HOW THE HELL DID GARY SUAREZ LAND AN INTERVIEW WITH MIKE PATTON?
It’s true. I interviewed Mike Patton. Do I even need to do an introductory paragraph for this? You either know who Mike Patton is or you have no fucking business reading this website. Disagree? Suck it.
I will say this, though. Mr. Patton’s latest album, Mondo Cane, is a collection of Italian language cover songs, recorded with a forty-piece orchestra. And it’s fucking great. While that might not sound very metal, it makes sense to anyone who’s followed his career of making exciting, challenging, and even befuddling music with groups like Faith No More, Fantomas, and Mr. Bungle. Check out what he has to say about Mondo Cane — and much more — below.
I’m a long-time fan of a lot of your work.
The first time I saw you was a Fantomas show — I think it was one of the first New York shows you guys did at Knitting Factory. I interviewed Buzz Osbourne the other week and we talked about that as well. And he was like, “Yeah I remember those shows; we did two shows a night!”
That was sorta trial by fire. Those were not our first shows, by the way. We debuted in San Francisco and it was quite nerve-wracking. We were all reading music off music stands just to remember what the fuck we were doing. It was pretty nerve-wracking and I take responsibility for that. I definitely put this great band together and then really tested them. That’s putting it politely. We did a bunch of shows and then made a record. It was done in maybe not the right order. But hey, it worked out.
It was a really good record, too. I saw you guys play a few years after the record had been out and you definitely seemed more comfortable.
[laughs] As compared to the Knit shows, yeah. Those were incredibly uncomfortable.
At one point, Dave Lombardo was just playing a cymbal. He did that for, like, two minutes, and I think you said, “We could do this all night.”
Well, that’s a reaction to the crowd not digging it. That was my way of fighting back and telling them, “Hey, I’m in control here. You’re here to see us. You want to be upset? Great! If you want to stay here, you’re gonna have to listen to this.” Part of being on stage is empowerment, and it gives you that kind of confidence — for better or for worse.
So what’s the current status of Fantomas?
I just need to write a new record for these guys. They’re just sitting around waiting for me. That’s the status. Very simple. I’ve just gotta, you know, do it.
Well, you do have other projects going on.
Yeah, but that’s an important one to me. It’s close to my heart. I don’t wanna take it for granted.
Given my familiarity with your body of work, I wasn’t all that surprised to learn that you’d put together an album of Italian language songs. So how did Mondo Cane come about?
Well, I lived in Italy for six or seven years, and I fell in love with a certain sound, a certain style of music that came along long before I was born. I sort of earmarked on that phase in my life and wanted to recreate something like that and do my version of it at some point. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to do it, so I seized it.
So what kind of criteria did you use to pick the songs? I imagine you had a shortlist to work from, or a longlist even.
Really long. Like, two-hundred deep. What you do is boil it down to what can I sing well and what can I arrange well. When you’re attacking music like this — or really when you’re doing any covers, in my opinion — you have to do them somewhat aggressively. You have to take liberties that maybe aren’t present in the material that you’re working with. For me, it’s important to wrestle these pieces of music to the ground. They’re already perfect. I’m not going to make them better. I’m just gonna make them different. So you wrestle them to ground and figure out what you’re going to do with them. That’s basically what I did.
I’ve had some time with the record and I’ve done a little digging to play the tracks side-by-side with original ones that I could find clips of.
That already, to me, is a victory. For journalists or anyone to compare these to the originals, that’s a coup.
You’ve already piqued my interest. So I have to ask, did you open the album intentionally with Mina’s song [“Il Cielo In Una Stanza”] because of the likelihood that Goodfellas fans would recognize it?
[laughs] Funny you say that. No. The reason I opened the record with it is that I thought it was one of the strongest songs that I had, one of the best sets of material that I was given to work with. It also happened to be a huge hit in Italy. Here, you know, I’m not so sure. I think it charted on the Billboard charts back in the day. Now, yeah, people know it as the Goodfellas song. But if they know it for anything, that’s not a bad association. I’m happy that people know it for anything. I’ve had to explain to [American] journalists that very fact, that this is not just some unknown… I’ve had to tell them, “No, this song was really big and even used in this film by Martin Scorsese, this certain scene where the guy walks into the room with his friends, explaining who Johnny Two Times is.” A lot of people don’t know that.
I imagine that a lot of people who pick this record up based on your name will wonder where these songs came from. I’ve already started reading stories on some of these singers and soundtrack folks who had interesting stories associated with their lives as well.
I’m forgetting the name offhand now, but there was one who had apparently committed suicide–
–and the suicide was questioned.
Thanks for doing your homework.
I just really like the record.
That’s what it’s about. If I can make a piece of art that makes people think or want to do things — no matter what they are — I think that’s a good thing.
I know you have Mondo Cane live performances planned outside the U.S. What about here in the U.S.?
Working on it. It’s a beast to deal with.
Because of the forty-piece orchestra?
Yeah, and a ten-piece band. From Italy. So it’s not as easy as what I’m used to, which is putting a five-piece band together and hitting the road. It’s not like that. This is something that requires more patience, and it’s definitely testing me. I hope we’ll play a show or two or three in the states. I’d love to do a tour. In Europe we’re doing a month-long tour. What can I say? Without talking shit about the United States, there’s definitely more of a format for something like this in Europe. That’s just the truth.
Given all the projects you’ve worked on over the years, what brought you back to Faith No More?
No good answer for that. It just happened. I think it was a reconciliation of sorts. We’ve been offered to reform many, many times over the last ten years. At some point, we all realized, “Hey, what’s the problem here? Should we do this? Will the music stand up?” That was a big question. So, we rehearsed to kinda figure out whether it would stand up or not. And it did. And here we are.
How have these reunion shows been for you? Have they been enjoyable for you?
Yeah. Of course. I’m not in the business of suffering. I’m not gonna put myself out there and torture myself. I’m just not gonna do it. It feels good. It feels comfortable. In a way, we’re sort of… we’re revisiting the past but we’re also healing some old wounds. We didn’t break up under the best of circumstances and this is sort of a chance to get that right. Anyone in their life, if they have a chance to sorta go back to a certain snapshot in their life, and maybe do something different… I think that’s what we’re doing right now.
With these live shows, whose idea was it to include Peaches & Herb and Lady GaGa covers into the set?
[laughs] I don’t wanna take complete credit, but… Look, it’s something that happens. It’s not something where we sat down and said, “Hey, let’s do a Lady GaGa cover over one of our tunes.” It just kinda happens. A lot of that is my responsibility. We played a certain set of music for a long period of time, and it’s only natural to get a little complacent. So, to me, what’s fun is injecting other people’s tunes over the top of our tunes. I guess it’s a live mash-up, if you will.
I know a lot of people are really excited about the shows and the reunion. Do you think you guys, reconciling as you are, will ever get back into the studio to write and record new stuff?
Who cares? Why does that have to matter? Basically, what we’re about right now is having people enjoy a certain moment. Anything beyond that, hey, I can’t control it. We can’t control it. So, it’s not important. If people are deciding to come to our show based on [whether] we’re recording another record or not? Hey, are you fucking kidding me? No. No one fucking cares. It doesn’t matter. And. for the record, if we do it, yeah, that’d be fine. But it doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards right now. One of the reasons this reunion has been so fun — so enjoyable — is because we haven’t had those kind of clouds hanging over our heads. There’s no pressure. We show up. We play music.
I think a lot of people are just excited to see you guys.
No, it’ll be fun. Don’t get me wrong. [laughs]
So I wanna ask about your collaborations with John Zorn and Joey Baron and other folks in the avant-jazz experimental scene. Are there other projects like that lined up for you?
Always. Zorn’s written another Moonchild record that I gotta go out to New York and sing on it. In fact, I should be doing it right now, but here I am talking to you.
Sorry to keep you from John Zorn.
I’m kidding. Yeah, so I’ve gotta find the time to do it. That’s an important part of what I do. And it’s taught me a lot, working with people like that. It’s definitely a part of my vernacular now. And a part of the way I sing, the way I hear music and approach it.
I remember back to when [your 1996’s solo album] Adult Themes For Voice came out. It got me curious about what else was out there.
I hope that that record had that impact. I know that it also pissed a lot of people off. But to me, that was a learning experience. I was literally exercising my voice for the whole world to hear. And here I was learning, on the job, how to use certain techniques that I thought I could get better at. In a sense, many of the records I do are exercises like that. I’m just trying to get better at what I do. Sometimes the public maybe has to suffer for it.
There are plenty who enjoy it, too.
That’s really great. I’m not proud that people don’t like some things that I do, but I also understand it. I’m totally comfortable addressing it. Not everything I do is gonna please everyone. The sooner you kinda come to grips with that as an artist, I think the better work you’re gonna do.
Speaking of projects that people like or don’t like… one that people really seem to like is Tomahawk. You’re down to a trio, last time I heard. Is that a project that you’re seeing forward?
Yeah, yeah. But it’s not my project so… It’s Duane [Denison]’s project. He’s written a bunch of new tunes and he actually just sent me a CD the other day. It’s, like, acoustic guitar and metronome… We’re a long ways off, but yeah, I think there will be more music. Why not?
Is there any type of music that you’ve wanted to work on but haven’t done yet?
I don’t really think about it like that. I don’t think, “Wow, I haven’t done country music yet, let’s try that.” That’s not what I’m doing here. I’m writing music that, more or less, is pretty close to my heart. Whatever genre that happens to fall into, leave that to God. I don’t know. I don’t know what it’s called. I don’t know what it is. In fact, it’s not for me to decide. I make the music, do it the best way I can. Of course it’s going to be a horrible bastard and a total mutant of a lot of things. But what it’s called or where it sits in the world is basically up to you guys. Not me.
So what does Ipecac have lined up for this year? I know there’s the new Melvins record, which I’m particularly excited about.
A few things. There are some releases that would maybe fly under the radar. There’s a soundtrack by a fella named Daniele Luppi, a great Italian film composer, who’s actually the guy who arranged and helped me arrange the Mondo Cane record. He’s been working like crazy. He’s done arrangements for Gnarls Barkley and John Legend and all sorts of pop things. But he’s also a really great film composer. The record’s called Bad Habits — Malos Habitos. There are some other things, but that’s kinda first on my list.
Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane is out May 4 on Ipecac Recordings.