Story Behind The Album: Faith No More
We go back into the Metal Hammer vaults to bring you the definitive story behind Faith No More’s classic album, King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime.
Billy Gould: “It’s the album I’m actually most proud of, it’s the album where I felt somebody had to clamp down on the chaos and prove ourselves and that’s what we all did. I have nothing but really proud memories of making that record.”
Roddy Bottum: “It was the most horrible time of my life. That whole time recording that album was a blur and I felt totally disconnected from the whole thing. Jesus, just don’t ask me about it. I’ve blacked it all out.”
Funny how time plays tricks, funny how the tiny little irrelevancies of yesteryear get revealed as hideous complex bags of emotion 10 years after the event. Faith No More’s ‘King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime’ was a crushing disappointment to many when it first came out to play a decade ago. After the mind-bending sonic carnage that was ‘Angel Dust’, here was an altogether politer record. A schizophrenic record (just like every FNM album) but an album that takes its time to work its magic on you – once you get past the initial shock of the sound (and make no mistake, some of ‘King For A Day’ pisses on Linkin Park from a great height in terms of pop-metal shamelessness) and realise the depth of songwriting nous involved.
Some of you might have the wrong impression of Faith No More, (an impression from ignorance that the band were never that eager to stop you wallowing in) an impression that their elevation to now legendary status hasn’t helped one little bit. So many truly terrible bands now claim Faith No More as an inspiration that it’s difficult to see their presence and persona in metal history as anything other than damaging. Crucially the whole misunderstanding about Faith No More rests on one false supposition: a supposition that listening to ‘King For A Day’ knocks clear out of the water. Namely, that they were a metal band at all.
Wrong. FNM were a pop band, a rock band, an avant-garde noise outfit, a funk crew, a synth-rock band, a hardcore band, a deeply psychedelic band. And yeah, in their most traditional moments they could be a metal band too. But by the time that ‘King For A Day…’ came around, FNM were confident enough to be none and all of the above at the same time.
Billy Gould: “It’s like this ‘Best Of’ album that came out recently. The track listing was OK, but with FNM you really can’t tell the story without hearing everything, ‘cos every album went on its own little detours that totally departed from the way we were perceived. I genuinely think that with FNM we were never just about the singles that got the most exposure. They were our public face, our albums were our private shame.”
Roddy Botum: “I haven’t even seen the tracklisting for the ‘Best Of’ album ’cos I know it’ll just piss me off! I’ll just be thinking about what got left off.”
The seeds for ‘King For A Day’ were sown during the making of Faith No More’s fourth studio album ‘Angel Dust’. Coming on the back of an internationally successful smash-album in ‘The Real Thing’, Mike Patton had more time to compose as a fully fledged member of the band (‘The Real Thing’ was recorded right after original vocalist Chuck Moseley’s messy departure). Emboldened by the critical and public reception ‘The Real Thing’ had received, Gould, Bottum and drummer Mike Bordin had more confidence in their ability to create the album they wanted to.
Billy Gould: “‘Angel Dust’ was the first album we made where we felt totally free to explore and mix what we wanted to both lyrically and musically. I suppose at that point, when a band has to deliver a follow up to a hit album is the point where a band normally desperately tries to copy what worked before. That never occurred to us at all: we wanted and album that reflected us all, reflected the strange mix of personalities and (lack of) tastes in the band. And that’s what ‘Angel Dust’ was. Only trouble was, some personalities wanted nothing to do with it.”
Bottum: “Jim Martin had always been very conventional in what he wanted to do with the band, very much a fan of guitar music only and metal specifically. During the recording of ‘Angel Dust’ it became apparent to both him and us that we were heading in very different directions.”
Mike Patton: “We weren’t having a good time together and it was pretty obvious. We saw it coming for too long, while we were making the ‘Angel Dust’ album. The whole time for two years while we were touring we kept hoping it would get better. After that much time you can’t help but feel like an idiot for feeling that way. Basically, what it came down to was that he couldn’t hold up his weight musically. When ‘The Real Thing’ broke out, it was a shock. It’s kinda like being around somebody you don’t like, like a co-worker or family, somebody you’ve known for a long time but you realise you don’t like them. You get to know them, everything’s okay, you move in with them, everything’s fine but then all of a sudden you realise what’s going on. You realise you don’t like them, so you HATE them, you know. You waste all your energy hating them, you hate them and hate them. So you kick them OUT of your house to pacify this hate.”
Gould: “Jim became totally dissatisfied with the direction that the music was going in. At first it was just kind of annoying ‘cos every idea we came up with he’d just pull a disgusted face. Then he started just not showing up at rehearsals. On a lot of that album I had to fill in guitar parts. I think the only track he had real impact on was ‘Jizzlobber’. He just wasn’t into the way FNM was going. But because he was such an established part of FNM’s look he stayed.”
Bottum: “Yeah, I remember ‘the look’ being important to some people. Never really to us though. I mean, Mike HATED Jim, wouldn’t even look at him on stage unless he was about to throw something at him. It was inevitable that he’d go.”
Gould: “After ‘The Real Thing’ came out, some of the things we were asked to do were ridiculous. The company and everyone really wanted to push Mike as this pretty boy, something about his cheekbones made dollar signs light up in the industry’s eyes. Jim had a real big image. He had a cowboy hat, a cigar and a beard. In a way we had to make a decision, because he had an image, and a lot of people associated the band with his image. You have to choose if you want to put up with this fucking shit for the style or sacrifice the image for the substance. Are you gonna be like Whitesnake and Poison or are you gonna be real? A lot of people were telling us that we were doing a lot of stupid things. We had a hard time convincing people that we knew what the fuck we were doing.”
Indeed, ‘Angel Dust’ began the total estrangement of Faith No More from their native land that ‘King For A Day’ would complete. In the summer of ’92, after the release of the album, its first single, ‘Midlife Crisis’, played regularly on MTV and radio but did fuck all in the States. It was followed by videos for the b-side ‘Easy’, which was very popular in Europe, and ‘A Small Victory’ – both accepted and loved as anthems in the UK (where the album sold more copies than anywhere else) but uncategorisably unmarketable in the US rock-market, which was then more interested in blubbery post-grunge like Pearl Jam than the art-schlock riot that FNM were providing. Meanwhile, Faith No More was part of the biggest tour of the year, opening for rock giants Metallica and Guns N’ Roses.
Billy: “That tour was a nightmare. We got real hostility from Metallica fans which we kind of expected but we at least expected GN’R fans to be kind of into something that wasn’t entirely heavy and was also about songwriting. Nope, they hated us too. As soon as Roddy would start playing his synth, that was it. It was ‘fag’ music. It put the bit in between your teeth ‘cos halfway through that tour we realised that we had to annoy these people as much as possible. It didn’t take much to make us behave appallingly and the po-faced bullshit of that tour was all the invitation we needed. It was a typical example of the way the ‘industry’ has these great ideas for you that you know are fucked up from conception. Those kids hated us man, but at every gig you could tell that there were some kids who were going to go home and buy ‘Angel Dust’. Yeah, and then form terrible bands later.”
Roddy: “There was no real connection to those 70,000 people we were playing for every night. You’re determined to get some sort of reaction out of them and the easiest way is to piss them off.”
After the tour FNM embarked on tours of the US and Europe as headliners to smaller crowds. In the end, there was no single on ‘Angel Dust’ that measured up to the success of ‘Epic’, and the album did not sell as well as ‘The Real Thing’ had in the US, but it did sell enough copies to go gold. It was even more popular in Europe and Australia, outselling ‘The Real Thing’ in Britain. But by the time the touring for ‘Angel Dust’ was complete, the rest of the band agreed that Jim Martin was holding them back with his lack of enthusiasm for the direction their music was taking. In November of ‘93 he was fired.
Roddy: “There’s always been arguments about that – Jim’s always said he quit. He didn’t. I fired him by fax. It was the only way of getting hold of him! Getting rid of him was a real cleansing exercise. There’s no point keeping someone in the band who’s only there for the money or something. Jim wasn’t committed to what the band wanted to do. I’m good at sacking band members. And by fax was such a… 90s way of doing things.”
When it came time for FNM to record a follow up to ‘Angel Dust’ tensions within the band (always simmering under the surface and threatening always to burst out) were more relaxed than they had been for years.
“We were less tantrum-oriented than before,” says Bottum. “But things for me personally were going to hell. I came out. I saw some friends die. I was with Courtney Love throughout Kurt’s final months ‘cos she was a close friend and at the same time my own father died. I just holed up and had a nervous breakdown basically. I just realised I had to chose my priorities very carefully. Things like honesty and passion and art. But whilst the album was being recorded, all of that is a real blur for me ‘cos of the shit I was going through at the time. And my heroin addiction didn’t help. And the suicide of two of my friends didn’t help. Nothing helped. Things had to reach a low before I could help myself. My first impulse was to leave. But I couldn’t just let it go, it was something I helped start, it’s very important to me.”
Gould: “What I remember most about the recording of ‘King For A Day’ was that everything was different than it had been before. In the two years before we’d done a lot of growing up but we were… we weren’t exactly in a coherent mental state when we made that album – we were all fucked up in some way. And the studio was out in the middle of a fucking forest. It was on this dirt road with nothing but the studio and the cabin for two miles. It was like sensory deprivation. But the good thing about it was we had nothing else to do but record. We actually tried to stay in the studio as much as we could, because if we left the studio there was nothing to do. Except get in car crashes and blow up car tires. The album was recorded in three months. We were in Woodstock recording it, and there was absolutely nothing else to do, so time kind of dragged. We liked to be self-reliant, we arrange our own songs and like to be prepared. We didn’t want to spend tons of money in the studio “creating”. It took eight or nine months to get the songs ready, but four months of that time was spent trying to find a new guitar player and trying to work things out with the old one.”.
Bottum: “And we used a new producer to get a new set of ears. Andy Wallace [no relation to previous FNM desk jockey Matt Wallace] had worked with Slayer, Sonic Youth, and Nirvana, and we knew what we wanted from him – a simpler, more acoustic, more punctuated sound than we’d had in the past. That in combination with a new guitarist kind of gave things a real up-in-the-air, what the fuck is gonna happen kind of feel. And it was the album that decided whether FNM would continue.”
It was new producer Andy Wallace who insisted on the band deserting San Francisco for the remote Bearsville Studios in upstate New York. 20 songs were recorded, 14 made the album. New guitarist Trey Spruance immediately got sucked into the cabin fever.
Gould: “We had an initiation ceremony for him into the band. We have this ring, like a ‘circle of protection.’ On a full moon we made him strip down naked, and we had this circle of candles. This is serious. It happened to Trey. They were crazy times.”
“To me there was more frivolous stuff on ‘Angel Dust’,” said drummer Mike Bordin to Metal Hammer at the time. “By the time of ‘King For A Day’ we’d had some difficult times, and we knew that if and when we did it, this was gonna be the record of our lives. It had that all-or-nothing feel to us. Instead of putting everything into every song, we wanted to take things out and make them a bit simpler. Perhaps that’s what you’d call a ‘pop’ or lighter feel. All the loud songs turned out really great on this album, really aggressive, and we’ve always done that really well. But the smoother songs I’ve never felt we’ve gotten exactly right. And this one is pretty damn close to being exactly right. It’s like when a certain member has an idea, and he’s a little embarrassed over it, you know there’s gotta be something good about it, it’s gotta be worth doing. We’re just not the kind of band to say ‘never’. I would say we wouldn’t ever do something, because we’d do it just to fuck each other up.”
Billy Gould: “We were just bums who play music. We definitely didn’t subscribe to the American ‘Keep repeating the same fucking thing and you’ll sell millions of records’ ethic which seems to be the way things work. People thought we we’re weird because of that; we’re weird because we try to make things interesting to ourselves. We don’t screw groupies or take ecstasy. Take ‘Velvet Hammer’ for instance. We’d never done anything like that before. The same with ‘Take this Bottle’. It’s so fucking simple that it sounds like a folk/cowboy song. ‘Star AD’ has that Las Vegas feel that’s so beautiful to get into. It’s cool to do something like that and hear all the other shit bounce around it.”
“This time we actually followed our impulses,” said Patton in Hammer. So we did what was in our heads. I don’t know if we should’ve done it, but at least we did it. I think this is a pop record.”
Indeed, what you can hear on ‘King For A Day’ is Faith No More’s demented aesthetic of self-challenge and utter taste-detonating shamelessness reach its crowning apex. It’s an album quite unlike any other in the rock canon because so much of it doesn’t rock, so much of it insanely contradicts so much else of it yet throughout. The fearless personality of the band emerges triumphant – always fucking with your expectations, always two steps ahead of anything you might predict. It’s a perverse record utterly in love with it’s own purity. Musically it dived into mellow pop, jazz, C&W, and pure skronk art-terror. And lyrically it’s a scattered, startled masterpiece, perfectly reflecting the dazed and confused mindset of the band and the jaundiced take on celebrity that the previous two years had festered in their souls. Opening line on first track ‘Get Out’? “What if there’s no more fun to have?” – absolutely perfect.
If King; is angry in any way, it’s angry in a random, chaotic, healthy way. Like the guy who goes into a building, shoots a bunch of holes in the wall and then leaves. He didn’t kill anybody” said Patton at the time. ‘Star AD’ (“And dying is dry like a fact of history/And when you die, you’ll become something worse than dead/ You’ll become a legend”), ‘Cuckoo For Caca’ (“Shit lives forever/We’ll retire with a turd on our lips”) and the title track (“This is the best party I’ve ever been to/don’t let me die with that silky look in my eyes”) all spat violently engulfing misanthropy at a music world that was seemingly drowning Patton in disgust, his voice finding a range and reach and tenderness AND brutality it had never got close to before. For a time it seemed that FNM were the last true soul band on earth. But underneath the gorgeous sounds and shimmering pop textures at the album’s heart, clearly the band’s vision and soul were on a one-way road to hell. Anhlst the music could be seen as a desperate attempt at transcendence, the lyrics told you exactly how deep the shit the band were in at the time really was, exactly how at odds they were with the music industry ’cos they had more than two braincells.
Patton: “It was tough with a lot of unknowns, a lot of problems in the band, a lot of insecurity and wondering if we were going to make this record. We weren’t a band for a while. Of course we wanted to continue, but there are other circumstances that play a part. We’re felt like we were getting old. You can only put up a facade for so long. You get a new guy after new guy, and it’s like, how many facelifts can you get? We’re not going to have guys drop off and get new ones, and then have Faith No More reunite. Fuck that.”
“The album was a catharsis for us,” Billy explains. “We made a record that was very liberating. I think we really learned how to use our power as a unit. I mean, I have a total submarine view of it, but I see it as more of a release type thing. There was a great amount of stress being let off in this album.”
Bordin: “We felt that ‘AD’ was something to be proud of and we felt that we had more to say. There were a few dark days there, but it sort of puts you in an extra gear that you didn’t even know you had. You feel you’re doing it for all the marbles. It changed our focus and I don’t mean to say we weren’t serious before, but when there’s that danger, you really kick it up a notch. Replacing a guitar player, we knew we had something to prove but we knew we could do it. Working with a new producer, moving up to Woodstock for three months, all those things conspired to give us a tremendously sharp focus and I can smell it on that record, where there’s not a lot of waste. There’s not a lot of extra layers of anything, and that’s what we wanted, for it to be quite lean and nasty.”
Unsurprisingly, it being a great record, ‘King For A Day’ picked up almost universally unfavourable reviews on its release, especially from an American press apparently appalled that their favourite rock darlings had gone and made the record they wanted to make rather than the album the critics wanted.
Billy Gould: “By that time we knew that our unpopularity in America and our popularity everywhere else was letting us know that we must be doing the right thing ‘cos American music was so fucking bad at that time. At that time we all went off and did solo stuff for a couple of years because we were so tired of all the bullshit that people bought to their experience of Faith No More. But that wasn’t fatigue with the music, just with being so fucking misunderstood. Which sounds primadonnaish but is true: right now when people tell me they love that record I think, ‘where the fuck were you when it came out then?’”
Though ‘King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime’ reached number one on the charts in Australia, and spawned such overseas hits as ‘Evidence’ the album was hardly noticed in the US. Videos were made for ‘Digging The Grave’, ‘Evidence’ and ‘Ricochet’ all songs with commercial potential, but ‘King For A Day’ is FNM’s most definitive statement.
Roddy Botum: “Just in terms of not giving a fuck about what was fashionable and making music we loved, music that expressed the people in this band as clearly as possible.”
Billy Gould: “You can look back and rack up your gold records on the wall and it doesn’t mean a fucking thing if you know that at some point you had to pretend to be someone you weren’t. Faith No More, for all the huge crowds we played to, for all the albums we sold, for all the acclaim we got – we really didn’t behave like or believe in the same things that a rock band was supposed to. I don’t recall money or ‘business’ shit EVER getting talked about. I don’t recall arguments about anything but the music and that was just the way we made music. To be able to keep that focus, to see through the shit and try and gain your immortality through music – that’s something that I think we stuck to and never lost sight of. I’m totally proud of that, totally proud that I was part of something that never compromised and never took the easy way. That’s a rarity in music full stop.”
Check out our ultimate Faith No More playlist and get a full quote from Billy Gould about the band’s reunion! You can also catch Metal Hammer columnist Beez’s slightly excitable rant about the Faith No More reunion.
Faith No More will headline the first night at this year’s Download festival. Download will take place on June 12th – 14th at Donington and will also feature sets from Slipknot, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, The Prodigy, Limp Bizkit, Motley Crue, Marilyn Manson, Korn, ZZ Top and many, many more.