Faith No More: Inside the Alt-Metal Trailblazers' Epic Comeback | Revolver

Faith No More: Inside the Alt-Metal Trailblazers' Epic Comeback

Mike Patton: "If people think it's some limp-wristed fucking attempt at becoming 'hip,' then they can kiss my ass"
FaithNoMore2015HUBBARD, Jimmy Hubbard
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

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Mike Patton is a man who can eloquently expound on a wide variety of topics, ranging from Italian film soundtracks of the 1960s to the 2015 pennant prospects of the San Francisco Giants. But when it comes to the enduring legacy of Faith No More—the groundbreaking, genre-mashing band Patton fronted for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s—well, that's a conversation he would prefer to avoid completely.

"Don't start with that shit, please," he laughs. "Legacy? That's for people like you to determine, not me. I've got nothing to say about it. We're a band. The music should speak for itself, and hopefully it will. Legacy, dude? Legacy is something you talk about when you're dead—and I'm not dead yet."

No, Patton is thankfully not dead; neither, for that matter, is Faith No More. Having unexpectedly reunited in 2009 after an eleven-year layoff, the band—which opened ears and warped minds with albums like 1989's The Real Thing (which contained their massive MTV hit "Epic") and 1992's Angel Dust—has now doubled down on their rapturously received reunion tour by unleashing another surprise on an unsuspecting world: Their first new album in 18 years.

Titled Sol Invictus, the ten-song album—which, along with Patton on vocals, also features the talents of bassist Bill Gould (who also produced it), keyboardist Roddy Bottum, drummer Mike "Puffy" Bordin and guitarist Jon Hudson—holds its own beautifully with the rest of the band's impressive back catalog. Unlike so many "reunion" albums by so many other well-known bands, Sol Invictus doesn't smack of nostalgia or reek of cash-in. New songs like "Motherfucker," "Superman," "Cone of Shame," "Sunny Side Up," "From the Dead" and the title track are all quite clearly the twisted work of the same band that produced 1997's brilliant Album of the Year, but without any obvious attempts to connect the sonic or conceptual dots back to any previous Faith No More record. Sol Invictus simply stands on its own, an elegant, cinematic and alluringly dark work that draws upon the band members' unique creative chemistry, yet never chases the tail of their past glories.

"If there's anything that's thematic of what we do," says Bottum, "it's not having an agenda. No one set out with any intention to sound a particular way, or to do anything that would achieve something; we just set out to please ourselves."

"When you hear the old stuff compared to this, it really is different," says Gould. "There's been a lot of water under the bridge since Album of the Year. We just checked in to where we were at right now, and that was it. And that's kind of how we've always done it."

"We're very conscious of the sort of rock cliché of bands getting back together," says Patton. "You know, doing it for the money and just regurgitating shit. This record is not that. What did LL Cool J say—don't call it a comeback?" he laughs. "This is just a different band with the same ingredients."

Getting those ingredients together in the same pot was no easy feat, however. In fact, with the exception of the Commodores ballad of the same name that the band recorded in 1992 (and which has often popped up in the band's set lists), "easy" is a word one rarely associates with Faith No More. From their debut album—1985's We Care A Lot — onward, the Bay Area-based band remained stubbornly resistant to any and all outside efforts to pigeonhole or paint them into a particular stylistic corner. Metal and hard rock were always part of the FNM equation, of course, but so were Bottum's arty keyboard flourishes, Gould's prog-funk bass runs, Bordin's methodical drumming, and an acerbic and satirically-minded aesthetic that skewed far closer to Frank Zappa than anything their late-80s contemporaries like Guns N' Roses and Metallica (both of whom tirelessly championed Faith No More) were laying down. The more complicated, challenging or conceptual their music was, the better. "We've always made it more difficult for ourselves," Gould laughs. "If it comes too easily, we feel like we're cheating, or something."

After 1987's Introduce Yourself became a cult hit, the arrival of Patton in 1988—replacing sacked original vocalist Chuck Mosley—heralded a bright commercial future for Faith No More. Handsome, charismatic and possessed of a jaw-dropping vocal range, Patton almost seemed to jump through the camera in the video for "Epic," the rap-metal blast from 1989's The Real Thing that became a surprise Top Ten hit in the summer of 1990, and which eventually helped its parent album go platinum. But much to the chagrin of Slash Records, the Warner Brothers subsidiary that Faith No More had signed with, Patton turned out to be just as artistically uncompromising as his new bandmates.

"When we had The Real Thing, and we had our success, there was all this 'encouragement' from the label and other people," Gould remembers. "Everyone was telling us that we should just keep going with the funk-metal thing, because it was something that the public bought real easily, and it was something that could be worked. And I think we've always resisted looking at our music that way."

"Our reaction to outside suggestions was always like, total middle-finger," laughs Bottum. "We would always be like, 'Nope, nope, absolutely not!' For no other reason than to not give people what they wanted. We were really good at not giving people what they wanted!"

Faith No More responded to the success of The Real Thing by releasing 1992's Angel Dust, which Entertainment Weekly memorably called "probably the most uncommercial follow-up to a hit record ever." But while the album's complex arrangements and dizzying stylistic reach scared off a lot of newcomers who were hoping for The Real Thing, Part 2, it also bolstered the band's rabid cult following among more adventurous listeners—especially overseas, where the album (unlike in their homeland) actually outsold The Real Thing.

Faith No More went even further "out there" on parts of 1995's King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime, which incorporated smooth soul jams, free jazz and gospel into the mix. "We'd always say, like, 'If you're not feeling uncomfortable, then it's not worth it!'" laughs Patton. "There were some songs that we did back in the 90s, or whatever, and I remember going, 'Ugh, I don't know if I can do that!' And Bill or someone else would say, 'Hey, man, just try it!' And that taught me a lot."

Faith No More's fearless pushing of boundaries came at a cost, however, as did the intensity of the band's workload. Bottum nearly left the band due to a heroin addiction, and original guitarist Jim Martin—who'd become increasingly vocal about his unhappiness with the band's musical direction—was fired in 1994. Trey Spruance, the guitarist from Mr. Bungle, Patton's first band, played on King for a Day, then quit rather than commit to the extensive touring that followed the album's release. 

 "It used to be that we would go out for a year and a half at a time," remembers Bottum. "We would tour right through the holidays, pretty much every day of the year, setting stuff up, doing soundchecks, playing shows…"

"We always played music that was a little bit odd, compared to what else was coming out," adds Gould. "So in order to survive, we made up for that by touring like crazy back in the day. It burned us out, and we handled adversity and challenges differently than we do now."

mike patton HUBBARD, Jimmy Hubbard
Mike Patton and friends
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

Adding to these challenges was the cumulative creativity of Faith No More's individual members, which was simply too volatile and varied to be contained by a single band. In 1989, Gould formed Spanish-language grindcore/death metal outfit Brujeria with Fear Factory's Dino Cazares, which released its first album in 1993; Bottum formed the indie-pop quartet Star 69 (soon to be renamed Imperial Teen) in 1996, the same year that Bordin began touring and recording with Ozzy Osbourne; and Patton, who had continued to record and tour with Mr. Bungle, also embarked upon a variety of other projects during the mid-90s, including collaborations with avant-garde composer John Zorn and the 1996 solo album Adult Themes for Voice.

Breakup rumors abounded, but the band managed to reconvene for one more album, 1997's acclaimed Album of the Year, this time with Jon Hudson, an old friend of Gould's, filling the guitar slot. Another world tour followed, but the strain of it all finally became too much. "The music business was different back then," says Gould. "Band survival was driven by record sales, for example, and keeping the record company motivated. And it was really tough, because you think that you need to be doing this work to survive, and if you stop, you'll be back on the street. You don't feel in control of what you're doing. And that's a tough place to be—when you're working really, really hard and you don't feel like you have control of your destiny."

On April 19, 1998, the members of Faith No More made a bid to regain control of their individual destinies by breaking up the band. Gould sent out a press release announcing the band's mutual decision to call it a day. "The split will now enable each member to pursue his individual project(s) unhindered," read the release.

"We broke up under pretty shitty circumstances," Bottum recalls. "We'd gone through so much together, doing what we had to do to get from Point A in the back of a crappy '66 Dodge, to a point where I don't even know how to set up my keyboard stand, because somebody sets it up for me. To get from Point A to Point B is a really long, long road. And for people, good friends, to get from that point to that point at the age that we were, it was really, really a strain on relationships. So by the time we broke up, it was kind of like we never really wanted to see each other again," he laughs. "I mean, that's where we were! It was kind of like going through war together—working together, making decisions together, doing finances together, making art together, living together — it was so much more difficult than any marriage would be, or any friendship would be. It was just really hard on us. So by the time we broke up, it was like, 'Enough!'"

Whenever any well-loved band breaks up, the question of "When are you getting back together?" inevitably becomes part of the conversation. With Faith No More, the odds of a reunion were slim, indeed; though the band's legend and influence continued to grow after its demise, FNM's four core members all seemed happily active in their post-FNM lives. Gould and Patton both started their own labels, Koolarrow Records and Ipecac Recordings, in 1999; Gould went on to produce a wide variety of bands, and collaborated on recording projects with Korn's James "Munky" Shaffer and former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra, while Patton's discography (which includes several albums with his bands Fantômas and Tomahawk) seemed to expand on almost a weekly basis. Bottum continued to record and tour with Imperial Teen, and got into film scoring; Bordin continued to play with Ozzy, and also filled in for David Silvera on Korn's 1999-2000 tour. "Everybody just went in different directions," says Gould.

But in 2009, Faith No More surprised the world by announcing that they were reuniting their Album of the Year lineup to play some tour dates in the United Kingdom. "We hadn't seen each other in ten years," says Bottum. "So when we kind of came back to a group place, everyone was ten years older, ten years more mature; everyone was really like going out of their way in a crazy, over the top way to ask, 'Are you okay with this? I'm cool with this, are you?' We were making room for each other's creativity in a real grown-up way," he laughs. "Whereas, where we started was just such a bratty place to be, you know?"

"The Second Coming Tour," as it was dubbed, eventually took the band around the world in 2009 and 2010, though they played only a handful of dates in the United States. "When we first got back together, there wasn't actually a lot of interest from promoters in the States in bringing us out," Gould explains. "It was weird; how we're perceived in the States is so much different than in the rest of the world. We have a lot of fans in the States, but the media and the promoters primarily see us as this one-hit wonder that had a hit in 1989, or whatever."

Musically, the band was stronger than ever, thanks to the additional decade of playing under their respective belts. Fans kept their fingers crossed for a new Faith No More album, but the band publicly pooh-poohed the notion, and was reluctant to even discuss the issue amongst themselves. Finally, frustrated with performing set lists made up entirely of old Faith No More songs and various covers, Gould emailed a file of some new music that he'd been working on to the rest of the band.

"I kind of had to break that ice," he says. "Because nobody was talking about making new music. I know I brought it up, but the subject would always change. Nobody ever said no, but nobody ever said yes, either. So finally, I was like, 'I'm gonna say something—at least I'll know where we're at!'" Much to Gould's surprise, everyone responded positively to the track, which eventually became "Matador," the first new Faith No More song to appear in the band's set list in fifteen years.

"Honestly, 'Matador' felt so obvious," says Bottum. "Not in a bad way, but like a comfortable shoe. It felt like somewhere we go typically as a band. We have this language among the four of us that's sort of unique and inherent to people who sort of grow up together; we have a go-to language that we all relate to really well. So hearing it was like, 'Oh yeah, that. I get it!'"

Inspired by the positive band (and audience) reception afforded "Matador," Gould began working with Bordin and Hudson on additional demos for what would eventually become Sol Invictus. "I was very shocked to hear that they'd been working on stuff," laughs Patton. "One night a couple of years ago, I was hanging out with Bill, and he was like, 'I was just working on some stuff. Do you want to hear it?' He played me some stuff, and I was like, 'This is fucking great!' He was like, 'Well, would you like to sing on it?' 'Well yeah, of course!'

"I didn't even know that it was Faith No More music, at first," Patton continues. "But then he told me, 'No, this is stuff that I wrote for us!' And I was a little taken aback… I didn't know what to say. I was flattered, put it that way. I was like, 'Damn! You wrote this shit thinking of me? Like us?' Because my head wasn't even near that space; I was somewhere else.

"Relationships are complicated—put it that way, okay? Maybe some lines of communication [between us] hadn't been exactly open. But I was beside myself, like, 'Oh my god, yeah! Of course! I know exactly what to do!'"

With Patton and Bottum on board, the tracks for the new album painstakingly came together. The music was recorded in Gould's home studio/practice space with Gould producing, and then sent to Patton, who added his vocals at his own home studio. What resulted are truly the most unfiltered Faith No More recordings ever, made without the help (or interference) of any outside producers, studio hands or record company executives. "We didn't even have an engineer when we recorded it," exults Gould. "It was just us. There was only one other person who came in, and that was Matt Wallace, who finished the mixing. Having an extra perspective and an extra set of ears was really important at that point, and Matt goes back with us back to 1982—he's like a family member."

The new album takes its title from a Latin phrase meaning "unconquered sun," which was also the name of a Roman religious cult that remained active for several centuries during the Hellenic period, despite the attempts of the authorities to stamp it out. Bottum feels the phrase applies nicely to Faith No More, as well. "We just won't go away!" he laughs. "And when you think about where we are, and what we've accomplished over the course of so many years, there's a timeless, regal, etched-in-stone quality of that title that really works for us."

Like the unconquered sun, Faith No More will once again fan across the globe in support of Sol Invictus. The year-long tour will thankfully include dates across middle America, and will also include a significant portion of the new album in its set lists. Because, as Patton notes, they didn't work their asses off on Sol Invictus just so they could go out and play "the hits" again. 

"Basically, we wouldn't have done this if we didn't think it was better than the shit we did before," he says, "or, at least, taking us on a new journey. We still feel like there are musical statements to be made. For some reason, there's still a genuine musical impulse here, a genuine fucking fire in this bunch of fucking fifty year olds. [Laughs] And that's why we did it. It's kind of liberating being away for so long and then doing a record, because it's like, 'Hey, you know what? We can get away with anything!'

"I don't know what people will think of it," Patton continues, "but I'll tell you one thing—we're really fucking happy with it. If people think it's some kind of half-hearted comeback, or some limp-wristed fucking attempt at becoming 'hip,' then they can kiss my ass. We've just gotta do what we're good at, and I think this record is maybe the best example of us doing that that we've ever done."