No More Faith
Mike Patton on arena rock, porno, and intelligent music

At age 18, Mike Patton fled the nowhere town of Eureka, California to join the emerging San Francisco rock band Faith No More. The group had just inked a major-label deal with Slash/Warner Bros. and soon the fresh-faced vocalist was mired in a year of constant touring to support its 1989 album The Real Thing. MTV and radio finally picked up the disc, which kicked off another year of round-the-world shows, this time at sold-out stadiums. As the venues got increasingly outrageous, so did Patton's stage antics. By the time Spin magazine dubbed the group 1990's "Band of the Year," Patton had already become pop music's favorite new coverboy.

See also...
... by Sam Prestianni
... in the Dirt section
... from August 12, 1999

Faith No More's platinum success led to the unlikely national exposure of Patton's demented, Eurekan teenage band Mr. Bungle. The group's one-of-a-kind, self-titled debut annoyed critics and horrified mainstream FNM fans with its extreme genre collisions, attention-deficit rhythm changes and puerile fixations on poop, porn and puke. But Mr. Bungle amassed an avid underground following of bona fide freaks. Patton then began exploring the far reaches of the music universe, teaming his vocal pyrotechnics with infamous jazz improviser John Zorn.

With the demise of Faith No More a couple of years back, the singer dived into sundry fringe experiments. His recent projects include founding his own label, Ipecac Records; issuing Amenaza al Mundo, the violent debut album from his new quartet Fantomas; making a stab at being a serious composer for Zorn's Tzadik label; recording Mr. Bungle's outstanding current disc, California (on Warner Bros.); and performing a host of rambunctious improv gigs.

Patton took time out from Mr. Bungle rehearsals in San Francisco for a no-holds-barred conversation.

GETTINGIT: You say you don't really remember the early Faith No More experience?

MIKE PATTON: I remember it. But putting it in perspective, yeah, it was a crazy time. At the end of the first year, I was thinking, "Okay, time to go home. I'm tired of this already." Then our record hit big.... So what are you gonna do? Go home now? At that point, I started realizing what was happening to me and started becoming a little bitter. Who are these fucking assholes? Our record's been out an entire year.... Most of our touring in those days wasn't in a concert atmosphere at all. It wasn't a musical atmosphere. It was like a sporting event.

GI: So did that bitterness lead you toward wilder and wilder stunts?

MP: That was just boredom. Too much touring. We would play the same set virtually every night.

GI: To break up the monotony, you would roll around in broken glass?

MP: You become a little bit like a caged rat and start behaving like one. You become easily amused.

GI: So you would pull down your pants and defecate in front of thousands of people?

MP: Yeah, [I guess I figured] better take a dump on stage.

GI: And after that you would just go backstage and feel normal?

MP: At that time it seemed like the right thing to do. It seemed like I was providing a healthy atmosphere of tension and surprise.

GI: You've always gravitated toward extremes. You even listen to ear-shredding albums by noise groups like Merzbow. But why? When do you actually want to listen to those kinds of excruciatingly painful sounds?

MP: Gee, um... I wake up in the mornings and sometimes listen to that stuff -- and look quite forward to my day.

GI: Can you explain why you gravitated toward death metal as a teen?

MP: That's what a lot of people gravitate towards growing up in small towns. If you wanna, like, torture cats and play the worst possible, ugliest music you can find, you can.... It's redneck folk music. Death metal should be seen as a legitimate folk music.

GI: Some people say this "music" fuels the violence in society.

MP: It isn't really violent. It's a joke. It's the most conservative music you can ever imagine. It is comic book music. That's why I say it's folk music because it gets kinda passed down to moronic kids, generation after generation. They keep telling the same stories: Satan this, the devil that, burn the cross.

GI: Do people believe that? Or do they actually get the joke?

MP: Well, I would think the majority of these bands have no idea what they're talking about. They just are basically reciting fairy tales. There are some people who are for real, but that doesn't make their music any better. These modern black metal bands go out and burn churches for real. Does that make their records any more interesting? Not really.

GI: By listening to that music are you condoning that kind of behavior?

MP: Naw, not necessarily. A lot of people that I know in that scene are like puppy dogs. They talk about beheading goats on stage all night and the last thing they'll say to the crowd is "take care, we love you, drive safe, brush three times a day."

GI: What about your pornography obsession?

MP: I don't know. Let's face it, pornography's not this crazy subculture. It's as big as the music industry and the film industry combined. Porn is everywhere. Porn is not something you find in a dark alley.

GI: But what do you think about it?

MP: I think it's fine and great. I think it's there and if you choose or need it, it should be available to you.

GI: And what would one need it for?

MP: Well, I'm glad that, uh… you've never had these problems. It's a matter of taste. It's always been a part of my life. That doesn't mean it has to be a part of yours.

GI: Does it affect your relationship with women?

MP: Ahh... yes and no. I'm married, so I'm doing pretty good. I'm fine.

GI: And your wife's all cool with that?

MP: What, are you kidding me? You make it sound like watching a porn movie is like this terrorist activity or something. It's like McDonald's, man. It's that big.

GI: So you're still the same porn-obsessed, death metal-loving, shitting-on-tape kid you were in the early Bungle days?

MP: I haven't gone to a shrink lately, so I don't know. But you know, people grow and change and thank God. I know that we're not the same band that we were then. But I also know that at that point in time that was who we were and that's the record we needed to make.

GI: With the compositional sophistication of Fantomas and the more recent Bungle records, it sounds like you've gotten more cerebral in your old age.

MP: That's the fun part about it. You really have to think. It's a lot less of an athletic event.... Fantomas is like no other aggressive or metal band that I've ever been in because you have to be thinking and aware all the time. It's really quick. There are no real choruses or verses. It's like driving on a race track, avoiding obstacles, like a video game. It's not as much about jumping around and having a good time. It's about playing some fucking music.

A widely published music junkie and word freak, Sam Prestianni spends too much time listening to, writing about, or creating organized sound. His recent words have been read in Jazziz, Speak, New York Press, and San Francisco Weekly.