Mit Gas (Ipecac)
An interview with vocalist Mike Patton
by Tim Den
As if a band with Mike Patton (Fantômas, ex-Faith No More), Duane Denison (ex-The Jesus Lizard), John Stainer (ex-Helmet), and Kevin Rutmanis (Melvins, ex-Cows) could do wrong. Having already proven their might a year-and-a-half ago with a debut album and a full U.S. tour with Tool, Tomahawk are back with the even more cohesive and evocative Mit Gas. Led by Denison’s unique classically-trained/skewed riffs, songs like “Rape This Day” and “When the Stars Begin to Fall” showcase the band’s newfound focus on subtlety and texture. Instead of hitting listeners over the head with RIFFAGE and noise, Mit Gas uses the sinister crevaces between notes and beats to tingle the senses. Drum’n’bass grooves help create a repressed-yet-maniacal urgency to the songs’ moods, as Patton’s trademark from-a-whisper-to-a-shriek is dressed up in everything from CB radio to ultra-delay effects.
Some nearly hummable “catchiness,” too, especially the giant choruses of “Rape This Day,” “Capt Midnight,” and “Mayday.” The creepiness of Patton’s razor-in-an-apple voice, the trance-hypnotism of Stanier’s beats, and Denison’s ever-tasteful strangling of the guitar neck make Mit Gas the next best thing to the members’ old bands reforming.
Do all of you still consider Tomahawk “Duane’s band?”
Because we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t. It’s the main reason we do this. I already have enough other things going where I’m the Hitler. (cackles) I wouldn’t be interested if it wasn’t Duane’s thing. It’s very different from what I do; the way I write. It’s refreshing.
So is it still “Duane writes all the songs, mails tapes to the others, everyone gets together and rehearses vigorously?”
Kind of. It was like that with the first album, where he wrote everything and mailed us stuff to learn. We only had a few days to rehearse before the first album. But we’ve been on long tours together since then, and I feel that – and I’m sure the others would agree – we’re much more cohesive as a “band” now. And we keep everything loose when we write. “Maybe we should do that 18 times,” etc.
A New York Times reviewer once described you as more interested in vocal techniques/sounds than lyricism. Do you agree with that?
I don’t know, I didn’t read it. (cackles) I ignore that shit. And I wouldn’t say “technique,” cuz I don’t know what the hell I’m doing up there… But for the most part, I’d say that’s right. I’m more interested in creating mood than poetry.
What about the notion that rock is this cathartic release for its creator? That it allows “the artist” to “speak his/her soul…”
Overrated. (laughs all around)
So if emotional involvement is ruled out, how do you go about writing songs?
First of all, nothing is done without context. I don’t do anything without first having an idea of the whole picture, of what it should sound like. Then I figure out “Okay, what do I need?” and gather the tools to build it. I know it’s unromantic, but I think of myself almost like a craftsman. You get the pieces that fit, and you put them together.
Seems like you’ve been gathering literal tools – all sorts of different mics – over the years as well. Starting with just a regular mic in Faith No More, to six with Mr. Bungle and four with Tomahawk…
The music called for more dynamics and textures, which I was slowly figuring out how to achieve live. With Mr. Bungle, every guy in the band was doing four things at once. Literally, we would have both of our hands busy the whole time. That’s where I figured out how to utilize certain mics for certain feels. With Tomahawk, I have a more “stripped-down” set up, but it all depends on what the music calls for.
Did you ever take vocal lessons over the years?
No. I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time, except if it feels right.
How did your voice change so much between The Real Thing/first Mr. Bungle album and Angel Dust?
It’s called puberty, my friend! (laughs all around) Yeah, I pretty much didn’t get laid ’til I was 19.
What got you into doing music – specifically singing – in the first place? It obviously wasn’t “an urge to let your soul soar…”
First it was realizing that I could do it at all. And you know, we (Mr. Bungle) were four, five guys with nothing else to do. We weren’t good at sports or school, we didn’t drink or do drugs, so we said hey, let’s try music. What’s a redneck boy to do? (laughs)
You grew up in Eureka, CA, right?
Yup. Right on the border of Oregon. Redwoods country. No place for a human being to grow up. My parents still live there, so I go back about once a year. But I stay away from that place as much as I can. (laughs)
So is Mr. Bungle really over?
It’s getting really close. It’s already gone on longer than any of us had expected… I think we really stretched it out. Now a lot of the guys live far away (drummer Danny Heifetz lives in Australia, for example) and we don’t talk very much. Toward the end, it would sometimes just be a headache getting everybody together.
Aren’t you sad about it, especially since you’ve known the guys since you were kids?
Yeah… but friends grow apart, and you have to know when it’s time to move on. And we really squeezed as much out of it as we could.
What about the Faith No More guys?
I still talk to some of them. With that band, we just made an album that sounded like the end, you know? We finished the last round of touring, and it felt like it was time.
I’ve heard Faith No More was “Billy’s (Gould, bassist) band,” just like Fantômas is “your band,” Tomahawk is “Duane’s band,” and Mr. Bungle is “Trevor’s (Dunn, bassist) band…”
Not really. Mr. Bungle and Faith No More were group efforts… Faith No More especially. That’s the only real collective I’ve ever been in. We would just go jam in a room for four, five hours and see what we came up with. Everybody contributed. I ain’t got time for that shit now! (laughs) Got too much other stuff that needs to be done!
With “your projects,” you just write everything yourself and get people to play it, right?
And is Fantômas “Mike Patton’s band?”
Yes. That’s my thing. The others get their say too, of course, but I have veto power. (cackles)
It’s pretty awesome – and scary at the same time – to call up whoever you want and ask them to join you. Like, Dave Lombardo (Fantômas/Slayer/Grip Inc. drummer), for example…
Getting people you don’t know can be risky, you have no idea if you’re gonna get along or not. But at the same time, at least you know their abilities. Like with Dave, I obviously wouldn’t have contacted him if he couldn’t play his ass off. We had a mutual friend, so I sent him a tape and said “hey, check it out. You might think I’m totally crazy, but let me know if you’re interested.” He called me up right away, super excited, singing drum parts over the phone and shit. “Yeah man, I totally know what you mean! Doo doo doo doo dah dah dah…” He was a real surprise. I didn’t think I was gonna get him.
How do you have time to be in all these bands and run a label?
Well, you’re looking at my life. This is it, man. This is all I do. Down time? Forget about it. If I’m not on the road, I’m at home writing new stuff. It’s constant motion.
You’re married, right?
Yes. Eight or nine years now.
How does she handle your lifestyle?
Uuuhhh… (awkward smile) it’s tough. It definitely grinds her down. It takes work, of course, but she knows this is who I am.
I bet she wasn’t thrilled with Faith No More’s two-year tours… Not that the band members were all that psyched either, I’m guessing…
Yeah, those tours were rough, but we all recovered okay afterward. Overall, touring is the thing I hope to do less of in the future. Cuz every night you play the same set of songs, and sometimes you just think to yourself “maybe I should be at home working on something new instead of being a jukebox up here for months on end.”
But the fact that you’re able to stay on tour – and play sold-out shows everywhere – at least gives you hope that there are some intelligent music listeners out there, right?
No, not really. (laughs) We’ve managed to capture some people’s attention for now, which is nice, so we’ll keep doing this and see how long it lasts.
But surely you’re proud of the success of Ipecac?
Oh yeah, of course! It really has taken on a life of its own. We’ve been around four years now, and things have really just grown. But as I said, it’s great that people are into our bands, and we’ll keep doing this for as long as we can. I just keep my head down and forge ahead without thinking about all that other stuff. Even when Faith No More was doing really well, we just laughed at everything and said “enjoy it now, cuz it ain’t gonna last.” (chuckles)
With all the experimental material you and Ipecac work with, do you ever feel like there’s nothing more to be drained out of rock’n’roll? I know you just did an album with X-ecutioners, and those guys just take music to a whole other realm…
I obviously still have faith in rock, or else I wouldn’t be doing this, but sometimes it does feel limiting. That’s why most of my bands (and Ipecac bands as well) try to at least stretch the boundaries a little, cuz there’s just some visceral, direct impact rock has that can’t be replaced with electronic music.
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