Faith No More | NME - January 3rd 1993
Should MIKE PATTON cut the crap? Does RODDY BOTTUM need to come out of the closet? Does BIG JIM MARTIN treat women like dirt? And are FAITH NO MORE a mess of insecurities, attitudes and extravagant contrasts congealing into a thrilling whole... or just another rock band? Not an 'Easy' question to answer, reckons GINA MORRIS, as she spends a week in France with America's premier scatological strew-ups and wonders why such a nice boy like Mike Patton feels the need to swig his own piss and shit in a hair dryer.
NME | 03.01.1993 | Gina Morris
Mike Patton is urinating. Not into a urinal, not on the street and not in private. Mike Patton is pissing onstage - in front of thousands of people - into his shoe. Then, with a coy smile, he lifts the brimming vessel to his lips, opens his mouth and drinks the boot dry.
Less than two weeks later, in the small village of Besancon, France. Patton is casually making coffee on stage. Freshly percolated cups of coffee for his sweat-sodden, dehydrated crowd. Faith No More are all about extremes. Severe extremes. Faith No More - an archetypal rock band? - release an opulent new single and it's a straight-faced, straight-up cover of The Commodores' 'Easy', so beautifully unscathed that it stupefies the majority of the audience every time they play it.
FNM are a twisted fairy tale with no real plot and no conclusion, just a dense subtext of symbolism and a multitude of characters. No-one has ever managed to disentangle them, to go beyond their reputations, to de-mystify them. It's a daunting task. FNM thrive on tortuous perplexity, to the degree that it has become both their drug and the only unifying factor in the band. It's a bind so tight, it hurts - hurts itself.
And it's ugly. The rock pigs, the perpetrators of myths, the groupie- shaggers, the dumb fuckers, the lads. It's all there if you want to see it. The band themselves have surpassed all hope of ever being truthfully represented. Now they're just enjoying the ride. They've perfected the art of confusion.
So Patton will continue to be the jerk who grew up into a wanker, Jim Martin will continue 'abusing' women, and nobody will ever even think about asking keyboardist Roddy Bottum what it's like to be a gay man in a rock band. Right?
"To me," he says calmly, "throughout our career, the representation of the band and the way I've been portrayed everything has been so homosexual every we've ever done. I've portrayed some absolute blatant, stereotyped homosexual. I've been the boy in bondage, the sado-masochistic cop, the homo-cowboy. I mean. I've been so blatant about it - it just blows me away that people don't pick up on something like that. Y'know. what am I supposed to do? Hit people over the head with this? That hurts, right? It hurts your head and it's an insult to people's intelligence."
Roddy and I are having lunch in a hotel restaurant in Paris. The idea is to interview each member of the band separately, because, as Patton later confirms: "We wouldn't communicate. It would be a lot of misfiring, uncomfortable jokes and a lot of sarcasm." He's dead right When they're all Together, they whine on in nonsensical gibberish which makes it impossible to glimpse anything like a stereotype.
So I've stolen Roddy and he's stealing a forkful of my creamed potato and, in his soft, laid-back, winsome American drawl, continues to talk about his sexuality for the first time into a tape recorder.
"If I'd ever been asked about this before, l'm sure I would have been completely open about it. I mean, I cannot be embarrassed about this. I told the others I was gonna talk about this as soon as I knew you were gonna ask me about it. I told them I was going to be upfront and they said, 'OK. do what you gotta do'."
So do you think the reason it's been ignored is because homosexuality isn't supposed to have a place in 'rock' music? "Maybe. The thing is. rock stereotypes are so ugly. Pop stereotypes are not so bad but rock ones are hideous. It's like the Queen thing - I don't know how old I was when I started listening to Queen, but even back then it was so apparent to me. There's these four guys playing in a band calling themselves Queen and singing opera music, pretty much, and then people have the audacity, years later, to say Freddie Mercury never came out of the closet.
"Y'know, it's like, get with it. I think it's a symbolic thing, people are not picking up on those symbols, I don't think that's so wrong either. I think people can get away with seeing a movie that's chock full of intense symbolism and deal with it on a strict pleasure level. It's just a different level.
"I mean, if people don't pick up on the band's subtleties or the band's jokes or whatever we put across and they're enjoying it for other reasons, then I'm not sure if that's wrong. In an ideal world I'd love to think people understood what we're doing, but it's not going to be like that. I'm flattered that people like it on a gut level."
Are you aware of the power you have being a gay person in a rock band, particularly when you consider the genre's ignorant and archaic values?
"I guess so, but there's a certain disgust in me about wearing my heart on my sleeve and being as blatant as that. I think it's an insult to peoples intelligence. I absolutely understand and sympathise with the gay community against backwards views on homosexuality in this day and age, but in Los Angeles, where I come from, it's so liberal, open-minded and experimental. I forget what an island it is and how spoilt we are. I guess I just take it for granted. "
You were pretty blatant when you wrote the lyrics to 'Be Aggressive'. "Ejaculation. Tribulation. I SWALLOW. I SWALLOW."
"Yeah! I mean, HELLO, WAKE UP! When we wrote that song we were all very aware of the lyrics, we had it all in check and then the issue has never come up. It's so funny, no-one ever even asked us about it. It's the same thing, we just expect a lot more from people."
Roddy Bottum is charming and sincere but, like the rest of the band, he'll occasionally seize the opportunity to wind up a susceptible victim - and this causes problems. Maybe some people don't get the message, because FNM tend to respond to people like a mirror image, reflecting dubious personality traits and firing them back. It's a way of dealing with the adulation bestowed upon them.
"I just have to be as down-to-earth as possible," admits Roddy, "I sometimes catch myself being so absolutely stupid to these people, just to get the point across that I am nothing you are everything. OK? Realise that."
Is it tricky keeping your feet on the ground? "Well, that's one of the good things about the band, we all have strong sensibilities, probably because we re all so fucking sarcastic. We're pretty hard on ourselves and I guess everyone has that in check."
Faith No More are not the egomaniacs they've often been made out to be. There's a reason behind, for instance, much of Patton's extreme behaviour. When he joined the band almost four years ago he'd never been away from home. He was a geeky. non-smoking, virgin teetotaller with appalling dress sense. A kid who did what he was told, played basketball for his college team and looked forward to his summer vacations.
Going straight from home comforts to road traumas, he's had to grow up fast. This may not excuse puerile antics like shitting in a hotel hair dryer but, then again, he hasn't turned into a pompous asshole like Axl Rose. Patton means no harm really - unless it's to himself.
"We're a band that encourages extremes." laughs Roddy, "so when anyone is doing things like that. I think: Well whatever you wanna do, whatever you wanna try - no matter how outlandish - just make yourself happy. Which is a healthy environment. I'm very proud of the extremes that go on in our band, I'm proud of the fact that Mike is like that. I'm proud that he carries a doll around a voodoo doll called Toodles and I'm proud that Mike Bordin would have us believe for two years that one of his best friends was killed (it was a lie!). That's such a bizarre thing, but extremes are what we're about."
FNM also provoke a massive amount of misunderstanding. Earlier this morning, the band were handed the letters page of a rock magazine full of outraged letters in relation to a FNM feature, in which the journalist had translated Mike's comments on a child porn video (that he'd been given by a fan) as an endorsement of paedophilia.
"It's kinda our own fault," shrugs Roddy wearily. "We assume too much. I mean, it's 1993 - don't you understand this? And the bottom line is a lot of people don't, and that bugs me. It's like, who do you cater your ideals to? Do you cater your ideals to a lower mentality or a mentality like your own, y'know? The worst thing is to have to simplify your values and act in a different way just so simpler people can relate to you. You can't do that, right? It's not optimistic, it's a backwards way of thinking."
Mike Patton is slumped in a fake leather armchair backstage at the gig in Lyon. In one hand he holds a Martin Amis book, in the other he clutches a control console. Every few seconds a green light flickers across it and he flinches slightly. He's wired up to electric shock pads... switched to full power. This is Mike Patton's pre-gig relaxation period.
Bassist Billy Gould is in the dressing room, alone, playing a guitar. He hears the door open, turns his head and smiles, "You wanna talk now? OK."
Roddy and Billy have known each other for almost 20 years it was the two of them that decided to form the band. As kids Bill and Roddy would ride their bikes around the roughest, sleaziest parts of Hollywood Boulevard, trying to look cool. Two nice middle-class kids trying to live on the edge. Nothing much has changed now they just have further to fall. Do you miss Chuck Mosley at all?
Chuck was FNM's old singer. In his days, the band were closely linked to rap/thrash music. Then, he lost control, was replaced by Patton and the band released the more mainstream 'The Real Thing' LP. Hell immediately beckoned in the form of a Guns N' Roses support slot and - hey! - suddenly they were Rock. They did, however, escape hell with their souls intact.
"I hate rock music." Bill spits. "I've always hated it. Like Led Zeppelin and stuff like that. I mean, my dad used to listen to that shit. It's the least interesting thing in the world, the excess and all that stuff, it's so boring. The world has gone through its period of exploration in that area. A stadium gig is fun to do once in a while, but that Guns N' Roses thing really got me down because it's as rock as it gets. It's the mentality I don't understand. I think it's disgusting. It's not natural, it's all role-playing. complete bullshit and I hate it when our band reflects things like that.
"I mean, we do whatever we want to do and 'The Real Thing' was like an exercise in that. But we're still figuring ourselves out. We don't really know who we are yet, we're still learning. Hopefully, we're not burning too many bridges in the process."
So how do you view the band? Is it like four of you against Jim Martin, the real rock element?
"It gets more and more like that. I can see it more and more every month. I don't know how long you can keep going on like this, really. It's kinda ridiculous, it's like, what's the point, y'know? Actually, for all the shit I give Jim - and he deserves it - he's only doing his job."
As if on cue, Jim enters the room. Billy smiles at him. It's a healthy animosity he has towards him, like when a friend tells you that you've got bad breath. Jim exits. Is Bill happy with Mike fronting the band?
"Yeah. I think he's doing great. When he joined, he was living with his parents, he was 21 and had never been in a bar before. He didn't even like the taste of alcohol so, in three years or so, he's come a hell of a long way. I remember we were about to go on tour and he said: 'Look guys. I'd better get my summer vacation this year or I'm going to be real pissed off.' We were like. sorry but we're adults now, we work all year round, this isn't high school. He's kinda eccentric, y 'know?"
Oedipus was the mythical Greek king who slayed his father and screwed his mother. It's also Jim Martin's nickname. And he's sat opposite me, chain-smoking, on the bottom deck of FNM's luxury coach heading towards Besancon and another show. Patton calls him a timepiece, a representation of an era, a broken record. Big Jim Martin, visually at least, is rock personified. He's the one the rock mags turn to. He's the living proof... and he's living at home - with his mother.
"We have a whole house to ourselves," he explains. "She lives at one end and I live at the other. We pretty much do as we please, we eat dinner together, she comes home and fixes it."
Don't you ever cook for her? "No, she cooks better than I do."
Jim has the worst rock'n'roll reputation of them all. Does he consciously perpetuate it?
"To a degree. If someone wants to exaggerate it, I don't tell them not to... Anyway, what is my reputation?"
Y'know, chicks and pool. "Well. I do like those things."
Big Jim Martin, the band feel, is more naive than malicious. He became close friends with L7 during their tour together and there's no way they would let him get away with any sexist bullshit Patton reckons:
"He has a sharpened point to his personality that nobody else agrees with, but sometimes y'gotta eat shit and like it."
So has Jim really ever taken advantage of women? "Certainly not. To take advantage would be a discredit to the girls, it would be like saying they don't know what the fuck they're doing. Y'know, we're all intellectual people and I would have to assume the women knew what they were doing."
Have you ever felt that maybe they didn't? "Well. I always explain carefully: I'm here this evening to play a concert and I'm leaving tomorrow morning."
Does it bother you that these women may only be sleeping with you because you're famous? "No, it's pretty much the case... though of course it's not always the case. It's difficult to tell."
Would you prefer it if people wanted to sleep with you because you're you? "Absolutely not. If I wanna sleep with them. I'll do my best to get them in the sack. I mean, I haven't always been famous. You better your chances, sure, but it isn't always easy."
I found a present for Mike Bordin in a post office in Lyon. It's a stamp. A stamp with one of Francis Bacon's self Portraits on it. He's ecstatic - we're friends for life. But Puffy isn't a get-together kinda bloke. He's amiable and affable just like the rest of them - he just goes to bed earlier, that's all.
The band are about to go on stage. Bill is throwing up in the toilet. Jim is completely engrossed in his Game Boy. Roddy is sprawled full out on the floor with his eyes closed, Mike's strolling in and out of the dressing room pointlessly and Puffy is thrashing his sticks against a lump of silly putty stuck on to the edge of a table. How do five such different people work together?
"Well, if you have people that are very different and very strong, then it's definitely a strength and it can make it a more interesting or more challenging brew," Puffy remarks without dropping a single beat. "That's not to say it can't work when everybody is the same, but we don't have that, so why pretend?"
So how come people still assume you're a 'rock' band?
"Well, forget about the inverts. We play rock music, in our way, that's the way it is. A lot of the others are uncomfortable with the position of being a rock band. Like a night like tonight will make some of them feel uncomfortable and guilty in a way."
But you're happy with it? "l'm happy that we're playing our music to a lot of people and we didn't have to suck a dick. If that's all you wanted you could put together a band tomorrow - if you were conniving enough — but to get there in the car that you designed and built and
laboured over, that's the satisfaction."
Are you different when you're not with the rest of the band? "Oh sure, definitely, by definition, I don't spit as much."
"OK, WHO SHAT IN THE ORANGE JUICE?"
It is hard to find the art in Mike Patton's antics. To appreciate the beauty when the beast is shitting in your beverage.
"Oh god, oh Jesus, I'm sorry," he wails. "It wasn't meant for you." Mike had been accused of "not fucking shit up" on the tour by L7. So he, erm, did. Mike and I are slouching on the sofa in the 'techno section' of the tour bus, on our way back to the hotel for the last time. It's 1 am, post-gig, and Patton's eating raw meat out of a plastic container and indulging in his favourite drug - coffee. The Cardiacs are blasting out of the speakers and Patton is highly amused how similar they sound to his other band, Mr Bungle.
Mike has been avoiding my tape recorder for four days now. He doesn't believe there's much point discussing anything other than his various obsessions. He's become accustomed to being misunderstood by the press.
"Writers paint pictures and they leave colours out, and what can I do about that? I can get upset and smash the painting, but that doesn't achieve anything. You gotta take it and you can't take it too personally because it's impersonal. It's very easy to get upset, but no-one feels better for it. Maybe if we beat up all journalists, we'd be good guys. How'd we ever become bad guys?"
He chuckles, with a mouthful of beef.
"There's just too many channels. I mean, we're doing an interview here. how are we really supposed to communicate any information to anyone? We re not talking to anyone, we're not looking anyone in the eye, this is almost cowardly really.
"I don't think any of us have any desire to explain ourselves or be understood, it's no comfort, it doesn't make you sleep better at night, it's not what we're in this for.
"The child pom thing? Well someone probably asked me what's the weirdest thing you've seen or what's the strangest thing a fan has given you, and that's indeed what it was. It was such a shock that something like that was handed to me by a little petite Japanese girl. But it's not about understanding, there's too many avenues, y'know. the story never gets told the same way twice."
At least when you do disgusting stuff, like drinking your own piss, you generally only do it to yourself. "Yeah. Oh, I dunno. there's no logic behind it. I don't know who I am or what I'm doing here, that's what that is, it's the absence of logic. It's not something that's too easy to rationalise."
.....Even if you wanted to.
"Sure. I don't know how I can make anyone feel any better. We don't even know what the hell we're doing, we haven't even figured out what it is we do. We don't even know how we even relate to each other really, and maybe we'll learn, maybe we'll become great salesmen someday, but now it just doesn't compute. You should have to answer for what you do - you may not be able to articulate it - it's not a playpen where you get to do whatever you want and never take responsibility."
Was it hard growing up in a band like this? "Yeah. I was a real terrified kinda student, so I always did what I was told. I still do." He smiles wryly, like we're supposed to believe him.
Mike loves winding people up. He's into shocking people with his various obsessions his voodoo doll, his S&M fetish wear and his weird books. If there's a target - he'll hit the bullseye.
"Some people are easy targets and some people ask for it, so if you have a particular interest and you want to use it against someone then... here's a funny example. Jesus, God. See now, I'll talk about this and it's similar to the child porn story, basically it's like bad shit and I have it... oh f— it! I'm not gonna talk about it, it's too stupid. There's no morality in anything, y'know? What matters? That*s what I want to know - what matters? Does our personal life have anything to do with our music, however much seeps in? I mean, I don't even know, so how can I tell you?"
Mike looks slightly flustered, even nervous. I've spent nine days in total with Faith No More, both in Britain and Europe, and he still doesn't trust me? "I do trust you. that's why I'm telling you this much. Okay, basically I think defensiveness or humiliation is a motivating factor in the way we behave, in the way we make music, in the way we relate to each other.
Sometimes I think the way we manoeuvre is in a defensive way, rather than an offensive way. So all these people are saying, 'You're so offensive and you're trying to shock people to make a point and use it as a weapon, and it's not. It's not a step forwards, it's a diversion. We
have no harmful intent."
Mike looks down into his dinner. "It's really not even worth talking about.
"It's just. when I'm on stage sometimes the mouth opens and, y'know. diarrhoea flows out. Anything I can do not to think on stage, I will do. Why? Because I don't think it belongs there. I've said some really bad things and gotten us into some really awkward situations and there are responsibilities."
So you do care about Faith No More? "Yeah, I'm learning to. I didn't for a long time. I thought, what a horrible situation, it's candy coated, take it with a smile - for what it is - you can't take your time card and punch it out at the end of the day. You can't. I tried it and you can't."
The bus pulls up outside the hotel and the rest of the band file into reception. Patton doesn't move. "No matter what you do." he says sternly. "You can't win." You can go now. "Arrh!" he cries. "The sense of finality!"