Superheroes: Faith No More Interviewed

From a tentative re-union to a defining album...

Considering his role in one of rock's most virile, vital forces, Roddy Bottum cuts a rather unassuming tone on the telephone from his New York apartment.

But then, the musician is a hugely unexpected figure. Alongside his ongoing role in the Faith No More re-union, Bottum is also a member of Imperial Teen, has scored three full-length films and recently unveiled his very own opera. It's name? 'Sasquatch: The Opera'.

“It's pretty experimental and weird. I live in New York and those sort of artistic endeavours are encouraged!” he laughs. “I like the idea of taking something from the ground up and having a story and following it all the way through towards the presentation. And I like the idea of telling a story with song and I really like the theatrical sort of quality, the visual presentation of opera. It's really cool.”

Faith No More have always had a certain sense of drama. The band's reformation was almost as sudden as their collapse, with re-union dates in 2009 prompting enormous emotion from fans and the group themselves.

“It was super emotional, it was a crazy place to be seeing as we'd broken up ten years prior, too. With really no intention of ever really coming back together,” he insists. “There were a lot of crazy resentments and burned bridges coming out of that, when we broke up. It was a really hesitant but comfortable and emotional place to re-visit. Going back into it in those first shows it was really super scary and very emotional.”

“Absolutely, there were anxiety memories. It kind of came down to muscle memory, too.,” he continues. “Initially it was a funny thing to re-visit, and challenging, too. But once we were in the studio, even before we played, it was honestly like looking down at my hands and they were playing the parts themselves. We played those songs so many many many many times it was just, like, they almost played themselves.”

– – –

I live in New York and those sort of artistic endeavours are encouraged!

– – –

Unsure of how the re-union would pan out, the band proceeded carefully through those opening flurry of shows. “Just to get through that was an achievement for all of us,” he states. “To come back and even be in the same room together was a challenge. We sort of took it one step at a time. And after a while it sort of felt like we owed it to ourselves to write some new songs and approach it from that direction, rather than just rely on the old stuff.”

Deciding to work on a new Faith No More album, the varied members returned to the sounds which first fired the group. “When we started doing it, it was honestly just a really crazy art project the three of us started together,” he says. “It was very goth and very simple and very repetitive and very stripped down. I think we intentionally went there, back to our absolute roots and started from there.”

“Not so much outward inspiration,” he says, “more us as a group – what got us off and what we liked doing. Which was just like this weird language that we share, this repetitive, simple, moody, brooding place that we used to go.”

Working in different cities, Faith No More were bound by modern technology, swapping ideas on the internet. “It's so easy to share music online these days, and we're all in different cities so it was kind of about sharing different ideas, initially,” he says. “It was tentative at first, it sort of took a while to get started but once we started, there's this language that we all share. Very quick, shorthand, creative, expressive link that we all share. It was a comfortable place to be, once we started doing it.”

Billy Gould seemed to take the reins, with the band pushing ideas towards this fulcrum. “He's always taken the lead; he's very go-get-em, very enterprising, push ahead, forge ahead kinda guy. The rest of us are a little slower. I mean, he produced, mixed and wrote a large part of what we're releasing.”

– – –

– – –

A quiet, pervasive influence on the new material was Matt Wallace. An old friend of the band's, he was brought on board for the final mixdown but his input can be felt across Faith No More's new songs. “It was similar to having one of us one board, he speaks the language that we speak. He knows the band so well so bringing him on board was a real shortcut it enabled us to all move forward a lot quicker. If we'd brought someone that we didn't know on it would have just bogged it down. We were lucky to pretty much work amongst ourselves, or with people who we know and feel comfortable with.”

'Sol Invictus' is the result. Out now, in many ways it's the most Faith No More-like album that Faith No More have ever released. It's a record driven by an instantly recognisable dynamic, by an intensity of approach which is unusual in rock then, and certainly now.

“I think that just inherently comes out,” he says. “That's all we know how to do. I think it's like extremes. Extreme highs and extreme lows. Intensity and release. When we think about our music we think about it more in terms of that, as opposed to the confusing process but I think as a result it does confuse people.”

“I mean, we've always sort of heralded ourselves as an amalgamation of a lot of different personalities and a lot of different tastes,” he continues. “We still at this point don't really share a lot of similar tastes, so I mean the amount of time that everybody spent away from the project definitely helps us as individuals and then us as a collective as a result of that. And it just accentuates everybody's strong points, I think. Bringing those strong points to the mix is always helpful.”

– – –

Extreme highs and extreme lows. Intensity and release.

– – –

Mike Patton's lyrics lend a cohesive nature to 'Sol Invictus', ranging from the introspection of 'Separation Anxiety' to the explosive lead track 'Motherfucker'.

“It seemed like a credo to establish at that point,” Bottum says of the latter. “We haven't been around in so long and it felt like putting a song out called 'Motherfucker' set the course to let people know that we weren't really into compromising or releasing something just for the sort of bang of making money. It was a direct, in your face expression. As well as the tone of the song was about where we were and where we come from. Accountability of the creative process.”

For now, Faith No More are content in being a live entity, in taking their sounds – both old and new – across the globe. “I mean, we've always been a live band but definitely, we've focussed on this recording for a long time. For the next month or whatever, that's what we'll do. Go on tour and focus on the presentation of the songs in a live fashion.”

With 'Sol Invictus' fresh on the shelves, fans are already asking what the band's future plans might be. “I don't know. We can only take it one step at a time at this point. We just have to get through the touring thing and then see where we're all at. Right now, it's really comfortable and a good place to be but I'm not sure how long that's going to last.”

The new album is the band's first to be released on their own label, Reclamation Records. In a way, 'Motherfucker' – with its howling indignation and boiling anger – directly refers to this exchange of responsibility.

“Whereas before when we were making music, releasing music before there were always big companies involved, big record companies. That song is about the accountability of that. Who is accountable for what we do, for the release and presentation of what we do. And yeah, exactly at this point it's only us – we started our own record company and we're doing things strictly on our terms. The people who are accountable are the five of us and it's a pretty good place to be.”

– – –

'Sol Invictus' is out now.

Buy Clash Magazine

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.