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  • Writer's pictureFaith No More Followers

Total Guitar | March 2006

"I've seen the future of rock 'n' roll, and it's Faith No More" - Axl Rose, Guns N' Roses 

James Uings


In 1988, Faith No More were languishing in the 'uncool' sector of the music industry. Aside from a cult following in the UK, they remained largely unknown with a quirky mix of musical styles that seemed unlikely to attract major interest. 

As the 1980s came to a close, it seemed the only way to succeed as a band was to bouffant your hair, apply copious amounts of make-up and recruit a guitarist who could provide at least two super speed, theoretically complex guitar solos per song. Lead guitar dominated tracks so heavily that, according to players like Kurt Cobain and the grunge generation that followed, songs were suffering at the hands of over enthusiastic shredders. 

But the Seattle movement was at least two years away from its contribution to the death of 'guitar wank'. It was therefore down to Faith No More, a little known band from San Francisco, to give guitar music a much-needed facelift; a sentiment echoed by Korn's Jonathan Davis. "Faith No More made it so that you could play metal and not be a hair metal or glam band. They truly started to change things." 

TG recently spoke to FNM bassist Billy Gould, who explains this farther.

 "Bass and keyboards were the core of the band, 'cos that's how FNM started. That's how our sound developed. Traditionally speaking, in rock guitar it's not always about finding holes and finding where you fit in. Guitar players have a tendency to drive the whole show, and the bass and drums back that up, but we're the opposite of that. We all had to find our place." 

Gould goes on to explain that the guitar still had an important role in the band's distinctive sound, but with certain boundaries. "You still need the harmonics of a loud guitar if you're doing something that sounds aggressive. In the late 1980s, guitar driven rock was all about the solo - it was very flashy. I wanted the power of hard rock without the extraneous substance of leads, 'cos it detracts from the songs. There are lots of bands who have solos nowadays, but back then it wasn't like that." 

FNM guitarist 'Big, sick, ugly' Jim Martin was, as his nickname suggests, an unusual character - hair kept under control by a cowboy hat. 

More than the rest of his bandmates, Martin seemed happy with the rock 'n' roll lifestyle that accompanied FNM's success (something that would later become a source of friction with certain band members). His love for classic rock, especially the sounds of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, was a musical taste not shared by the rest of the group. 

The resulting musical differences meant Martin often had to compromise his own instincts as a lead guitarist to fit in with the rest of the band, as Gould explains:

"Sometimes he would play us stuff like Anne's Song [replete with Thin Lizzy-style win guitar soloing], from Introduce Yourself, and our jaws would drop. We'd be like, 'What the hell is this?' He used to call us communists because we were against it. Once we learnt to relax and let him do his thing, he made a great contributing to the band. He had a solid technique and tone that he was very particular about.'' 

The tone in question was a labour of love for Martin. Unhappy with his sound on the first two FNM albums (We Care A Lot and Introduce Yourself), Martin decided to research the best ways to get the guitar tone he wanted. 

"I just sat in Rick Rubin's studio - there are certain aspects of the sound he gets that I like. I also talked to James Hetfield to see how he got his guitar sounds. Most of what they do revolves around mic placement [Hetfield and co even place microphones behind speakers to get their sound]. What I learnt from them is that you keep experimenting with things until you get what you want." 

With his guitar tone in place, Martin and the rest of Faith No More were ready to record. That is, except for the small fact they didn't have a singer. Just as their hunt for a guitarist to replace original axe-slinger Mark Bowen had proved difficult, FNM had an arduous time finding a singer. The band formed in the early 1980s and went through a period of using a different singers nearly every gig, and were even joined by Courtney Love for a few shows. 

Eventually, the band settled on Chuck Mosley in 1983. With Mosley on board, they completed two releases: We Care A Lot and Introduce Yourself. However, tension between the band and Moseley was high. Apart from his unpredictable behaviour and binge drinking, Mosley lived in LA and the rest of the band were based in San Francisco. Adding fuel to the fire, Mosley refused to move closer to the group and songwriting was done via tapes through the post. As the band finished their British tour supporting 

Introduce Yourself, in late 1988, the relationship disintegrated, resulting in Mosley being sacked. 

"We relocated to Hollywood, got some horrible little studio and started writing without a singer," explains Gould. The band wrote for about a year and moved back to San Francisco re embarking on another search for a frontman. Several people pointed the band in the direction of 19 year-old singer Mike Patton, who was receiving interest with his band Mr Bungle. After much persuasion, Patton agreed to join. 

Patton settled in instantly, according to Gould. "He heard things right away, be just started singing. It seemed like he had such a good vibe for it that we let him work on his own." 

The songs for The Real Thing were already written and arranged by the time Patton joined the band. He took the songs away, with the exception of the already complete instrumental Woodpecker From Mars, and wrote his vocal parts in three weeks. 

The rest of the recording process moved along quickly, resulting in an eclectic mix of sounds. The album opens with the irresistibly catchy From Out Of Nowhere, with Martin's rhythm guitar supporting Roddy Bottum's keyboard hook. But even Bottums keyboards were a revelation to guitarists, as Limp Bizkit's Wes Borland told TG: "There were all these 1980s keyboard bands and I was like, 'Keyboards are for sissies! If you have a keyboard in your band, your band must be terrible! It should only be metal and guitars.' But Faith No More had these cool keyboard parts and I was like 'Oh, I take it all back, this is great!'"

From Out Of Nowhere was followed by the single that broke FNM into the rock mainstream and, to the band's disgust, spawned a description of their sound that would plague them for years to come... 

As the band finished a year's worth of touring, the record company told them the tour was "pretty much finished" and that Epic was a last ditch attempt to attract some interest in the album. Suddenly, MTV played the video for Epic and everything exploded. The band were back on the road supporting, among others, Metallica and Guns N' Roses. In the end, they toured the album for a gruelling two years. 

Epic came together really quickly, reveals Gould. "It was one of those songs that was written with everyone [except Patton] in the room at the same time. That's why it seems so natural." 

Gould's slap bass groove laid the foundation for Patton's rap tendencies. Nowadays, this kind of vocal seems commonplace - just listen to any Papa Roach or Deftones song - but in 1989 it was groundbreaking and young music fans, such as Incubus singer Brandon Boyd, lapped it up. "I listened to FNM from an early age. Patton was awesome." 

The end of Epic also features a rare lead guitar moment for Martin; the result of studio experimentation. 

"I was noodling around on the demo, says Martin, and there was one part at the beginning of the solo that grabbed me." 

Patton's distinctive vocal style, combined with Gould's bass grooves and Martin's aggressive guitar parts on several tracks (most notably, Epic, Zombie Eaters and The Morning After), led to critics tagging them as funk metal. As well as having- to endure a few jibes from Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, who claimed Patton had stolen his stage moves, the band became idols for hundreds of inferior clones. 

Gould: "We ended up becoming this musical category without really knowing it. We became known as a funk metal band! We knew it was happening because, when we were touring, we'd get all these funk metal demos. It was so bad. People who used to play heavy metal started playing funk and were looking to us as their peers. It was funny!" 

All jesting- aside, nothing could have been worse for FNM than to be branded as a funk metal band. While it's true they had been embraced by the metal crowd, this was almost certainly in response to their note-perfect cover of the Black Sabbath classic, War Pigs. The irony was, however, that the song had been added to the sets as a joke. Before the band broke into the bigtime, they often played small punk clubs where Black Sabbath were considered by punters to be "the most uncool band ever". In fact, in later years, as a reaction to the constant requests for the metal classic, they added The Commodores' Easy. 

"Being the assholes that we are, we hear people screaming for War Pigs and it's a case of going in the farthest opposite direction," says Roddy Bottum, elaborating on the theme. "I mean, if we hear people shouting for something that hard, we're not gonna give it to them." 

The main problem with FNM being labelled funk metal was that it excluded the rest of the wide ranging sounds found on The Real Thing. The closing track, Edge Of The World, with its laid back lounge feel, doesn't even feature a guitar! This is contrasted by the ultra aggressive Surprise! You're Dead, where Martin gets to show off his rhythm chops as the band go through more time signature and tempo changes than Madonna goes through stylists. 

It's this diversity that finally attracted so many people to their music, as Wes Borland agrees: "I had never heard a band who could be so versatile and try so many different things. They were really going against the grain." 

While Stef Carpenter from The Deftones adds: "The Real Thing opened my mind to the blending of atmospheres. It was always heavy, but it had a dynamic." 

This 'blending of atmospheres' is best demonstrated in the title track, The Real Thing, which starts with a Mike 'Puffy' Bordin drum groove, as many of the tracks did in the songwriting process. Then, in the space of three lines, the keyboards, bass and guitar feedback swell to a wall of noise before snapping back to the 'bare bones' sound. Even though the first chorus features more dynamic change than some artists manage in an entire album, the band don't finish there as the tune moves quickly into a galloping (though not quite Maiden-like) guitar riff over which Patton delivers his intense vocals. Throughout this eight-minute classic, FNM continue to vary dynamics and add new twists and turns (just check out the eastern sounding riff at 2:32). This continues right through to the bizarre feedback noises as the song closes. The Real Thing contains all the hallmarks that make Faith No More triumphant in a single song. 

The follow-up to The Real Thing, the darker, less commercial album Angel Dust, extended Faith No More's diversity even further as they fought to free themselves from the expectations placed on them by their record company. It is as good (some say better) as The Real Thing, and solidified their status as one of the most influential bands of recent years.

Learn to play Epic 

Bill and Ted fans will already know of 'Sir James Martin of Faith No More: founder of the Faith No More Spiritual and Theological Centre', but it may interest you to know that he's also known as 'Big' Jim Martin, and has become one of the few guitarist who can claim to have contributed to changing the face of metal guitar. Martin's guitar sound on the track, Epic, features high gain. There is a multi-layered approach to the track, often with four or five independent guitar tracks playing simultaneously, blending everything from classic thrash riffing to octaves and beautifully melodic soloing; all of which adds to the intensity of the track. The first tricky part to look out for is the fill at the start of verses two and three. It's a three-note shape, moved up one fret at a time (chromatically). To use alternate picking with this sequence is pretty tough, so play it with three downstrokes instead. 

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