Faith No More's smash single from 'The Real Thing' was released thirty four years ago on January 29th 1990
"Mean, Vicious, chunky and Funky, Faith No More continue to break barriers with their brain-scrambling amalgamation of seemingly counteracting styles. Rap with Metal? No problem mate. Funk with Hardcore overtones? Faith No More have it in hand. Hell, there's even a classical piano break at the end! FNM are the band to take Hard Rock into the '90s." - RIP Magazine 1990
Faith No More have over the years spoken openly about their dislike for the song Epic. Not about the music or lyrics but more the boredom of playing it relentlessly for such a long time.
“It seems sometimes kids turn up just to hear that one song, we’re like stick around we’ve written all these other great songs, you just might like ‘em” - Bill Gould 1992 But as fans, we would have to concede that we can't help but love this song, but why?What is it that, even after all the amazing music that followed, brings us back to this point in FNM history? That's the eternal question, What is it? For many fans Epic is THE song that began a their love affair with Faith No More's music. There is no denying that it is a work of genius, loaded with killer riffs, unforgettable hooks and some funky shit thrown in for good measure. With all these correct parts present and in order, it makes for a perfectly popular song. It is a certainty that FNM will always play it - you would be hard pushed to find a set list that didn't have Epic in it, strategically placed towards the end of the night to keep the fans happy and make sure they stick around. Despite the band’s unwillingness to admit the importance of Epic to their body of work, they understand that their fans want to hear it again and again.
"Of course I knew straight away it would be a fucking hit! I already had a down payment on the Bentley and the bachelor pad in Paso Robles! However, I realised it wasn't an international smash when my speed dealer wouldn't even let me score on credit. Did 'Epic' spawn rap metal? Even it if it did, I wouldn't tell you. The again, the rest of the world seems to feel that way, so I suppose apologies are in order. OK, I'M SORRY!" - Mike Patton 2010
It is without doubt the song that propelled a group of misfits onto another level of musical stardom, From Out Of Nowhere had turned a few heads but Epic sent them spinning. The band themselves had chosen to release Epic in the U.S in mid 1989 as the second single from The Real Thing, but it wasn't until the single was released in the UK and Europe on January 29th 1990 that it found real success. In fact the record company Slash were it seems ready to give up on promoting the album until this point. Epic peaked at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 (the band's only Top Ten hit in the United States), and was their first Number One single on the Australian charts. It is true that other 80s bands had experimented with mixing genres. Hip hop / rap outfit meets metal band crossovers existed before Epic. FNM did not set out to do this, instead they successfully wrote a great song which fed off their combined influences of metal, funk, hip hop and rap and fused them all together.
The music itself has all the unmistakable elements of FNM we love. Mike Bordin and Bill’s balanced, thunderous but impeccably timed rhythms. Jim's powerhouse riff’s and ripping solo. Roddy’s graceful keyboard sounds and Patton's aggressive chants and melodic anthemic chorus. The mood of the song shifts depending on the listener, it can be the radio friendly bright and uplifting song labelled by the media or a dark and brooding experience. Bill had this to say about the inspiration for the song.
"That was when we were writing ‘The Real Thing’- we’d just fired our singer and it was a song that was pretty spontaneous. Actually, it was like the release that came with loosing Chuck! I think with a lot our albums, most of the inspiration comes with the relief of loosing a member that’s too painful to keep! It’s like a sore that finally breaks, a storm that finally comes in.” - Bill 1997
Chapter 22 in Adrian Harte's biography Small Victories: The True Story Of Faith No More is titled 'The Making of Epic' in which members of the band describe in detail how the song developed. Here is a taste: ‘Epic’ started life when the trio of Bordin, Gould, and Bottum were working together in Los Angeles in the immediate post-Mosley interregnum. The rhythm section quickly worked up the groove of the song, and Bottum was also involved in the genesis, playing around with a horns patch on his keyboard. ‘I remember us wanting it to sound like 2001: A Space Odyssey,’ he recalls. ‘The horns were a reference to that. The song was all about space and not playing, as opposed to playing.’ ‘Quickly, Bill and I wrote the groove, the rhythm for “Epic”,’ Bordin remembers. ‘We knew it was cool, and it was good, and it was fun, and it was natural. We’d played it and said, wow, that’s just so massive—it’s just this huge broad, wide, open powerful thing, it’s epic.’ The name was one of the band’s few working titles that survived to become an actual title. Gould: ‘The name has to do with how it felt to play. It was epic because of the horns. The parting of the Red Sea. That was the visual imagery.’
Building on that groove, Gould wrote the rest of the song almost single-handedly. Matt Wallace remembers Gould’s demo as ‘a terrific piece of music. Before I even heard Patton sing on it. We probably spent two or three days on it. Tracking the drums, getting Bill’s bass, and then getting guitars even before the vocals.’ The meaning of Patton's lyrics have been interpreted by curious fans to be about sex, fellatio, masturbation, drugs, religion and more. They do seem to suggest an unattainable something, be it power, love or faith.
The genius of the lyrics is that 'it' could be anything good or bad depending on the listener’s point of view. Mike is inviting us to guess the meaning and telling us 'it' is whatever we want it to be. Even though the singer has told us that his lyrics are more concerned with rhythm than meaning, which is very apparent in Epic, we can't help but attribute meaning to dig deeper into the singer’s mind and understand him better.
“A lot of our songs start music first, lyrics later, and it was called ‘Epic’ as a kind of code word, because before the words came along, it was kind of like the parting of the Red Sea! It was a preposterous grandiose thing! Y’know, we’ve always had a sort of campy, semi-serious approach to writing, with these big cinematic sounds. Patton wrote the words to it about a week after he joined the band. I remember him explaining it to me and I didn’t know him very well, so I wasn’t sure what to make of it.” - Bill 1997
"It was about sexual frustration. Sex and lack of sex. [masturbation] Most people just don't like to admit it, I'm here to tell ya, I love it. That's kinda of what Epic is really about." - Patton 1990
"Epic is sort of a warped sexual state of mind. It deals with more material and physical things like sex. The song kind of teases you. but it's frustrated at the same time because the song want's it too. But at the same time it knows that it can't have it." - Patton 1989
"Believe it or not, 'Epic' was my best attempt at impersonating Blondie's 'Rapture'. Lyrically, I was more concerned with the rhyme scheme than any other constant train of thought. The lyrics mean whatever you want them to mean. They don't belong to me anymore, they are your responsibility now."- Patton 2000
It was the video for Epic which lent a hand in the success of the single release. A video which was nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance at the Grammies, and Best Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Video at the MTV awards in 1991.
It's still amazing that one song can have such a tremendous effect on the music industry and on the fate of the band in question. As fans we would like to believe that FNM would've enjoyed success without Epic, but it is a fact that within the music industry the media plays a part in the availability of music and the airplay it gets. The newly established MTV generation of 1990 helped channel FNM into ears and hearts of the world - Epic was played on MTV up to five times a day! The video was edited by MTV and FNM let them without realising the impact it would have.
The video is bursting with striking visuals - an exploding piano, terrific lightening, that 'Master' t-shirt, that Mr. Bungle t-shirt and Jim Martin's nod to the late Cliff Burton. The imagery is reminiscent of a Salvador Dali landscape with surreal dreamlike shots of floating hands with eyeballs peering from within, dark skies, and waves of liquid colour. The whole scene is set in a torrential thunderstorm that drenches the band to the skin. The direction of the video, by Ralph Ziman, is an accurate setting for the song without giving anything away towards the meaning. All that can be understood is that it is five men against the forces of nature - a reflection FNM's musical blend of crazy and calm. The video ends with an astonishing scene - A fish out of water which is flapping to the classical sounds of Roddy Bottum's piano. This would again highlight the schizophrenic tendencies of the music - the grace of nature with a bizarre and cruel twist. The fish had no meaning beyond its visceral effect, which is both oddly beautiful and incredibly creepy. There are stories that the fish was stolen from Bjork at a party (started by the band) but it was simply bought from a pet store round the corner from the studio. Both Gould and Ziman claim the fishy idea was their own.
"The floundering goldfish was my idea. It was that kinda (cult director) John Waters thing where you try to get maximum attention for minimum money! The piano exploding was pretty cool, too." - Bill 1997
"I remember, the band had one day off from touring and they were in London. The record company had phoned us on very short notice and asked us to do a music video. The y made it sound like a really low priority. I think it was being done for Warner Bros. at the time. I just made a list of things I thought we could do. Exploding piano. A fish flopping around. We literally had one day to pre-produce it. So we handed the fish off to the art department. I can't remember what it was. If it was a carp? It was a fresh water fish. We shot that in London in some studios next to the tour venue. And we wound up letting that fish go into the river when we were finished. We had a couple of them. We would let them flop around, and then we'd swap it over, and we'd shoot another one. I don't remember what kind of fish they were, but the animal handler had brought them in because they were feisty." - Ralph Ziman 2010 Faith No More had already been touring The Real Thing for a year before the tremendous whip-back success of the video and single forced them to continue.
“More than anything I remember us being in Europe, and our manager would check in with us maybe once a week. He called and said: ‘Your single is blowing up over here,’ we didn’t believe him. We thought he was buttering us up so he could keep us on the road, and we all wanted to go home. I remember landing in the airport, going to the hotel, turning on the TV by chance and seeing the damn thing and going: ‘Oh shit….the jokes on us!” - Patton 1995
“We toured for about 18 months before ‘Epic’ was even released as a single. It becoming a hit made a big impression on us, because it was something that we chose to release on our own instincts. It worked and it gave us a lot of confidence to do the next record." - Bill 1997 The success of Epic has continued over the year. It was ranked number thirty on VH1's 40 Greatest Metal Songs in 2006, number sixty-seven on their 100 Greatest One-hit Wonders list (unbelievable but understandable to those who go by such statistics) in 2009, it was named the 54th best hard rock song of all time also by VH1, also in 2009 it charted number 46 on the largest music poll in the world Triple J Hottest 100 of All Time. Thirty plus years since the single release of Epic and it is remembered as a ground-breaking moment, in not only FNM's career but in music. It is also a shining example of who FNM were back in 1989 and how a different kind of brilliance shined. It was the starting point for Mike Patton's career with the band, who's later input changed the music as well as the sound - it is a wonderful reminder of youth and enthusiasm.
Check out the Podcast Croissant episode all about Epic.