Mike Patton is used to juggling projects and today he's doing just that. The Faith No More/Mr. Bungle/too-many-other-bands-to-name frontman is in Los Angeles from his home in Northern California to rehearse with Fantômas, the supergroup he formed back in 1998 with original Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne and Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn. They're practicing for their first show in nearly three years — with Melvins pounder Dale Crover filling in on drums — as a part of Tool's mini-festival out in San Bernardino. But that's not the super-group Patton is talking with Revolver about today. The avant-metal icon recently joined forces with Lombardo again in Dead Cross, a hardcore group the former Slayer skinsman assembled with members of San Diego spaz-grind outfit the Locust and punk squad Retox. When original Dead Cross vocalist Gabe Serbian (who plays drums in the Locust) bowed out of the project to spend more time with family, Lombardo asked Patton if he'd be willing to take over. "I said, 'Really? Me?'" Patton recalls with a laugh. "But the more I thought about it — and it probably took all of 45 seconds — I said, 'Sure, let's try it!'"
The result is Dead Cross' self-titled debut, a 28-minute blitzkrieg of short, sharp shocks that seesaws wildly from fast to faster with songs like "Seizure and Desist," "Obedience School" and "Church of the Motherfuckers" while hitting the brakes only for a churning cover of Bauhaus' goth classic "Bela Lugosi's Dead." In our wide-ranging conversation with Patton, we discussed the making of the album, his take on the current political climate and his inexplicable affinity for hitting small white balls into small black holes.
WE RECENTLY WENT GOLFING WITH YOUR FANTÔMAS BANDMATE BUZZ OSBORNE. ARE YOU A GOLFER, AS WELL?
MIKE PATTON A very horrible one. Golf is the only sport I've encountered where you can really suck but still have a good time. In that regard, I don't feel like I need to get better. And I don't ever get competitive or frustrated because I'm just so bad that there's no hope. It's a unique sport. I mean, in what other sport can an 80-year-old guy kick a 20-year-old guy's ass? It's beautiful.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PLAYING?
My dad was really into it for a while, so I'd go out with him. He was also pretty bad, so we'd go out for an afternoon and just laugh at each other and see how many golf clubs we could break. You gotta cheat, too. [Laughs] The other thing that's really cool is, have you ever tried night golf?
NO, BUT TELL ME MORE ...
We used to do this when we were teenagers. You sneak onto a golf course at night and you can buy these balls that have a hole through the middle of them. You put a little glow stick in there so you can trace your ball at night. But it's total chaos because you'll hit it and then see it glowing in the distance only to realize, "Oh, it's at the bottom of the pond." It's super fun. You gotta try it.
THAT SOUNDS BETTER THAN REGULAR GOLF.
Yeah, it's even more ridiculous. Because golf is, after all, absurd. You hit this tiny ball into this tiny hole hundreds of yards away. Who thought of that?
LET'S TALK ABOUT DEAD CROSS. DID YOU EVER THINK YOU'D BE JOINING A HARDCORE BAND AT NEARLY 50 YEARS OLD?
[Laughs] In a word, no. But it just kinda happened. The way the whole band was formed and the way I ended up joining was pretty happenstance. But it just felt right. All of us were friends previously and had played together in various configurations — or toured together. When I first heard the stuff, it was with the previous singer, and I was interested in putting it out on my label. But the dominoes fell a certain way, and Dave asked me one day.
DID THEY ACTUALLY RECORD STUFF WITH GABE SERBIAN ON VOCALS, THEN?
They had most of the record done with Gabe's vocals, so it was a little bit awkward at first. I said, "Do you want me to just tour and perform his material?" But they said, "No, let's just start over." So that's what we did. And I'm glad we did, because obviously my instincts are a little different than his. But his were great — there was nothing wrong with what he did at all.
AS A RESULT, WAS IT A LITTLE MORE DIFFICULT TO COME UP WITH YOUR OWN TAKE ON THE MATERIAL? DID HIS VERSION SEEP IN ON SOME LEVEL?
Oh, it did. There are some parts where I used his cadences and in some instances even his words because they were just perfect. I asked him if he minded if I did that, and in one case we even kept his vocals because they were so great — so it's me and him together on "Idiopathic."
ON "OBEDIENCE SCHOOL," IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU'RE SAYING, "WITH YOUR PUSSY ON THE TRIGGER." AM I HEARING THAT RIGHT?
You heard it right. [Laughs] It's just a great line. You can't really argue with it, right? That one was kinda based on the TV channel Animal Planet or that series Planet Earth, where everything is really beautiful and it's photographed wonderfully and aren't all these animals great? I always wondered why there wasn't one about the food chain eating us.
IS THE LAST WORD OF THE SONG "AIDS"?
I think it's "eat." But sometimes I'm not too forthcoming with lyrical material — in a lot of projects I won't even print the lyrics — because I really love to hear people's interpretations of what they think I'm saying. A lot of times, the listener's interpretation is better than what I actually wrote. With Mr. Bungle, I'd lay down a really rough demo of my vocals and then play them for the guys without telling them what I was saying. Our drummer at the time had the coolest takes on what he thought I was saying, so I'd ask him to write out what he thought the lyrics were. I swear to god, I ended up using so many of his lines because they were way more interesting than mine. Case in point: "AIDS" is actually better than "eat," so maybe I'll change it. [Laughs] I'll give you credit, man.
I'D BE HONORED. YOU'VE MENTIONED THAT YOU HAPPENED TO BE LISTENING TO OLD HARDCORE BANDS LIKE SIEGE, DEEP WOUND AND THE ACCÜSED AROUND THE TIME YOU WERE OFFERED THE DEAD CROSS GIG. DO YOU THINK LISTENING TO THOSE BANDS INFORMED YOUR APPROACH TO THE RECORD?
By chance, I was revisiting that stuff. It was one of those iTunes adventures where I just hit random. All that stuff is in my music library, and it just came up. I remember thinking, Man, this stuff is so amazing! But I'd kinda forgotten about it. Of course I remembered where I was and what I was doing when I first heard that music, so I realized that no matter what I've done in the years since, I was really knee-deep in that stuff. It was still in my veins somewhere, so it never stops computing — at least to me. [Laughs]
THE DEAD CROSS ALBUM IS 28 MINUTES LONG, WHICH JUST HAPPENS TO BE HOW LONG SLAYER'S REIGN IN BLOOD IS ...
I know! Just a pure coincidence. [Laughs]
BUT THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT THIS MUSIC THAT REQUIRES YOU TO KEEP IT SHORT AND SWEET, RIGHT?
Absolutely. Less is more. There's so much information and it's coming at you at such a pace that your ears will just shut down after a certain amount of time. If the album was any longer, I think we'd be running the risk of overload. But who knows? Some people may think that 28 minutes of this music is too much. It's all in the ears of the beholder. In the live context, we're gonna have to play some new material — which we're working on now — because promoters are like, "What do you mean you can only play half an hour? You're headlining the show!" Dave was talking about maybe doing a Fantômas song, too. We're still gonna keep it around 40 minutes, but it'll feel like an hour. [Laughs]
THE VIDEO FOR LEADOFF TRACK "SEIZURE AND DESIST" HAS A DISTINCTLY POLITICAL SLANT. YOU HAVEN'T BEEN VOCAL ABOUT POLITICS IN THE PAST, SO IS IT A MATTER OF POLITICS JUST BEING HARD TO AVOID THESE DAYS?
Absolutely. And there's nothing really too political in the lyrics, really — maybe little jabs here and there. It's more like we're all going through this really pressurized period in our lives. Like you say, it's unavoidable and in your face. So more than anything, we went with it. I think it's provocative in a comedic way more than anything because it's so sad and so fucked up that you have to laugh.
DO YOU THINK IT'S IMPORTANT FOR MUSICIANS LIKE YOURSELF, WHO HAVE LARGE FOLLOWINGS, TO SPEAK OUT IN TIMES LIKE THESE?
Not necessarily. I think some people are really good at it, but I don't think I am. I don't think it's one of my fortes. But instead of going on some diatribe on my pedestal, if you throw certain imagery out there or sharp pokers here and there, that's my way of doing it. But other people are really good at that kind of thing and can put it in an intelligent context that's not preaching or force-feeding, which is something I'm not into at all. That kinda stuff just shuts me down and makes me feel more powerless.
IS THERE ANY ONE THING THAT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW POLITICALLY THAT REALLY BOTHERS YOU?
I wouldn't really wanna go there. The Paris [attacks] were out of control, and the attack that just happened in England made me think, Wow, this could be all-out war. These people were leaving a mosque in London and someone mowed them down with a van. That sorta seems like we're playing right into the hands of what we shouldn't be doing. I kinda did a double take on that. It seemed like a game changer.
HARDCORE IS A PRETTY POLITICAL GENRE, SO DEAD CROSS SEEMS LIKE THE APPROPRIATE PLATFORM FOR YOU TO TALK ABOUT THIS STUFF.
I knew some of it would creep in. I did it my way, but yeah. It's a visceral, brutal, punctuated set of tunes. When I listen to the record, it plays like one piece of music, even as chopped up as it is. So it does make sense to have the lyrics very sharp and very pointed.
IS THIS THE MOST POLITICAL RECORD YOU'VE EVER DONE?
I don't know. I don't think it even really is a political record at all. It's a nasty record with a lot of exclamation points and periods. Not a lot of commas. [Laughs]