Select Magazine Issue March 95
Oh No, Not Again......
story by Gina Morris
Mike Patton and Faith No More have spent the last two years mired in death, drug abuse, marriage, deceit, divorce and a spot of touring. Mike just hates talking about these things, even at the best of times. But, damnit all to hell, we asked him anyway.
Mike Patton, Faith No More's notoriously degenerate frontman, is upset. "There comes a point in interviews," he says, his face - besieged by unruly beard growth - suddenly plunging from an apologetic grin to grim tyranny, "where a line has to be drawn." gently, he places his chic alcoholic beverage on the table, leans in closer and slowly, deliberately, continues. "And I'm drawing that line now. Understand me? Perhaps we should have drawn it earlier. Hmmmmm?"
Later that evening, over a real Italian cappucino, bassist Billy Gould is amused by the singer's belligerent response to a simple question. "So, you just asked him if, now he's married, he plans to have any kids? Ha! Ha! I'm not making any excuses for the guy but he really doesn't like talking about himself. Did you ask him if he'd done anything creative with his shit recently? He wouldn't have liked that. All that stuff just tortures him; but he did it, he should learn to live with it. Y'know? All that business with shit is what he's best known for."
Faith No More have had something of a testing time over the last two years. Confronted by various personal and professional challenges - death, drug abuse, marraige, deceit, suicide, divorce - the band were on the verge of splitting up every other day. The timing of these tribulations could have been better too; after having concluded a harrowing two-year tour by headlining the first Pheonix Festival to 80,000 people, 1993 was declared a success and '94 had been pencilled in as its crucial successor.
Pressure to improve on past glory, meant the band had to find a way to transport themselves from the borderline mainstream, as-credible-as-Metallica-but-only-half-as-successful, to something befitting their distinctive funk-metal sound. After the initial success of FNM's first platinum album, "The Real Thing", and the relative failure (at least in America) of the wonderful, and hardly uncommercial follow-up, "Angel Dust", their fourth album had to be exceptional. But speculation - on the part of everyone from fans to record company executives - over the future of the band continued to be fuelled by reports of bitter in-fighting. In the end it climaxed in the sacking of hoary old HM rock guitarist and superfluous spectacles wearer Big Jim Martin. It was a complicated, acrimonious if not inevitable split. Although martin had been with the band for seven years and was, alongside Mike Patton, the public face of FNM, he was always the outsider, and more often than not had the look of an imminent plank-walker about him. When Jim finally went overboard, and the band agreed there was "at least one more kick in them yet", they set out to find a replacement, auditioning among others goth guitar princeling Geordie from Killing Joke. Eventually they brought in Trey Spruance, long-time associate and guitarist with Patton's sometime fetishistic, experimental first band, the still-extant alter-ego outfit, Mr Bungle.
In the midst of all this, keyboardist Roddy Bottom had more than enough of his personal problems to cope with. He was endeavoring to come to terms with his heroin addiction, the death of his father, splitting up with his boyfriend of eight years and the suicide of two close friends, one of whom was Kurt Cobain.
"My first impulse was to leave the band, "Roddy explains over strong coffee - his only vice, since he became non-smoking, teetotal and drug-free. "But I couldn't just let it go, it was something I helped start, it's very important to me."
'King for a Day - Fool for a Lifetime', the new FNM album, written by all four remaining members, was eventually and miraculously recorded over several months in a studio close to Woodstock. Every bit as intense as 'Angel Dust', though more candied and melodic and sporadically weird (check out the gospel singers on 'Just a Man'), and with lyrics like "What if there's no more fun to have?/Cut my losses and get out now" ('Get Out'), it's reassuring to know that the band have, at least in part, turned their ill-fated afflictions very much to their advantage.
"Do you think these canals are pure sewage? Would you die if you tried to swim in them?"
Roddy Bottom, like all the other members of FNM, has changed in the last couple of years. Drummer Mike "Puffy" Bordin, also recently married, is now obsessed with Yucca plants and maintaining his garden; Billy, smarter in dress and snappy in attire, is simply altogether more cultured after having spent several months in Chile. Roddy has been 'clean' for a whole year now. Indeed, he's now such in rude health that on New Year's Day he swam across San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz, two miles in freezing temperatures, wrapped only in a pair of skimpy briefs, in an apparently time-honored local tradition.
"Well," he continues, pensively glancing into the murky depths. "I guess you wouldn't want to try."
Later, in a small backstreet cafe, Roddy begins to talk, cadidly, about the events of the past year. He was with Cobain just before he killed himself. He's been best friends with Courtney Love for lamost ten years, ever since her days fronting FNM. She was also the last woman he ever went out with.
"I knew the situation was bad, they were arguing a lot. I went to seem him a week before he killed himself, hoping there was something I could do to help. When it became clear that there really wasn't, I left. Knowing...knowing what would happen. It was clear where he was going. The last thing I said to him was, You're going to die. I felt pretty guilty, but there was nothing I could do. When somebody really wants to die there's really nothing you can do to stop them."
And in the middle of all this upset, Roddy split up with his long-time boyfriend, who refused to move out of Roddy's house. At Pheonix, the situation was so bad that he didn't want to go home.
"That whole fucked-up scenario dragged on, he didn't want to leave. He pretty much went crazy, lost his mind in my eyes. He threatened to kill himself, that's horrible. It's a really shitty thing for somebody to throw at you - Because of you I'm gonna kill myself. Because of me? Well, fuck you! Kill yourself. Go ahead."
But by far Roddy's biggest tragedy was losing his father to pancreatic cancer. His new clean-living image is a direct result of this. He also formed an upbeat "Abba-esque" pop band called Star 69 (coincidentally, the name of a REM track), playing guitar and singing. He records an EP with them in February, just prior to FNM's forthcoming 18-month tour. Recently, news broke that Trey had quit the band, unable to commit himself to such a schedule. In his place they picked a guitarist called Dean, who is Roddy's old keyboard tech and the fiancee of L7's Jennifer Finch.
Mike Patton has been laughing for a full two minutes. The question was: Do you miss Jim Martin? One assumes that's a no. His chuckles subside when he's reminded that it was, ironically, Jim who was responsible for him being in this band. He'd heard a death-metal demo of Mr Bungle and assumed Mike was some big, fat, bearded guy who drank Guiness and whsikey 24 hours a day. Needless to say, he was quite surprised to find an all-out, clean-living, untainted American boy. Mike smiles, shrugs and then starts laughing again.
"I have to say," Billy explains, "I didn't like Mike the first couple of years he was in the band, I thought some of the things he did were pretty immature. But he's done really well. When he joined the band he was a fucking brat, an arrogant little baby, a child. He looked awful but he was the only guy we tried that really worked, but we had to take a fucking lot on. Here was this unsophisticated kid who'd never sipped alcohol before, never been in a bar, and we were all these crusty fucking guys. I felt pretty responsible for bringing this nice happy kid into this band, but he sang well. He was a lamb - he didn't stand a chance."
Patton grew up with his brother, his mother the social and his father the football coach, in a small village near Arcata, Humboldt County, California. Population: 30. As a kid he was a big fan of top 'stud' Elton John, he learned all his songs. One day a friend asked him to sing, he did, it sounded terrible, but he was hooked. In his late teens he got a job working in a local record store, formed Mr Bungle and then met Jim Martin. Naturally, being whisked from 'the woods' to center spread pin-up hunk with over a million and a half sales from his first record, sent him a little crazy.
It didn't take long before Patton had become a depraved scumbag. Crapping on a park bench outside Kensington Palace, leaving little brown 'presents' slowly cooking in hotel room ovens, collecting gruesome oddities like a three-month-old pickled foetus in a jar, and expressing a desire to dress as Darth Vadar and have people piss on him. Also, consumed with the art of wanking, he once spoke about how, at an early age, he remembers humping the couch while watching Gilligans Island. Of course, some of it's funny but he's not the sort of boy you'd take home to meet your parents....but neither are his parents.
"His parents came to see the show once," explains Billy. "And Mike was onstage, saying how he'd fucked his mother last night while his father watched. Our old producer Matt Wallace was sitting with them and he asked them what they thought of his comments like that, and his dad said, 'Well, where the fuck do you think he learned to talk like that?'"
Within months of signing up, Mike had embarked on a frenzied expedition, wanting to experience as many extremes as he could, as quickly as possible. His low-rent, unpredictable antics, 'shit-terrorism' and seedy obsessions with sado-masochism to narcissistic pornography, soon became infamous, if not, eventually, all too predictable. Several months ago, however, he astonished everybody by marrying his Italian girlfriend of three years, Titi, at a small family reception on the West Coast of America.
Today, in the bar of the Hotel Londra Palace in Venice, Mike sits casually admiring the antiquated adornments and architecture; his once perfectly coiffured, slicked back hair and neat goatee now unkempt and overgrown, complementing a thick, lazy moustache. He looks older, maybe even a little wiser. Certainly, he doesn't seem the same callow, fiendish maniac who once squashed excrement into a hotel hairdryer; poured second-hand urine over his head in front of some 50,000 Guns N' Roses fans; shat in a carton of orange juice, resealed it and hid it in L7's rider, and who, on FNM's last European tour, pissed in his own sneaker then drank it.
Thankfully, in the interest of continuing intrigue, there are still elements of his past that are both surprising and highly entertaining...
"Did you know," says Billy, a smile creeping over his face. "That Mike Patton was a disco dancer? (laughs) Y'know Micheal Jackson? Earth, Wind and Fire?...he was into all that kinda stuff, heavily into the disco scene. He talks about it every once in a while, in weaker moments of course."
Has marraige changed you, Mike? "It has nothing to do with
anything." You don't seem the marrying type?
"What is the marrying type?"
"Maybe, maybe not."
Isn't it a big responsibility?
"No, it's a fucking piece of paper, to some people it's maybe more, but to me it's a piece of paper."
So why do it?
"I had my reasons."
Ask Patton anything personal and he'll become a verbal eel. Slippery, evasive, non-committal and yes, completely frustrating. Although there are a few considerations. Patton, being so devilishly handsome and undoubtedly the catch of the century for any liberal-minded, slightly-insane woman, has several girls living outside the front door of his San Francisco home. They spray paint 'I love you Mike' on his walls and offer him their ovaries day and night, should he ever feel the urge. Obviously, he's not willing to allow them any more of an insight into his private life than they have already from peering through his windows.
People often misconstrue Patton's appalling social skills as arrogance; or the usual, tedious, self-destructive desire to make his gloriously wealthy rock n' roll star existence as depressing as possible. He's no Eddie Vedder or Trent Reznor, Patton's self-destructive nature is not part of a marketable personality. Seemingly there are no ulterior motives other than to satisfy his own limitless curiosity and, if he's lucky, maybe shock a few people in the process. He'll do anything he can get away with, and some things he can't.
"I can't tell you some of the worst things he's done," says Billy. "Until the statute of limitations runs out. It's not something you brag about, you just do it...."
He does have a peculiar way of dealing with certain situations?
"Well, Mike feels self-concious about having someone care about what he's thinking. It's almost like he's ashamed or something. He doesn't think he's very interesting, and I think he feels insulted that there's an industry that would care what he thinks when he feels like he's just some regular guy."
Well, the regular guy with the unsightly facial hair is busy ordering more exotic drinks, in his newly-acquired fluent, passionate Italian dialect.
Billy says he didn't have a problem with Roddy's heroin addiction until he realised, even after 20 years of friendship, that he was lying to him. He said he began to hate him. How did you feel when you found out, Mike?
"Well it was a while before I realised what was going on. I didn't know what dilated pupils meant back then. I was a clean boy. But well, yeah, you start of feeling sorry and you try to help, and then you get really fucking angry - You fuck me in the ass and I'll fuck you in the ass. If you're gonna fucking die, then die. Fuck you!"
Apart from write and record the album, what else have you done in the last two years?
"Just tried to stay in the house as much as possible." He leans back in his chair, looking, thankfully, more relaxed, sipping from a steaming orange drink that reeks of liquorice. "One thing you realise as you get older, " he says in an almost paternal voice, "is that time is valuable. You don't want to to waste it as much as you used to, when you go out and see a shitty show and have a shitty night...it hurts more, it's more painful. Things mean different things now, that's all."
Is it true that you didn't want Trey in the band?
"No. Well...I've known him for a long time, we've had a kinda sordid past. I don't know, it's my fault, I can't keep any fucking friends (He pauses, then shakes his head defiantly). No, it's a fucking long story so forget it. It didn't work out, but everything's fine now. Dean's great, he's a great guy, and he knows us - so nothings going to shock him into going home."
So can we expect more warped and corrupt behavior from you on the
"I have no idea. I won't know till it's over."
But you're still obsessed with your own feces.
"I don't know, " he grins manically. "You tell me, Doctor Ruth."
Thanks to James Sellers.