Cuckoo Crisis Control
There’s always something wrong with Faith No More. It seems that ever since drummer Mike Bordin, keyboardist Roddy Bottum and bassist Billy Gould formed the band in San Francisco in 1982, the group has been rife with episodes climactic enough to make lesser bands pack it in.
It probably all began when the three teamed up with guitarist Jim Martin and, later, vocalist Chuck Mosely. Although it may have seemed a bad idea at the time, the three founders seemed to think it might be smart to enlist the furry ex-Vicious Hatred guitarist and the snot-nosed L.A.-based Mosely. Needless to say, it wasn’t. After the title track from their 1985 indie debut, We Care A Lot (in both its original version, and in a re-recorded version on their Slash premiere Introduce Yourself), found the band playing to packed houses in the U.K. and Europe, it was soon realized that Mosely and his “unpredictable behavior” were just too much to deal with. So, on the cusp of success, Faith No More canned its singer and death knells rang around the world.
Of course, the band didn’t disappear. They simply went back to San Francisco, recorded their new album sans vocals, then went about the business of finding a singer. One was found in Mike Patton, frontman for Bay Area aberration Mr. Bungle. Patton, although not very responsible for the overall sound of The Real Thing, still lent his deviant lyrics and alarmingly good looks to the mix. And, of course, The Real Thing ended up going platinum-plus, propelled by the troublesome anomaly of the rap-metal hit “Epic” and its piscatory video. The band soon found itself on a series of grueling tours, including several headlining jaunts through Europe and the U.K., gigs at the Reading Festival and Rock In Rio as well as American opening slots for Billy Idol and, er, Robert Plant. It was then that personnel crisis #2 reared its ugly head.
Jim Martin, both during The Real Thing tour and the recording of the follow-up album, became, according to Patton, increasingly difficult to work with, and eventually, was all but shut out of the making of Angel Dust, an arrangement that resulted in Faith No More’s most densely difficult album to date: 13 sprawling tracks that scared the shit out of the teenyboppers that latched on to “Epic” and the metalheads who banged their heads to the rest of The Real Thing.
“It seems like we tend to put ourselves in tense situations and I don’t know why it happens. It seems like every three months or so, there’s some sort of huge crisis and then a big release. Well, the drama that was going on during the making of that record,” he laughs, “was guitar. I think that to avoid certain problems, we were going out of our way to do other things. We used, for example, samples or keyboards that were really indulgent on that record — probably because we were just trying to avoid having to deal with Jim. Actually, Billy ended up playing a lot of the guitar on that record, because, well … it wasn’t fun.”
Thinking that perhaps the rift could be mended by a tour (“Maybe we were a little too optimistic,” laughs Patton), the group headed out for an extended jaunt, opening arena shows for the likes of Guns N’ Roses and Metallica, and headlined some pretty sizable venues on their own. Obviously, the problems were only exacerbated by extended bus rides and endless sound checks, and at the end of the tour, Martin was dismissed.
“There was really nothing left to do (but get rid of him),” says Patton. “We couldn’t communicate and when you can’t do that, you’re basically stumbling around in the dark. It was ridiculous. It was a fucking clown-show rather than a band — a bunch of people playing games with each other.”
(Faith No More performing “Caffeine” in Israel, 1995.)
Trey Spruance, who plays with Patton in Mr. Bungle, was called in for the latest FNM album, King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime, which was, by the time he arrived, already written and partially recorded sans guitarist. The result is perhaps the band’s most relaxed and natural album yet, an effortless blend of all the members’ distinct personalities, that shifts from manic dirges to loungy pop to crunchy metal without hesitation. This, says Patton, wasn’t much of a surprise.
“Angel Dust just wasn’t a comfortable record to make. This one was. There was a whole different kind of drama going on this time — which is a drag to get into, but let’s just say there were some problems with Roddy — so there’s always something. We always need somewhere to point the finger. I think that’s just the kind of people we are.
“But I think the new songs do sound natural. I think we didn’t really have to discuss what kind of album we wanted to make. We wanted to keep it simple, so we didn’t waste a lot of time in the studio, throwing layers on top of layers. I think we’ve learned what to take away from the music, rather than what to throw in. Basically, I think we just learned when it’s right to shut your fucking mouth.”
But all would not be well for long. Upon completion of King, Spruance got one look at the upcoming two-year tour schedule and decided life in Faith No More just wasn’t for him. “I don’t blame him,” laughs Patton. “Touring with us is a fucking pain in the ass.”
Enter Dean Menta (“a friend of ours who just happens to play guitar”) who is now on tour with the band as they undertake a series of surprisingly low-key dates across Europe and the U.S.
“Maybe we could play places that are a little bigger,” understates Patton, “but we’re not really a stadium band yet. Plus, we haven’t really played in a couple of years and we’ve got a new guitar player, so it seemed natural to go places that were more familiar.
“This tour may be as long as the last one, but I hope it’s not as grueling,” says Patton of the long-term trucking the band habitually undertakes. “A lot of the reason the last tour was so bad was that we knew we had to cut off a limb when we finished.”
Faith No More play the Masquerade with new labelmates Steel Pole Bathtub on Saturday, May 6.
First appeared in the May 6, 1995 issue of Creative Loafing.