The Real Thing Returneth – An Interview with Billy Gould of Faith No More
I'll begin this very exciting post with something of a technical note. It's been a while since I posted here, mainly because my life has been a very happy and busy runaway train of late. But also because since this blog got picked up by Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, I have had very little reason to publish here. So, the way it's going to work from now on, I think, is that this much-beloved old home of Machine-Music will, for the time being, mainly serve as a receptacle for the original versions of the interviews I conduct every once and a while. That way anyone who wants to read the translated version in Hebrew will go to the Haaretz blog, and anyone interested in reading the English (perhaps because that's the language they actually speak) will come here. Fair? Fair.
Onwards to much better and more important things. It would be a very demanding task to try and estimate the extent to which Faith No More influenced my life, both as a person and as a person who lives his life through music, and probably via combination of both. So, instead of reiterating whatever it is any other normal person would have to say about FNM, I'll just cite a few personal milestones:
1. "Take this Bottle" was one of the first songs I ever learned to play on my crappy classical guitar.
2. When I was 15 I had a long, heartfelt conversation with my aunt, who was very worried about the kind of music I listen to and the kind of artwork that gets plastered on said albums, with the trigger being her seeing my copy of KFADFFAL.
3. The fact that when I think of bass guitar in anything, rock, metal, rap, whatever I think of one thing: Billy Gould.
So a chance to have a very open, honest, and interesting conversation with the above-mentioned Mr. Gould was a fantastic experience for me. And, other than being that, it provided an honest, sober and fascinating purview into FNM of the past, the present (with Sol Invictus due to release next month), and, hopefully, the future. It was also a great chance to check out some of his other projects, including the immensely eclectic and interesting Kool Arrow record label. Hope you enjoy.
Do you remember an artist or an album that growing up you had a moment with that you were blown away and thought "this is something I want to do, I want to be passionate about, I want to start my own band, or whatever"?
Yeah, there were a couple. I think what really did it for me was there was a couple of albums that I heard that kind of gave me a strange…opened my eyes to what music was and what music could do, they were two albums of my father's. One album was Space Oddity by David Bowie and the other one was Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon. Those two albums were pretty radical, and I was about nine years old and they made a big impact as far as how I looked at the world and what I thought music should do.
What was it that you thought music should do?
Well, both of those records, what I can say is there was a lot of non-bullshit about them. Plastic Ono Band, the first song there is "Mother," you know "Mother you left me, but I never left you," really pretty straight, hardcore communication that you don't hear like in normal life. I mean, when you're nine years old you don't hear that kind of talk. "Working Class Hero," "I Found Out," like, pretty tough stuff. To me that was super stimulating.
A lot of times when I talk to musicians, usually on the heavier side of things, their first impression is almost of some kind of, I don't want to say violence, but some kind of musical integrity. A lot of people it happened to them with hardcore, sometimes its Black Sabbath. And you're saying it wasn't necessarily the musical honesty, though that may be a part of it, but I was also a kind of approach. Like, "I don't give a fuck, I'm just going to say it.
Yes. I mean, during that time I was nine years old, so I'm not smoking weed and listening to Black Sabbath, I'm going through my father's record collection. But, I would say, on a cultural level, probably the Black Sabbath thing to me wasn't so interesting because to me it was something I associated with long-haired hippies, and that was something that was kind of my parents' generation. So, when the dark, heavier stuff got to me it was probably when I got into the Sex Pistols, which is the gateway drug to things like Throbbing Gristle and things like that, Cabaret Voltaire. And that was heavy too.
On a giant leap forward, about Faith No More's new album. You described when talking about the album as something of a piecemeal project. Some of the members were on board early, some of the other members were talked into it or convinced by it, could you describe how the pains of labor of the album?
I'll put that in context a little bit. I think you read that Revolver article. This writer really wanted to like break down how the process went, that was kind of his story he wanted to tell on how it happened, he hadn't heard any music. I mean, I don't know. When I read that, I kind of took me by surprise, because it was a one-hour interview, and he was asking me questions through the hour, and it got to this thing where it got…it kind of came off different than what it really was.
What really happened was that we all, all of us, when we decided to get back together it was kind of like everybody had to be into it, and if not everybody was into it, it wasn't going to happen. And it was the same with this record. When we were all 100% cool to do it, we did it. They way he put that, it sounded very painstaking and I thought that was weird to read.
But when you say only when everyone was 100% on board was it going to happen, that probably happened first in the decision to perform again.
Right, and the a couple of years went by…
And a couple of years go by, and the idea of an album beings to germinate, does it take a longer for the idea of the album to get going?
I mean, I never had a problem with recording an album, making an album, the idea of an album, right? I mean, I always write music, so I write music and I write music with the band, that was never such a weird thing. I think what happened was that we started recording in our rehearsal room, to mics and preamps and some stuff, just to see if we could get and how it would sound, because we're there anyway, and it started sounding pretty good so we kept going. But, it was also done in a way that it wasn't the most scientific of environments, so, it was kind of trying to find a way to make a rehearsal room sound good. So to make an album from a rehearsal from, that took a little bit of doing, that took a little of, let's just say, improvisation.
Then, you know, the way we've always worked with Mike is that we've always kind of come with the music first and he's done the vocals second. So after the music was together, he had to kind of get to his parts.
It's been a while between albums, obviously, and despite the fact that you co-produced Album of the Year which was the last album in 1997, and you're producing the new album, so there's a bit of continuity there. But, other than that, it's a big break between albums, and all that time all of you guys were involved in various projects, you were very busy both producing and playing, is there a feel that you came a back as band to make a record and it was different in any way? You brought something different this time around because of this added experience?
Well, I think that just happened naturally, I don't think we said "OK, we're going to do something different," I just think that we were different. And in a way this is what happens when, this people have had these outside experiences and then they come back together again and this is just what happens.
What were some of the things you feel that you came back differently?
Well, I wouldn't have had the confidence to record that album myself and mix it if I hadn't had the experience of fifteen years of doing that with other bands, for sure I wouldn't have done it. Because, the guys who have done it before were really good, like we had Andy Wallace, we had guys like Roli [Mosimann] and Matt Wallace, who have been recoding bands, successful bands, for years, so that's a very high bar to live up to, so no way could have I done that.
And in fact I was really scared doing it then.
You're talking about Album of the Year?
Well, Album of the Year, I've always kind of been involved in the band's arrangements and stuff, we've kind of tended to arrange things before we got into the studio, no matter who the producer was, so all the writing and parts were probably 90% done no matter who we worked with, and I was always involved with that. So I was kind of always kind of producing, but on Album of the Year it was a little bit more.
But it was nothing like the kind of work I did on this record. This is a totally different thing. This was like, there were no engineers, we had no engineers. We had nothing. The only extra person…we didn't even tell anyone that we were making a record. Like, I didn't even play the songs for my wife, it was just band members, nobody else. So, when we went into mix, I was going to mix it myself in the rehearsal room and I kind got cold feet, because it just seemed like there just was no objectivity there, we've spent so much time in that room. So, I went over to Matt Wallace's place, because he kind of like an extra band member, like a family member. So basically there's no way I would have taken that kind of responsibility before.
Despite the break do you feel like the album fits the trajectory that FNM started or left off when Album of the Year was done?
All I can say is that we've always made albums with our gut feeling and with what felt right, and that this album continues that line. Whether or not it goes well with the old material, I think everyone is going to have an opinion about that. We think so, obviously, since it's our music, but we always tended to reply on our gut feelings when it came to that.
Actually I have a question I wanted to ask you later, but now that you mention the gut instinct. There seems to me, and maybe it's a nostalgia thing, that Faith no More and just a couple of other bands that I can think of from that time, really stands out as just really idiosyncratic, a sense of artistic freedom, bringing together a really eclectic mix of influences, just doing whatever you want. The strange part is that the two other bands that I identify as being similar in a way are not very similar musically are for whatever reason Fugazi and Type O Negative.
Just because those bands always felt like they were true to themselves, no matter what, even though it was weird, it felt real.
Right. They don't question themselves.
Right. And still, all three bands were relatively speaking pretty successful. And it seems like, and maybe this is the nostalgic part, those kinds of bands don't really come up that often anymore. It seems like it's not a time, maybe, that lends itself to bands being successful while being completely free and authentic and artistic. IS that my weird feeling or is that something you can relate to?
No, I would say that in the culture of, say, people making music now, I don't think that that value system seems to be in the culture. But, then also what I thought was kind of interesting is that when we announced we were making a new album it was announced on Rolling Stone in the States, and they've never really been big supporters of us, and we were unsure if we wanted to have a streaming track through Rolling Stone, and we decided to do it, and they go a massive massive response that they didn't see, and we didn't see coming. And I think that what that kind of told me was, "Well, there's a lot of people really interested in us doing something," and one of the reasons was that we're a band that's kind of doing things on our own, aמd not reading charts and trying to see what's popular, trying to conform to something to sell, and we're just one of those bands that's using their gut feeling to do stuff, that there's a need for people to listen to a band that does that.
And you feel as a musician that the landscape like it is right now is devoid of bands like that?
I think it is devoid. I think there's a lot of, you hear a lot of things where musicians are trying to appear original by copying something from the past, verbatim. Like, I've heard bands trying to use Phil Spector recording techniques…. They try to go outside of what's mainstream, but by copying something that's happened before faithfully. I mean, it's kind of a nice exercise, but I don't see anybody just kicking themselves into the next decade.
That's what always inspired me, bands that are breaking down current perceptions and creating something new.
Is there a reason for feel like at the time, late 80s, early- and mid-90s, it was more acceptable to do that? Was it being influenced by punk? What was it?
Yeah, there was that. I think that the music system at the time, the music industry that had was going kind of lost a lot of credibility with people and people were looking for new ways of looking at things, because the established order and what you read about in music magazines fell pretty flat. Ironically, everything feels that way to me now, but I don't see anybody really reacting to it or addressing it head-on that much.
So, it's like the conditions are ripe for a new revolution but no one's doing it?
You know what, maybe it's that they figured out how to prevent the revolution, I don't know. But I think it's encouraging that we're doing something, and kind of doing it on our own, and it's kind of weird, as it always is, and there's a lot of interest in it. That tells me something too, that people kind of want something.
You're not a very new or hip young band, but does that attention give you the feeling like you're a young band again, maybe not as popular as you were? Thank you get to kick some ass?
It's kind of cool. Before, back in the day, we never had that much interest. Nobody really wanted to hear about our new record as much as they do now. So, that's pretty cool, but actually with all the time that has gone by I think that we feel like the same band. We feel that way with each other, and we're doing the same thing we did 20 years ago. Feels the same.
Speaking of 20 years ago, I wanted to ask you about King for a Day. It celebrates it's 20th anniversary this year, and at the time it almost felt like the Faith No More album that got lost in the mix. Because, it came after Angel Dust, which was huge for you guys, very popular. I think you called it somewhere your Dark Side of the Moon, always going to sell. And the album that followed it was Album of the Year, your last hurrah, at the time, and King for a Day was kind of like the first album without Jim, a low-key, sometimes, album, and to my eyes it's aged amazingly.
And I wanted to ask you how you felt about that album 20 years later. Do you see that a special album looking back?
I do! I think that was our failure album, really. I mean, Angel Dust was a big failure, as far as the American industry was concerned, they kind of stopped backing us after that. That was like "Why are they doing this? Why are they ruining their success?" So then, King for a Day was even a step further down, like "Boy, they really lost it completely." And, the funny thing is that when we finished that record we were so excited about it, like we were so into it.
You know, that fact that it's held up is really gratifying, because we knew at the time that we had something good. That's what you hope 20 years ago. You don't understand, I have done so many interviews when people were like: "And then you did King for a Day, what was up with that?! Why did you do that!?" People say that to me all the time, you know?
It's strange to me, because, to me, it feels like, by far, the most emotional, and personal, and artistic Faith No More album. Not to knock any of the other ones, because I loved the other ones as well, but it felt so dark and personal and real. I was so excited about it at the time, and I felt like it was just falling flat, like people were so disappointed by it. I didn't get the disappointment.
I didn't either, it was really weird. And one of the things that burnt us out was when you have a record like that that you really believe in, and people aren't getting it, and you just tour and tour and tour, you're trying to just get over the net. And we we're always so frustrated back then. That was one of the things we had to think about getting back together: "Do we want to go through this again?"
The King for a Day experience, specifically?
Yeah. Well, actually our whole history as a band was kind of like we had to work harder than we probably needed to, because, to the average person listening, it was weird stuff that he wouldn't get on the first listen. As long as this band exists, it will always have that element to it. That's one of the things when we look at each other, we’re like, we know what we do, we like what we do, but there's a lot that comes with it. There's a lot of work that comes with it.
And you never really know if the people are going to get it.
If they don't care, if they don't know, if they don't get it, I can live with that. My biggest problem is getting it out there where people know that it's there and they can make that decision. Like, the only thing I was worried about with this record was, "OK, so we're going to go independently, we're going to make a record independently…
Which is a big business decision.
It is. Amongst ourselves, it's the best decision, for sure. But, also, my big concern was that I don't want to put out this amazing record that we're happy with, that nobody ever gets to hear, that nobody even knows that we put a record out. I was very worried about that. Because, once people can hear it, if they don't like it, that's cool, that's fine. But, if they don't even know it exists, that sucks. So, with all the touring and the working, it's getting people to even hear this weird band.
I mean, we were opening up for Billy Idol and people like…. I mean, think of that. Think of that Billy Idol crowd and they're hearing this music that we're doing. It's just strange, but at the same time you try to make that connection with those people. You just hope it works.
I interviews Greg Anderson, and he said that if something feels real, and if someone really is passionate about something, that it's going to have an audience, it has a purpose.
I think that's true, but also your music is like your child, and if your going to raise your child, you're going to want to get him in the best school you can, you want him to have every chance to succeed in life. But yes, you're right – if you have something good, it'll find it's way. I mean, back to King for a Day, it was actually a failure [laughs], but here we are talking about it, and you're respecting it, and to me that's huge. It found it's way, so, great.
I remember the day I bought it. It was once of the best days of my life. Except the fact that I was excited to buy McDonalds with my parents, but it was Passover so it was a shitty bun
[laughs] Oh my God!
Yeah. King for a Day and Passover are forever linked in my mind. I'm sorry about that.
You remember the taste of that bun, huh? [laughs]
It was horrible. It was like cardboard. Just a couple of more questions, what are some of the artists you're inspired by now?
Every time someone asks me that question my mind goes completely blank.
I completely empathize so let's narrow down the field to the last artists that really blew you away.
I would say a band that I really like is a band that we're working with, that I think is doing something that no one is doing, it's a band called Como Asesinara Felipes, from Chile. I put the on my label, but that's not why I'm talking about them. They play a kind of jazz-influenced hip hop, but a Blue-Note-kind-of-Jazz-influenced hip hop, it’s dark stuff, but it's really cool. I mean to me that stuff is really cool. I actually get really excited, I'm fortunate I can work with them.
I mean, you worked with a lot of international acts as a producer in the last few years, you see that influencing the new record, by the way?
All of it does, it all adds up. Absolutely. I mean, I would say like I've worked with this band Culture Shock, that does a lot of Balkan, very Balkan, and I would say that through them I have learned a lot about Balkan music, for example, and if you listen you'll hear some of that influence on the record coming out now. Actually, in the song "Superhero" you'll hear a little bit of that. Everything you pick up in the world has something to do with how you express yourself.
Last question is kind of more on a personal note. You guys have never really shied away from playing in Israel, you were here for the King for a Day tour, I think, and you were here for the reunion tour obviously. That's not something that you could take for granted these days, with more and more political pressure to not play in Israel. Have you ever felt that pressure at all, and what is it that you feel about playing in Israel?
Well, my background on my father's side is Jewish, and there's something strange about going there. I've always loved Israel, Tel Aviv is one of my favorite places in the world, when I go there I feel like I'm home, which is very rare, and to me it's an amazing place. I love it. So I'm always happy to play there.
I do have a problem, personally, with the conservative coalition government in Israel. I don't like them. And I do actually have problems sometimes giving them any help at all.
And you would consider playing in Israel helping them?
Well, I don't know. It goes both ways, the argument can go both way. But listen, I really hated living in the United States when Bush and Cheney were running things over here, and I don't like the guys doing things now. I really hope Labor has a strong thing in the elections.
But, as far as a place to play, none of those people, there are no conservative people coming to our shows. All the good people are coming [laughs], all the cool people that deserve a good concert are coming. So, I don't know. I love playing Israel, its one of the best crowds we have, I really hope we can do it.
I love playing there, and I really do hope we can keep doing it, but it does concern me.