Faith No More is back, and these punk rockers still care a lot

The Audiophile: Faith No More
Dustin Rabin

“Making records is like cooking, where you use all the right ingredients and spices until it’s done. And once you cook that thing, you probably want to do something different next time.”

Faith No More is a band that absolutely relishes defying expectations. Ask them to zig, and they zag — and with a bleep-load of zeal, too.

The Bay Area alt-funk rockers ruled the early days of MTV’s Silver Age with 1989’s The Real Thing and massive hits like Epic and Falling to Pieces. But then the band veered into much more experimental territory with 1992’s Angel Dust and two subsequent outre albums before taking a break from recording in the studio together in 1997.

Fast-forward: After an almost two-decade hiatus, FNM charged back into the fray with 2015’s Sol Invictus, the glorious marriage of frontman Mike Patton’s ongoing avant-garde tendencies with the band’s post-punk predilections. Now Faith No More has dropped a trio of Deluxe Edition reissues in various formats, each swimming in bonus material: 1985’s debut effort We Care a Lot, via the band’s own label, Koolarrow, plus 1995’s King for a Day…Fool for a Lifetime and 1997’s Album of the Year, the latter two via Slash/Rhino.

All three albums reinforce just how much Faith No More religiously pushed the musical envelope, right from the start.

“You know, it’s really cool it happened like this,” FNM bassist/producer Billy Gould told Digital Trends about the triple threat of reissues. “It’s showing two different bands, in a way. King for a Day and Album of the Year are quite different from each other. It’s cool having three things that are the total opposites of each other happening at the same time. It makes you go, ‘Who is this band,’ you know? ‘What are they, exactly?’”

Gould called Digital Trends to discuss the band’s ever-evolving goals in the studio, how to challenge a live audience, and reconciling with the streaming universe. You see, Faith No More really care a lot.

Digital Trends: To me, King for a Day and Album of the Year show Faith No More at the point in your career where you tackle and hone your own identity as opposed to doing what other people may have wanted you to do. Is that fair to say?

Billy Gould: Absolutely! I think that’s absolutely true. We actually got to the point where we were just writing songs. We had been gotten wrong and mislabeled so many times that we were frustrated enough by it all to say, “We’re just songwriters writing songs,” and those two albums are really all about that.

There was a much deeper thing going on with the band than whatever video channels or commercial radio wanted from you at the time.

We couldn’t get arrested during the first 10 years of the band, and when The Real Thing exploded, I felt what people picked up on was the really superficial aspect of it. Angel Dust was ignored for very superficial reasons too. We can’t control how people define us. All we can do is refine their vision of what we are, and try to keep our own identity.

I felt that Angel Dust was a nice challenge to listeners. People were expecting more things like Epic coming into that record, but songs like Midlife Crisis and A Small Victory showed you had a lot more depth than they may have been led to believe.

The sonics of Spotify are horrible, but that’s the future of music.

We’re very grateful for that. The beauty of it is, we were getting good reactions from the people who were going to be selling the record. They were getting it. Our thing was, “Let’s just make something good, and trust that it will come out the other side. We’ll survive whatever happens, and we believe in making something that will really hold up long-term” — and it did.

It was a pain in the ass while it was happening, but at the end of the day, I think our intentions were right, and that’s what bore out over time.

I think so too. As someone who’s also on the production side of the band, was there a certain sonic character for both of these records you wanted to make sure you captured properly?

Oh yes, for sure. King for a Day was an explosion of a record. We had a new guitar player [Trey Spruance]. We were very frustrated with the old one [Jim Martin], so it was like, “What could you do if you could have fun and just enjoy it?” He [Trey] took the laborious things out of it. That’s what we did — we stripped things down to more simple arrangements.

On the production side, we had Andy Wallace [The Cult, Slayer, Nirvana] for the first time, and we really liked him. He was more about getting the raw power of something, not just the “finer” arrangements — and I mean that in a good way.

Album of the Year was much more complex, and a lot more somber and morose. I think the production was a lot darker. That was kind of where we were. We were painting a picture, and those were the colors we used.

I always felt like I could never have the lights on when I listened to that record. (Gould laughs) And then it became a #1 album elsewhere in the world.

It did in Australia and New Zealand, but not here. It’s weird. It took off in some places, and not in others. It’s one of those things that was interesting watching where it went in places you could have never predicted. It took on a life of its own, really.

These three albums show the evolution of artists who are not going to keep doing the same thing. They’re going to challenge themselves. Me, I actually prefer that as a listener.

Me too! When I buy a record, I want the same thing you do, exactly. It’s all about opening your imagination. If you already know what’s happening, you’re going to get it. I don’t benefit from that, personally. I like being challenged.

I also like that attitude on the live stage. I like hearing the unexpected rather than just a set full of the hits. 

The scene I grew up in never gave the audience what it wanted. We totally challenged them. I came from a scene of small clubs where you had bands like Flipper. Rock & roll to me was like chaos — anything could happen.

When you get into 2016 with things like insurance liabilities, tiered revenues, and higher ticket prices, that’s upsetting. It’s hard to make that work. People pay a lot of money to see this band, and you can’t just take a risk that fails. It’s a negative, not a positive.

Before, you could take the risk of failing. We try to bring that risk in. It’s real challenging to do all the time. There are certain parameters for what works and what doesn’t work, so we try to bring in as much chaos as we can.

I remember when I first saw you guys at Roseland in New York back in October 1992. It felt like I was hit by a tsunami once the band hit the stage. I got up off the floor near the soundboard at the back and said, “What the hell just happened? How did I get back here?”

That’s great! That’s great. Our reunion shows have been very good in that way. We’re not as crazy as we used to be — but the fans are. (both laugh) When you come to our show, the atmosphere generally has a good spirit.

What was the first album that had impact on you growing up that’s still a touchstone for you today?

To me, rock & roll is chaos — anything can happen.

My dad had a stack of records I started listening to at 9. The three records that were pretty much the only things I listened to were David Bowie: Space Oddity (1969), George Harrison: All Things Must Pass (1970), and John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band (1970).

Plastic Ono Band is a ballbuster, an absolute ballbuster! I’m so very fortunate that my first exposure to music was that album. It set the bar so high, but it also put the meaning in music. There was no bullshit. It was a great first experience.

That record is as naked and raw as a songwriter can get.

It’s a very stark, ugly record, you know? And Space Oddity is an extremely dark and ugly record too. It’s very dark.

Is there an overall sonic goal you have for the band, something you want it to sound like?

I’ve always been thinking about our production values — even before I was a producer, doing things like pre-production and lighting. But that goal changes, like our tastes. I’ve always thought of making records like cooking, where you use all the right ingredients and spices until it’s done. And once you cook that thing, you probably want to do something different next time.

Even audio tastes, sonic tastes — they evolve, and they change. Something I liked 5 years ago, I don’t like so much now. You look around at what other artists are doing and go, “What am I not getting? What’s out there that can get me excited?”

A lot of people are going to be streaming these three albums. How do you feel about that?

There’s nothing I can really do about it. It doesn’t sound very good. I think the sonics of Spotify are horrible, but it’s the future. It seems like a process that’s happening that’s irreversible, so you hope the technology will improve and mature to where artists can afford to mix their recordings for better quality.

But this is the future of music. It is nice to have a field of things where you can sample them to find out whatever you like.

Are you into hi-res recording, and doing things at 96kHz/24-bit?

I think 44.1/16-bit sounds pretty good, if it’s not driven to hell. I am actually happy with that. I’ve been to studio labs where they first play the CD version, then the Spotify version, then the YouTube version, and it really drops off a lot in quality. There’s a massive difference.

The differences aren’t about things like the definition of the highs and the lows; the difference is how it makes you feel. It makes you not want to listen to music if it doesn’t give you that happy, really vacant feeling, like vinyl does. You hear it, and it’s how you feel when you listen to it. A lot of it has to do with the compressed form of the song. I grew up listening to entire albums front to back. But I’m having a hard time doing that when I’m listening digitally.

Do you have an example of a perfect album from beginning to end?

Oh yeah. One I really like on vinyl is Bauhaus: The Sky’s Gone Out (1982). That’s cool. I like that one.

You guys have done some great covers over the years — Easy [The Commodores], I Started a Joke [The Bee Gees], and War Pigs [Black Sabbath] immediately come to mind. Are there any cool new Faith No More covers on the horizon?

That’s another moving target. It all depends on how we’re feeling at the time. In 2016, we wouldn’t have picked Easy. But in 1992, it made perfect sense.

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