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  • Writer's pictureFaith No More Followers

Music Express | 1991

Keeping the faith

Perry Sternt

Faith No More may have just made it big recently, but contrary to popular opinion, they were playing their style of funk/rap fusion before other bands made it the flavor of the year. In fact, throughout their eight-year history, FNM have found that combining their disparate musical elements - African polyrhythms, punk, rap, pop, disco, and metal- has created a dynamic tension that they thrive on, and given them a distinctive,

unpredictable sound.

Time has finally solved one of Faith No More's peskier problems — but you wouldn't know it from the shaken look on Roddy Bottum's face. "I can't believe what I just did," he shudders. What could possibly have caused such consternation? "I can't believe it," he says again, shaking his head. "I just bought a pair of pants for $300."

As recently as last September, at a time when their album, The Real Thing, had already made its astonishing rise up the charts after languishing for more than a year near the bottom, some members were complaining about how broke they were, and, Grammy nomination notwithstanding, how unrewarding success really was. Now, of course, the cheques are coming in. And Roddy seems to be having a mixed reaction.

The eight-year, three-album, genre-defying overnight success story of Faith No More has become familiar by now. Hailed for their originality, the diversity of their music, and their consistently energetic and enthusiastic performances, the San Francisco-based quintet has spent the past year and a half playing more concerts to a wider audience than practically any other band on the planet. If there was a Grammy for persistence, Faith No More would have won it hands down.

The band's first incarnation, as Faith No Man with bassist Billy Gould, drummer Mike "Puffy" Bordin and "this guy who lived with his parents in a trailer park and drank Koolaid," started in 1982. Within months the Koolaid drinker was gone, "More" replaced "Man" in the group's moniker, keyboardist Bottum (a friend of Gould's since elementary school) signed on, guitarist Jim Martin was recruited from one of San Francisco's heavier thrash bands, Vicious Hatred (which also once included Metallica's original bassist, the late Cliff Burton), and the search for a vocalist began in earnest.

Then, as now, Bordin was into African poly-rhythms, Gould followed the punk and rap scenes, Bottum was a classically trained pianist with a passion for pop and disco and Martin was the quintessential metalhead. But the disparity in their personal musical tastes created a dynamic tension that the band members thrived on. At an early stage they learned that incorporating elements of their favorite genres into the same song gave them a distinctive, unpredictable sound. Contrary to the assumptions of some of their johnny-come-lately fans, the rap and funk aspects have always been present in FNM's music.

For their first flurry of gigs, Faith No More had an open-mike policy, inviting members of the audience up onstage to try their hand at singing. The most persistent was a young black singer with a penchant for cross-dressing and an unnerving but attention-grabbing ability to coherently scream his lyrics.

Within weeks of his unscheduled debut, Chuck Mosely had become a full member of the band. Over the next six years, Faith No More slogged away in the musical trenches of half-filled bars and unsold records. Their first release, on the tiny Mor-dam label, was We Care A Lot, in 1985. The title track, a tongue-in-cheek attack on the most popular philanthropic hit of the day, "We Are The World," had stinging rap verses set against an aggressively rocking chorus. The group had made its first, unsteady steps on the road to rock/rap fusion.

That track was so good, and the album sold so poorly, that the song was rewritten and rerecorded for the band's second LP, Introduce Yourself, released on the L.A.-based Slash label in 1987. This time the song was a hit in clubs and on college radio. The group toured extensively, sometimes headlining, sometimes opening up for larger acts (including the band they're most often compared to, The Red Hot Chili Peppers).

But even though their popularity grew, the band seemed destined to self-destruct. In particular, vocalist Mosely had become erratic and inconsistent in concert. After he dogged a sold-out London show attended by several major label representatives, Mosely and Gould almost came to blows, and the singer was asked to leave. Ultimately it was the best thing that could have happened, not only for Faith No More, but also for Mosely, who recently became the lead singer for The Bad Brains.

To this day some of FNM's hardcore fans see the enlistment of new singer Mike Patton as a sell-out— they seem to feel that his skateboarder mentality and sarcastic performances were calculated to appeal to the growing hordes of Chili Pepper fans.

When The Real Thing was released in June of '89, at the height of Living Colour's popularity, some people unfamiliar with the band's history thought their melding of rock and rap was contrived and cynical.

The truth of the matter is that the band went looking for a singer, and Patton, who had passed along a demo tape of his band, Mr. Bungle, to Jim Martin, gave the best audition. The music for The Real Thing had already been written, and in just two weeks Patton wrote all the lyrics, justifying the other members' faith in him.

"It was a little awkward at first," Bottum recalls,

"but Mike fit in surprisingly well. I think it must have been difficult for him. Right after he joined the band, he had to go out and play in front of huge crowds. For the first couple of months I think it was pretty hard for him. I don't think he'd ever been out of California before."

If Mike Patton was a novice at touring before he joined FNM, he certainly isn't now. The band opened first for Metallica, then as part of a triple bill with Soundgarden and Voivod, then they went to Europe as part of the Monsters Of Rock tour, then back to America to open for Billy Idol, and finally hitting the road with Robert Plant. They filled in the gaps in their grueling 18-month concert orgy by headlining their own club tour on both sides of the Atlantic as well as Australia, where the band managed to get in a bit of bungee jumping before it was banned. ("It felt like cheating God," says Patton.)

The novelty of being fronted by Patton probably sustained the band during the early phase of touring. "I think when he joined the band it made everybody a lot happier," Bottum says. "When Chuck was in the band we couldn't consistently put on a show and make it work. With Mike, even though he was just starting, he was much more professional about it - whether he realized it or not."

Patton isn't usually praised for his professional behavior. During his first year with the band his comments onstage and in interviews regularly landed them all in hot water. And by the time they got to Europe most people had written off the album as a failure. Patton, unused to the grueling schedule (seven nights a week when they headlined; four or five if they opened), began complaining about the rigors of the road and the poor financial return for his time.

"He has no qualms about speaking what's on his mind, even what's not on his mind," says Bottum.

"He's out to shatter the illusion of 'Now you're in a rock band and isn't everything great?'"

For his part, Patton perceives his complaining as only natural. Two weeks after the interview he missed ("Sorry, I was being scolded by our management," he offers by way of apology), he threw in his two cents' worth on the phone from Wyoming.

"Sometimes I've said some things that don't look good in print," he explains.

"I just came out telling the truth, like 'I feel like shit today and I don't want to tour any-more.' And then it comes out that this malcontent Patton can't wait to get home and play with his other band. It's great — I love all the controversy."

The biggest controversy Patton's loose lips launched was as a result of the be-tween-song patter that provides comic relief during the band's shows. In the opening days of the Monsters of Rock tour, which consisted of Whitesnake, Aerosmith, Poison, Vixen and The London Quireboys, Patton came perilously close to having the band kicked off the tour.

"I'm not supposed to talk about it," Bottum says. "We had reservations about the tour — it was playing with a bunch of bands we don't relate too well with. In the months leading up to it, we just sensed that something bad was going to happen.

It was pretty much a misunderstanding.

Mike started talking about Poison. He was kidding around, and they got really upset."

What Mike said, he would explain later, alluded to the physical dexterity of a member of Poison who could allegedly perform an act on himself that usually requires the participation of another person. ("He's apparently a very limber guy," Mike explains.)

"Mike said something about Aerosmith that I thought was pretty funny," Bottum continues.

"Everyone knows that Aerosmith is clean. They've made a huge point of letting the world know that they don't do drugs anymore, and everyone knows they don't do drugs. So Mike goes on stage and says, 'What band up here do you think does the most drugs? I think it's Aerosmith.'"

Poison took their ribbing the hardest, and wanted FNM off the bill immediately, but since Whitesnake were the headliners, it fortunately wasn't Poison's prerogative, and after making a public apology, FNM were allowed to continue. "Eventually they moved us down the bill, gave us half an hour instead of 40 minutes and didn't give us a dressing room," Bottum concludes. "They said, 'You come in, you do the show and you leave immediately. We don't want any problems.'

"For a minute we thought, 'Oh, wow, what a big mistake!' But looking back on it now, it was no big deal. And Poison called our booking agent a few days ago and asked us to do a tour with them. I wouldn't feel bad if some band we played with made fun of us. I think that's great, and really healthy. That's our whole thing. What is a rock star?

They're not above everybody else. People should be able to poke fun at them and they should have a sense of humor about it."

As for Aerosmith, Patton says, "I talked to them later, and they weren't put off by it at all. It was their management - the guy who spent a lot of money cleaning them up. I was kind of shitty."

Patton says that the between-song patter has become an essential element of any FNM performance. "A lot of what we say between songs comes from being bored, and we're trying to entertain our-selves." Other examples of their stage wit include implying that Lenny Kravitz and Sinead O'Connor were backstage making "little hippie skinhead babies" during one of their London shows ("Actually, Lenny Kravitz really enjoyed that joke," says Patton) and compelling a hard rock audience to snap their fingers in honor of Nelson ("I really think they ought to be respected," he shouted to the jeering crowd, which included at least one of the Nelson twins). Often that patter provides the only spontaneity in a concert.

"When we first started touring with Metallica and I saw them play the same set every night, down to the between-song chatter, it seemed a little sterile," Bottum recounts. "I think of a show more like a production now, more like a play. I don't think we're the type of band that would resort to saying the same things to the audience every night, though a lot of bands do. But as far as the set goes, if it works, you've got to stick with it."

It was while the band was headlining their own small club tour of Europe last summer that MTV finally started playing the video for "Epic," and the song and album began rising up the charts. At first, however, the reality of the rebirth of The Real Thing didn't sink in for Patton. "Our manager was faxing us, saying where we were on the charts every week," he says.

"From our point of view it was, 'Yeah, sure.' We were playing 100-seat clubs." It wasn't until they were back in the U.S. that they started observing subtle changes in the way people related to them. "It's a cumulative, gradual thing,". Patton says.

"You start noticing that the people you talk to after the show don't want to hang out with you and take you to a movie; it's, 'Can I have your autograph?' Or, with the crowd, instead of catching you when you stage dive, they try to take a piece of you." Though they found themselves being treated like stars, the economic reality hadn't quite caught up with the hype.

Growing impatient with his poverty, Puffy Bordin made some caustic remarks in an interview, complaining about his lack of cash. When someone referred to Guns N' Roses' endorsement of the band, Bordin scoffed at it and retorted that if Axl cared, he should send him $20. (To the embarrassment of the other band members, Rose sent them a note saying, "Sorry you feel that way. Here's 20 bucks.").

In any case, the days of poverty seem to have come to an end for Faith No More. Now it appears that the biggest drawback of the time spent on the road, according to both Bottum and Patton, is the fact that the group has been unable to work up any new material - other than covers like their laughably "torturous" version of The Commodores'

"Easy," which has replaced Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" as their final encore. It's been almost two years since the instrumental members of the band wrote any music, but Bottum says they won't be deep-sixing any of their disparate musical elements when they create their next album.

"I don't think we'll shed anything — more like re-fine," he considers. "I think we set up moods. The thrash thing is part of what we're all about, and will always be there. I think what we do is create a really beautiful setting in a song, and then whip into something really powerful [eg, the instrumental "Woodpecker From Mars"]. I think in the future it will become more refined in the sense that the beautiful parts will be more orchestrated and then slip into even more intense, chaotic, frenzied thrash."

"Whatever's gonna happen, it isn't gonna be conscious," says Patton. "We're gonna write what sounds good to us, so if it's shitty, or sounds contrived, we aren't gonna play it."

Of course, the challenge for any band that has earned the approval that has been heaped on FNM will be maintaining the originality that has been their hallmark (especially now that there are so many bands aping their style). Fortunately, Faith No More don't see themselves as the vanguard of a new funk/metal genre. "We don't identify with that," Patton asserts with a sense of finality that makes one long to hear the band's fourth album. "If that's a movement, we'd love to kill it."

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