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  • Writer's pictureFaith No More Followers

Kerrang! | May 24th 2003 | Issue 956

Man On The Edge

Rod Vates

Since Faith No More split in 1988, Mike Patton has pushed rock music to its outer limits with Mr Bungle, Fantômas and Tomahawk. His outlook is simple: never compromise, never fear and never look back...

Mike Patton considers the question for a few seconds, expelling a breath of air with enough force to make his lips vibrate. It sounds, if you can imagine it, like a cartoon horse whinnying.

"What do I feel most proud of?" he muses. "You're gonna have to ask me when I'm 60, man; it's no time to be getting proud right now. I'm in the middle of too many-things, and it's not healthy to step up on a pedestal and look down and go, 'Hmm, that was good, that was bad'. I don't know, you tell me. I just work here, man."

This is a typical Mike Patton answer for two reasons. Firstly, it's peppered with several mischievous cackles, because Mike Patton seems to take everything he does far less seriously than you'd expect. That's not to say he's not serious about his work, but he'll deflect any questions about the importance of it with a self-deprecating joke. Which is the second reason why the answer is typical.

It's this attitude, you feel, which keeps Patton - no-one actually calls him Mike - motivated. If contentment really is the enemy of art, then Mike Patton is doing his best to fend off its advances. And considering he's currently got more than half a dozen projects on the go, it's a war he seems to be winning.

The singer is currently working upon not one, but two Fantomas albums - the first should be out in a few months and is considered by Patton "a very ambient, very quiet sounding record [with] a surgery theme"; the second, slated for release next year, is "a crazy, cut-up, cartoon-style children's record". Then there's the long gestating Peeping Tom project with Gorillaz DJ Dan The Automator, and several other, unspecified projects which also need his attention.

In the midst of all this (over) work, Fatten has been charged with the responsibility of promoting 'Mit Gas', the second album by Tomahawk, although strictly speaking, this is more ex-Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Dennison's baby than it is Patton's.

You sense that right now Patton would rather be grappling with a vintage microphone than a phone receiver - "I'm probably three records behind where I should be right now," he sighs at one point. "There's just a few things that have been laying around for too long that are starting to get on my nerves" - but when he talks, he talks with speed, focus and no little humour.

The first Tomahawk album was written by sending tapes through the mail. Was this one done the same way?

Patton: "Pretty much. The main difference being we were a band this time around, and I think you can hear it. We'd toured, sniffed each other's tails for a good couple of years, and are better now. The first record's good. but this one we upped the ante. That's the way it's supposed to be."

What was the main benefit of this?

Patton: "I just think we knew more what to expert from each other. We were all in the same room together for about three or four days before we made that first record, so, you know, it's a pressure cooker, which is great, it makes you come out swinging. But there's also something to be said for playing together for a long time and growing as a unit. I usually don't believe in such things, I think you either have it or you don't, and we had it, but obviously I think we built upon it."

Do your lyrical topics change with each project?

Patton: "I don't know, I don't think too much about the lyrics. And some of my projects don't even have them. You tell me, man, I don't read that shit! (Laughs) I don't listen to it either. Personally, I think I'm a little bit better at getting the points across musically as opposed to with words."

When was the last time you were stuck for Inspiration?

Patton: "That probably happens on a daily basis. It's not like you sit down with a glass of wine and look off into the sunset and are struck with divine inspiration. Most of the time for me it's like brushing your teeth, it's routine, and what I do is try and write, or work, on music a few hours a day, no matter what. It's more like, for me, a chore. I force myself to do it. So, there it is, in all of its romantic glory."

Some people romanticise the creative Impulse.

Patton: "I think they're bullshitting you! {Laughs) But who am I? Maybe that's the way it works for some people. Take some acid and, you know, put on your Speedos and there you have it, write a couple of records! laughs) I wish it was that easy, goddamnit; sign me up."

MIKE PATTON has been making music professionally since 1988. A fan of both Elton John and Slayer as a teenager, the 35-year-old claims that the first music that really floored him was the soundtrack to 'Star Wars', pumping out from the speakers of a Californian cinema in 1977. That mind-blowing mix of sound and visuals, he says, has informed his work ever since, not least in his desire to "hit [the listener] from a lot of different angles".

Was that what set you on the path to a career in music?

Patton: "No, it was an accident, me being in [the right] place at the right time - or the wrong place depending on how you look at it - and getting asked to fill in for somebody and just doing it. Being 14 or 15, hanging around with a bunch of dirtheads who played in bands, and that was it."

Was that when you realised you could sing?

Patton: "Maybe that's when I realised the importance of not being afraid to look like an idiot, having the balls to fall on your face in front of people, more than technique or true calling or any of that kind of shit. More about, just kind of having big balls."

Has that guided you through your career?

Patton; "Yeah, absolutely. That sentiment keeps me going forward; I'll try this, it might not work, but I've got to try it; why not? What's the worst that could happen? Am I gonna be dragged before the committee or something? No. I remember in Faith No More, on every record we'd write a couple of weird Tom Jones-ish kind of ballad tunes, and there'd be a point where one of us would go, 'Hmm, should we really release this?'. And we all collectively went, 'Yeah, f**k it! What's the worst that could happen?'. I talk to people in bands, people who play in these death metal bands, who say, 'I wish I could do what you're doing'. What do you mean by that? Who's stopping you?"

Album sales, maybe?

Patton: "Or being a chicken shit, and that's what I'm talking about. Having the gumption to actually look like a fool in front of a lot of people, be willing and enjoying it. Enjoying falling on your face, why not?"

IN 1999, Mike Patton and Greg Werckman (co-founder of the Alternative Tentacles label with former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra) set up Ipecac Records. It is home to bands with extremely "big balls" - bands such as Isis, Melvins, Ruins, The Young Gods and (QOTSA bassist) Nick Oliveri's side-project Mondo Generator. That is the sorts of bands who are willing to try anything, who are looking to push the boundaries. Bands, in short, who share the spirit which has guided Mike Patton's career.

Are you happy that Ipecac is achieving what it set out to do?

Patton: "Yeah, well, what I set out to achieve with it was much more humble than what it's become. Originally it was like, it will be a place where I can put out my records - the ones that nobody wants (laughs) - and maybe a small group of my friends can have it as a safe haven as well. and it just took on a life of its own. I realised that a lot of people are in the same boat: writing a lot of stuff, with nowhere really comfortable for it to go. And it's a drag. Worse thing you can do is work on something to the very end and then sell it to someone. So, we keep that in mind [with] the way we run our label. You want to make a record for us? Do whatever the hell you want, put whatever the hell you want on the cover, and don't expect us to hold your hand. It's your f**king record, you know?"

Do you think the industry would survive if all labels worked like that?

Patton: "No! (.Laughs) It's a different world. That world's not about doing what you can to keep the artist happy, it's not about music, it's about spend spend spend and get the band in debt and keep them drunk and happy and that's that. We keep the costs low, pay the band a reasonable amount; they get in there, they do it cheap. One of the things you realise is, it's your money! So don't go to some expensive studio and hire some guy to hold your golf clubs, just make your fucking record and get the f**k out of there! (Whispering) You might make some money on your records! It's a totally different way of thinking, but it works."

Speaking of the way major labels operate, how did you feel about yet another Faith No More Best Of... album being released last year?

Patton: (Puzzled) "Jesus, is there really? Hmmm. I didn't know we had that many good songs. Wow. Bottom line, they own the music, they can do whatever they want with it. I just turn the other cheek and try and do other lings rather than help them. I just think it's kind of morbid. Call me hypocritical, I get paid for every one of these things, so it's fantastic, keep releasing it, don't let me stop you. But I don't feel like there's anything I can do to make that stuff more interesting now. I did it, it's done. I've enough things on my plate right now, things that are vital to me."

FOR A man who has spent the years since Faith No More's split in 1998 operating below the mainstream's radar, Mike Patton still commands an enormous amount of respect. Constantly name-checked by bands as an inspiration - would anyone really argue that 'Angel Dust' has had more import on today's music scene than any other album released in the past two decades? - a search on the web will bring up hundreds of websites dedicate to him. It's not, though, something he's too concerned with.

How do you feel about the respect your name commands?

Patton: "I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. It doesn't make me feel really better or any worse about myself; I try to put on blinders and keep doing what I'm doing. If I can affect somebody with something I'm doing in some way, that's fantastic, but you don't have to go out and start a f**king website or do any of that f**king shit."

Do you ever listen to your own albums?

Patton: "Not too much, no. Every now and again there's a pleasant surprise, but for the most part that can be kind of an uncomfortable experience. Rather than, 'Wow, man, that's incredible', it's more like, 'Damnit, that guitar should have been louder' or, 'I'm so flat on that note' or, 'God, that guy was such a prick!'. Usually what I hear are mistakes."

Are you still as excited by music now as when you started?

Patton: "Sure, yeah. It's different, but I wouldn't keep torturing myself with this shit if I didn't enjoy it. It's really even beyond, you know, choice at this point, what I do and the way I do it. I could dry up and not have an idea tomorrow, so I want to try and make the most of each idea while I can."

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