Music Express | Issue August 1992
"The Beauty and the Horror"
Tom Lanham 

"You wanna know a great way to get even with somebody?" Mike Patton asks. It's a sunny afternoon in San Francisco and we're seated at La Cumbre, one of the hippest Mexican restaurants in town. But watching this guy's steely eyes flash with mischievous malice, you can't shake the feeling that there's one helluva storm blowing in.

"My particular vengeance was against a business that had fucked me over really bad," the 24 year old continues. Today, his muscular six-foot frame is housed in work boots, skater shorts and a service station attendant's shirt that reads "Ron, Service Station Attendant." He waves his arms for emphasis, and speaks in a booming bass voice that makes the other cantina patrons a bit nervous. In short, this guy looks like someone you *do not* want to piss off.

Patton continues his story, yapping with a mouthful of food. "So one morning, see, I woke up, ate an entire burrito, drank a half-pint of rum, downed some castor oil, then drank some Ipecac syrup, which takes about a half hour to work. Then I walked down to this business, and I'd timed it perfectly."

Suddenly the food in front of me doesn't look so hot. I swallow the last bite and brace myself: "Uh, barforama?"

"Yeah!" Patton is aglow. "Nothing is more repulsive, and no one would ever think you'd go to so much trouble! This place had a nice, clear counter and no janitor, either." But his lantern-jawed pugilist's features lose their intensity for a microsecond. "It kinda backfired, though, because I took too much castor oil, which coats the stomach, so not a lot of food came up. But a lot of blood did, though!"

A few heads turn to look disgustedly at Patton, who's now cackling. If they'd look closer, the lunchers might recognize him as the guy who rolled spastically around onstage in furry pants while his band, Faith No More, plumbed out the power chords to their surprise Top 5 hit, "Epic," on an MTV awards show. Or as the guy whose group nailed five 1991 Bammies and Band Of the Year kudos in Rip, Spin, and Music Express in 1990. But the frenetic vocalist is on one of his off-days, relaxing in relative anonymity on the eve of a new FNM release, Angel Dust, on Slash/Reprise, as well as a pending jaunt through Europe with Soundgarden and Guns N' Roses.

The Matt Wallace-produced Angel Dust was recorded in San Francisco, with not a note offered for label inspection until the project's completion. This naturally had a few execs worried, but our dauntless groin-grunge heroes cared not. "Everybody involved in working your 'new' record really wants your last record," Patton sneers. "And anything that deviates from that is a threat to their personal well being. Consequently, you're having meetings with bastards who are worried about their house payments telling you you've gotta add a chorus here and there. And you're left scratching your head, completely bent over..."

As you've probably figured, Patton hits below the belt, and if you dare step into the ring with him, you either get TKO'ed or puked upon in a vicious torrent. But few could deny that it's Patton's no-holds-barred spirit that sent FNM to new platinum heights when he joined in 1989 for their third recording, The Real Thing. First discovered in his tiny California hometown of Eureka, idling with his Mr. Bungle outfit, the singer has become a commanding showman and a meteoric vocal presence for FNM; his outrageous outlook melded perfectly with the grainy, whiff o'reefer raunch rock the group had patented (now, of course, dubbed the "San Francisco sound" by eager music mags).

Patton still records and performs with Mr. Bungle. In fact, in a fit of bacchanalian excess at a New Year's Eve show in SF last year, he gave himself an onstage enema. Patton says, "I heard the crowd got a nice little spray, but I didn't see it because I was bent over." Why such extreme measures? "Hey, it was a nice, dirty show, a lot of dirty people, everything was dirty. So why not have a little clean segment -- wash out myself, wash out the audience...?" Makes sense, doesn't it?

But when Mike Patton starts sounding logical, there's bound to be a big, walloping wrecking ball sailing your way. And Angel Dust is its crushing crane. Given that the confessed caffeine junkie Patton "came in at a really strange point on the last record, when all the music was written so I just threw some lyrics on top of it," the maturity he displays on this effort is downright electrifying. Through 13 strikingly diverse numbers he snaps, snarls, gargles, growls, wails and warbles, producing a Sybil-schizo persona for each track. It's a virtuoso performance, and a surprise for any naysayers who thought "Epic" was a fluke.

"Land of Sunshine" whips open on Billy Gould's Joy Division-ish bass lead, then careers onto keyboardist Roddy Bottum's carnival-calliope keyboards. Then there's Patton, the geek at the centre of the tumbled tent, biting off the chicken's head in lyrics that ruthlessly indict mass consumerism. He actually sings, crooning style, on "Caffeine," sounding a bit like Sly Stone trapped in a little one-man submarine. On the initial single, "Midlife Crisis," marching to a processional beat from neolithic drummer Mike Bordin, Patton reverts to a guttural nihilism that would make Nivek Ogre blush.

Guitarist Jim Martin's soft rockabilly textures lend an almost David Lynch aura to "RV," a Patton monologue on fat, beer-drinking middle America. Martin's reckless riffing in "Smaller and Smaller" -- coupled with Bottum's Phantom of the Opera washes -- falls before Patton's feral onslaught. It's frightening how much visceral power this lad has, and you get the feeling that his talent is still only half-tapped. Even on "Everything's Ruined," as close to a pop ditty as you're allowed on Angel Dust, he's got this knife-you-in-the-shower quality that keeps the adrenalin pumping.

"Be Aggressive" seats Patton in the bleachers alongside a tape loop of cheerleaders changing "Be ag-gres-sive," and on the violent Wagnerian assault "Jizzlobber" (nice name, huh?), he ... well, you'll have to hear it for yourself.

"One thing I've been doing is listening to a lot of mood music, easy listening," Patton explains, carefully dotting his tortilla chips with hot sauce. "And I've taken a lot from that. The chorus of 'Everything's Ruined' reminds me of Sinatra, Jackie Gleason." And "Land of Sunshine," he says, was culled from countless fortune cookie predictions, then pieced together into a thematic whole. And the Native American vocal sample on "Smaller and Smaller" he bluntly terms "shameless culture rape. We decided to take an Indian chant and fuck it up, sort of a Dances With Wolves aesthetic." He chuckles at the idea of Kevin Costner representing anything wild or Western. "White bread," he smirks. "White fuckin' bread!"

FNM's front man was especially pleased with Bottum's new found wizardry -- it's his keyboards that provide much of Angel Dust's moody underpinnings. The sounds are founded in E-Max emulators, the manuals of which "got thrown away during the recording. But Roddy's trying a lot of different stuff this time, which is great. Actually, all he's really doing is using the samplers he's always had. Before, he was just too lazy to try it."

Bottum, phoning a couple of weeks later from the midst of a UK arena tour with Axl's miscreants, seconds the motion. "Yeah, there's not a whole lot of guitar on it, is there?" he asks innocently. "In addition to the E-Maxes, I also used piano, Hammond organ, even an accordion on 'Midnight Cowboy.'

"There was a lot more room to do different things," he adds. "We were on the road a long time with our last record, so we had a lot of time to decide what we would do for our next one, and it only made sense to expand technologically."

Bottum, an FNM founder, was working at an obscure San Francisco movie house called the Cedar Centro back in 82 when the group first began scratching around for its now-distinctive approach. One night's film fare would be Tex Avery cartoon classics, the next Michael Powell's grisly Peeping Tom. This may account for the musician's wildly imaginative theatrical arrangements, which are honed to cinematic perfection on Angel Dust. Bottum thinks big, and wasn't afraid to lay it on thick.

The record label, he says, "really wanted to hear what we were doing, but we refused from the start. We said they could listen to it when it was done, and we made it that way to avoid all that 'followup' pressure." Echoing Patton's edginess, he reflects, "The first time they heard it, I think they were pretty shocked and scared. They didn't trust us. So we had meetings with 'em, and we finally said, '*Listen* to us. We *know* what we're doing, so just go with it.' And now at least they pretend to like it."

The album art was also done in typical renegade style. The cover is a decorous photograph of a beautiful snowy egret, while the backside is a wide-angle shot of a meat-packing plant, complete with a severed cow's head mounted on a hook. "We were going for the beauty and the horror -- it kinda works with the theme of the record."

Beauty and horror. Yup, that pretty much sums up Angel Dust. As far back as the sessions with former vocalist Chuck Mosely, FNM was toying with such dualities. Remember "We Care a Lot"?

But hey! You're probably wondering, "How's that Patton dude doing with his burrito?" Well, he's just about finished. With the food, that is, not his titillating tales from the dark side.

"Did you hear the lyrics on 'Be Aggressive'?" he's asking, leaning forward dangerously in his chair. He of course means the screaming chorus of "I swallow, I swallow, I swallow," a catchy set of words by any standard. "What'd you think? Pretty fuckin' extreme, isn't it? Did you think it was a homoerotic song or something? That's what's gonna be good about it. I think certain people are gonna be really vocal about it, like 'What the hell is that?!' And others'll be so weirded out by it they won't say anything.

"As long as we make a few people squirm," he grins, "our job is done."

That's the first time the singer's used the word "job" in reference to his career with FNM. But, thanks to the Real Thing's staggering success -- which hit a full year after the album's release -- Patton was thrown into a whirlwind 18 month long juggernaut that reduced his life to waiting to play. "You don't spend time on tour," he says, "you waste time. You sleep, you wake up, it's time to play, everything else becomes very hard to deal with."

Patton can still recall the moment he got the word, somewhere in Europe, that "Epic" was rocketing up the charts back home. "We didn't get it," he says. "We were playing shitty clubs, touring in a shitty van, and somebody said, 'Oh, your single is #15 in America.' Your first reaction isn't to get excited, it's to go 'Fuck you!' But then we came back and all of a sudden we had some big tours lined up, and it was like the record had just come out that day -- we had to start over."

How did it feel to achieve such overnight success? In his trademark doleful jargon, Patton makes it clear: "When a master comes in every day and beats you at 3:00, and one day he comes in with a chocolate eclair, you don't *want* that fuckin' chocolate eclair!" So much for bribing FNM with baked goods.

"I need *caffeine*!" Patton blurts out. He races next door and orders a big latte, served in a cup the size of King Kong's cereal bowl. "I did this experiment," he explains, "depriving myself of sleep just to see how long I could go." He swears he only used coffee as his stimulant.

Somewhere during day three Patton began to hallucinate while watching late-night broadcasts of televangelist Robert Tilton, whose mile-a-minute psychobabble is a hallucination in its own right. And anyone who wonders where Patton gets his rants from will find solace in the fact that God did figure in the picture.

"I made a vow of faith to [Tilton]," he says. "You promise to send him $100 and he sends you all these neat things. He sent me anointing oil, prayer cloths, posters, books -- and I never sent him any money. And I *do* feel guilty about it, too!"

Patton's cup is empty -- he's drained it. "In Eureka you drink so much coffee, you try and make believe there's something to do," he says, remembering his hometown as being comprised of "hippies and loggers." Patton's salvation, if you will, arrived in Trojan Horse garb.

"FNM played in Eureka, and I can't believe they came. No bands came there. But here they were, in their shitty van, all rotten and stoned, and I gave 'em a tape of Mr. Bungle. They liked the tape and called me up.

"But at first I didn't want to do it. You know how insulating college life is; I was very afraid of leaving that." By moving to San Francisco, he says, "I learned more in a couple of weeks than I learned in two years of school," including his most valuable lesson: "You just don't park your car wherever you want to."

Now, thanks to "Epic," Patton and his band mates have entered the big leagues. They can call their own shots at a major label, land slots on top-drawing tours and feel free to develop their music. But at what price?

"When you enter the music business, you essentially become a prostitute, and anyone who denies that is full of shit," Patton says. "There's no stipulation that we have hits in our contract, but it's understood. You've gotta have a single, and we took a lot of heat this time because the record is a little more eclectic."

Both a brain-stimulating artistic enterprise and a creative leap forward, Angel Dust nevertheless stands on its own sharp-taloned feet. FNM is mutating, discovering both its limitations and its possibilities. And when it comes to his craft, Patton says, that nerve-shaking zeal coming back into his eyes, "You've got to be defensive, even when it's uncalled for. And my personal way of dealing with fame is simply not being satisfied. Ever."

And of course there's always the other solution, blowing chunks all over the company floor until they finally get your drift.


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