Mike Patton is best known for his role as the lead singer of Faith No More and his work with Tomahawk and Fantomas. On his latest release, Mondo Cane, he sings Italian classics backed by a 30-piece orchestra. An artist who is constantly evolving and updating his style, he’s had a major role in more than 15 albums that have been released, he owns his own record label (Ipecac Recordings), has done voice work for films, and has even contributed some creepy vocals for video games, including Left 4 Dead and The Darkness.
Fresh off of a critically acclaimed Coachella appearance, Mike took a moment to talk with Verbicide about how Mondo Cane came together, his fondness for Beyonce, and the extreme work ethic that drives him to keep creating innovative material — time and time again.
I heard this album, Mondo Cane, was in the works years ago. What took so long for it to finally be released? Was it fine-tuning, or music biz bureaucracy?
No, no bureaucracy…I own my own label, and I started my own label to avoid that kind of bullshit — so there was definitely none of that. Basically, just because someone plays a bunch of concerts and records them, it doesn’t mean the record’s going to be out the next week. And, unfortunately, that’s the way the record industry thinks of us, and the way journalists think of us, but you know, I am in the lucky position where I can put out things whenever the fuck I want. I was working on three or four other things at the same time, and this sort of took a backseat.
I took a bunch of live recordings that we did and realized what I wanted to do, which was make a sort of…”illusion” record. Something that was basically based on live recordings, but sounded like a studio recording. That took a lot of time, you know, editing recordings. [I had] three concerts, and I took the best of the best, from bar to bar, from note to note, and second to second. So that was a whole lot of surgery. [I also had to bring] it up to the level where I wanted it to be. I couldn’t, at the time, when we were doing the concerts. We either didn’t have the time or the manpower to recreate all the arrangements and all the ideas that I had. So I took my chance to do that in the studio, and that’s part of the reason the record is coming out now.
Honestly, it didn’t sound like a live album at all; it sounded like you spent years working on it.
Well, then, it sounds like my goal was achieved.
What gave you the idea, or what series of interactions, led to this project being done with a full orchestra?
Well, it was a series of circumstances. When I first had the impudence to do this, I thought I would be doing it with a five-piece band, and I would just do it around town in Rome and just be done with it. And that just didn’t…well, I threw it against the wall and it just didn’t stick.
I moved on to other things, and many years later I got this opportunity to work with a full orchestra, thanks to this great festival that’s in Bologna, Italy called Angelica. This friend of Mossimo, who is an old friend, said, “Hey, I got this orchestra available for this festival. If you want to write something I would love to have you do it.” And, of course, I am, like, full wood. (laughter) I say, “Oh my god, I would love to do this. I’ve always wanted to do this.” It was a really exciting proposition.
I had a few different ideas, and I kind of threw them off [Mossimo’s] back. He sort of had the power to green light whatever project they wanted to do, and the one they liked this the best was this one.
It was a long time coming. I fell in love with this music many, many years before when I was living in Italy. I had the chance — one of those rare opportunities where you get a chance to realize something, on a grandiose scale; [something] you might have thought about 10 or 15 years before. I felt really lucky to be able to realize it.
Of the songs you covered on the Mondo Cane album, would you say you have a favorite amongst the originals?
Of the originals, no, not really. Although I really respect the originals, I consider them mine a little bit, at this point.
Well, you should.
I sort of have to have that sort of arrogance, if you will, to even attempt a ridiculous project like this. Choosing a favorite is like…I don’t know if you have kids, but it’s like choosing a favorite kid, or a favorite pet, or something like that.
Well, I have a dog and a cat, and I consider them my kids, so I can understand you on that.
Well, there you go, I am with you on that. They all have their charm.
You’re into Ennio Morricone. What’s your favorite movie that he’s done a score for?
I mean, gosh, we are talking about hundreds and hundreds of movies! That’s a really, really tough question.
I know, yeah, it’s a tough question.
I will tell you whats on my mind now…
What I am really inspired by right now is The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. It’s a Dario Argento film — one of his early films and a great one. Morricone did the soundtrack, and it’s just absolutely, mind-blowingly complex, and really fun. Really amazing. The instrumentation is just gorgeous — tons of shit going on, super dense. It makes what would normally be a slasher film into a really elegant affair. That’s a wonderful example of how influential a soundtrack can be.
Is there a group or band currently infecting the airwaves with what most “music snobs” would consider crap that you enjoy? And that’s a tough question — but [in addition to that] question, do you get down to Gaga in the shower?
No, no, not in the shower. Maybe in other places in my house…but not in the shower. Gosh, I don’t know. You know, I like Broken Bells. They’re really good — but I think snobs would like that. I mean, you know, I’ll go really obvious — I am so a Beyonce fan. I am not gonna lie. If you wanna go really obvious and ignorant, then I will go with Beyonce.
Well, there is nothing ignorant about being truthful.
(laughter) Hey, I like that.
If you could do something musically that might be difficult to accomplish (due to whatever might be involved), what would it be?
How about me singing at a cremation ceremony in Indonesia? How about that?
I’d imagine that would be difficult.
It’s very difficult. Yeah, I was at one a couple of months ago — the music was so incredible. I was sitting there recording the percussionists, just recording them, and thought to myself, God damn, wouldn’t it be fun to make music like that? Just off the cusp, at a funeral. People in other cultures make music for very different reasons, and I was really impressed by it. A bunch of teenagers playing cymbals — only cymbals — with the most aggressive, basically punk rock-fueled insanity, to pay tribute to this poor dead guy. It was really inspiring.
What inspired you to go down the path that you have, being a vocalist? You’ve done a lot of shit — music, movies, and video games.
Well, you know, I started off as a singer. I started out in bands — and that, obviously, is where I come from, and a huge part of what I do. All I’ve tried to do since those [teenage] days was to sort of stretch what I do. I think doing the movies, and the video games, and the soundtracks is just an extension of where I came from.
I just think that whenever you are really invested in something — whether it be writing or film making or, I don’t know, serial killing — you aim to get better at it. Over a certain period of time, you do it this way, and do that way, and kind of learn from your experiences. I think if you’re doing something for a period of time and not getting better, then, well, you [should] just hang it up.
Being who you are and having done what you’ve done, is there one thing you regret, if anything?
Maybe not starting sooner. You know, I started writing music and playing music when I was 15 or 16, and it was utterly by chance. If could change something, I wish I would have been born with a musical idea in my head. I could have started sooner.
You know, one of the main worries in my life is, “What if I wake up tomorrow morning and don’t have it — what if I have no more ideas, and can’t sing a note?” That’s a real possibility. That sort of fear helps me justify being as busy as I am. And makes it, even on difficult days, seem more palatable to me. Hey, this could all end tomorrow, and I am doing my best.