So, Faith No More’s comeback album Sol Invictus just debuted at #14 on the Billboard 200 – a hell of an accomplishment for a rock band these days, even if it isn’t quite enough for “album of the year” status (then again, FNM already has an Album of the Year). With the band set to play Madison Square Garden in August, I remembered that sometime around 1998-99, I interviewed frontman Mike Patton for a zine I was trying to put together for the old Knitting Factory, back when it was in Tribeca. The zine didn’t end up happening, so the conversation was never published, but I recently dug up the tape and gave it a listen.
The interview occurred shortly after Fantômas (Patton’s post-FNM project with Buzz Osborne of the Melvins, Dave Lombardo of Slayer, and Trevor Dunn of Mr. Bungle), played its earliest gigs at the Knitting Factory in 1998 (video below). Though based in San Francisco, where he spoke to me over the phone, Patton was making a new name for himself in the New York’s “downtown” scene by gigging with East Village experimentalist John Zorn and, during one memorable performance at the Knit, blasting feedback through 10 amplifiers for 30 ear-shattering minutes.
Needless to say, not everyone was a fan of projects like “Feedback Etudes.” The Fantômas show drew a crowd of metalheads faithful to Faith No More, who cheered and jeered throughout the hour-long set. Patton spoke about that and more during our conversation, which I’m transcribing and posting for the first time here.
Well, it wasn’t that bad. The interesting thing is, the thing I had to shop around with was very low quality, I mean it’s something I recorded in my basement. If you’ve heard that music you can imagine that if it’s not recorded clearly it sounds like more of a disaster than it really is. It’s so fucked-up sounding.
I did this and sent it out first to all the musicians and after that I figured “what the hell” and sent it to some labels. Because I knew that Warner, who I was actually under contract with, wasn’t going to want it. I think I sent it to them anyway as a courtesy, then we sent it to some others. I just figured if I have to put this out I might as well try and put it out with a major or whoever – I want as many people to hear this damn thing as I can.
And there was a whole lot of interest, at first. Even after I sent the tape people from Geffen and stuff like this came out to the shows. But after the show, they disappeared into the woodwork. There were indies that were interested in it, but none that I was interested in.
How did you decide to release it yourself by launching Ipecac?
What ended up happening was really amazing because I was realizing, ‘Hey, where the hell am I going to put this out? I want to put it out somewhere appropriate. I can’t like put it out on [John Zorn’s label] Tzadik or something that wasn’t really right for this music.’ As the options dwindled I started realizing, ‘Hey, wait a minute…’ A friend who had experience doing it for 15 years pretty much convinced me [to start a label]. I went with some good advice from Zorn who said it would be the right thing to do and so far it has been.
They never will – I’m putting out three records by them in one year. And two of them are done already. They’re really great records, the first one is this really thick metal thing, it’s fast, and the second one is all these ballads, it’s really ambient and weird. The third one is going to be really – I can’t wait for that one.
Buzz was like, ‘I want to write a bunch a music and maybe do some covers and stuff and have different vocalists sing on every song.’ And I was like, ‘That sounds fun.’ He asked me to do one and I said, ‘Okay, sure,’ then he came back to me and said, ‘Can you think of anybody that would want to sing on a Melvins record?’ I said, ‘You’re asking me? Yeah, I could think of a lot of people.’
So we batted ideas around and what we finally came up with is we got Hank Williams III to do one of his grandfather’s songs, and we got Beck to sing a song. A couple of guys from the band Tool. What else? Oh, yeah, the kicker: we have Leif Garrett. Buzz said, ‘We’ve got to get some teen idols,’ so I was like, ‘Well, we could track some of those guys down.’ The great thing is he’s going to cover ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ [laughs].
For the most part. I actually was going to use this guy Igor Cavalera, who plays in Sepultura. I’ve done a bunch of other stuff with him, he’s a good friend and I figured it’d be a no-brainer. There were a lot of different factors of why it didn’t work out – first of all logisitics, second of all schedule, third of all when I sent him the tape he’s the only one who started asking me – a few warning bells went off, he wasn’t really entirely getting it, I didn’t think.
I figured I’d try and look for somebody else and I thought Dave Lombardo. I was fortunate enough that he was available and into doing it. Trevor [Dunn] was pretty much the guy I had to use because I wanted to have the one guy that I knew the ins and outs of – because when you start a band, especially with people that you don’t know, there’s a lot of psychology involved. You have to at least know somebody solid, know what you’re getting into.
The vibe was brutal in rehearsal. We had four, five days before our first show but they were like 14-, 16-hour days in a sweaty, stinking room. And that music, it got a little nerve-wracking. I mean, it was nerve-wracking for me – most of those guys were chewing it up and spitting it out but I was like, “Man, I wanna get out of here.” But it ended up working out really good.
The first show was, I will admit, a little rocky — everybody was nervous, there was a lot of space between the little pieces which I didn’t like. But the second show, every bit of that was corrected and I was just impressed that these guys really got inside this music and knew exactly what to do. I guess the thing about rehearsals that I really forgot about is that nobody really reads – Lombardo reads and Trevor reads – but this music is so demanding that there’s only really one way to get on top of it and that’s to play it over and over and over and fucking over again. To really stamp it into your brain you gotta play it 1,001 times. So that’s what we did. That part of it was interesting, to say the least.
It was strange getting to know him and his whole thing, for sure. I mean, with Dave it was ridiculous, it clicked so fast that it was perfect. He has a little system of notation and that’s how he remembers things. How he can retain all that stuff is pretty impressive.
I didn’t know how Buzz was going to respond to the stuff, so I just sent him a tape. We had a couple of little meetings before that and I walked him through some stuff. It did take him a little longer but the thing that really surprised me is that this is the first band that Buzz ever played in outside of the Melvins. So it was a big leap for him.
In the Melvins, he writes everything, he does it all. Those guys are great players and all, but he’s the man. So to be in a position where he’s playing somebody else’s music and it was difficult and demanding and all that was really weird for him, and he kept pointing it out to me, like, ‘Jesus, I don’t know if I can do this, I’m used to being the one giving the orders.’ And I was like, ‘Well, you know, it’s going to be different and I’ll understand if you’re not down with it but this is pretty much the way it is and the way it’s going to be.’ He kept saying things like, ‘What is this? It’s so weird. Why do I play this seven times instead of eight times?’
We were pretty green then. We’ve done a couple of tours and it’s really fun and everyone’s laughing on stage and everyone knows what’s coming next. I’m entertaining the idea of working with Buzz on the next one and writing some things together.
I wanted to make it sound very fast-moving, like frames in a comic book, the way you have variations on a theme. The way I constructed them was definitely more inspired by that, or fast film editing, rather than verse-chorus-B-C-back-to-A. I guess that could be frustrating, I don’t know. I think it’s fine. I am aware that people were like, “Uh, where’s the chorus?” I’m going to start making a list of heckles – those are always a treat.
I don’t think it’s possible. I think anyone that says they do is lying. I don’t know how to do that, I don’t know what they expect. I could maybe say do boom-chock, 2/4, 4/4, whatever, hip-hop groove with some metal riffs thrown in and… but I don’t know, is that what they want? I have no idea.
I just mean, with something like Fantômas where the music is so jarring, are you having more fun with their expectations than you would with Faith No More? Are you thinking, ‘They’re expecting a chorus here but…’
That’s something that never really bothers me. I put the choruses where they seem right to me. In a pop thing, the chorus seems right to me after four bars – it’s definitely not because I think the public will hear it better that way. A pop thing needs to have a chorus after four bars, it needs to be linear, it needs to make sense that way. It needs not to be jarring.
With Fantômas, if it’s not jarring it’d be missing the whole point. The idea was to make something that would fuck up metal kids, that would fuck me up, that would fuck up the guys that were playing it, that was really challenging – a record that I would go out and buy. I spent a lot of time in record stores in metal sections just shaking my head going, ‘Come on, please, somebody do something.’
I mean, it’s not background music – it demands to be listened to, it says ‘fuck you’ coming out of the speakers: ‘Notice me, listen to this, how dare you listen to me in the car, how dare you try to have a conversation.’ So in that respect, yeah, it needs to be heard.
Which brings me to ‘Feedback Etudes,’ which is definitely about being heard. When you played it at the Knitting Factory, you kindly warned everyone to wear earplugs – albeit after everyone was already packed in and well away from the nearest earplug vending machine.
Not really – it was something I thought would be fun to try in a live environment, which is kind of always a fantasy that I had of having all these amps going at the same time and being able to control them – somewhat. It turned out to be pretty fucking difficult and a real pain in the ass to even get the setup to work – to get half of them to really work. I don’t think any time I did it I had all of them going.
Which, you know, whatever, who the hell would notice? But personally it was kind of like, well, each time it was a bit of a concession – it was like five instead of 10 amps, or like seven sometimes. And it would require a few hours of complete panic and I’m doing it alone because no one knows how to set it up. What a fucking pain. So I did it there and I did it here in San Francisco once and I toured at a jazz festival thing up in Canada. I don’t really feel compelled to do it again soon.
We’ve been talking about it for a while. We’ve done a lot of live shows and tours just because we’re all friends and it’s such a blast to hang out together and kind of like, ‘Hey, let’s take a little vacation and play a couple of shows and eat some fucking great food’ – that’s kind of the vibe there. And then we start to realize, hey, this shit’s getting better, we should record it.
We were going to do something at [Bill] Laswell’s studio – there was some time when we were in New York when we were actually going to record it. But at the last minute Zorn was like, ‘You know what, maybe we should just record live stuff, it’s like a live thing.’ Okay, whatever, because we were going to do it live in the studio anyway.
But we never really got around to doing it. We have a bunch of live tapes, none of which are really – you play this really smoking gig and you’re really happy but then you go back and listen and go, ‘This isn’t really up to par, is it?’ So I think unless we go into a studio it probably wont happen.
It’s all improv, so it’s got that. Most of the time it’s a chaotic mess, go figure. The rest of the time, we’ll play trios, duos, solos. Playing with Ikue is really fun and different because I’m used to playing with people who just bang it out and don’t really know much else – that’s just what comes naturally to them. It doesn’t to her at all, so me and John are always looking for ways around having to blow our heads off in that trio. It’s really fun – rather than just coming out and going BLAAHHHH – to think about doing it in other ways.
Well, if you’re talking about a scene out here [in San Francisco], to my knowledge there ain’t one – or if there is, it’s nothing I’d want to be a part of. But then I’ve never been a part of any scene ever [laughs], so I don’t know if I ever could. In New York there are a lot of people doing what you do, or things you can relate to, or people you could play with, there aren’t many of them around here – I think that’s pretty unique to [New York].