Advertisement
Share

POP MUSIC SPECIAL : Where Hip and Headbanging Meet : Faith No More are the kings of neo-metal, which is art music packaged for hard-rock teens. Even MTV has given the San Francisco band its blessing.

On the morning of the recent MTV Video Awards, Faith No More’s Roddy Bottum and Billy Gould are sitting in the back room of a West Hollywood pastry shop--sipping cappuccino under a Madonna poster and among a scattering of the kind of Hollywood rock dudes who consider themselves virtuous for getting out of bed before noon.

The video for Faith No More’s breakthrough single “Epic” is up for MTV’s hard-rock prize, but with their clean, long hair and regular-guy clothes, keyboardist Bottum and bassist Gould might be the least rock-looking people in the joint. They’re more comfortable discussing the symbolism in Steve Erickson novels than loud guitars. And they seem fairly embarrassed that what they do is thought of as rock at all.

“We aren’t a regular rock band,” Bottum says, spooning up a bit of foam. “It’s just kind of becoming that way . . .”

“By default, really,” Gould adds. The two have been so closely connected since grammar school that they tend to finish one another’s thoughts. “If you look at it at face value, it’s loud music played for a lot of kids running around.”

Rock crowds love Faith No More--so much so that its album, which has already been on the sales charts for eight months, is expected to remain in the Top 20 the rest of 1990. Its guitarist, Jim Martin--who once played in Vicious Hatred with late Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, and looks something like a cross between a lemur and ZZ Top--is, as Bottum says, “the quintessential rock dude.”

Advertisement

“If we were all like Jim,” Gould says, “I guess we’d be a heavy-metal band. If it were just us, it’d be more like . . .”

“Depeche Mode!” Bottum screams.

Faith No More couldn’t be farther from the depressed electronicisms of that British band. For one thing, nobody’s ever stage-dived at a Depeche Mode show. Depeche Mode isn’t adored by readers of Thrasher magazine, either.

At the same time, Faith No More is a band with a punk-rock bassist, a classically trained keyboardist, a punk-funk singer and a drummer who would probably rather be playing Ghanaian tribal music, which goes a long way toward explaining the band’s diversity. And, of course, there’s heavy-metal Jim. Call what they do neo-metal.

Later that night during the live MTV telecast, Faith No More performs “Epic” brilliantly, but loses the award . . . to Aerosmith. Which is too bad, because Faith No More might be the first great rock band of the MTV generation.

“When we were starting out,” Bottum remembers at the pastry shop, “we were playing these dive shows, and we’d dedicate songs to MTV, which we thought was the greatest thing in the world. Everybody hated us for it--MTV was like the ultimate satanic thing. But we watched it religiously.”

“I sleep with MTV on,” Gould says. “I wake up with it on and I keep it on when I leave the room. It’s kind of like an

eternal flame.”

Neo-metal looks like hard rock. It sounds like hard rock. It gets nominated for Grammys as hard rock . . . and loses to the likes of Metallica (which is all right) and Jethro Tull (which isn’t).

In a crowded, sweaty arena, neo-metal smells like hard rock too. Along with rap, hard rock is the hippest stuff going--just ask Axl Rose--and this neo-metal hard rock seems to be the hippest of it all. Take a look at “Headbangers Ball.”

Where recent hard-rock bands have drawn on an extremely limited set of influences, from Black Sabbath to Aerosmith and back again, this new wave of American neo-metal was spawned in the punk and alternative scenes, loud guitars and all. It’s hard rock stripped of its lower-middle-class taint; it’s art music packaged for hard-rock teens. Neo-metal’s crossover demographic seems custom-made for MTV.

Critics and college-radio audiences adore the stuff; so do headbangers. Neo-metal bands--Primus, Soundgarden, Jane’s Addiction--are likely to throw a rap song or a funk groove at you when you least expect it. Heck, some of these bands don’t even own Zeppelin LPs. And none of them consider themselves part of a movement.

If the “movement” had a leader (which it doesn’t), a Metallica or a Sex Pistols against which all the other bands could be measured, at this point it would have to be Faith No More.

While neo-metal bands don’t sound a lot like each other, most of them sound at least a little like Faith No More. (Faith No More can sometimes remind you of Anthrax or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but can also sometimes sound like Hall & Oates.) And after bumping around the underground circuit for most of the last decade, Faith No More recently hit with “Epic,” a trademark conglomeration of speed-metal, soaring, middle-of-the-road pop and white-boy rap that’s probably one of the roughest-edged things ever to be popular with 8-year-olds.

The surreal MTV video pushed “Epic” up the singles chart, and the single pulled Faith No More’s album, “The Real Thing,” up with it. After eight years in the trenches, Faith No More became an overnight success.

“The album was released like a year ago,” says Gould. “And up to about four months ago we were thinking this record was . . .”

”. . . A failure,” Bottum continues. “But things couldn’t have worked out any better. As far as songs working for us, it seems like ‘Epic’ is the most typical Faith No More song on the record. . . . There wasn’t any compromise at all. I think the mood swings are really typical of our sound. We set up something really beautiful and kind of crash it down.”

Faith No More is still the only neo-metal band to have played arena tours, placed a single in the Top 10, or sold a million copies of an album. And you can dance to it, usually . . . which is more than you can say for Motley Crue.

Their prowess on the European “Monsters of Rock” tour last summer, where they outplayed Whitesnake, Aerosmith and Poison night after night, according to some reviewers, has been compared to Metallica’s performance on the ’88 U.S. “Monsters of Rock” tour, where that band finally broke through to a mass audience.

“When we play a big rock show, people immediately take to it,” Gould says. “There’s no wall there. A lot of big bands make themselves performers, like actors on a stage, and every night they put on the same show--it’s like watching the same movie in another theater. We try to keep things real spur-of-the-moment. If you’re used to seeing things that are theatrical, we probably come off as a breath of fresh air.”

Gould and Bottum, both 27, grew up in the Los Angeles punk scene--Gould, who played in a minor hard-core band, took his first date to see the infamous industrial-noise band Throbbing Gristle. Both moved to San Francisco in the early ‘80s to go to school.

Gould, answering an ad he saw posted in a record store, joined a gloomy post-punk band that included Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin, and recruited Bottum. They played something they called “atmospheres,” sound-track-type mood pieces based on Bordin’s understanding of Nigerian drumming.

They went through dozens of guitarists until they settled on Martin, who was a hard-rocking friend of the drummer.

“We knew the sound we wanted--full power chords--so we figured, ‘Why not just use the metal guy?’ ” Bottum explains, taking a drag on a cigarette during the interview. “So two of our atmospheres would become like a verse and a chorus. All of a sudden they were like songs . . . which turned into rock . And we’d even let Jim do a solo here or there.”

Punk screamer Chuck Mosely became the “singer,” a beloved underground everyman famous for his erratic behavior. Faith No More played artsy dives--in L.A., Al’s Bar and the Anticlub--and were known for a while chiefly for their snotty version of Van Halen’s “Jump.”

They put out a 1986 album on the tiny hard-core label Mordam. The title song was “We Care a Lot,” a rap/funk/metal parody of “We Are the World” that became an underground hit . . . Faith No More’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The band promptly got sick of it.

“Face it,” Gould moans. “We’re going to be playing that song for 30 years.”

On the strength of “We Care a Lot,” they signed to Slash/Warner Bros. in 1987 and started getting attention in England later that year. But there were tensions in the band, and Faith No More replaced Mosely with Mike Patton, front man for the Eureka-based punk-funk band Mr. Bungle. He became Faith No More’s first Cute Young Guy.

It was a key move.

Patton could actually sing where Mosely could only shout, in an adenoidal, Tom Petty sort of way, and his way with a tight pair of biker shorts rejuvenated the image of a band to whom the words “youthful beauty” had never applied.

But, oddly enough, the band’s style changed hardly at all, and the difference between “The Real Thing” and ’87’s Mosely-fronted “Introduce Yourself” is largely qualitative--the newer, Patton-driven album just rocks harder.

Last fall the band landed the opening spot on Metallica’s West Coast swing--if you can believe the fanzines, Faith No More and Metallica go hunting together--and became the most unlikely heavy-metal heroes in the business.

They toured with Voivod and Soundgarden. They became a Monster of Rock. (On tour now with headliner Billy Idol, they’ll be at the Forum on Oct. 24, the San Diego Sports Arena on Oct. 26 and the Pacific Amphitheatre on Oct. 27.)

And undoubtedly, they’re the first band in history to simultaneously spend months in Billboard’s Top 20 and have their T-shirts worn by British “grindcore” heroes Napalm Death. Faith No More is way smart, way popular and still way underground cool . . . and they’ve only just begun.


Advertisement