Weird Little Cats in a Bag: an interview with Mike Patton
Vincent Francone
10/29/2002 11:46:30 AM

"Itís hard for me to really imagine having done it any other way. It's one of those things, you know, like the first time you tried beer or something. "What the fuck was I thinking? You know, where have I been?" Itís been great. Very, very, few hassles, and a whole lot of pleasure, and met a whole lot of great people out of it, and yeah, this year should be fun, too. A lot of weird little cats in the bag. "

The following consists of one conversation with Mike Patton (member/vocalist of, whew, here goes: Mr Bungle, Fantomas, Peeping Tom, Lovage, Tomahawk, Maldoror, and the now-defunct, Faith No More, as well as co-creator of the very cool Ipecac record label), Vince Francone (slobbering fanboy), and Adam Poe (photographer, typist, and fetcher of beers). It was originally supposed to be about Mr. Patton solely, but as we chatted about all of Mike's various bands and projects it escalated into a conversation about the music scene as a whole, especially the wonderful, sick, weird, and fun part of it that he dominates.

NT: How did the Loveage thing happen? Was this your project? Or did Dan get you guys together?

Mike: It's Danís thing. Itís something he had going before I even met him, and heís been wanting to do it for a while, kind of been working on a track here and there, it's just one of those, you know, twisted hand-of-fate things. I was talking to him about doing a project of mine...

NT:...Peeping Tom?

Mike: Yeah, and right around the time we were starting to figure this out, like, "how are we going to do this?" over a meal or something, he said, "Iíve got this other thing Iíve got to finish." I said, "really? Play me some of that shit," he did and I said "forget about it, you gotta let me do this." So it worked.

NT: And Jennifer Charles and you, by the way...I love the duets. This is probably my favorite CD of the year.

Mike: Cool, man, thanks. Her voice is really great.

NT: I never heard of her before this, I went out and bought an Elysian Fields CD, I really like it.

Mike: It's definitely its own thing...not really rock, not really folk, I donít know what it is. Thereís a common thread there I donít know what it is--or if I want to know what it is--but we found each other and yeah, I think itís the start of something pretty good. We both hear music in similar ways, weíll be thinking of something, and itíll come out of his mouth first, and vice versa.

NT: And thatís pretty rare isnít it?

Mike: Oh yeah. Collaborations are kind of why I play music. Itís how you learn new things, itís how you elevate your game. Itís great when you can meet someone whoís right there with you, but whoís also busting your balls. Iím learning a lot from him. I think heís learning from me as well.

NT: This is probably different for him, too.

Mike: Yeah, we both do business really, really differently. We come from different worlds, but our heads in the same place, you know? Thatís the Loveage thing. What it's about for me is putting myself in different situations and the only way to do that is to constantly keep working with new people. And hey, itís not over. Things mean certain things to you at times in your life and thatís why you need to keep searching.

NT: Thatís good because Iíve always felt that the Bungle albums, since they seem to take the longest to come out, are like snapshots of where youíre at. The first one and California are so completely different.

Mike: Yeah, weíre not the kind of band that can make a record, then tour, comeback the next year, make a record and tour. Weíre not getting in that habit like most bands. Otherwise we would have hung ourselves, or each other, by now. It wouldnít work.

NT: Well, Bungle was pretty much your first band, right?

Mike: Yeah, yeah. Grew up in a small townÖand you have no choice. Literally, you can go out and string up cats, go cow tipping, be on the baseball team, or play in a band. So we tried all the other three and realized our baseball skills werenít as good.

NT: You guys got out of Warner Brothers records?

Mike: Yeah. Weíre still kind of in the process, but itís going to happen.

NT: Is that a good thing?

Mike: Itís a great thing. Weíve been trying to get dropped.

NT: It's been a strange marriage.

Mike: Yeah, we were signed to Warner for all the wrong reasons. To be frank, it was because they were trying to keep me happy. I threatened to quit Faith No More if they wouldnít let me play in Mr. Bungle.

NT: Really?

Mike: And they tried to squash the idea of me being in two bands. Well, [I said] two or none. It sucks because my back was really against the wall. To make threats like that and act like a spoiled brat, well, I was sort of forced to. And it did not endear me to the rest of the band members. But gradually they figured out what it was about. And even people in the record company, years later now, because some of these people are still in the industry, I bump into them and theyíll be like "you know, you were really right about that.Ē

Well, if they had an artistic bone in their body they might understand, too. Those bean counters, I donít know... Donít get it. Really all it isÖ itís coming from the same place, and Iíll tell you one thing, if Iíve got a horse thatís running in five races...Iíd love to have that guy on my team. I would think that he would have it together. Itís a provincial, weird space, but a lot of musicians are in that space, especially in the "rock band" world. The band thing is really an uptight, incestuous, creepy thing. When you step outside of the cocoon, a lot of people look at that like, "you adulterer." I donít deal with those people anymore. I just canít.

NT: You ever talk to the Faith No More guys?

Mike: Oh yeah, everythingís fine.

NT: Didnít [Faith No More drummer] Mike Bordin join Korn?

Mike: He told me he was just filling in for the guy. And I was like "once they hear you playÖ" (laughs) theyíre gonna dump that little schmoe in no time.

NT: Otherwise, are those guys working on stuff?

Mike: They do stuff. The keyboard player has his own band, the bass player has 2 or 3 projects going, and a little record label.

NT: Which brings me to another question: How did Ipecac evolve? Was it something you always wanted to do?

Mike: I think I would have done it sooner or later, but I was forced to because I spent a bunch of my own money on a Fantomas record and no one wanted to put it out. I realized very quickly, this thing is really important to me. I want complete control over it and the only way to do that is to create my own label and put it in my own context. Iím not going put it on Relapse or Road Runner where itís going sink in Death Metal sewage, fuck that. I could do that or put it out on Tzadik, the Zorn-thing, but I donít think it belongs there, either, itís not really that.

Itís a rock band. And I just realized--wait a minute!--it's not like Iím going to quit what Iím doing and go wash cars for living. Iím going to keep doing this. There are going to be records, probably more and more difficult records, and more records that people are going to not like or understand. So what that means is, well, I have to create my own universe where this does make sense.

Itís hard for me to really imagine having done it any other way. It's one of those things, you know, like the first time you tried beer or something. "What the fuck was I thinking? You know, where have I been?" Itís been great. Very, very, few hassles, and a whole lot of pleasure, and met a whole lot of great people out of it, and yeah, this year should be fun, too. A lot of weird little cats in the bag.

NT: I heard a new Fantomas release is supposed to be coming out.

Mike: Yeah, probably, I donít know if Iím going to actually get it out before the end of the year. Iím going to have to hurry it up.

NT: I canít help but ask what thatís going be like.

Mike: Itís not going to be like the first one. I think if itís not going somewhere else, why bother? Right now, the tunes that I have worked out for it are long and ambient.

NT: Big departure...

Mike: Yeah, and weíve got Buzz [Osborne, guitarist for Fantomas and The Melvins] singing. I realized one day when we were doing a project, a live project with The Melvins and Fantomas together, we played each otherís tunes together, like a BIG BAND...weíre putting that out, by the way. Itíll be a live recording. Out in April or something. It turned out great. But anyway, I realized when we were doing that, I thought,, Iíve got a weapon in this guy, this manís voice isÖwow, Iíve gotta use this.

NT: Are you trained as a vocalist or self-taught? Iíve always wanted to ask that one.

Mike: Totally self taught. Donít read, donít write music. Donít know anything about it.

NT: So when you compose, itís just...

Mike: Chords. I do it in the studio.

NT: Really. So all your stuff is pretty composed. You donít have to go in the studio and improv?

Mike: Not really...unless Iím going to make an improv record. Canít rehearse that. And Iíve done a little bit of that in the studio. And a couple projects I had were just that. But, for the most part, well, studios...cost money. And you want to go in there as prepared for battle as possible and be efficient. And get it done get it over with and get the hell out of there.

It blows my mind, you know, you see these bands in there smoking dope, chasing girls around the studio, and their familyís down there, everybodyís partying... "What do you do for a living again?" I canít do that.

When I get in the studio itís just very worked out, and you know, Iíve brought friends who have been curious and it was boring. Itís like watching a doctor read a manual or something, itís very clinical. Listen to the same parts over and over again and "thatís not quite right, thatís sharp do that again, is that flat? do it again... boom. Okay next thing...okay fine..." 14 hours later you canít see straight or hear straight, you stumble out of there and start it again the next day.

Itís not like crack the cognac and stare off into the sunset and letís all be inspired, peace and love, no. It sucks. Itís work.

NT: So do these diverse bands come to the Ipecac label on their own, or do you seek them out?

Mike: Both. Usually we have to seek, actually. Thatís the fun part of it. Hmmm... Whatís coming next? What can we find? Sometimes things just land in your lap and thatís great. But most of the time you gotta dig around. And you know what? I like it that way. Thatís the way it should be. Most things that you have to dig for and work for are better in the long run. If we believed what the media told us we wouldnít even be sitting here right now. Weíd be at a Brittany Spears concert. There is good shit out there, you gotta dig for it. Swim in the muck.

Especially with hip-hop. Itís all about fashionable producers and production. No oneís really going out on any kind of a limb in that world, if you ask me. Very few. Danís one of them. Sensational...Heís dangling out there. But, as far as more hip hop, no plans. I was a fan, and I knew someone that knew him and I thought, "well, couldnít hurt to ask," and he was into it so...

NT: Tomahawk is a lot different from the stuff Iíve heard you do, really cool.

Mike: Thatís more of a collaboration, Duane [Denison of Jesus Lizard]ís thing. Thatís something I would never come up with on my own and thatís why I was interested in it. I really like his writing, I thought I could also find a way to fit in there, make it comfortable, put my stamp on it too. Same thing with Loveage. It was like, I would never do this on my own, thatís why Iíd be interested.

NT: I think Maldoror is the most accessible noise project Iíve heard, in a lot of ways.

Mike: Thanks. My goal was kind of to harness it a little bit, turn them into "tunes," if you can call them that. I donít know if they really are, but I was kind of trying to make a nudge in that direction. You know, little motifs that repeat...I just didnít want it to be a free for all. I mean, it was a free for all in the studio. Complete improv. We recorded it then I took it home, chopped it up, over-dubbed on it, that was it. Second oneís going to be based on perfumes. Itís all gonna be different perfumes.

NT: Anymore solo records in the works?

Mike: Yeah, but pretty low down on my laundry list right now. A lot of them need nursing and touring, and Iím going to try and cut down on those a little... Right now, Iím spending too much time on the road. My New Yearís resolution was to stay home a little more. Thatís all well and good, because when youíre at home you can make records. Canít do that when Iím out here.

NT: I almost hate to ask, but which do you prefer? Touring or recording?

Mike: If you ask me now, itíd be recording. Youíve got to have a balance. And right now, I feel like the teeter-totter is too heavy on one side. Iíve been out in Chicago, like 4 times in the lastÖ?

NT: Actually, I wanted to ask you about the Mr. Bungle tour. You had to be carried off stage because you jumped and landed on the drum kit. And then about a year later with Faith No More during the Angel Dust tour, you did flips and landed on your back...God, you must have injured yourself at least once?

Mike: Yeah, usually not those ways. Usually when I was out in the crowd, thatís when Iíd get injured. You never know...sometimes I just hit myself by accident, hit a cymbal stand, you know? Or God, I canít tell you how many times my bass players left their marks on me with their head stocks.

Iíve gone to the hospital. You know, just stitches, nothing too bad...well, I take that back. I have no feeling in my right hand because of something that happened with Faith No More, in like Ď88. Forgot about that, Iím so used to it now (shows massive scar on hand and wrist) See the scar, it startís there and ends there.

NT: You can still move it? How many stitches was that?

Mike: (laughs) A lot. When I asked the Doctor he just laughed and said "millions," you know, its micro-surgery. I lost two days to anesthesia, it was really bad. You can hurt yourself on stage.


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