about this bunch of misfits with the impossible-to-pigeonhole sound. The band made their European debut at London's Dingwalls club on January 22, 1988: their set list featured mangled versions of Stairway To Heaven and Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead Or Alive. Kerrang!'s bemused review of the gig ended with the words, "Strange band." The following day, the quintet appeared on the cover of Sounds.
But even as the UK rushed to embrace the Californian oddballs, relations benveen Chuck Mosley and the rest of the band were rapidly souring. The singer was drinking heavily and his behaviour was becoming ever more erratic.
"When Chuck was good he was really, really good," says Bill Gould. "He had great charisma and personality But having a working relarionship with him became really impossible. Slash brought press from LA to see us for the first time and Chuck got drunk, passed out on-stage and slept through three songs. We were working really hard to get somewhere and it felt like we were being sabotaged."
Matters finally came to a head in the band's rehearsal room in the spring of 1988. "I threw down my bass and attacked him," Gould admits. "It was dysfunctional for a long time and tension was building up and I just exploded. It's hard to come back from that."
BY THE END OF 1988, Faith No More had an album's worth of new music ready to go but no singer. An approach made to Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell was politely rebuffed. It was Jim Martin who suggested the group audition Mike Patton, a Californian college kid, and FNM fan, then fronting a band called Mr Bungle.
Patton had handed Mike Bordin Mr Bungle's first demo cassette, The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny, at a Faith No More show in 1986, and Martin became a fan. The guitarist invited the 21-year-old vocalist to San Francisco to audition.
"I resisted it," Patton told Decibel magazine in 2013. "I honestly did. My friends in Mr Bungle were like, "Just do this. It doesn't mean you have to leave our band. At that time, I was more concerned with completing my degree and finishing school. I didn't see Faith No More as some yellow brick road to success or failure anything. I just thought I would try it. The music wasn't quite what I was about at the time but I took it as a challenge."
"We tried out about 10 other people, but no one came close to Patton," says Bill Gould. "We played some music to him cold and he came up with ideas right off the top of his head that were the closest anyone else had come to what we were thinking about music. I was like, Wow, he actually gets it."
"I was really impressed with Patton," says long-time producer Matt Wallace. "The band had already written all the music, and he was given just two weeks to come up with all the lyrics and melodies. He rose to the occasion. He's the most phenomenal singer I've ever worked with."
Faith No More's third album, The Real Thing, was taped at Studio D in Sausalito, California in December 1988 and January 1989. Compared to the raw, scrappy Mosley-era albums, it was a sophisticated and slick slice of mongrel rock. With the band's post-punk, funk, pop, hip-hop, classical and metal influences streamlined and their songwriting finely tuned, Faith No More sounded like a genuinely accessible rock band for the first time.
The 11 track album encompassed punchy alt.rock (From Out Of Nowhere), rap-rock (Epic), straight-up metal (Surprise! You're Dead!) , a deadpan reading of War Pigs), cocktail lounge jazz (Edge Of The World) and synth-pop (Underwater Love), while Mike Patton's subversive lyrics ensured the collection had a dark heart. Each song found the singer inhabiting the psyche of a different character: Edge Of The World was written from the perspective of a paedophile, Underwater Love was a murderer's meditation upon drowning a lover, The Morning After detailed vampire lust, Zombie Eaters laid bare a parasitic relationship between a demanding baby and its hopelessly subservient mother.
The band's label were impressed and confused in equal measure. "It's a great record," the band were told, "but radio won't play this: there are no singles." Even so, they presented a bold front. "Faith No More has never made a habit of adhering to the dictates of playing the game," the label declared in the LPs press release. "They are a scruffy, maverick bunch too cocksure of themselves to pay much heed to convention. Whatever sounds right brash, loud and challenging - is the path to follow. No gimmickry or rip-offs to be found. This, brothers and sisters, is the 'Real Thing'."
The press release was accompanied by a press and poster advertising campaign bearing testimonials from the biggest rock stars of the day. By far the best band I've ever seen," Axl Rose was quoted as saying. "I'm jealous." "The best album of the year," stated Metallica's Kirk Hammett.
"The Real Thing is the most important album in the last two years," said Def Leppard's Rick Savage Gould thought the campaign "embarrassing".
"The worst," agreed Mike Patton.'"When you drive into town and see that poster and you're in your fucked-up van", you just want to get out and rip it down."
The Real Thing tour began in clubs on July 4,1989, two weeks on from the June 20 release date. In September Faith No More joined Metallica's And Justice For All arena tour in the US, and were booed and spat upon nightly by the more close-minded sections of the audience. In between, From Out Of Nowhere was issued in the UK and failed to chart.
A second UK tour followed in October/November; a third tour in January/February saw the group graduate to two nights at London's 2,000-capacity Astoria, as the album's second single Epic entered the UK Top 40 at Number 37. That same month, The Real Thing was nominated, alongside recordings by their friends Metallica and Soundgarden, in the Best Metal Performance at the Grammy Awards, and the album entered the Billboard 200 album at Number 188. In April, FNM returned to the UK for the fourth tour in 10 months, additionally securing a first Top Of The Pops appearance as a re-released From Out Of Nowhere peaked at Number 23.
By now, the intense workload was starting to take its toll on the band, and in particular upon their baby-faced singer. Mike Patton was increasingly uncomfortable with the spotlight, and began reacting in ever more extreme ways. He spoke in interviews about his love of 'scat' videos. He'd drink his own piss on-stage. He boasted of carrying around a still-born foetus named (Cedric) in a jar. He developed a penchant for shitting into hotel hairdryers, delighting in the thought of the horrors that might befall the next person to use it. He became, in short, an obnoxious brat.
This writer witnessed the singer's petulance first hand on April 19, 1990 at Faith No More's first gig in Northern Ireland, at Belfast's Ulster Ilall. Upon disembarking from their tour bus Bill Gould, Roddy Bottum, Jim Martin and Mike Bordin happily spoke with waiting fans, posing for photographs and signing autographs: Patton pushed roughly past the small group and made straight for the stage door. Twice the singer snubbed a request to sign my gig ticket, only reluctantly doing so at the third time of asking when his path into the venue was physically blocked. His bandmates apologised sheepishly on his behalf to other disappointed fans, none whom received as much as a word or wave of recognition.
Seven years on, I had the opportunity to mention this to Patton during an interview in a San Francisco bar.
"No one likes being in a fucking fishbowl," Patton said, by way of an apology, recalling the period as an "out-of-control, nauseous, carnival ride".
"I was the same age as kids asking for my autograph, which was awkward and uncomfortable and weird," he explained. "If you're a little bit difficult and won't play the game, you're a fucking asshole. So maybe I'm an asshole, but I can sleep at night and I'm not going to suck anyone's dick."
In the spring of 1990, momentum finally began to build for Faith No More in their home market, as MTV began playing the arty, quirky video for the single Epic. Six months after The Real Thing hit the shelves it had racked up just 45,000 sales in the United States: with MTV playing Epic, the album began to sell in excess of 40,000 copies per day By July the album had crept into the Top 20, and alongside the likes of Jane's Addiction and Living Colour, the nations new 'alternative' rock darlings.
IT WAS, THEN, a very different Faith No More who re-grouped in 1991 to begin work on their fourth album. If their record label were expecting the quintet to record The Real Thing Part II, they were to be disappointed.
Instead, they got what Entertainment Weekly called "the most uncommercial follow-up to a hit record ever". Angel Dust, though the artistic highpoint of the band's career, was a misanthropic, black-hearted and, on tracks such as Jizzlobber and Crack Hitler, borderline unlistenable collection, infused with self loathing and a barely disguised disgust of the mainstream. The horrified President of Slash records pointedly told the band: "I hope nobody bought any houses."
"No one could understand why we were fucking with the formula", laughs an utterly unrepentant Bill Gould. "The key phrase from the label was 'commercial suicide'. It was the beginning of our downfall as far as America was concerned."
More than two decades on, Gould can afford to laugh. Faith No More's 2009 reunion, after 11 years apart, saw the San Francisco band headline festivals worldwide, while their 'comeback' album, 2015's Sol Invictus, was a Top 10 success in the UK, and charted in the Top 20 in the US. Asked by this writer earlier this year whether the album would mark the end of his band's recording career, the band's bassist, leader and conscience was evasive, but didn't rule out a return to the studio.
"I'm open to any outcome," Gould said. "If we do another one it'll be because we're 100 per cent behind it: if we're not, I don't sec the point. There's so much shit out there and so much noise that the world doesn't need a half-hearted Faith No More record.
"The success of The Real Thing was new and exciting and life-changing," he reflected. But fuck, we were so burned out. It felt like we'd been scammed.
Among their peers, however, The Real Thing has assumed exalted status. Nirvana's Krist Novoselic stated that Faith No More "paved the way" for his band's entry into the mainstream, while Korn frontman Jonathan Davis hailed the quintet as "the Black Sabbath of their generation".
Excluded from the Faith No More reunion for reasons no one can quite pin-point, Jim Martin takes a philosophical view of his former band's time in the spotlight.
"It was a good ride," he laughs. We made fistfuls of fucking cash, got to see the world, and we were on top for a while. And then we got sick of each other, ended it all and killed ourselves. Pretty cool, huh?"