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A Quietus Interview

"Fuck This Interview!" Mike Patton Speaks His Mind
Jeremy Allen , November 16th, 2011 12:21

Gaddafi, Jean-Claude Vannier, Metallica and Lou Reed. Mike Patton will talk about anything. Just don't ask him to pimp his latest project, says Jeremy Allen

On the line from San Francisco, Mike Patton has a lot to talk about. It's been a busy year again. In fact it's been it's been a frantic few months, what with the release of a new Fantomas DVD: The Director's Cut: A New Year's Revolution, his Solitude of Prime Numbers soundtrack just out and a recent appearance at the Hollywood Bowl alongside Beck and Jean Claude Vannier to play Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson and Vannier's lost-and-found cult classic L'enfant Assassin des Mouches.

While we're here to talk primarily about the DVD, he seems more interested in discussing Lou Reed and Metallica's Lulu, Dave Lombardo's new project and the death of Colonel Gaddafi. Anything, it seems, to not have to talk about the Fantomas live film, shot at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco.

"I hate music DVDs, I'll be honest with you”, he says later in the conversation. It'll be of little surprise that Patton the perfectionist spent an inordinate amount of time on the product despite his antipathy, ensuring it would be a cut above the usual substandard audio/visual titles released in the run-up to Christmas.

Having manipulated the sound and given director Vincent Forcier carte blanche with the visuals, it's certainly a rare and eccentric treat.

But first up Vannier. I mention to Patton as a prelude to the conversation that I recently interviewed the Frenchman as kind of ice-breaker, but he's excited by this.

"Oh you did? Wow. He's a piece of work man, he's amazing. We did the Hollywood Bowl thing. It's funny because everyone was - I wouldn't say afraid of him - but everyone was timid around him, I dunno, afraid of saying the wrong thing... and we bonded immediately. He's a little bit cantankerous, you know. He's French, what can I say? I get that. But I experienced pretty much none of that. He was really great with me, instructive yet supportive. He made me really feel welcome. Some other musicians and organisers had different experiences. I really love the guy, I think he's amazing."

He was complimentary about you. Which track did you do?

Mike Patton: Oh shit, on Melody Nelson I did a narration part on 'En Melody'. I did like seven narrated songs that night, so I can't remember.

'En Melody' is the track where Jane Birkin is being tickled and making sex noises right?

MP: Haha, where she's laughing and making orgasm sound? Yeah, yeah, I did that one. I didn't have to... she did all the work. ...Melody Nelson is pretty amazing right? Man I wish you could have seen the Hollywood Bowl show, it was nice.

No one invited me.

MP: Hahaha. No one invited me either! I just showed up! I thought the whole thing was done... it was a little haphazard in terms of programme stuff, but the end result was really good [in terms of] emotion. I talked to him after the concert and he said 'Serge would have been proud', and he was very happy with it, and it felt great. It was very respectful.

Vannier was blown away by the fact there were 18,000 people there. He seems to have no concept or appreciation of the fact his talent is so immense.

MP: Well like any real artist, he's not interested in commerce, he has no idea what his work means to the general public. I do think that he does know, or he heard it from me and Beck and everyone else that was there. He was basking in the glow of that for sure. It was very obvious that we all loved his stuff and he was a big part of it. I think he understood that deeply by the time we did that. I mean we did rehearsals like you wouldn't believe. It was a pretty intense little period and by the end he definitely had a sense of how his music affected a creative stream of artists these days.

He followed Melody Nelson with L'enfant Assasin des Mouches and his record company didn't release it in 1972, and it didn't get a full release until Andy Votel put it out on his Finders Keepers label in 2006. Jean Claude says that he doesn't understand why one project is universally embraced while another vilified.

MP: Well, it's not vilified by people who know their shit! It's an incredible, INCREDIBLE record. You're kidding me? Of course, maybe it didn't have commercial success, but honestly... Haha. Good shit lasts!

Did you get hold of a copy before it was re-released? Has it influenced you? It's something I can imagine you tapping into.

MP: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah yeah. I knew about the record before we worked together and I had to go back to it to study it before all of this. I just wanted to immerse myself in it. It hit me hard when I first got it, which was, I dunno, ten years ago? And so I went back and listened to it and it hit me just as hard. It is so fucking OUT THERE. I mean, it's just fantastic. After the Hollywood Bowl show he came to San Francisco with his daughters and we hung out. It's funny, just yesterday he sent me a photo of me and his daughters on the San Francisco Bay, and he said, 'Here's a souvenir.' Yeah, he's a sweetheart.

So let's talk briefly about The Solitude of Prime Numbers...

MP: Do we have to talk about it?

The soundtrack is based on a novel by Paolo Giordano. I'll admit that my research was not thorough enough to have actually read the novel...

MP: You should! Fuck the interview, you should just read it because it's really good and I think you might like it.

I'm wondering, in view of the Lou Reed and Metallica record coming out...

MP: Oh man, how was it?

I'm glad there are records in the world like it.

MP: You know, it's funny you mention that, because today I'm meant to give a quote about the record. I haven't heard the record but the New York Times is doing a big piece on the cultural significance of a record like that... It's an interesting idea... what they're asking is: 'Is it worth it for an artist to take risks like this when there's going to be a huge backlash?' And they asked me. My first reaction was 'no comment'. I haven't heard the record, I'm not going to start talking out of my breeches here. But the 'idea' of a record like that I think is amazing. I think it's great. Why can't a fucking platinum-selling band work with an experimental pioneer? Why not?

It's good to hear a band outside of their comfort zone. They're Lou's bitches.

MP: Well, I've heard some stories, ha ha. I'll just leave it at that. The idea of it, conceptually, I'm all for it.

Now Lulu was based on two plays by Frank Wedekind. I'd ask Lou himself but I interviewed him once and it wasn't a very pleasant experience and I wouldn't want to go through that again...

MP: HA HA HA! He's a sweetheart too. He has his moments, as do all of us.

I thought he'd open up to me, I'm not like all the others.

MP: Nah, you don't break Lou. Just catch him on a good day. I love the guy, I really do. He's been super super sweet with me. I played with him and [John] Zorn once and he was really fun, and super super nice, and sweet and supportive. Yeah, I'd go to bat for him any day.

I think it's just journalists he doesn't like.

MP: Well you know, can you forgive him? Can you blame him?

So... how important is it on the part of the listener to know a work where a soundtrack or interpretation is concerned?

MP: It just totally depends on the project and what it is. Something like The Solitude Of Prime Numbers, I would hope people could listen to it with no reference at all. I don't think it will hurt the experience, put it that way. If anything, like I said to you earlier, maybe it'll make you go, 'Ah! the book must be interesting. If it sounds like this then what's it going to read like?' And the same for film. If it sounds this way then what's it going to look like?' I'm not a believer in lineage; that you have to listen to The Ramones before you listen to this or this or that... I think that everyone enters the stream at their own pace. At their own point in life. And you kinda figure it out from there. You jump into the giant current and it sweeps you away but you have to take the time to swim backwards a little bit and 'Oh', you know. Punk rock didn't start with Green Day. Trust me. So swim backwards and figure it out. A kid might think that, I don't know.

So this DVD...

MP: Yeah, it's a nice one.

The sound on it is great.

MP: Yeah, I worked on the sound like crazy. Even though it's 'a live DVD', ha ha, I did a lot of surgery behind the scenes to make it sound really different you know. I wanted to make it different. It's supposed to be a facsimile of that record... I wanted it to sound like something else. So I did a lot of work on it, post-production style.

Artists and record companies can throw those things out.

MP: Sure.

Did you have anything to do with the rather funky and inexpensive special effects such as your evil eyes and devil horns which appear sporadically during the film?

MP: No, I basically gave the guy who filmed it complete free license to do whatever the hell he wanted. I told him to go crazy, don't hold back. And certain things were, 'Hey, that's a little too much,' but I wasn't really interested in... I mean I hate music DVDs, I'll be honest with you. I think why put in this disc to try and experience a concert on your couch? The idea is preposterous. So the idea for me was that it should be a completely different experience, it should be cheesy at times, it shouldn't be like seeing us live - it should be something else.

It's a bit like live reviews. If you were there then why would you be interested in reading about it, and if you weren't well then tough.

MP: That's the reason that concerts exist. It's a momentary event and it's a special thing for the people who are there that night, and the musicians playing. It should only really live for the people in that room. That's another thing that I hate these days, podcasting this, and recording that. Not everything should be podcast and available and documented. Some things just need to live in that space, that night. You walk out and it's gone. It's only special and it's only proprietary for the people there.

It's increasing as well, and the death of Gaddifi was surely a new nadir. The Sun, living up to its family newspaper motif, had gruesome pictures on the front page, and I personally would rather not pick up a paper to see a dead guy on the cover and would rather children weren't exposed to that either.

MP: Yeah. We're in an age where everything is accessible. And I'm not convinced that that's a great thing. That's the best way that I can put it.

Do you get annoyed by someone holding up a camera phone at one of your shows?

MP: I don't notice it at a gig, but the idea of it, yeah, it's a little overkill. At a gig it doesn't bother me. If that's what floats people's boats, then I don't care, they can do what they want. Personally, yeah, I wouldn't do that. It's a little much! But you know, everyone's different.

You always want to turn to someone taking a picture from the crowd at a gig and say: 'That's going to be a shit picture.

MP: Exactly. I'm off to see Portishead playing here in San Francisco. I'm not going to record the concert, I'm going to record it in my head.

So you did The Director's Cut at All Tomorrow's Parties. It seems like an awful lot of work to go to for a few shows, so is that how this concert came about?

MP: ATP asked me to do that record live, which they do from time to time; they'll ask artists to play a record. So we were like, let's do it! That was probably the impetus. I probably wouldn't have done it if they hadn't asked. Sometimes promoters have good ideas. And those guys pretty much always do, and I have to say as festivals go, that's the best one out there. And so yeah, after we did that and I realised how well it felt and worked and we did a good job of it, I got offered a new year's gig and I said, 'Let's do that.' We were already rehearsed and we already knew what we were doing. We did all this work for one fucking show, nah! Let's do it somewhere else!

Dave Lombardo must be a difficult guy to replace. I heard a story about Dave Lombardo, correct me if it's wrong. I heard he gave up playing with Slayer because he thought he was too slow, and then after playing with you, he decided he was quite fast really and went back to Slayer...

MP: Slow and fast? No, I don't know anything about that. Basically he quit Slayer for a lot of personal reasons. He left, like, five times, you do the math. It was his decision whether to go back with them or not... I do know that he was very, very excited and energised to have been playing with Fantomas and I think that's great. I took that as a compliment, you know, he told me that. Dave is a guy who can do whatever the fuck he wants, you know, that's what I always told him. He was obviously frustrated or had had his fill playing metal every night and I just said, 'Man, it's a big world out there.' And the guy is immensely talented and I think he's now applying it. He's got a new group called Philm that's basically his thing, and we're going to end up putting it out on Ipecac next year at some point. So I'm happy for him, he's opened up some doors, and he's got the courage to step through those doors.

Patton says he's not keen to talk about new projects or collaborations as it gets him into trouble, though we can be assured there will be plenty to look forward to in 2012. Having been sent the Fantomas DVD already, top of my Christmas wish-list is a collaboration between him and Jean Claude Vannier. Let's see what Satan Claus puts in our stockings.