Mike Patton may well be the hardest working man in music. The lead singer of the now defunct Faith No More has more musical projects going than you could count on your fingers. First there’s Mr Bungle – whose long awaited 3rd album titled ‘California’ is slated for a July 13 release. Then we have Fantômas – a musical concoction consisting of short sharp bursts of sonic explosions. Being the brainchild of Mike Patton who in early 1998 demoed all of the material and sent these demos out to musicians he wanted to work with, they have just released their self-titled debut album. The band consists of Patton who creates some insane vocal sounds (those expecting words and lyrics, forget it), Buzz Osborne (The Melvins) on guitar, Trevor Dunn (Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3) on bass, and Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Grip Inc) on drums.
Then there’s Maldoror – a collaboration between Mike Patton and Japan’s insanely prolific king of noise manipulation Masami Akita (aka Merzbow). Their debut album, which has already been completed, is due in September. Add to these – two experimental solo albums, a bunch of albums with Faith No More and collaborations with Sepultura, avante-garde king John Zorn, William Winant, Bob Ostertag, Milk Cult, Melt Banana, Kronos Quartet, and a host of other experimental musicians and you can see that Mike Patton likes to work hard! To further complicate things, he recently started Ipecac Recordings (a record label that was named after a vomit inducing syrup) with long time buddy Greg Werckman (who also happens to manage Mr Bungle and Fantômas). Apart from releasing Fantômas and Maldoror, the label will be releasing three full length albums from The Melvins in the next six months! I recently caught up with the legendary Mike Patton [in possibly the only Australian interview granted in 1999 – Ed.] to talk about Fantômas, Ipecac and some projects that he’s currently working on.
I started by asking him what inspired him to form Fantômas and take this musical direction?
“Inspiration…hhmm. Probably a lot of really shitty metal bands and lost hours in record stores helped me start writing for this group. I grew up with metal and hardcore and I guess there’s still some of it inside of me that I needed to cough up. I just wanted to make an interesting and challenging record that still manages to ROCK somehow.”
How did the music initially come together – did you have a clear vision of what each piece would be before entering the studio?
“Yes, a clear vision of what you want to do usually helps. In fact, I don’t know many people who just waltz into the studio without any idea of what they want to do. Funny that a lot of people think that music is made this way! I wish! With this music, it would be virtually impossible. This music is about precision – therefore EVERYTHING must be mapped out ahead of time – down to the last minute detail. We rehearsed this stuff to death. The band was very well-lubed by the time we went into the studio. No feelgood jamming whatsoever. They could have played this shit in their sleep.”
How did the other Fantômas members react when they received the early demos that you sent out?
“It was surprisingly easy. I was really surprised and flattered that these guys wanted to work with me. And the way they DEVOURED the music still shocks me to this day. It’s suspiciously perfect. I’m still waiting for disaster to strike. But so far, this has been one of the best band experiences I’ve ever had. I know it was weird for Buzz in the beginning – this is the first band he’s played with apart from the Melvins. He’s not used to taking orders! This music is a real pain in the ass to learn – it’s like reciting the alphabet backwards. It can be done but you have to train yourself like a monkey. Each guy (including myself) had to “trick” himself into remembering all this information. We solved some musical problems together, but recorded the material almost exactly as I wrote it. Hallelujah!”
Were these initial demos recorded before Faith No More’s split and were you disappointed or perhaps even relieved by the break-up? Will you work with any of them again or even reunite someday?
“I started writing/recording long before we split. It was something I was planning to do regardless of FNM’s situation. As for FNM’s situation, not much to say….we simply HAD to break up. In my opinion, the music was starting to suffer and that is where you have to draw the line. Everyone agreed, it was very civilized, no fireworks. Could work with some of them again, depending on the circumstances. As far as reuniting, forget it. For god’s sake, we only broke up a while ago – let us enjoy it a bit!”
The band’s name was inspired by a character called Fantômas from a series of pre-World War 1 French crime thriller novels. However, before settling on the name, you toyed with the name ‘Diabolik’. What made you choose Fantômas?
“DIABOLIK is nice, but a bit cheesy, like ENUF Z NUFF. FANToMAS is more obscure…it doesn’t give away the punchline. The novels are pretty amazing, the movies are a lot of fun but a little more corny.”
Tell us about the artwork for the album.
“I’m really happy with the artwork. It’s the first time I’ve been able to do EXACTLY what I wanted to do, without some bloodsucking moneylender breathing down my neck. Very satisfying after all these years. The artwork on an album is JUST AS IMPORTANT AS THE MUSIC. In this case where the music is kind of abstract and ugly – where the only lyrics are expressive comic book sounds like “ugh” and “waaa” – the artwork should clarify and explain certain things about the music. I really made an effort to construct a beautiful package, drawing the listener IN toward the music rather than pushing him/her away. The booklet is printed on a special metallic paper that reflects when you hold it up to the light. The cover is a gorgeous Mexican movie poster from the 60’s and there are some nice comic collages on the inside – hope people like it as much as I do.”
Where did some of the samples on the album come from and why were the songs titled as Pages?
“The samples mostly come from old European horror films, some others are home-made. Songs are titled as “Pages” because I wanted the entire album to flow like a book. The tunes are divided into “frames” which are basically tiny cells of music or little “riffs”. No big intellectual concept or anything, just a fun way of putting this nasty music into context. There are so many short bursts of sound and quick changes that it helps to have some kind of reference.”
Tell us about the recording process – did things run smoothly? Did anything interesting happen?
“The recording itself didn’t exactly go smoothly – the mixing desk caught on fire at one point. No joke. We ended up getting a great record out of it, but it was a real test of my patience and willpower. This place (Brilliant Studios in San Francisco) was in a state of complete disrepair and the owner didn’t give a f**k – and it got pretty ugly. We were lucky to have come out of there with a record at all!”
Where do you plan on taking Fantômas from here – will the next album be totally different?
“I almost have another album’s worth of material already written, but I think I’m going to sit on it for a while. The fun thing is that this group has an unlimited potential. These guys are f**king monsters and can play pretty much anything, so I need to think of new ways to harness that energy and exploit it.”
Any chance of an Australian tour someday?
“Hope we can make it to Barnsey’s island soon.”
Where do you think you’ll be in ten years time – hopefully still making music! Would you consider an acting career?
“In ten years time I hope I am not doing screen tests, but somehow still involved in music.”
Do you ever just sit back and listen to some of the stuff that you have previously recorded?
“I hardly ever just kick back and jerk off to my own records. Call me superstitious, but I think that it’s bad voodoo. And when I do put one on, it’s usually to laugh. Very rarely is there a pleasant surprise – all you can hear are the mistakes!”
What music are you currently listening to?
THE TORNADOS – Telstar box set
MELT BANANA – Charlie
BERIO – Sequenzas
MELVINS – Bootlicker
ISSAC HAYES – Wonderful
ETHIOPIQUES 5 – Collection
What does your family think of Fantômas & has your good buddy John Zorn said much about it?
“To answer your question about my parents, I’ve no idea what they REALLY think of what I’m doing. Zorn on the other hand loves FANToMAS.”
I’ve heard that you plan on doing an album that will also feature Igor Cavalera (from Sepultura) & will be in the pop vein – could you tell us a little about this & some of the other projects you’re currently working on (besides Mr Bungle and Maldoror). Will there be a 3rd solo CD on Tzadik?
“Sitting on a few new projects at the moment. Yes, one of them is a pop thing – it’ll be called PEEPING TOM. Haven’t decided on the players yet, but it should be a fun group with DJ, choir and other orchestral instruments. Definitely want to play with Igor in the future, we’ll see what happens. I’ll begin working soon on a new group with Franz Treichler (Young Gods) – first time writing for two singers! Talking about recording a duo record with DJ Q-BERT from San Francisco. Possible gig with Zorn, Bill Laswell and Dave Lombardo…another with Dj Eddie DEF and guitarist AGATA from MELT BANANA. Just finished recording with Sepultura for a Brazilian film soundtrack. No plans for another Tzadik CD just yet – but did a track on a recent JERRY HUNT comp (a pretty weird electronic composer) for Tzadik.”
How did IPECAC start & who came up with the name?
“The name IPECAC was a suggestion from professor Buzzo (Buzz Osborne). Started primarily because no decent labels wanted the FANToMAS record. I was a bit hesitant and nervous at first, but after threats of blackmail decided I’d better try it. It has been great so far – really exciting. It’s quite a revelation to see how simple and easy it can (and SHOULD) be. Record cheaply, recoup immediately, and everybody’s happy! The bands get a ridiculous royalty rate (i.e. the one they f**king DESERVE) and control over their artwork (another thing they deserve!)”
Do you ever surf the web just out of curiosity to see what’s been written about you?
“About the internet – it sucked before I had a computer and still sucks now that I have one. Try not to spy on what people write about me…more bad voodoo.”
Now I have to ask about something old – VIDEO MACUMBA! This is a video that you produced that features dead bodies, porn and other sick stuff. Tell us about it and how can one get their hands on a copy?
“That’s a video I made for some friends. Somehow the wrong people got ahold of it and started making copies. I have no idea of where you could get a copy – I don’t even have one. Maybe we’ll put it out through Ipecac one day, who knows?”
Tell us about the three Melvins albums that you’re putting out on Ipecac in the coming months.
“This was Buzz’s dream and we are making it come true. My opinion is, the more Melvins, the better. The great thing about it is that each record is COMPLETELY different from the next. The first one is brutal…as “metal” as the Melvins get. The second is really nice – ballads, acoustic guitar grooves, and ambient shit. The third will be totally insane! Each tune will feature a different guest vocalist. So far Beck, Tool, Foetus, Hank Williams 3rd, David Yow, and myself will perform. But the real winner is Leif Garrett doing a cover of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’! A real salute to the grunge nation….heh heh.”
Fantômas’ debut album is out now through Ipecac.
© Danny Canak