Faith No More 'The Real Thing' Q&A
Faith No More's third studio album was released thirty one years ago on June 20th 1989.
In 2019, to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of their first album with Mike Patton we asked you to send us your questions for the core members of FNM - Mike Bordin, Roddy Bottum and Billy Gould. The response was extraordinary!
As a drummer I've always been curious as to why you play your rack toms so flat. Especially with such big tom sizes. I've met you in person, you're a short dude. Seems like a strange setup. But hey, you're the man!
Umm, thanks for that?
Regarding the flat set up, there are many reasons/benefits. The main ones, off the top of my head, are as follows:
The big tom sizes are for tone, power, and use for patterns, more than traditional fills. Not being overwhelmed by all of the high volume that surrounds you. Toms sitting flat take a straight on impact from the stick, not a glancing blow. Most of my tom notes are individual strokes, comprising rhythmic tom patterns (rather than faster, multiple note groupings of fills), so I want the notes to speak as clearly and forcefully as possible. The stick hitting the tom at a flat angle makes the drum speak sharply and cleanly, maximizing the air that the drum moves.
It also forces you to keep your technique clean, both with posture, and holding (and swinging) sticks. A straight up posture is crucial- it anchors you to your seat solidly, which allows you a huge amount more forward force for kick drum power, rather than hunching over.
Coming over the top with sticks in the matched grip technique, rather than using the traditional style, also gives you far more power, and gets you in and out of the drum head very quickly. A stick laying on a head will cut off and mute slightly the note that comes from the drum, like muting guitar strings with your fingers.
Regarding tom patterns, a flat drum also allows me to catch the rim along with the head when I want more of a percussive sound/feel in the pattern. Make sense?
Thank you taking the time to talk with the fans Mike, The Real Thing is my favourite album of all time. Do you remember where and when you found out TRT had gone platinum? How did this feel after such a long time promoting it?
Thanks for the kind words, Chris.
The thing about record sales back then, and selling albums at such a high rate, is that there were tons of business people that would monitor the trends, and were paid to predict how they would play out. Point is, when we started selling a lot of 'TRT', gold and platinum were milestones that everyone was anticipating, and there were managers, label people, and agents predicting when that would happen for a period of time prior to it actually happening. We in the band were working extremely hard, and were touring no doubt somewhere, but I really can't remember exactly where.
It was really gratifying though, to have actually reached that milestone doing something that We all put so much of ourselves into, and to see it connect on a large scale.
What sticks in your mind as some of your best percussive work on The Real Thing? Was there a track you had wish came out better?
In general, I stand by no regrets. The album, songs, and performances reflect my best effort at the time, with the technology, skill, experience, and head space that I had at that point.
Do you remember if there were any songs that were particularly hard to get right when recording The Real Thing? And did that difficulty translate live?
My memory about stuff like that isn't particularly sharp. Others may have more vivid recollections about waiting around for me to nail something! One thing I can recall though, is playing between the side stick intro parts and then right into the loud parts on 'The Real Thing' song, I couldn't hear the side stick strokes through my headphones, and had to try and get the stick in the sweet spot of the rim (to get a good clean note) just by feeling it. That was kind of tricky. Live though, that was never an issue.
When presented with the concept of covering War Pigs, how much pressure did you feel to do the song justice?
I am a lifelong Sabbath fan, pretty well documented by now. That said, I can also say that there was zero pressure to do anything but just play the song how we were going to do it. Dunno, maybe youthful ignorance? Either way, we played it because we wanted to, that's about the size of it.
When writing the songs, how much (if at all) did the bay area music scene change the course of the material? Did you ever happen to hear other bands doing something similar and alter your compositions to avoid being lumped in or pigeonholed?
To answer the last part of your question first, Hell No! You have to remember, We were touring absolutely as hard as we were able to, doing so internationally, and mostly in a bubble. I also think this was still before Internet and cellphones connected us all instantly. We wrote, as we have always said, directly reflecting where we had been prior to that point, and also reflecting our growing experience in just physically performing what we had previously written live.
Just sorta feeling instinctively what works/doesn't, and evolving from there. The individuals we had within the band were always more than enough, as far as opinions/input went!
Wow! Do you ever get tired of people asking, ‘what is it?’. My question is for Puffy. Your beats on The Real Thing seem to be more power driven and less complex than on the previous albums. Was this because that’s what suited the songs, or did you decide to evolve this way?
Haven't been asked that question since the song was in the charts! I guess if I think about it, it probably would have been journalists asking, which would've seemed lazy and obvious on their part. Sure, stuff like that can get a bit tired in the moment, but it's a blessing to have something you write and perform connect with people on such a large scale. Who knows, if we ever meet, maybe you can ask me? Or not.
Answering your question about evolution, I don't think it should ever be a conscious decision. You either value and embrace it, or you don't. The members of this band have valued that from the earliest days (like playing a completely different set of songs for each show), and that has never changed. I hope you can see that when comparing each of our albums. Evolution "on purpose" seems kinda forced, and maybe not particularly genuine. Dunno, hope that is not splitting hairs.
My Question is for Mike B. We all know that Patton used to get to all sorts to amuse himself on tour. I would like to know how you coped with the long hours on the road for two years? Thanks for talking to fans you are a legend!
Thank You Olivia.
The serious answer to that is I learnt- not even on purpose, but just to survive the experience of extreme touring, and all of the insanity that comes with it.
I learnt why I was doing what I was doing (loving playing drums), what I needed to do to do it as well as I could (tons of rest, both physically and mentally), and what was important to me (not getting caught up in stuff that wasn't relevant to me, being a good person as much as possible, stuff like that). You have to remember that all of us were barely past being kids when we started. So growing up in that kind of environment is not natural, not private, not easy ,and certainly not forgiving. Adapt, evolve, or die, I guess.
How did you guys feel when you first heard the lyrics. I mean paedophilia, drowning your girlfriend and masturbation aren’t exactly the most savoury subjects! Ha ha
Being in a Band, stuff like that coming up lyrically doesn't even raise an eyebrow! It's a very unique dynamic in a band with all of the different personalities together, pushing things along creatively. Also, we as a band were not intentionally shooting for the mainstream audience, Our focus was about writing and playing to the absolute best of our abilities. Maybe if you are on the business side of things, afraid of how to sell/market/exploit the music (product) and maximize exposure, you'd freak out a bit. But, that is really more part of the 'Angel Dust' story, now wouldn't you think?!
What were your impressions and feelings about Mike when he joined the band and sang for the first time in rehearsal? Same for the first show with him during The real thing tour, can you remember how it happened? Thank you guys, have a nice day and happy 30th birthday!!!
I was most impressed with his voice. I hadn’t heard Mister Bungle like the rest of the band members had. It kind of wasn’t so much my thing. Mike sang so well, I remember that. It was kind of shocking. Remember, we’d been playing with Chuck for a long time and yeah…. night and day. The first rehearsal was a ‘get to know each other’ sort of thing. He was younger than us. Way more into like… sports and we had different references. But we laughed at the same things. He had a cynicism that I related to, we all related to. He sang 'Falling to Pieces' and was abashedly kind of ‘poppy’ about it and I liked that right away. Like he wasn’t scared to go for that sound. Soon after I DID see Mr. Bungle and it was really clear that he was so good at so many different styles of singing. There wasn’t a lot he couldn’t do.
Was Woodpecker From Mars always thought of as an instrumental, or did Patton ever attempt adding lyrics during the demo process?
We used to talk about our songs in terms of cinema. 'Woodpecker' was definitely one of those that we likened to a cinematic mood. I think we felt it had drama and energy without vocals. It is kind of typical of our attitude and bravado at the time. Doing an instrumental seems kind of prog rock of us now, looking back. It was definitely a pompous gesture. I’m so glad we stuck to our guns on decisions like that.
Roddy, your keyboards for the title track are so emotive. Do you go in with concrete suggestions that get approved by the other members or does someone say something like, "a riff that evokes sadness. . ." I'm thinking about the keyboard parts during "like the way you cry for a happy ending . . .”
Hi Brad, thanks for your compliments.
We worked as a democracy best, honestly. The things I brought to the table were usually accepted without question. A lot of times Billy had keyboard parts or ideas that he would play and we’d work on together but we always encouraged each other to make our own ideas work. The only thing we were really strict about was the guitar, funny enough. We had a chunka chunka sound that we always strived for and Jim hit that mark most of the time. When he would get too noodley and riffy we would try and reign him in. It caused disruption in our process but we definitely had a guitar sound that we usually strived for. Keys and bass and drums we all trusted each other more. Vocals too, Mike did what he felt 100% of the time.
Synthesizer takes a huge part in creating Faith No More's sound and using synth sounds was one of the biggest differences comparing to the other bands of 90s. I recently watched so many interviews and I know every member in the band listens to different stuff. So, what were you listening to while recording The Real Thing? Who were your biggest influences?
I think at the time I was still really into electro rap. Like Africa Bambaata and the Soulsonic Force, Grandmaster Flash, rap that employed synth sounds was sounding really fresh. There was no real specific band that we tried to emulate. Other than Killing Joke but that was just a feeling more than a musical flavor we tried to mimic. Kraftwerk I really liked and Throbbing Gristle and then Psychic TV were both weird arty bands we all liked. Post punk bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division. Local bands like Flipper and Frightwig and Glorious Din. I remember hearing SPK and really liking that at the time.
Were you ever shocked by some of the things Patton said when he bad mouthed other artists when you were on stage? Were there any repercussions? For the record, I thought he was brilliant doing it.
We were such brats, yknow? We were young and really into just getting reactions from people. Part of that came from playing on tours with bands like Billy Idol or Metallica or Guns and Roses…. bands who liked us but their audiences didn’t really. So to get a reaction we all kind of pushed buttons. Mike saw this attitude in us immediately and kind of jumped on board. Looking back at it I don’t find it real brilliant but I do see it as provocative and I can still appreciate that.
I used to play keys in a metal band and I always struggled with the awkwardness of what to do with myself when I didn’t have parts to play (do I sway, head bang, walk around, etc). Did you ever have that feeling and how do you manage to look so cool while performing?
Hey Bob. That’s a funny question.
Yeah, I always just tried to commit 100%. And that kind of meant physically. We were very committed to our sound and treated it most like a crazy hypnotic trance sort of vibe. That’s how we started. It is kind of awkward, the keys onstage in that environment. Maybe not so much anymore but I remember it being kind of an uncharted territory as far as movement onstage. I remember the Fishbone guy was real fun with his keyboards. I think he had like a stand that swivelled so his keyboard would swing all over the place.
When writing the music without a singer, how conscious of leaving space for verses and choruses to be added later were you? Or were you just writing instrumentals/jamming without too much consideration to lyrics that would be added later?
Hi Jariath. Good question.
kind of a little of both. We loved pop music and traditional rock stuff and hated it at the same time so we usually tried to cover bases. We’d do a song with a traditional verse/chorus vibe and then do a freak out in which things could be added however the singer determined. I feel like we didn’t pay as much attention as we should have to the overall gist of the lyrical content back then. It was kind of an afterthought to the rest of the band. I think we’re kind of lucky that Mike just happened to be really good with words. I love his lyrics a lot.
I've always been very inspired by FNM choice to do such a variety of covers, both for the purposes of homage and for satire. Were there covers that FNM did in the practice space or wished to learn but couldn't agree upon, or it just never worked out etc?
Most of the songs we talked about covering we did. The only one I can remember not coming to fruition is 'Ca Plane por Moi' by Plastic Bertrand. I think maybe I wanted to do a GoGo’s song once that we never did. At one point I remember we each got to choose a song and then we did all those as covers. It really came about because of getting pigeonholed with the whole 'War Pigs' cover. People really wanted to hear that song, particularly our more metal kind of fans. It irked us and we felt like we needed to prove that we weren’t that kind of a band so we did 'Easy'. Then we just went with it and started finding songs that moved us in ways that more heavy songs didn’t.
Hey Roddy, May I firstly say what an inspiration you are. How difficult was it as a gay man to be surrounded by such a macho scene when you found success during TRT touring and the metal crowd picked up on FNM? Did you feel you had to hide your sexuality?
Hi Courtney. Thanks for those words.
Yeah, that was a weird process and a really personal one. Everyone treats it differently and comes out on their own clock. I guess I wasn’t willing to acknowledge being gay until I did for some reason but I’m not sure why. Looking back on it, I wish I’d been more honest with my family and the band and all my friends and just gotten on with my life. I think it came to a point when we were being thought of as a more metal macho kind of band that I felt the need to make the statement. Like, ‘hey… we are SO not that. in fact…..'
It was a scary place to go cause honestly there wasn’t a lot of gay in that type of music at the time. Like… Elton John, Freddy Mercury, Rob Halford, Bob Mould, on and on and on… still in the closet all of them at the time. It was uncharted territory and it was scary for a kid. It’s about as political as we got back then.
Whose idea was it to record the role reversal skit on the set of the Falling To Pieces video? You guys nailed your impressions by the way!
I can’t remember. It seems absolutely ridiculous now. I remember being Mike Bordin and drawing on his moustache. And doing some drum tricks that I’d seen him do. It’s a good thematic for a video. If the entire video had been that it would have been more effective.
I consider you a pioneer in modern bass tone. It seems like you were one of the first to embrace distorted bass that really stands out. It was your tone that inspired me to play. Can you give some insight into what you used for distortion back then? And maybe what you use now? Thanks!
Ha, all I had was a cheap Peavey Mk III amp that began to distort at higher volumes. I found that I actually liked the way it distorted and began to see how to make it fit with the other guys. I think it kinda worked...!
I'd like to ask what bass rig did you use in the recording of the record? I know you started to use Aria Pro II SB Integra's basically exclusively around this point in your history and I know that the Integra was the main bass you used on that album from what I've read, though you also were still using the Gibson Grabber bass sparingly too in some points of '87 and '88. And you use Peavey amps too along with what you said a long time back a DOD Bass Flanger and Ibanez Tube Screamer... I'd just like to know if the Grabber was used on The Real Thing or if it's mark was left on WCAL and IY. And what other equipment you used in the recording. Sorry for the long question. Have a great day y'all! STATION!
Yes, this album was where I transitioned from my Gibson to my Aria, for several reasons. One is because after all of the years of touring the Grabber,, it had been smashed and split so many times that it (the body) was just being held together -literally- with duct tape. Secondly, the Integra just a better guitar overall, it was actually a prototype of what later became the Integra series, it still had the sort of tone I liked (or even more of it), and was a real step up in quality.
As far as amps go, I believe at that point I had what at the time was a new Peavey MkIV …had a similar tone (though not quite as classic) to the earlier Mk III but with more power and size. And I mic’d my original Peavey cabinet along with a new Peavey 2x15 … in fact, I had this old cab blended into every recording all the way up to AOTY.
Could you please give us some details on the song The Cowboy Song? Like, when and how it was written? Why it was chosen to be demoed early? Is it an older song? Was it written when Chuck was still there? If so, what was that version like? Why was it left off The Real Thing? Was this one of those infamous cases where Patton had to be told to kinda tone down the more violent imagery in his lyrics? The subject matter is rather explicitly dark! Perhaps that's why it was omitted? Has it ever been performed live? If not, how come? Would you ever consider bringing it back or revisiting it in any way? It is a personal favorite. Thanks for all the great music! Love & respect!
It’s funny, the 'Cowboy Song' never blew any of us away as a song (which is why we never play it live) but you are not the first one to speak it’s praises; it seems to have connected with a lot of people. I can’t say for sure when it was written, but sometime during the transition between Chuck and Mike P. It was originally written on a 4-track in the same manner (and time frame) as 'The Real Thing'. And the demo version was not much different from what ended on the original, except that the solo section was worked out later between all of us in rehearsals. If it was the right occasion, I’d totally be willing to give it a crack live.
Bill, could you clear up a rumor? Were the titles of The Grade and The Cowboy Song accidentally switched on the Live at Brixton release? The names seem to fit better if they were switched.
HA, they probably do fit better…but no, those are the original titles to each.
What song was the hardest to record for The Real Thing performance wise and why?
Another good question. The answer is, we had each song completely worked out before we went in to record this album. You have to remember, we had about a year between singers so we had had a fair amount of time to rehearse them together. I believe most of the tracking went fairly quickly.
If there’s one important thing/lesson you learnt while writing/recording this record that still resonates with you today, what would that be?
I remember hearing this album mixed for the first time and what shocked me is that we actually sounded like a 'real' rock band…as strange as this sounds, I had never imagined myself being in one before. And once I heard it, it already was a success to me. The truth was, that we were still quite under the radar and it would take almost two years of touring to get it over the net. But I had much greater sense of satisfaction on the final mixing day than I did when it eventually went platinum. And I would not have expected that.
Hi Bill. What is story behind Sweet Emotion? Why wasn't part of the album?
That was a song that never really clicked with us. We gave it a shot, we worked on it, maybe even too much. But we never really liked it.
Billy, what was the first song you heard played back in the control room with Mike Patton singing, and were you aware of the immediate impact / difference to what had gone before with Chuck?
The first song I heard with Mike P was 'Out of Nowhere'…we had a rehearsal recording and he came over to my house to work on his vocal ideas to a few songs. I hadn’t heard his voice recorded before, and within 30 seconds of hearing his contribution, it almost freaked me out on how well it worked. And it wasn’t even in a control room, per se, but I could hear it and it was quite exciting.
After the album was done, did you have any song that after listening you thought “this one would’ve sound better with Chuck”?? Did Chuck sing/record any other song other than New Improved Song?
Chuck’s departure during the writing/recording was still pretty fresh in my mind. I didn’t really give it much thought, I was too interested in moving forward.
The song Falling To Pieces has one of the more straight forward arrangements, almost radio ready formatting. Was this a decision in the studio, maybe with Matt Wallace or label input, or just how the song got written? Also, when/why has the song fallen out of favor with the band?
Matt was like an extra band member, but in our situation, he worked more on the technical side of things. I would say 90-95% of the arrangements on that album were worked out between ourselves in the rehearsal room. And yes, you’re right, it is very straightforward and pop. That was the intention of the song, though we still tried to anchor it in a way that it would retain some depth. I would say it feel out of favour around the time of 'Angel Dust' touring…and the biggest reason in my mind is because we had played it to death during the endless touring of 'The Real Thing'. We just got really tired of playing it, and that feeling seems to have lasted to the present.
I saw you live on The Real Thing tour in Dublin. You were a couple of hours late as you played the Top of the Pops TV show in England that same night. You had to mime, and Patton took the piss by making faces rather than mime the whole song, was that planned?
I could be wrong, but this could have been our first appearance at TOTP; I don’t think we had given the mime situation much thought until the cameras were rolling, but I would say that whatever happened while they were was completely spontaneous.
Bill. Firstly, thanks to you for taking the time to speak to fans. Secondly thanks to this website for keeping the spirit of FNM alive. My question is: You guys have always thrived from the differences in personalities within the band. Were there many disagreements in the studio when you recorded TRT?
There have been disagreements on every recording. And in fact, 'TRT' might have been the biggest case of that, as the band originally set out to make this record with Chuck, and we all know how that turned out! However, between the 5 of us (Mike included), I would say that, once we were in the studio, things went fairly smoothly. The biggest drama I could remember was Jim’s frustration at finding a guitar sound he was happy with; it took days, and something like 17 different microphones. But we gave him some space with that and let him work though it with Matt.
I always thought your first two albums with Chuck were much more punk that TRT. During the writing, recording or touring of TRT did you ever think you had left punk behind, and maybe gone in a direction that betrayed your roots? Commercial success was obviously fantastic for your bank balance but did it at any point feel like you had compromised your integrity? BTW I love TRT this is not a criticism!!
Interesting question and not offended at all.
Yes, there is a huge difference in vibe and intent between 'IY' and 'TRT', but no, this never felt like any kind of compromise, and the reason is because we wrote this music ourselves and we did it intentionally. Any musical departure that we made with this was in the spirit of taking our music somewhere new and trying to surprise ourselves. As I mentioned in an earlier question, I think we did that, and I think we grew as musicians from this experience big time.