Sunday, June 21, 2009

FANTOMAS - March 2005

Originally published in: Chord Magazine

Random thoughts: In celebration of Faith No More's recent reformation and killer set at the Download Festival, here's one of my all-time favorite articles--an interview with Mike Patton about Fantomas. Truth is, I was on cloud nine talking to Patton, but, like all of my "heroes," he was genuine and easy to talk to.

The mad genius strikes again

By Jason Schreurs

Fantomas leader Mike Patton has been in some great bands over the years. Need a list? Okay, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk, collaborations with The Dillinger Escape Plan, John Zorn, Merzbow, not to mention a variety of solo projects. But none of these could possibly be as entertaining as Fantomas, featuring King Buzzo (Melvins), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), and Trevor Dunn (ex-Mr. Bungle). Stretching the ever-extendable boundaries of Patton’s overactive imagination must be a bundle of fun.
“It’s…,” pauses Patton, “ya, I would say that Fantomas is pretty fun. It’s also very disciplined, but I think the fun in it, for me, is watching these guys pull this stuff off. Writing something that is acrobatic, and insane, and full of twists and turns, and watching them pull it off, is very satisfying. Also knowing whatever I write, these guys can rise to the challenge and spit it right back at me; that is rewarding and makes me feel invincible. It makes me want to write a concerto or something for them.”
A fourth Fantomas album, Suspended Animation, on Patton’s own Ipecac imprint, is the latest entry in a sonic journal of the truly weird. Of course, the man has worked with some jaw-dropping musicians, but he must just look around at Fantomas rehearsals, astounded, and think, “This is the drummer for Slayer and the guitar player from Melvins!”
“I still have those moments, yeah,” admits Patton. “Especially on stage sometimes. The way we set up, I face directly across the stage at Dave [Lombardo], so I get to ooh and aaah at him…”
The myth surrounding Patton and his handpicked Fantomas crew is he is a slave-driver, constantly challenging them to the brink. Judging by their chaotic fury, in all of its experimental, strange glory, the demented ringleader image certainly fits. But Patton is quick to laugh off any dictator-like scenarios.
“Put it this way, I’ve got the Angel of Death on drums. Who’s going to slave-drive that guy? We’re talking about a guy who sold his soul to the devil. How can I compete with that?”
The truth is Patton did mastermind this bizarre group, and albums like 2001’s Director’s Cut (an homage to film) and last year’s Delirium Cordia {a 74-minute, one-song nightmare) were written entirely by him, so it’s pretty obvious who’s in control here.
“The only reason people might paint that portrait is because it’s my music and I know the way it should sound and…,” Patton pauses again, “I don’t have to crack any whips, really. I just explain to them what I want and we hammer it out.”
Make no mistake; this is not easy stuff to play. Even with perhaps the most loose-limbed drummer around (Lombardo), an amazing guitar player (Buzzo), and a workhorse bassist (Dunn), things can get a little complicated.
“Unfortunately, there’s no easy way of learning it. The only way we end up getting it down is by going over and over and over, through repetition in the rehearsal room. And we all make little cheat notes and have our own little tricks that we play in our minds to actually remember this stuff. It’s a real pain in the ass to play. Not that it’s technically difficult, but more-so it’s hard to remember what’s coming next.”
Themed around the wacky month of April, Suspended Animation also expresses an outright fascination with cartoons and children’s playthings. Samples of possessed toys and warped Saturday morning sound-effects are intermingled with Patton’s genius hardcore herky-jerk. If Barney the Dinosaur, Bugs Bunny, and Elmo got in league with Satan for some death metal action, this is what they would sound like.
For such a bizarre choice of sounds, packaging for this release was going to be a difficult task. The solution? None other than Japanese pop art icon Yoshitomo Nara.
“I contacted [Nara] and told him what kind of a record I was going to make,” begins Patton. “I had no idea if he knew me from… Eddie Vedder, or anybody else. I just kind of wrote him out of the blue and said, ‘I think your artwork would be great for this record and I would love if you would create some original stuff for it. Whatever you want.’”
“And he wrote me back saying it sounded great. I sent him some of our records and he loved them. He gave me 30 drawings,” he marvels, “most of which are original to use on this thing. So I was overwhelmed. I thought I would get two or three.”
Patton took the Nara originals and worked them into a calendar for April, the month with the silliest holidays (“That Sucks Day,” believe it or not, is April 15). A limited-edition of the CD is a full-on calendar, ready to hang on the wall. One last thing though, how is Ipecac going to afford to ship those things out?
“Ya,” chuckles Patton wildly, “don’t ask!”
NOTE - And another piece from the same interview for Caustic Truths Magazine.

Mike Patton invents another genre: Kiddie-core

By Jason Schreurs

I wish Mike Patton could witness my kids’ reaction when I crank up the latest Fantomas CD, Suspended Animation. I think he’d get a kick out of seeing them do this weird sort of interpretative dance while they make bizarre faces; perhaps the ideal reaction to Patton’s latest creation, a truly strange ode to cartoons and the wacky month of April. I’ll explain what this all means in a bit, but first Patton’s reaction to putting joy into the lives of slightly off-kilter children.
“Oh man, see,” laughs Patton, “these are the people I want to play for! Fuck all of these middle-aged hipsters; these are the real fans, man!”
For those living on planet Zyborg, Patton is the guy who once fronted Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, and now Tomahawk and Fantomas, as well as constantly creating solo CDs around his chronically experimental vocal chords. So with all of the musical genres Patton has invented (and often destroyed in the process), he must have ventured into the territory of children’s music before, right?
“Well, I sort of flirted with some elements like that,” he explains. “Mr. Bungle did a lot of fooling around with that kind of a thing, but I’ve never explored it deeply like I did on this record. I never incorporated it into a musical language, so to speak.”
Suspended Animation, a 30-track theme album on Patton’s own Ipecac Records, is built around each day in the month of April, extravagantly packaged and artistically rendered by Japanese pop art icon Yoshitomo Nara.
The songs are a sonic maelstrom of sampled kids playthings, like scrambled messages from the toy graveyard, egged on by the drumming insanity of Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, bass-work of Trevor Dunn (longtime Patton collaborator in Mr. Bungle), and King Buzzo, guitar god from The Melvins. Basically, the songs on this CD are like a gruesomely entertaining version of what parents have to listen to on a day-to-day basis.
“Dave [Lombardo] said that too, at a certain point when we were recording,” laughs Patton. “Because he’s the kind of guy that wakes up early, deals with his kids, and then he’d come out and rehearse for eight hours, or something ridiculous like that, and he’d say, ‘Jesus, I can’t escape! This is the soundtrack to my life. Every morning, now it’s in my rehearsal!’”
“It was driving him nuts,” says Patton with a demented cackle.
The new album was actually recorded during the same session as Fantomas’ last CD, Delirium Corda, a single, 74-minute track of challenging darkness and precision. With that particular piece of Fantomas weirdness being so moody and intense, it must have been nice to blow off some steam with the decidedly more wacky and way out there Suspended Animation.
“Well, it didn’t really work out like that,” laments Patton. “In fact, I think we recorded the cartoony, fun Suspended Animation stuff first. So it’s like we ate our dessert before the main meal.”
Back to the kiddies. I’ve gotta thank Patton, again, for doing one that the kids can enjoy. In fact, they adore it. They literally freak out when they hear any of the 30 tracks on Suspended Animation. And my kids don’t often like dad’s music, so it’s nice to be able to put on a CD and say, “Here’s one for you, kids. Go for it!”
“Very good,” says Patton with a sparkle. “I was telling the guys that maybe this time instead of playing sweaty, stinky rock clubs we should play daycare centres and comedy clubs [laughs]… Detention halls!”
Then Patton lets out a bellow: “Grown-ups suck! That’s the theme of this record.”
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Monday, June 15, 2009

BATTLES - March 2007

Originally published in: Chord Magazine
Random thoughts: Talking to John Stanier from Battles was awesome. Mostly because he used to drum in Helmet, but also because he was a smart, funny guy. Love his quote about the hard times in his previous band.

By Jason Schreurs

Describing New York quartet Battles to an unsuspecting fan of “average” music is almost impossible. Between the blips and bleeps, syncopated poly-rhythms, and high crescendo vocal emissions, this sentence might as well be written in Swahili. Listening to Battles’ latest, Mirrored, it’s hard not to wonder what the hell is going on. One thing’s for certain, they aren’t an “average” band.
“In a nutshell, we’re trying to have fun and do something new,” explains drummer John Stanier. “The cool thing about Battles is it literally was started with a 100 percent genuine blank slate. There were no preconceptions on what was going to happen or what we wanted to do. It was truly something from the absolute bottom up.”
Battles were formed by guitarist Ian Williams (ex-Don Caballero) and Tyondai Braxton (an avant-jazz solo musician who has worked with Prefuse 73), and were joined by bassist Dave Konopka (ex-Lynx), and Stanier (ex-Helmet, currently in Tomahawk).
Within a few years, Battles have astounded with heralded EPs and an undisputed live show. When Prefuse took them on tour recently they had already turned enough heads to get signed to the same record label—Warp Records—and it’s been a great pairing.
“Warp is the absolute perfect match for us,” says Stanier. “I could not be happier; it just makes so much sense. As a label they totally stick to their guns, even if it’s obviously, blatantly non-commercial stuff.”
As for the band’s evolution, it’s from a noteworthy recipe. “It was four different people from different backgrounds and age groups, and from different parts of the country, getting together and throwing all their ideas into this big pot,” says Stanier. “I use the words ‘musical economy’ a lot. It’s almost as hard to arrange the songs as it is to write them. We exercise control very well and we all realized it early on.”
Musical economy? The next stage of math rock? Like, taking mathematical musical ideas and instead of trying to punch them into constricted formulas, looking at the production, distribution, and consumption of those musical ideas? Or perhaps Stanier has a more straightforward explanation.
“Economy is just knowing what to play, when, and when not to play something,” he obliges. “Like when to stop painting, you know? That whole theory. Think about all the bands with four really good players, but it just sounds like a total wank-fest jam band. We all respect each other so much, so we’re all more interested in the end result, and every song has a life of its own. We all understood those credos from day one.”
Mirrored is their first full-length and they sound in perfect synch on its 11 tracks. But they weren’t always a well-honed machine. According to Stanier, when Williams and Braxton approached him, Battles were “very loose and unfocused.”
“It took weeks to even start tossing ideas back and forth, and then slowly and surely it started to gel. At first it didn’t seem like a real band, then the next thing you know we’re touring and releasing records,” recalls Stanier.
Hard to believe such a self-indulgent band could garner such adoration. Wait, back up… self-indulgent? “You seriously think it’s self-indulgent?” asks Stanier, leaving an awkward silence to hang in the balance. Well, these guys are out to please themselves first, and that’s what they set out to do. Just saying…
“Yeah, no, I know. You’re kind of right,” says Stanier. “I don’t know if it’s self-indulgence, but you can’t be concerned with who’s going to like your stuff. Luckily, we have elements of so many different kinds of music that we’ve been able to reach out to a wide array of people, and you can’t ask for anything better than that. That’s the ultimate goal, right there.”
A desire to create something interesting, new, and, let’s say, self-rewarding was the impetus for Battles, and Mirrored marks the apex of their work to date. After Stanier’s time in Helmet and Williams’ in Don Caballero, a collaborative and rewarding band was a necessity.
“To be honest, both Ian and I had pretty bad experiences in our past bands and I certainly don’t want to dwell on that, but everyone really wanted to do something totally new,” says Stanier.
For now Battles are stepping back to really look at the album they’ve created, and how they’ve progressed into something Stanier says “constantly amazes him every day.”
“And it’s not in a pretentious way, at all,” he’s quick to point out. “We’re not trying to do this new kind of music, or make it ‘progressive rock.’ We’re just doing what we do, we’re having fun doing it, and we hope people like it… And I know that’s a vague, stupid comment to make, but it’s true.”
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Thursday, June 4, 2009

LUNGFISH - April 2003

Originally published in: Monday Magazine

Random thoughts: I remember being exceptionally excited about this one, a rare interview with one of the Dischord Records bands.

Stickin’ to their Lungs
No giving out, or giving up, or giving in…

By Jason Schreurs
Music without compromise. For most bands slogging away under the music industry umbrella, this isn’t just a dream; it’s an unattainable fantasy. But for Baltimore’s Lungfish, the past 15 years have been spent making music own their own terms, completely outside the mainstream spectrum.
“It's really just in a different orbit,” says bass player Sean Meadows. “Our music isn't about other things, we aren't selling it at the same markets… so we don't have to compromise it in any way because we aren't trying to trade our music for something else.”
Must be nice. In an industry where most groups feel compelled to take blind leaps of faith into the music machine, Lungfish is content to remain underground. Since 1988 they’ve created nine albums of compelling, authentic, emotional indie rock. Their fans, as varied as the band’s nine albums (2000’s Necrophones is the latest), are eagerly awaiting a recently completed tenth record.
“There are certain people who hear Lungfish music and find a connection,” notes Meadows. “Other people have heard the same music and hear static and make no connection. Usually people who find the music are searching for it, since the records are put out on a small scale without all this media explosiveness that seems to be so pervasive in every aspect of our culture.”
Meadows logs time in other indie notables Everlasting the Way and Red House Blues, and was a member of the sadly missed June of ’44. He recently made his return to Lungfish (after an initial stint in ‘95-’96); a reunion he couldn’t be more thrilled about.
“I always felt like I was in the band and that we would make music together again. I was so delighted when they asked me to help them with the new record,” he beams. “It was a really amazing dream come true, and it came true twice…”
Behind every truly independent band is a supportive record label, and Lungfish have one of the best. Dischord Records exist to document the Washington, DC underground music scene and their relationship with Lungfish has been like family, says Meadows.
“There is a ton of respect in the Lungfish camp for Dischord; the way they operate, the individual people that they are, and the collective ideal within music that they represent. It's all been said before, but there really aren't enough good things you can say about Dischord. It's been amazing for me to have an opportunity to work with them making records...”

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