Interview: Faith No More's Mike Patton on Mondo Cane — "I was living a completely different experience, and that was Italy"
Mon, 29 Mar 2010 07:52:35
Where would music be right now without Mike Patton?
Given how influential he's been, it’s truly a scary thought. Patton's inimitable, haunting, transfixing and perfect vocal style has provided a voice for Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Tomahawk, Peeping Tom and a myriad of other projects over the past two-plus decades. That unmistakable sound has birthed whole genres, heavily inspiring everyone from mainstream hard rock luminaries like Deftones to underground stalwarts like Dillinger Escape plan. However, Patton's pushing boundaries once more with Mondo Cane—a collection of his very own renditions of various Italian pop numbers.
Sung in Italian and backed by a full live orchestra, Mondo Cane is the perfect meeting point for Ennio Morricone, Louis Prima and Frank Zappa. It's one of Patton's most groundbreaking, unique and hypnotic records, and that says A LOT. Patton makes tracks like Morricone's "Deep Down" entrancing aural tapestries that preserve classic sonic structures, while venturing into places that only he could take them.
Mike Patton sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about falling in love with Italy, giving life to Mondo Cane, some favorite film composers and, of course, why Faith No More is returning now…
How did these songs choose you?
It was quite a process. The entire idea basically started gestating when I lived in Italy about seven or eight years ago. I was looking for Italian music. To be honest, I was searching for modern bands, and there wasn't a lot that excited me. I remember I was sitting in my apartment sweating my ass off one day during the summer, and there was the radio station that played only oldies. This was back in the days of cassette tapes [Laughs]. I put a cassette tape in, and I just taped all of these radio transmissions that were playing all of this amazing shit. I mean a lot of it was crap, but some of it was really amazing. I think that's where the whole thing started—getting to know Italy, getting to know how they make music, what their strong points are and what they aren't.
So everything essentially came out of those transmissions?
Absolutely! This is like a snapshot of me getting to know Italy. It's the love affair with a great country. Getting to know their music, the music that I gravitated towards wasn't let's say, "a modern industrial band" or whatever, but this stuff. I got to know it better and better, and I did lots of research. I had help from many friends. I decided that I'd do a record like Mondo Cane someday. I don't think I realized that it would be with a full orchestra [Laughs]. But, it was always in the back of my mind, and I'm really happy to have finally realized it.
Do you feel like you imbue a piece of yourself on each song?
Well, that's the point when you're doing covers. This is a record of covers, and I believe firmly that you have to make them your own. There is a very fine line to tread. You have to treat a song with respect, yet twist it up, fuck it up and somehow make it a part of your own voice. That was a real challenge with this stuff because a lot of it, in my opinion, is sort of untouchable. There are a lot of songs that I left off of this record that I could've done but I was too afraid to approach.
Does "Deep Down" have a special meaning for you?
Yeah, it comes from a movie that I love to death called Danger Diabolik. I was always a fan of the tune and the soundtrack. It's not a known Ennio Morricone song or soundtrack. In fact, it's not even available except for bootleg. I always thought it'd be a great song to cover. The funny thing about Morricone is that, especially here in the States, everyone knows him for the westerns and the really dramatic stuff. However, he also did arrangements for pop singers and at least a couple of those made it on to my record. He did a lot of work with singers of the day and made, I think, what could be banal, surface-style pop into really deep, orchestrated, tense and compelling music.
When you can take darkness and make it palatable in a pop format, that's true art…
All I'm doing on the Mondo Cane record is giving my take on already great, written, orchestrated, well-thought out musical plans. I take the blueprints and maybe I adjust something. Perhaps, I put this wall over here or raise this roof over there. Maybe, I'll put a door on the east side instead of the west side. One of the great things about music is anyone can have a million interpretations. I took some liberties here with this record, but I also tried to really be respectful. It's hard though, man. It's hard [Laughs].
Would you say getting the orchestra in there made this a real dream project?
Yes! This record is something I've been thinking about for close to a decade. When I originally thought of doing it, it was going to be with a four or five piece band. I was lucky enough to be working with someone in Italy who offered me the chance of working with an orchestra. At that point, he was like, "Maybe, you could write something for an orchestra." I said, "Well, yeah I could do that but I have this other idea…" We conspired, and that's how this came about. In a sense, like you said, it's a bit of a dream meeting practical means.
Have you always had this fascination with Italy or did it happen after you'd developed an appreciation for the culture?
It happened after I got married, my friend [Laughs]. I married an Italian lady, and I had to get acquainted. Basically, it started with the language because her family and her parents didn't really speak English. I had to learn the language, so I did that. The longer you spend in a place like that, it really sucks you in. It really envelopes you and makes you feel like one of them. If you say "Ciao," they go, "Oh my God, that's amazing! That sounds great! You're Italian!" It's not like France, where you say, "Bonjour" and they go, "No, no, no, it's Bonjouuurrr!" [Laughs] I had never been taken in like I was in Italy just by saying a few words. That made me feel like I had to put in the effort and I want to be one of them. Have you ever lived abroad?
No, I haven't, but I always wanted to go to Italy because I am Italian.
Well, there you go! You have the best excuse in the world [Laughs]. C'mon! When you do live abroad, you're basically searching for some kind of peace. You don't want to be the fuckin' foreigner. You want to be a part of everyday life there and you don't want anybody to look at you sideways. So you find ways of blending in, and it's a real challenge. I was able to do it, by learning the language well enough and then also really immersing myself in the musical scene there. Oddly enough, I became attracted to the stuff from the '60s and the '70s, and that's where this record comes from.
Italian art has always been boundless, from Da Vinci to Dario Argento. That boundlessness is in line with what you've done your whole career. There's never been a set Italian style; anything goes.
Oh yeah, I think that could be said for most cultures. To be honest, a lot of the tunes that I chose for this record were, in some way, a very strange mirror for what was going on in the States. It wasn't like Italian folk music from novelty or Sicilian choral music. A lot of it was like a very strange refraction of what was going on in America but it came out in a very Italian style. Somehow, I think they put their fingerprint on popular music at that time.
These guys also have an imprint on everything that you hear.
Absolutely! Like Jimmy Durante—there's a strong current there that hasn't been diluted very much. When you go there, it's a very different sensibility. The Italian-American thing is very different than the Italian thing. I'll be honest with you. To me, I did not what to do "That's Amore" or a lot of the stuff that Italian-Americans had gravitated towards. I was living a completely different experience, and that was Italy. It had nothing to do with America at all.
Are you going to bring this on the road?
I'm hoping to! It's a difficult and expensive project to bring to life. I'm working on it now. We're doing a tour in Europe in July. It's so much easier to do in Europe for some reason. Maybe later in the Fall, I'll do some shows in the States. There are different orchestras every gig. Basically, you show up! We're playing Poland, and they'll be a Polish orchestra. You rehearse with them one day, and then you play concert. Next day, Russia!
How different is interacting with an orchestra as opposed to playing with a standard band?
Very different! Basically, when we did these live concerts, there was the band and there was the orchestra. I would go out of my way to make friends with at least the first violinist if not a couple people in the orchestra. When we start blasting, they look back at us like we're cavemen or lunatics [Laughs]. They're really not into it. It's loud, it hurts their ears and they're not used to it. You have to really ride this line where you're friends with them, but I also have to take care of the band and make sure they're happy. There are a lot of dynamics there! We've probably done nine or ten shows and the orchestra's been different for most of them. It's a different game every single time. Basically the Mondo Cane recordings were culled from our first three shows. They were all in Italy. Some very appreciated producers, editors and I chose different parts. Maybe for the record, we'd use one bar from the violins from concert one, and in the same piece of music, maybe we'd use the females in the choir from somewhere else. It was like a giant Rubiks Cube to find the best takes from three concerts out of all these different elements. Obviously, there was some studio trickery [Laughs]. It was fun.
Are you a Bernard Herrmann fan at all?
Yes, of course! I love a lot of things that he's done. I've always been a big fan. I recently read a biography on him that was pretty amazing. Apparently, he was kind of a miserable guy. He never really was happy with his film scores. He always wanted to be a conductor, which to me was like, "What?!" He's such a great film composer, but somehow he wasn't happy with that. He always wanted to be a classical conductor. It's an interesting book. I bought it in Europe.
Didn't he die the same night that he turned in the Taxi Driver score to Martin Scorsese?
Not the same night…well, I could be wrong about that, but I know before it won an award, he died. I remember seeing interviews with Scorsese and he said that it was very obvious that Bernard was dying. He finished the score and basically that was it…
Given that Faith No More is back now, what does the band and its catalog mean to you after all of these years?
Well, it's strange, you know? To be honest, I never thought that I would ever revisit that stuff again. After some reflection and speaking with the guys, I realized, "Well, wait a minute. I'm not embarrassed about it [Laughs]. It's still good music! Is there a way that we can still pull it off and do it justice?" So we rehearsed! When we rehearsed, I realized this is good and I feel great about it. After that, we decided to do some shows. The interest was also kind of staggering. Basically, there's more interest in us now than when we were an active band, which is really strange, kind of haunting and maybe a bit morbid, but it also inspired us. We thought, "Okay, for some reason people are really interested in this. Maybe we should take it as seriously as they are?" [Laughs] You know what I mean?
Coachella is a great platform for you to make your big debut back after the San Francisco shows.
In terms of festivals in the U.S., I can't think of a better one or a more appropriate one. The San Francisco shows are basically warm-ups for us. We're doing them in our hometown and it'll be like a high-five type of evening.
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