Faith No More (Contemporary Musicians)
The year 1990 left the members of the San Francisco rock band Faith No More a little dazed. Early in the year they were playing small clubs in support of an LP that wasn't selling impressively; by the fall they were a Grammy-winning sensation, appearing on the covers of major music magazines and opening for some of the biggest names in rock. Thanks to an elaborate and bizarre video for their single "Epic," Faith No Moreelf-described "dirtheads" more interested in upsetting fans' expectations than in currying their favor-moved to the top of the alternative rock scene.
However meteoric their rise to fame had been, the band's founding membersrummer Mike Bordin, bassist Billy Gould, and keyboardist Roddy Bottumorked tirelessly for seven years to find the sound that they ultimately achieved on their 1989 album The Real Thing. The trio began collaborating in 1982, becoming part of a California scene that receives far less publicity than the slick world of Los Angeles rock. Gould and Bottum, in fact, had been veterans of the L.A. punk scene and had moved to San Francisco to attend school. Gould answered Bordin's ad soliciting musicians to help create what the drummer fan of African percussionalled "atmospheres."
Struggled in San Francisco Clubs
Soon Gould brought Bottum into the project, and Bordin recruited guitarist Jim Martin, a hard rock musician who had played in a band with Cliff Burton, the late bassist for metal superstars Metallica. Soon the "atmospheres" began fitting together as songs, and Faith No More played the Bay Area club scene; true to its anarchic musical instincts, the band let audience members become vocalists-for-the-night. A frequent volunteer was an eccentric character named Chuck Mosely, who screamed and thrashed his way through performances, frequently wearing a dress.
Despite Mosely's erratic temperament, the band played West Coast venuesostly tiny avant-garde nightspots like L.A.'s Anticlubnd in 1986 released an album on the independent Mordam label. This LP, titled We Care a Lot, garnered the band a college radio cult following, due in part to the title song's disco-style parody of the Live Aid anthem "We Are the World." Warner Bros. affiliate Slash Records signed the band on the strength of their debut, and in 1987 they released Introduce Yourself.
Faith No More toured in Europe to support Introduce Yourself, and though their unpredictable live shows and genre-busting sound appealed to underground fans on the continent, the British press picked up on tensions within the band. Mosely was an unreliable front man, to say the least: in the words of a Warner press release, "his unpredictable behavior on stage and off took its toll on the band's collective sanity." After the group's second European tour in the spring of 1988, he was kicked out of the band.
New Singer Led to New Image
Upon their return to San Francisco, the band held auditions for a new singer. They quickly found twentyone-year-old Mike Patton, a native of Eureka, California, and lead vocalist for Mr. Bungle, which Patton described to Spin's Frank Owen as "a Laurel and Hardy death-metal band." Patton's combination of silliness and sarcasm suited Faith No More's attitude, and he added two things Mosely hadn't: rock star looks and strong, versatile singing. The band had an album's worth of musical ideas when they hired Patton; in a week he wrote an album's worth of lyrics. The result was 1989's The Real Thing. Rolling Stone's Kim Neely called Patton's lyrics "a marvel of musical role playing," and Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times deemed the LP "a championship album."
The Real Thing appeared in June of 1989, and within a few months it dropped from view commercially. Faith No More continued to impress fans with its unpredictable shows, gaining a certain notoriety from its selection of cover songs alone. Their already famous version of "War Pigs," by metal pioneers Black Sabbath, was often performed side-by-side with such selections as the smooth soul tune "Easy" by the Commodores, "Vogue" by dance-music goddess Madonna, and even the jingle for a Nestle's chocolate bar. Patton added an often perverse theatricality to the musical stew, sometimes sporting leisure slacks and monster masks on stage. Though they appreciated their core audience, the band members wanted to reach out. "There's always been this misconception that 'commercial' means 'stupid,'" Gould told Neely. "Just because something is accepted by a lot of people, it doesn't mean there isn't some interesting thought behind it, you know? You can actually do a lot of damage on a mass scale."
Grammy Nomination and Commercial Success
The damage Faith No More would be able to do seemed limited until February, 1990, some eight months after the album's release. Though they had toured with metal giants Metallica in the fall of 1989, they hadn't made a particularly favorable impression on that group's fans. Their Monsters of Rock festival performance turned a lot of heads, particularly since they were virtual unknowns compared to the megastars on the bill. Then Faith No More was nominated for a Grammy Award for best heavy metal performance, spurring increased sales and substantial MTV airtime for their video of "Epic," the first single from The Real Thing.
"Epic" mixes funk-rap verses with polished hard-rock choruses, and ends with an unexpectedly lovely piano coda; in the video, the piano blows up. The video features not only Patton's manically fascinating presence but a variety of slick special effects; its images introduced a whole new audience to Faith No More's music. By July the album went gold, entering the Top 20. The single eventually cracked the Top 10, and The Real Thing went platinum.
Faith No More was suddenly the band of the moment, heralded by critics like Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times as the leaders of the neo-metal movement. Spin, Rip, and Music Express named them artists of the year for 1990, and Rolling Stone readers voted them runners-up for best new American band as well as for best video (for "Epic"). Kerrang! readers rated them highly in most categories, including runner-up for best retail video for their concert video release Faith No More Live At Brixton Academy: You Fat B**tards.
Year of Praise, Side Projects
In 1991 Faith No More took five of the seven statuettes for which they were nominated by the Bay Area Music Awards. They received "Bammies" for "outstanding" male vocalist, keyboardist, drummer, group, and song ("Epic"). The band scored again on MTV with the surrealistic video for the next single, "Indecision," another catchy mixture of rap and commercial hard rock thrown slightly off balance by Bottum's eerie keyboard textures. The video reinforced Faith No More's "edge" by dressing Patton as a blood-covered surgeon.
Though the accolades continued to pour in, the group seized the opportunity after a grueling fourteen months of touringuring which they opened for rock superstar Billy Idol, among otherso work on some side projects. Patton was able to release a Mr. Bungle album, Gould traveled to Samoa to record tribal music, Bordin played on an album by the thrash-funk band Primus, and Bottum added some keyboards to a new release by the band Field Trip. Gould was the most active, having produced several others bands before and after his Samoa trip and directing and editing the video for Faith No More's "Surprise! You're Dead." The band contributed the song "The Perfect Crime" to the soundtrack album for Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, a film in which Martin played a small role.
Faith No More saw 1991 out by working on a new album, which they hoped to release in 1992. Whether the record would yield a single as massively successful as "Epic" or not, the band members remained committed to a path of their own. "We were never anybody's marketing fantasy," Bordin remarked to Owen. Martin, a man of few words, summed up the closest thing to Faith No More's recipe for success: "I mean, nobody really knows what they're doing, so you just think you know what you're doing and do it."
We Care a Lot (includes "We Care a Lot"), Mordam, 1986.
Introduce Yourself, Slash/Reprise, 1987.
The Real Thing (includes "Epic," "Indecision," "War Pigs," and "Surprise! You're Dead"), Slash/Reprise, 1989.
Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (motion picture soundtrack; includes "The Perfect Crime"), Warner Bros., 1991.
BAM, October 5, 1990.
Details, September 1989.
Los Angeles Times, October 14, 1990; December 2, 1990.
Musician, October 1989.
New York Times, July 9, 1990.
Rolling Stone, September 6, 1990.
Spin, December 1990.
Information for this profile was obtained from a Faith No More press kit, Slash/Reprise, 1991.