Interview: Mike Patton
Fresh off a tour in support of his 2010 orchestral release Mondo Cane, Mike Patton found himself Stateside with some time to promote his upcoming album, Music From The Film and Inspired by the Book The Solitude of Prime Numbers (La Solitudine Dei Numeri Primi). It’s a film score, and unlike anything we’ve heard from Patton to date.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers, set for a November 1st release on Ipecac Recordings, has a dramatic, cinematic feel with minimalist soundscapes that capture the introspective and reflective tone of the story.
To say Patton is a busy guy is an understatement — “renaissance man” is a more appropriate term. He has been busily working on a several bands and projects in addition to running a record label, touring, promoting, and experimenting. How does he manage to stay so busy? What drives him to produce so much work? Here, Patton brings us up to speed.
Mike, word on the street is that you’ve been a busy man! What have you been up to?
Oh, a bunch of crap, you know…I have been busy; I like to stay busy. There’s “good busy” and “bad busy,” of course, but I like to stay “good busy.” I’ve been doing a bunch of band stuff, orchestral stuff, film score stuff, record label stuff. I’m working on a new Tomahawk record and a new band with three vocalists, rapper Dosone from the band Subtle, and Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio called Nevermen. Right now we have about three songs done and are working on the rest.
Very cool. So what’s that vibe like?
Right now we are still figuring that out. We have a really good thing going. We have a bunch of stuff together, and I’m adding a little “special sauce” to the mix and that’ll be done when it’s done. We’ve been working on it for a while and I’m having a lot of fun.
That’s a lot of output — how do you find time to produce so much work?
Dude, when you love your craft, and really love what you do, it’s not work. It’s just what you do. You just stay busy doing what you enjoy doing. In fact, it becomes less about the end result — it’s more about the process of creating. To me, it’s more important to stay active. To me, when I get off of a tour and I have two weeks off, I want to cram as much shit into those two weeks as I can, just to make me feel alive. That’s just the way that I see the world.
Tell me more.
Working is…what it’s about. The process of creating is sometimes better and more gratifying than looking at the product. If I were a painter, I’d hang my painting on the mantle and people would look at it, but that doesn’t make me a painter. The act of painting is what makes me a painter. I don’t even listen to my own records, but I love the process of creating them, and that’s what drives me to keep doing shit.
So on November 1st you’ll be releasing one of your recent creations — a film score no less — on your label, Ipecac Records, titled The Solitude of Prime Numbers. How did you come to get involved in a project like this?
Well, as these things usually go, [it was through] a strange connection of friends. You have to know someone who knows someone, and I knew a friend of a friend of the director. And they came to me and asked if I would do this, and so we sat down and it came together. To be honest, I had no idea what was going on, but then once he told me about the source material — that it was based on the book — I said, Ahhhh, I know this book, or at least I’ve heard of it.
It happened in reverse order, so the film project came to me and I discovered the book. The director was a “no bullshit” kind of guy, and I saw a few of his other films and I knew that whatever he was going to do, I could make music for it. Then I read the book in Italian and English and it hit me hard. I was like, wow, this is really based on radical mathematical theory. And I was like fearful for the director. I was like, how in the world is he ever going to make a movie of this? The book itself gave me a lot of musical ideas.
Well, prime numbers are lonely. And most musicians are lonely, so I gravitated toward that concept automatically, without even knowing it. Once I dug deeper into the text I decided to record all of this on my own, no extra musicians. I’m going to do it by myself and really hopefully take on the challenge of giving each instrument a voice and some space. To me, creating some sort of a minimal soundscape is sort of more difficult than it is probably for most people. For me it was a challenge, and I think I did alright.
So what about the numerology of prime numbers?
That came later. Because this score was for a film, I really had to make the director happy and write something appropriate for each scene. The initial theme that I wrote [was written] on one of those two week pseudo-vacations. I gave myself some time alone in the Indonesian jungle in between tours dates with Faith No More. I had just finished up Europe and was heading to Australia and I was like, what am I gonna do? Go back to the West Coast? I had just signed on to the film and I was like, fuck it, I’m going to do this shit now. I was by myself writing in the fucking jungle, and three or four themes on this record were written there in solitude. And I brought those themes back to the director and we incorporated them.
It wasn’t like Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone; the way they worked was legendary. Leone would wait for Morricone to write the music and he would direct the scene around the music. Everyone who writes a film score dreams about that, but it’s just not the way it is. It’s a combined effort. Hashing out differences is part of the process.
How is this different than other bands and other projects that you’ve worked on?
It’s challenging. I come from a rock background, and I can put a band together and produce an album and give direction, take direction, and come up with an end result. But with a film score, you have the director, and hopefully his voice will be the hammer chiseling the work. Oftentimes there is a producer and [a] film company, and there can be a lot of opinions and a lot of advice coming from all directions. Its fine, but I enjoyed learning how to navigate that. I kind of knew a bit about it, but I learned a lot on the fly.
How might this album be different if you had the luxury of Leone and Morricone’s relationship?
It would be drastically different, but that’s okay. This is one of the great things about collaboration. Sometimes you are fed ideas or forced to make music that maybe you wouldn’t have. I’m not some precious artist that sits here and says, “Fuck you, I do what I do.” You have to listen. I still think you can do something creative and great in that role, but you have to really listen.
For example, I heard the prime numbers as individual instruments. A violin, a piano, and I’m not sure what else. I hadn’t written anything yet, and I had a conversation with the director. I said, I see this as a film with a lonely tone, it’s got to be one instrument on it’s own. And he said, well, I see it more as a horror film. And I was like, what? Okay a horror movie. Like 1970s and 1980s John Carpenter stuff — and in the end that’s what you hear.
This is quite a departure from anything we’ve heard from you in the past. While you were able to create these lush minimalist soundscapes, there was something sinister lurking beneath, and you captured that well. How did the characters of Alice and Mattia resonate with you and influence your interpretation?
They are the twin primes. There is a lot of darkness in their solitude — I don’t want to give too much away here, but they have some heavy issues — and then there’s the numerology. You have to see the movie and read the book.
Now that presents a challenge because, despite the release of the soundtrack, the film hasn’t been released in the United States. Can we expect to see its debut soon?
I’m not sure it will ever get released in the United States. The US audience wants to see a blockbuster, and this isn’t that kind of film.
One of the things I admire is the packaging on the CD — tell me about that.
Yeah, shit, that was so cool to put together. It’s like this leaf design that folds over and it’s all embossed and shit, and it really looks like a leaf. It has a sticker on the cover holding the corners closed like a seal. That’s the kind of thing that should hang on your wall or something. A lot of thought went into it, and it’s such a cool packaging concept. I hope the fans will enjoy it — I did it for them. I hope they think it’s cool. I hope everyone likes the album.