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A nice bunch of guise

Mike Patton and his many musical exploits

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There's this... thing about Mike Patton; this spooky, almost intimidating vibe. For years now, Patton has been flying below radar, creating challenging and experimental music. Naturally, accompanying this kind of output is the perception that he's as unnerving as his discography, in the same way that parents once thought Ozzy was the Prince of Darkness and Metallica was everything else.

            And while there might be some truth to the rumors, Patton's reputation is mostly the product of overzealous media swindlers and superfans. Still, with Mike Patton, even the truth contains an element of weirdness. He has no feeling in his right hand due to some nebulous "stage incident." The members of INXS, of all bands, once asked Patton to replace their departed singer. Then there are the obligatory stories involving various viscera from his early days with Faith No More. Whatever. In the history books, Mike Patton will be remembered as one of the great musical chameleons.

            Patton first found notoriety while fronting the progressive and enigmatic Faith No More. The band's third album, 1992's Angel Dust, didn't post huge sales because it wasn't grunge. But it was one of the strongest metal albums of that decade. The band split in 1998, allowing Patton to front even riskier bands and explore musical territory mainstream audiences feared to tread. His reputation went from being eerie and out there to being a workaholic, splitting time between a slew of... uh, eerie and out there musical projects.

            Patton has solidified his experimental street cred by collaborating with the likes of John Zorn and Merzbow (Masami Akita). His voice is generally recognized as one of the best in rock. Bands like System of a Down, Incubus, and --- for better or worse --- Papa Roach no longer trade curious stories about Mike Patton. They claim him as a huge influence.

            You'd think all this attention might boost Mr. Patton's ego.

            "Lies, lies, lies," Patton says, talking via telephone as he is driven through Louisiana marshland between gigs. "I try to let it bounce off me. Over the years I've developed a pretty thick skin. If you go on stage --- like last night --- and the entire arena is flipping you off, you gotta find a way to make it affect you in a good way. By the same token, if the entire arena is cheering, you can't go offstage and jerk off in a mirror. So when I read that stuff, I shrug my shoulders, laugh, and turn the fucking page."

            As part of the current Tool tour, Patton has hit the road with Tomahawk, a collaboration with former Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison that also includes former Helmet drummer John Stanier and Melvins bassist Kevin Rutmanis. Tomahawk's music is as close to standard "rock" fare as Patton has come for a while --- four-minute guitar-driven songs with common song structures --- but it still lies a few miles outside of the mainstream.

            On Tool's previous jaunt through North America, Patton's other band, Fantomas, was sharing the bill. An "experimetal" band, Fantomas recorded its debut as a soundtrack to a hypothetical comic book. The group's second album reworked themes from movies like Cape Fear and Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. The whole Fantomas package comes in short, minute-long outbursts of mayhem that seemed a strange pairing for the tour, given Tool's signature opuses.

            "Fantomas is the polar opposite of Tool in every way," Patton says. "It set people's hair standing on their necks more than Tomahawk does. Tomahawk is a slightly easier pill to swallow."

            Not that Patton cares. His music has a disregard for formulas and predictability: A cross section of his work finds him producing, crooning, yelping, screaming, knob-turning, composing, chewing, gagging, and just plain singing.

            His first band --- one that still convenes when the stars are right --- was the underground heavyweight Mr. Bungle, a tornado of heavy metal, surf, and circus music. His solo album, Adult Themes for Voice, is a journey into feedback-fed atmospherics and indecipherable vocalizations. Then there's his other solo project, Pranzo Oltranzista, the Lovage album, Maldoror... the list goes on.

            "I've got three records that I gotta finish when I get home. First one would be the Peeping Tom thing [the highly anticipated 'pop' album]. I'll probably finish that in October. And right after that, Fantomas and another Tomahawk." He pauses. "I've got a few things on my plate."

            All this work seems to baffle people in the music industry. It's pretty much the norm for artists to put out one album every two years. Patton has put out three in the last year, and that's not counting the stuff he's guested on.

            "Having more than one band is not as weird as a lot of people make it out to be," he says. "What else do we [musicians] have to do? I don't have a drug habit. I don't have a lot of hookers I need to go screw. I'm not gonna go water-skiing somewhere. I'm gonna lock myself in the fucking house. OK, what am I gonna do in the house? Hmmm, lemme think. There are keyboards everywhere... Most of the people I work with are completely ecstatic about working hard."

            Even after finding out he's a regular guy with a strong work habit, the weirdness remains. Tool's official website stated a while back that Patton was stopped by airport security in Florida for carrying a stupid amount of cash. Word is he was looking to purchase a certain antique book from some guy down the proverbial dark alley. Is this true?

            Patton laughs. "Uh... yeah."

            What was the book?

            "I can't tell you," he says carefully. "I promised the FBI I wouldn't tell."

            It's the stuff legends are made of.

Tomahawk (with Mike Patton) opens for Tool at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 23, at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. Info: www.tickets.com or 716-852-5100. $38.50.

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