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  • Writer's pictureFaith No More Followers

Rhythm Magazine | April 1995

Blood, Sweat and Snot

Ronan Macdonald

With a new album on the shelves and a world tour in your face, Faith No More are back to rock the house. Drummer Mike Bordin teaches Ronan Macdonald the true meaning of power.

“OH, YOU'RE GOING TO UNPLUG MY CD player aren't you. How about the lamp next to it?" This is strange... I'm having a strange day. For starters, I've just aided and abetted the Rhythm photographer in the trashing of Mike Bordin's hotel room to convert it into a photographic studio while he stood there and watched. And before the irony of that has struck me fully, Mike's showed me the most impressive collection of be-bop CDs. I've ever seen, which apparently he takes everywhere with him.

This is Faith No More's drummer, for Chrissakes. He's supposed to trash his own room; he's supposed to be into Ministry and all that; he's supposed to rock!

Anyway, James (that's the photographer) has just attempted to unplug Mike's portable CD player, and Mike looks a little concerned.

I don't want to piss this man off; I can't help thinking he might go nuclear at any moment.

James tells him that the lamp has a round-pinned plug, so no, he can't plug his lights into it. Cheers, James.

"Is that the only one? It is, huh. I was trying to charge my CD player up... If you can find another one, do, but if you can't I'm not going to stand in your way; don't worry about it. And I mean it too - if you can't, don't worry about it."

There's something about the way he says this, something strangely intense. Perhaps it's the implication that were James doing something a bit more intrusive he would 'stand in his way' Whatever, it's something of a relief but at the same time a reassuring confirmation that Mike could get buckwhile should the need arise. And one thing's for certain: this is a man who clearly needs his music. "I was into music a long time before I started playing the drums," says Mike, tying his dreads-to-die-for back. "It was always really important to me, whether it was Creedence Clearwater when I was nine or ten or Black Sabbath after that."

Mike's introduction to drumming came through his teenage friendship with Cliff Burton, who went on to become Metallica's bass player and tragically died in 1986. "We were sitting in his house one day having a smoke," he remembers.

"He was really into Kiss and he said he wanted to play bass. So I said, ‘Well, I'm gonna play drums'. He died and stuff and we miss him; we'd gone to a thousand concerts together. I don't know, I wasn't even particularly thrilled or moved by drumming as a 14 year old heavy metal kid. I liked Tony Iommi and Ritchie

Blackmore and early Michael Schenker... I liked heavy metal, and heavy metal's accepted as being a guitar-driven type of music. That was 18 years ago." Nonetheless, Mike decided to find himself a teacher and go about things 'properly'.

A friend's brother happened to be a drummer ("He was a really good technical player; he studied it"), so Mike approached him and told him he wanted to learn.

"He was great. At that point I thought I knew everything about music and it was all heavy metal. I read Circus magazine, I knew what was going on. I went up to him with my big afro and he said, 'Okay, you like music? You wanna play drums? Okay kid.. punk..' Naw, it wasn't that bad really. He said, 'Go to the record store and buy this record. Go home and listen to it, come back next week and tell me if you still want to play the drums'. The record was Tony Williams' Lifetime, Believe It, which to this day I carry in my bag. That record's a miracle, it's a miracle. So I started playing the drums."

Does this strike you as odd? A 14 year old metal kid having a musically spiritual experience thanks to Tony Williams? Er, Mike... I gotta tell ya, this ain't heavy metal. "Oh, but it was f**king thunder. Oh man, it was thunderous," he enthuses, sitting up excitedly. "Believe It's not a heavy metal record, but there's a lot of guitar and thumping, thunderous drums. It just made a connection to me, I was interested. I wasn't too interested in school; at that time I was doing real bad in school, smoking too much and getting in trouble. Lo and behold, I started playing the drums and stopped smoking. I went to school and was a better guy, not so much of a jerk, and it was all because I had something I was interested in."

It's okay, this isn't about to turn into a moral tale, although perhaps it is a testimony to the hip power of drumming. Anyway, Mike threw himself into it whole-heartedly, taking lessons from West Coast doyen Chuck Brown. "He's a heavy guy, he taught Michael Shrieve and Terry Bozzio. His whole thing is matched grip - excellent control; control in the fingertips... He's a swinger."

Mike, as anyone who's seen him drumming will know, plays open-handed. While he is left-handed using a right-handed setup, this technique isn't just there because Brown couldn't be bothered setting up a left-handed kit when teaching him.

"My teacher decided to experiment on me. I had my kit set up right-handed, but what it did was to give me more power by playing like this. And it worked. Why don't they do that for everybody with matched grip? It's stupid to cross over anyway. He said it would either suck and I wouldn't be able to do it, or both my hands would be strong and I'd be able to lead from both sides. It worked. He taught me a real style of drumming, a real technique. But it was hard!" he exclaims. "I couldn't get my wrists straight and I was playing like this and it wouldn't bounce straight and I kept hitting myself in the eye... I was shitty... I'm still shitty sometimes. But, you know, why not - nobody's born beautiful. I worked at it and, lo and behold, I started relating to music rhythmically, and that was a big deal, a huge thing."

Although drumming kept Mike off the streets, so to speak, it wasn't all downhill for him emotionally by any means. There was a time for this temperamental artist when no matter how far he progressed, it was never enough. "A strange thing started happening: as I got playing more and more I started feeling worse and worse. I was really frustrated and didn’t know why.”

Mike's dissatisfaction with his playing reached such an extent that when he and his friends got together for regular jams, he'd often end up having what can only be described as a tantrum. "We were having these wild sessions, and it was, like, beer and fun - although even then I couldn't drink beer and play without getting arm cramps and dehydration - but I would be very unsatisfied at the end of the night and, more often than not, I would kick over my drums. I guess that's the kind of person I was then: real wound up tight and unable to gain a perspective. I started realising that the reason I was becoming unsatisfied was because it wasn't exactly right, you know? I was trying to play really fast, cramming four bar fills into two bars and all that stuff. At that point I don't think I'd heard Billy Cobham, but everybody in the world was trying to play like him, and that didn't work for me. I started realising that either I had to do that and be like some f**king racehorse, or give it up and be rid of it. It's all about style and substance - there's nothing wrong with style, if you worship style and that's what you're into, God bless ya. But there are other things, and I think you need both. The people who are into the substance need the people who are into the style because otherwise we'd all be the same, we'd all be average and it would be boring. So I gave that up and started feeling better.

That's a huge thing, even at that early time, figuring out where you can fit in and be comfortable."

At the same time as this revelation came a second turning point. The Ed Sullivan-enhanced Brit explosion many American drummers went through may have been before his time, but for Mike the best British music came along way after the Beatles anyway. "Around that time, England exploded, and I was into it, it was good for me. The Stranglers were the bridge between heavy metal and the future. It was like heavy metal without the annoying guitar solos. That was well timed for me. It was all about feeling; there wasn't a lot of technique; it was all straightforward. It was good for me because I was burnt out on Ted Nugent and all that other dogshit."

'Dogshit'? Does Mike really see it all as dogshit now? He used to love this stuff. "It's like anything; it's like, out of 25,000 things that you thought were great, there'll be maybe

12,500 things that will stand up. I still listen to Physical Graffiti, and I still listen to a few Black Sabbath records for sure, but I'm into other things right now. At the moment I'm into music from the '40s and '50s, that's what this bag's full of." This is no exaggeration - it really is full. "I'm interested in be-bop, R&B, jump... That's what I'm into now, but I wasn't ready for it then. But anyway, the whole thing with rock is that you don't have to be perfect. You don't have to be Billy Cobham or Steve Gadd, you don't have to be. I really got into Killing Joke - Paul Ferguson - and Echo and the Bunnymen - Pete De Freitas. Those guys, man. That was as influential on me in the near present as heavy metal was when I was a kid. Killing Joke was like Black Sabbath to me."

After he'd finished taking lessons from Chuck Brown, Mike discovered another side to drumming that gave him a new perspective on his playing. "There was this guy at school from Ghana, a master percussionist," he recalls. "What he did was taught a low key African percussion class for idiots, for f**king white people - football players and frat players. This guy was the other half of my musical education. The other f**ker taught me how to hold my sticks and write stuff down, and this guy was a whole different deal. He taught me how to make one limb play one thing and one limb play another, or maybe do things with my mouth. His whole thing was ensemble - the natural syncopation of many people playing different things together. Musically it's like DNA, it's the building blocks. And again, listening to people like Paul Ferguson and Pete De Freitas, those guys weren't like 'Ringo Starr, Ringo Starr, ba-da-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da, Ringo Starr', they weren't that. Even before that, I was doing things with flams and tom patterns, but the African guy really firmed it up and there was no going back. The African thing is the four main beats with syncopation around it. There it is: the four main beats are in your hi-hat and you've got three limbs left to play with, so what do you want to do? What I wanted to do was go for power, so I connected up the toms and the kick drum a lot.

The thing I said before about being unsatisfied was that it didn't feel mighty enough, so I'd kick 'em over. I was looking for a buzz, and I realised it wasn't going to come from playing faster; there was always going to be someone playing faster than me, flasher than me and doing some other f**king fancy-assed dragster trick. I decided to use my 'fingerprint' It may not be the greatest fingerprint, but it's mine and I'm going to make the most of it. That ain't easy to do when you see guys flipping their sticks and doing backflips and karate kicks.

"To me, drumming is up here," he continues, pointing to his head. "When people say, hey, do a clinic, you know what I would do? I would have lunch and talk about drums."

Now, you may be thinking that Mike takes all this very seriously, and indeed he does. He's a serious sort of person.

And his lucidity in explaining how he got to where he is now gives the impression that he's reached some sort of equilibrium. "I don't have to think about it any more because I've made my peace with it," he explains. "I believe it, so I can move on and deal with something else. I'm not interested in somebody doing an impression of someone else, I want to know where we've been. I want to know where we've been so I can find out where I'm going. By the same token, about being frustrated and kicking over the drums, I'm satisfied; I get what I want at the office I don't mean that in a disparaging way - drumming is a job to me, and it's the best f**cking job I could ever have." He pauses and looks at me intently. "I say it's a job, I put my chest out. Journalists are like, Well, is this a job or is this, like, your art?' You know what I mean? It's not like that; it's like, Yeah, it's my job. I'm giving up my hearing and my body willingly. And my time: my wife's sister had a baby last night... I wasn't there for their wedding either... I wasn't there for her father's funeral. Yeah, it's a job and I'm f**king proud of it."

Faith No More have been through, a couple of lineup changes over the years. Original singer Chuck Mosley was dumped for being too mad, and guitarist 'Big' Jim Martin departed because of... er, musical differences. But through all the bullets and bitching, all three core members have remained: bassist Billy Gould, keyboard player Roddy Bottum and, of course, Mike Bordin.

The band originally formed when Mike met Gould (with whom he's been playing for 12 years) through another musician. "It was just after the time when the Stranglers and the Sex Pistols and the Ramones saved me from Ted Nugent, if you will. Nah, I don't want to pick on him, but just things generally in that vein. I was playing with some other bands and somebody said they knew a guy who was into that kind of music - Killing Joke and PiL and that kind of stuff - who was looking for a drummer. They said he was kind of weird. I went along and talked to him and he was playing with this weird, scrawny looking kid. That was Bill. We realised that we had more in common with each other than we did with him. We became pretty good friends and went to Black Flag concerts and listened to the Misfits and all of that."

And with Bottum leaving another band to join the duo, Faith No More were born. The whole thing started off as a jam situation, three mates gettin' busy in the garage, if you will. "We didn't know how to write songs," admits Mike, "it was more about playing long grooves. Like the thing from 'Zombie Eaters', the main part, that was the first thing we ever did - me, Billy and Roddy. We'd sit there and play it for hours.

It was amazing to us, we were all excited because we felt like we were going somewhere. In reality, we didn't know shit about writing songs, but we were doing something that was definitely within where we wanted to go. To some extent it's still that way, but we're better at writing now. As a musician, all kidding aside, f**k, you've got to get better, man. If you do it for a long time and take pride in it, you gotta get better. If you don't grow, you die."

One of Faith No More's trademarks is their use of keyboards. Keyboards in rock usually implies something along the lines of Europe or Ye Quo, but in this case they added a powerful and histrionic hi-tech edge to the band's sound. And while you'd think the loss of their full time guitarist would mean the keyboards came to the forefront even more, their new album King For A Day features more guitars and less keys. "On Angel Dust their previous album, we wrote a record and we didn't get a guitar player to come in with as much guitar as we wanted, for whatever reason, all dirty laundry aside. Ask the

guitar player; ask the band - we would agree on one thing, that we didn't get as much guitar as we wanted. That was the beginning of the end for that working relationship.

"When you have a keyboard player and a guitar player in a band, you have to balance them out; they take up the same frequencies and a lot of space.

So what we had this time, instead of guitar, keyboards, was keyboards, guitar This time it is a bit different, and this is the first time ever, again as a bassist, a drummer and a keyboard player who write songs, that we've written songs with guitar in mind. Before, we'd write songs and then put guitar over them, but this time, without a guitar player, we've consciously left space for it. It was like a new toy. Having said that, the keyboards are in appropriate places and they make a few songs for me."

Faith No More's relationship with the media has never been overly cozy. A substantial amount of press has focused on the fact that... well, the band don't seem to like each other, basically. Is this is hype or is it all really as fiery off-stage as it is on? "Tension is overrated," says Mike cryptically. "Tension, while it may make you pissed off and maybe make. you play your instrument harder... I can think of a couple of other things that do the same thing.

One is satisfaction and pride and motivation. The bottom line is that if we're not happy about it, we're not going to lie about it, whether it was the singer before this one, who we were pissed off and frustrated with, or whether it was this last experience with Angel Dust, where we made a record we were very proud of and that had success although we knew in our hearts we could have improved it one or two percentage points. Nobody lied about it. I think tension is overrated, yes."

Mike's getting rather animated, but I'm going to hold my ground. I ask him how they're all getting along now. "Right now? We get along good. I was talking to this journalist friend of mine last night, and he said, 'You know how everyone's saying you stay together because of your contract?

That's bullshit! I've seen you guys since '88, and I've never seen you all happier on stage' And he's right. We don't f**k about really. This is important to us; if it wasn't then we wouldn't do it at this level."

Whatever their outlook towards each other, it's certainly true to say that everyone who's ever been in Faith No More has had the seemingly necessary qualification of a very strong personality. While this may have caused its problems in the past, you only have to see them play to know that it also makes them what they are. And if Mike ever leaves the band, anyone thinking of taking his place should be told that this is a gig requiring you to give as much, if not more, than you take. Mike is a very firm advocate of the 'no pain, no gain' school of thought; even his sticks have been customised to this end. "My drum tech used to use a pair of pliers," he grins. "He'd go round the sticks in a spiral and then rub them with the pliers to make very large splinters. I hold the tips and use them butt end. Things get pretty slippery; I have grip tape on my pedals. There's water, a lot of water, a lot of snot - when I hit something hard, I'll blow a booger. It all comes out: there's water and there's sweat and snot and a lot of blood. My sticks dig in and they don't let go." Literally, I would imagine.


Um... call me naive, but doesn't that, like, really hurt?

"It feels great. It's my job."

Mike Bordin is exactly as I imagined he'd be. He's got that Rollins-style, at times introspective intensity that Faith No More's drummer should have. The fact that he's also so single-mindedly masochistic only serves to make him even more of a quintessential rock icon than he at first appears.

"Yeah, I definitely feel a physical contribution to this," says Mike as we rebuild his room. "It's a commitment, yeah.

When I come off stage, I'm f**ked, I'm done. But if I wasn't, I wouldn't be satisfied, and that would be even worse I'm like a cockroach, I've adapted to do exactly what I need to to survive.

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