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Faith No More

Faith No More

Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Wednesday 6th May, 2015 12:25PM

Last July, cult act Faith No More delighted fans by dropping two new songs into their live set at Hyde Park in London. Paired with enigmatic tweets from lead singer Mike Patton, the new songs led to rife speculation that reformed act was working on a new album. Then, in September it was revealed to the world via Rolling Stone that the band were indeed working away on their seventh record - their first full-length offering since 1997 release Album Of The Year. By February 2015 we had a name: Sol Invictus.

The first real taste of Sol Invictus came in the form of the highly heralded official single 'Motherfucker', a driving cut that only served to amp up anticipation. A feeling that was enhanced three-fold when the group headlined at Westfest earlier this year, giving a stunning performance that proved in the flesh that the group hadn't lost any of their edge over the years. With the album due to drop next week, UnderTheRadar was lucky enough to steal a few minutes with founding member, bassist and recording engineer Billy Gould, who talked about group dynamics, secret recording sessions and the reason they dress in white...

UTR: I saw you guys in Auckland recently as part of Westfest, how did you enjoy that show?

Ah it was great. It was really fun actually.

The stage set-up was amazing...

Yeah I liked it too.

Yeah, the flowers and all the white dressing really made Faith No More stand out against the other acts with black-drenched stages. Where did the idea come from to do that?

It kinda just evolved. We started out with these pastel suits, then we added the flowers, then we changed the suits to white. It just kind of evolved into this thing we have that really works. It’s funny, it’s not really this big complex set, but it has its own vibe and it’s definitely different, and it works with the music.

Before the show I heard from people who went to your Auckland concert back in 1997 and the general consensus was it was amazing. It seems over that time you haven’t lost your live edge at all. Did that take work, or did it fall together naturally when you started playing together again?

It took a little bit of work. I think for all of us, Faith No More is probably a bit more physical than our other projects and, you know, we’re 15 years older than we were. So there’s a little bit of work, but I think once we started playing it came to speed pretty well and I feel like we didn’t have to make any compromises. If anything I think it’s even a little more powerful than it was back then.

Where I was standing it was like a massive sing-a-long. Everybody knew all the words…

Haha! That helps. Back in the day it wasn’t quite a giant sing-a-long like it is now, and I think it’s a lot better now. People know the songs so well it’s like, it’s a really cool experience actually.

Is it true that seeing fans recent reactions to the FMN reformation and subsequent live shows is what inspired you to work on a new record?

Actually, no. As great as that is, it’s not the reason we decided to write new music. I think we wrote new music because we had musical ideas that we realised could fit into the framework of Faith No More, and it made sense. The musical idea is what got us in to doing this.

I read that ‘Matador’ was the starting point, and it was a song that you brought to the table. Where did that seed come from?

It was something that I just wrote and that I thought would be cool. It’s different from what the band had done before, but I thought it would fit with us. So I did a little arrangement of it and gave it to everybody, and they picked up on it right away. So that was the spark that made everybody realise there is a creative reason to do stuff.

And the album was recorded in a studio space in Oakland, is that at your home?

No it’s a rehearsal space, our band room.

Oh cool…

Basically, we had just finished a tour and we were were fooling around, and I had a bunch recording gear there, so I set up some mics, and we just started making some noise to see what we could do, kind of like: “well, we’ve got nothing to lose, let’s just start making some noise”. And we liked what we got and we just kept going, and we just didn’t tell anybody, because we could do everything ourselves and we could do it in-house. It was more like having fun than being a business thing and getting press involved and record labels and all that kind of stuff. It was a very healthy way of us reconnecting as people, I would say.

I guess working like that helps keep the sound fresh, right?

Oh definitely, and also just we know each other so well we don’t intimidate each other when it comes to playing. Performances tend to be really good because everybody is really relaxed and really thinking about getting the point across. Even if you have an engineer in the room that you don’t know very well there is this energy in the room of “who is this person? are they judging what I am doing?”. It’s a whole different energy that comes in. And if the girlfriends or wives come in, then everybody stiffens up. So we just kept all that outside energy out of the process completely.

So without a producer in the mix does somebody take the lead, or is it all pretty democratic process?

It’s pretty democratic, but I was probably more of the catalyst because I’ve been producing bands and making records from the technical side for about 15 years. So I was more involved in every aspect of it, I would say.

I recall a comment from a member of the band, maybe it was you, that FNM has always thrived on a cycle of tension and release. How does that dynamic emerge in this latest project?

Well, it’s in the music, first of all. There’s always tension and release in the material itself. But more than that, everybody in this group comes together, and the album is where we come together, but we are different people trying to come together. And we don’t always see things the same way, and it’s a matter of finding our way to find the common ground and that’s where the tension comes in. And the release is when find that thing, and we can move on. It’s a process in a lot of ways. We’re really different people, we really are, and it’s not always easy to find the common ground.

Are you guys all friends outside of Faith No More?

Yeeeah, I think we’ve been through enough experiences together that are uniquely ours that I think we are kind of stuck together in a way haha. It’s kind of like a family now.

My first impression of Sol Invictus, is that it fits your back-catalogue so well despite the chasm of time that has passed, but it doesn’t sound like you are treading over old ground…

That’s what we are shooting for. You know, you want to grow and you want to go to new places but you also want to remember who you are.

Now you’ve had a little time to sit back and reflect on the album, how are you feeling about it?

I stopped listening to it as soon as I was finished with the mastering, haha. I haven’t really heard it since. For me, I feel like we gave a birth to a baby and now it’s going to have a life of it’s own and it’s going to do it’s own thing. We gave it the best chance we could at a successful life, but now it’s up to the music to do its thing.

Do you have a favourite song on the album?

Um, it changes all the time, but right now at this moment ‘Sunny Side Up’ is my favourite.

Why is that?

It’s sitting right with me. I’m hearing it when I’m sleeping, I’m waking up at three in the morning and hearing that song in my head.

Thanks for taking the time to talk Billy, it’s been an honour. It’s early days, but seeing Faith No More at Westfest made my year I think...

Are you in Auckland?

Yeah, I live in Auckland, but I’m not there at the moment. I’m in Wellington visiting family.

I really liked it there this time. We stayed an extra couple of days and I really liked some of the things that are happening in the city. It was really cool to be there. Do you like Auckland better or is Wellington pretty cool?

Um, I’ve lived in Auckland for 10 years, so it’s my home now. But I think Wellington is just so pretty and has much better civic space for people to just hang out and enjoy the city.

It’s kind of like a San Francisco to LA thing, right? Wellington is always being compared to San Francisco. We were going to hang in Wellington and check it out, but there wasn’t enough time, so maybe next visit we will be able to.

Sol Invictus is out in New Zealand on Friday 15th May through Ipecac/PIAS.