by Gary Aker firstname.lastname@example.org
Falling. Sometimes the slide from a high place to a low place is so effortless, you dont notice, till youre standing at the bottom, having succumbed to necessary, inevitable, irresistible evil... like gravity, like death. Then, scratching, clawing, screaming to get up, get out of the region of Hades where all things come from and return to when they die. Energy taking form, flight, becoming, dying, returning, drinking from the waters of Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, so energy raw and pure may become something new. Phoenix rising from the ashes. All this and more is this writers experience of Fantomasthe Enfant Terrible brainchild of no more Faith No Mores Mike Patton.
In a recent show at Portlands Zoot Suite, the Faith No More Fans, death metal fans, the curious and the needing-to-be-hip packed the roomover 300 stronghaving no idea what delicate fury was about to be unleashed. Some came to be healed by Fantomasthe fractured future of death metal hardcore. Cymbals knifing ears. Synthesized voice parts. Avant Garde scary movie music. Crotch tingling decibels. Patton gives vent to his hurricane voice driven by drummer Dave Lombardo (ex-Slayer). Everyone following Pattons cuesBuzz Osbourne (Melvins) has his Les Paul tuned to Pattons strange specifications. Trevor Dunns bass (Mr. Bungle) is savage but submissive to Pattons seemingly anti-music, in-your-face statement of, Fuck you! This is whats up inside my head and Im gonna play this even if it kills you.
An idiot flicks on his lighter. The audience manages to find its lowest common denominator, grunting out Faith No More and Slayer requests to fill all the space between the orchestrated noise of the Beast. The audience is punished with silence becoming raging baboon explosion. Twisted future sci-fi lounge groove. Dave just goes off... his drum solo sounds the end of the world. Destroys his sticks, throws them to the audience. Surfers slam into a roadie at the shore of the stage, turned back into a few soothing bars of actual melody at the eye of this storm. Audience throws up their ignorance and it lands like broken eggs on the hollow Zen spaces. Energy pure personified. Patton lampoons corporate rock and his audience, biting the hand that feeds and buys his tee shirts, That will be our next single, after another two minute segment, cell, of blinding raw energy atonal. In fact, MTV is videotaping tonight; thats called number 25... and they didnt get all the camera angles right so were going to play it again. Pure Patton sarcasm. And they do. Music which seems to have no structure is actually tightly engineered with little left to chance. They duplicate the cell of noise called number 25. Fantomas is not your fathers Faith No More. Its not even on the fucking map.
So we waited and waited and waited, like a spurned lover holds his breath for a second chance, to get down to an interview with the man. Rejection, nothing but, from five minutes after the sound check at 7:30 PM, till, at long last, around 1:00 AM. Patton finally gives in to the interview, prearranged with his manager; its not like Im just coming out of left field here. Patton gets a bourbon in the upstairs lounge at Zoot Suite. Sitting down at a table with Patton is anti-climactic. Patton, elfish, beaming, is the antithesis of rock star.
Im not too kind to journalists, Patton says, a private man putting up his guard. But in this case, it wasnt intentional.
Im waiting for them to finish counting the tee-shirts then Im going to ream some ass, he bemoans the three-hundred dollar short tally on the Fantomas tees. Tee shirts (sales) are how a band at this level of touring survives. Now were eating shit and hopefully well get paid later, or so our manager says.
With no record out, the guarantee isnt the greatest. But next time through, with a record, the guarantee should be higher, or at least high enough that MP doesnt have to sweat the tee shirt sales.
Patton is a tough interview. Im brain dead anyway. I try to get inside his head. But theres a fortress up that surrounds his genius, madness, passion and dictatorship impenetrable from any kind of visible frontal attack. Hes cocky, friendly, reserved, sarcastic, forthcoming and condescending all at the same time. I might have a hard time working for this guy. Unless, I too believed in his bizarre vision, as his band mates obviously do. So I threw out the usual questions hoping to get lucky, like, what about Fantomas and Warner BrothersFaith No Mores label?
Warner Brothers doesnt want it (Fantomas). They get first crack at anything I do. If they were interested, then they have to pick up the option. I toss out a figure like fifty thousand budget for the Fantomas record (tracks are down waiting to be mixed) and wonder why Warner Brothers would pass. They could make their money back in ten minutes.
Fuck yeah, theyre morons, Patton agrees, for not picking it up. Mike confides it only cost about ten thousand for them to record Fantomas, but I can tell them (big label) two hundred (thousand), and laughs. This is how it works: If youre smart, you record your record as cheaply as you can... You realize these huge advances are your fucking money; its just like some big money lender giving you the money. Youre never going to get out of the hole. So, unless theyre waving a huge amount of money at you that you know you are never going to pay back, you take it and party. If not, you do it yourself, you dont give it up. If theyre not waving enough money to make you blink, fuck em.
Patton knows the score; hes been down the big label road. Patton hooked up with the marginally successful bay area band Faith No More in 1989, replacing a succession of singers that included a brief stint by Courtney Love. The first Faith/Patton album, The Real Thing, went double platinum. They were off to the races. As Patton brought brains and artistry to the realm of metal/hardcore, like Henry Rollins, their creative success climbed while their album sales sank. King For A Day, Fool For a Lifetime, and Album of The Year, their last two albums, are incredibly diverse works exploring metal, pop, ballads, country and soul. How does a record company classify and promote such slippery product? They dont. Faith No More played their last concert in Lisbon, Spain on April 7th and disbanded on April 19th of this year. Patton and Faith No More have unfulfilled obligations with Warner Brothers.
Enter Fantomas, like it or not, and Warner Brothers does not; that much we know. Fantomas is the first-out-of-the-gate project for Patton since the demise of Faith No More. It could just be a phase hes going through. No matter.
Were making ourselves happy, Patton says. If they (record companies) like it, fine. If they dont, fuck em.
Patton is prepared to release Fantomas on his own label with small time independent distribution if necessary. Enough business. I wanted to know where Fantomas originated from in Mikes brain.
I grew up (Eureka, Ca.) listening to death metal/hardcore and its something Ive never gotten rid of... I go into a record store and I go into the rock section and I really want to find something I like, but I cant. So I want to make something that I would like to buy. It came out of frustration.
I pressed on. Where the hell does something as bizarre and abstract as Fantomas come from?
I guess to me, this music, death metal/hardcore, is inherently chaotic, but I want to impose abstract rules upon it that most bands wouldnt. I wanted to bring that to this music and violate this fucking music. No choruses. No lyrics... I dont read music or write music and Ive never studied it. Thats what I hear in my head and I find guys that can play it. To me that sounds normal; thats music. Theres a lot of people who think its noise and fucking chaos and that were just jacking off up there.
In fact, this is orchestrated hardcore. Everything rehearsed down to the detail minutiae. Songs like cells of a larger reef, some forty seconds long, cling precariously to a wall of energy that comes out of Mikes head, his being. Its definitely not for everyone. From my perch up in the follow spot balcony, I saw about a dozen or so bail early. But that was all.
Being the analytical writer, I want to know if he imposes numerology, the Cabal, Masonic rites, Zen/Eastern mysticism or some metaphysical thought upon this music? Ive heard hes an avid reader. In fact our interview was initially postponed so he could pick up some books at Powellsthe world famous City of Books. He sets me straight.
Its nothing to do with anything. I just wanted to start a hardcore band that plays very short tunes that dont really have a set beginning or ending, thats part of one big song... I see it as thirty hardcore tunes; thats what we played tonight. With this music, the less is better. OK. Ill give an example: Slayer, Rain and Blood. The best metal record, in my opinion, ever made. Thirty-two minutes. In, out, youre gone. Thats what Im going for.
Patton went on to warn me to keep my analytical mind off his music because, well, theres nothing to be analyzed. Its just what occurs inside of him that wants out. Pure energy before words, thoughts, classifications or dead ideas can be imposed upon it. That energy given structure. Given voice. His voice and the voice of his band. Speaking of which,
Ive lost my voice maybe once in the last ten years, Patton says, which is amazing as you hear him take human voice to its boundary and beyond, like a male metal Diamanda Galas. But thats just my analytical imposition.
Ive found that the more you abuse your voice the better, or, the less it hurts in some ways. I find that if I take two or three days off in the middle of a tour, I get a sore throat. The more days I do in a row, the better it is for my voice. I dont have a chance to get sick.
I want to find out how Patton can go from the ballads on King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime to the hurricane force of Fantomas.
I like to do a lot of different things. If youre a writer, you just write, and you dont care how people are going to perceive it. And all these different things get imposed on it afterwards. The next Mr. Bungle record is pretty fucking poppy... To me, its about balance. Am I going to do something like Faith No More again? Probably not. I do have a sort of pop oriented project (outside of Mr. Bungle) in the works now, with a lot of crooning, a lot of ballads and a lot of strings, so... generally speaking more singing than screaming.
Some guy comes by with an update on those damn tee-shirts. Oh fuck. I should probably go downstairs and see whats happening with this tee-shirt stuff, he folds up our interview. Hes hard to like or dislike because you cant pin him down. I still dont know what hes about or what the room in his head looks like where a monster like Fantomas is created. Oh well. Im expecting to just get cut-off. But he puts off the tee-shirts to wrap things up gracefully.
Its a weird thing. You make music and you dont know what it does to people. I gave up a long time ago trying to predict how people are going to react. I have no idea.
And hes only thirty!
Successful product is great, if its good. We all know its 90% bullshit out there.
Im not thinking, oh, this is so uncommercial, lets do it... Music that makes sense to me, thats fun to me.
Fun is not the word I would pick to describe Fantomas. For some, it will be a bad day at the dentist. For others, redemption. For me, Im just trying to bring the fan together with the mind and presence of the creator. Thinking maybe I failed. Looking forward to the day when I can experience the emotional turbulence of Fantomas, live or CD, without the intellectual restraint of journalism. Time to put this story to bed, still disturbed by the haunting Halloween wail of Fantomas.
And every night I shut my eyes so I dont have to see the light, shining so bright, I dream about a cloudy sky... Mike Patton, Just A Man, King For A Day, Fool For a Lifetime