Faith No More's Roddy Bottum revisits Sol Invictus
Faith No More transcended nostalgia fodder to emerge afresh with one of the albums of 2015. Roddy Bottum charts the California titans' renewal, and their bass player's obsession with Eastenders.
It’s a life less ordinary for Roddy Bottum. The Skinny finds the prolific multi-instrumentalist off tour and holed up working on a Sasquatch opera in his New York apartment when our call connects, days after rocking the stage with a few old friends in honour of Dinosaur Jr’s 30th anniversary.
“Could you imagine?” He gasps like a man who just struck one off the bucket list. “The show was on J’s birthday – the last night of their six night residency at Bowery Ballroom. I played guitar on Start Choppin’ – pretty fun! There were a lot of guests that night – Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo played, Evan Dando came out onstage and sang, Kurt Vile, the dude from Negative Approach – a lot! It’s rare when a horrible guitar player like me can get onstage with J Mascis and play.”
It seems remiss to talk to a seasoned (if currently modest) pro of Bottum’s pedigree – a long established composer for film in his own right – and not get into the nitty-gritty of recent work, when the maverick high school band he rose up with announced itself as a current concern once more when Faith No More tested their first new material in 17 years on an unsuspecting fanbase last summer.
All signs were that the victory lap reunion tour they commenced in 2009 could be winding down, but then – during an open air gig supporting Black Sabbath in Hyde Park, adopting the shtick of Exorcist-quoting priests – a roaring juggernaut called Superhero hinted at the full-blown return of avant-rock’s leading men. Then the crepuscular tones of a snarling, self-referential track named Motherfucker trickled from the speakers during the encore. And suddenly Faith No More were back in the room in all their visceral glory. Bottum recounts the genesis of what transpired to be one of 2015's most compelling modern rock records, Sol Invictus.
The Skinny: Were you taking baby steps or was it clear to the band that Sol Invictus was coming?
Roddy Bottum: We knew that we were making a record at that time, for sure. That was the first time we played those songs though, so it was kinda high stakes. The decision to wear the priest outfits and play Motherfucker right then felt pretty bold. We had been working on this stuff behind the scenes but we weren’t ready to tell anybody. Then again, anyone who saw us play that day with Sabbath would’ve figured out what we were up to.
You’d been playing together again on and off since 2009 and Mike Patton has previously suggested that “no promotion, no videos, no extraneous adventures” is what made it fun again. You’re now dealing with a media machine that always wants more. How did the band overcome its hesitance to make a bigger statement?
We figured expectations were going to be really high. We wanted to hit people with a one-two punch rather than just let it all trickle out there. It just made us a little nervous going out there with a new Faith No More record, but I think we also just wanted it to be a big surprise announcement. We did announce it months beforehand, but we wanted it to be done as one declaration, although not in any kind of strategic way.
As you started to write and put this album together, at what particular point did you personally feel like 'now we're getting somewhere'?
It’s such a weird age to make music – a time in which you can do stuff separately from each other in a pretty efficient way. I can write on my own, so can Billy and Mike [Bordin], all of us in different cities and we can still make it work. But it didn’t feel like it was coming together. It felt like it came together when we were all in the same room, where we were able to discuss and work on the music. I still think the magic of this project is the five of us together in a space and it doesn’t feel like it’s real until that happens. Also, for me, an album doesn’t physically take shape until you start talking titles and see the art that’s going to represent it.
Billy has been credited as the one who pushed for this particular album to happen and steered the ship from the start. Does the continuation of Faith No More 2.0, as you’ve collectively called it, owe a lot to his determination?
Billy wears those pants for sure. That’s the sort of person he is; he drives things forward in our band and kinda always has. When we started doing stuff again we were in different cities – I was in Los Angeles at the time, and just the prospect seemed a little crazy. It’s not that I didn’t believe in it, but I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to it. I was working on some projects, as was Mike Patton, but Billy and Mike [Bordin] really started to get into the rhythm and groove of it. Billy eventually presented it all to us and it took a while for us all to get involved, but these things happen for a reason. Honestly, that’s the way it happened back in the day. Billy was always the champion, nudging us onwards; he’s just a very motivated guy. Sol Invictus followed the course that the records of our past followed. In that way it was fitting too.
Ownership and renewal seem to be naturally recurring themes throughout the album – in Mike Patton’s lyrics and stylistically from song to song – was that the intention from the beginning or are those characteristics you came to recognise once it was done?
With Mike in his lyrics, and I think this is also true of the band musically… things start to evolve into a personal statement by the end of the day. I think Mike, particularly on our earlier records, would revert to taking on roles of other people and characters and not really speaking in his voice. Which is effective; that’s one process. But this record in particular took on some personal themes – that’s what’s going on, it’s about ownership, coming into our own and a resolution where we’re taking back what’s ours. It sounds selfish when I say it out loud but it’s taking artistic ownership too.
At the end of the Faith No More project, when we originally broke up, I think a lot of us didn’t want anything to do with it – myself included. I was done, everyone was done with it. Given the time that everyone spent away from this, I think we all have a certain amount of pride about what we did and what we do now. That definitely came up in the songs this time around – that pride and righteousness in doing what we do.
You put this music out yourselves, which spoke to a certain gang mentality you can hear again and again on Sol Invictus. Have you found the level of freedom you were after and circumvented some of the old industry politics that perhaps muddied things slightly the first time around?
Absolutely, yeah – I think we pulled it off pretty wholeheartedly. It was ambitious and pretty naïve to jump into a project like that, where we were just going to do it all and handle it all ourselves. But at the same time it was super simple and super effective. No one was involved in the decision making process outside the five of us. That came down to marketing, what we chose to do with the press, presentation onstage, the record itself – they were all decisions we made and that was super rewarding. It felt really, really, good to be able to make those choices and see it play out the way that it did.
It also feels like a very grownup process, in that any mistakes that happened were clearly our own, but I don’t feel like we made too many. I think we pulled it off pretty well. Maybe we should’ve made a video earlier on in the game, but that was sort of our fault. There were certainly no bad repercussions of not having a major label behind us. We’d been back together for so long, it seemed like – if we were going to come out with a record after all that time – it would be a very personal statement and a precious move to make on our own. So it kinda felt right that this was something that we did absolutely all by ourselves. That’s what that song Motherfucker is about; it’s us taking account of and owning what’s ours, sharing it with the world and not being taken advantage of by anyone else.
Did that long stretch of time away from Faith No More give you a new perspective on the catalogue?
Yeah I think so… there are songs that we dislike collectively and don’t like to play together anymore. There were chapters of the band I didn’t really like; we all had ups and downs. But then there are songs that I never really gravitated towards or appreciated back in the day where playing them live now means a lot to me and it’s come to be something a little more personal. Over the course of touring over the last couple of years we’ve developed different relationships with the songs for sure. There’s certain songs we won’t play, and others that we genuinely like to play over and over… that just goes with the territory of touring.
You’ve played some unorthodox covers in your time – Vangelis, Lady Gaga; who is the anglophile that brought the Eastenders theme to the setlist?
Ha! That’s Billy, he’s big into English culture. He’s been into Eastenders for a long time. He and his wife watch it pretty religiously. I’ve seen it with him a few times. just kinda jump in like ‘hmmm… that’s… interesting.’ And it’s been on how long? 30 years? It’s crazy to think that Dinosaur Jr has been around as long as that show.
The band’s tour itinerary is currently clear. Dare we ask, what's next for Faith No More?
We don’t have any plans right now. We’ve just finished touring, just assessing where we are… we’ve no plans of doing anything. I wouldn’t venture to degrees on the matter of recording – no one dares mention it!
The Skinny's Albums of 2015:
#1: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
#2: Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
#3: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
#4: Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh
#5: Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
#6: Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, Girl
#7: Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
#8: Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
#9: Kurt Vile – b’lieve, i’m goin down
#10: Bjork – Vulnicura