Latest release: Small Victories: The True Story of Faith No More (Jawbone) Website: newfaithnomore.comTwitter: @TheOnlyMUFC
Did you know that Faith No More has achieved more number one singles in Australia than AC/DC, INXS, and Nick Cave combined?
Switzerland-based journalist and media intelligence manager for UEFA (the European football governing body), Adrian Harte has also penned his first book. The Small Victories: The True Story of Faith No More biography is a must read for fans of the band, dissecting the fascinating career of the genre-defying act; one of rock’s greatest, if most confounding outfits.
Since 2009, Harte has run newfaithnomore.com, via which he has become known and trusted by the band, their management and fans. However, tackling the book project still proved daunting at times, as Loud discovered when we chatted with the author about it.
Q: First of all, tell us about your interest in Faith No More. When did you become a fan of the band, and what drew you to them in the first place?
A: In the 1980s and early ’90s, and I’d imagine this was similar in Australia, metal and hard rock music was the music of young people in rural and small-town Ireland. My home town was no different. I think my first exposure to Faith No More was seeing “Epic” or maybe another Real Thing (era) video on TV when I was 15 or 16. I was hooked. They had something different than the other metal bands – Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Def Leppard, etc – that my friends were into. I got deep into The Real Thing, and me and my mates played the Live at Brixton VHS tape so often it wore out.
The appeals were obvious to a teenage fan: their tunes were catchy, the vocals were singable, the guitars were crunchy, the videos were colourful. That was the initial appeal. But it was the Angel Dust album in 1992, and seeing them live twice that year (supporting Guns N’ Roses at Slane Castle and with L7 in Dublin) that made me a lifelong fan.
Q: This is your first book. Was it daunting to approach such a task? What were some of the main roadblocks you encountered along the way?
A: Yes, it was so daunting that I pretty much sat on the idea for a year before I got started. Thankfully, there were no huge roadblocks. Finding a publisher for a music book that is not about the Beatles, Bowie or the Beastie Boys, or a rock book that is not about Led Zeppelin, Metallica or Nirvana is a hard sell, so that took a little time before I found music book specialists Jawbone.
Then it took a little bit of time to get the band on board. I knew them well from the Faith No More 2.0 fan site that I run, and there was a lot of trust there. And once they saw a few sample early draft chapters, they were very happy to help. In total, I interviewed over 40 people for the book, including almost every past and present band member, so transcribing interviews was another big task.
Q: You did speak to several key Faith No More members, both past and present, for the project. Vocalist Mike Patton, however, did not wish to cooperate, and ex-guitarist Jim Martin also opted not to take part. Did this present some unique challenges, and how did you approach working around this?
A: From the outset, I didn’t really expect Mike or Jim to participate, so it did not really change my approach. With Mike, I was able to speak to close confidants of his from his pre-Faith No More days and also to source some older relatively unknown interviews for fresh perspectives. Insights from others who auditioned for the Faith No More singer job, music composition experts and the band’s favoured producer Matt Wallace, and from his band-mates, also helped enormously to give a more considered view of Patton than has previously been presented.
Jim directed me to some previous interviews he had done in lieu of answering questions directly.
Q: Why do you feel Patton chose not to participate? I would surmise that he’s not someone who spends a great deal of time reflecting on the past.
A: One of the reasons I did not expect Mike to take part is that he said in a 2007 interview (with Movieweb): “I don’t enjoy talking about myself very much. If someone wanted to write something, that is fine. But I would kindly ask them to leave me out of it.” That’s pretty much how it happened.
Q: His predecessor, the late Chuck Mosley did elect to take part though, in what may have been some of the final interviews he conducted. His integral role in their history is often overlooked. What were your impressions of him from the time you spent together?
A: I only spoke with Chuck by phone and mail, and I was trying to arrange one more interview with him for the book in the week he passed. My impression of Chuck was that he was tremendous fun, and proud of and not bitter about his time with Faith No More.
I agree that his role has often been overlooked, and I was keen to explore and explain how integral he was to the band’s first breakthrough and first two albums. The band themselves were very candid in speaking about Chuck, both in terms of evaluating why he had to leave the band, but also what a vital part of their story he was. Roddy Bottum (keyboards), who remained very close to Chuck, summed it up best: “we made a huge splash in the waters of originality – mostly because of Chuck”.
Through his own live appearances and recordings and the band playing shows with him, Chuck’s legacy was rightly rehabilitated in the years before his tragic death, and the book continues that process. The book also shows how replacing Chuck and recruiting the raw, unheralded Patton was such a risk for the band, and that future success was far from a given.
Q: The Real Thing is a brilliant album, but on paper an unexpected success story given its genre-splicing vibe and dark subject matter. Epic would have to be among the more unlikely number one hits in Australian chart history, too. Why do you feel the material still stands up today?
A: Funnily enough, the criticism often levelled at The Real Thing is that it is the most dated of the Faith No More catalogue, due to its 1980s production. But, even after thousands of listens picking it apart for the book, I think it has a timeless quality.
In many ways, the core music of The Real Thing is not that different to its predecessor, 1987’s Introduce Yourself, but the band are more confident and adept as musicians. And that music is enhanced immensely by Patton’s vocals – even if he has yet to find his real voice, or voices on this record – and his lyrics and phrasing. The album sees Patton, the recent English literature student, weave his own character sketches and musical short stories. These sketches combine with the theatricality of the music and that richer production to lend the album a real cinematic quality. And songs that address pleasure and pain, murder, molestation, death and dependency will always be timeless.
Q: Indeed. The Angel Dust record is rightfully considered a classic, but a degree of mythology surrounds its creation and ensuing reception. How did you aim to deconstruct some of those elements?
A: Small Victories actually started out as a book just about deconstructing Angel Dust, before I realised that a full biographical approach was needed.
I took both a personal and thematic approach to explaining how the album came about. For example, I looked at how Mike Patton’s increased confidence and greater participation in writing the music of the album affected the sound, and how Roddy Bottum’s continued interest in emerging technologies opened up new possibilities in sampling.
Luckily, the band was very honest about some of the issues they faced at the time, and the disputes in the studio. As for breaking down the music, I enlisted the help of a music academic who is also a Faith No More fan to properly explain what musical leaps the band was making.
Q: The popular narrative is that after Angel Dust failed to meet the sales levels of The Real Thing in the US, the band’s career there nosedived while subsequently flourishing further in the likes of the UK, Europe and Australia. There’s more to it than that, as the book details. However, why do you feel American audiences didn’t connect with the band long-term, compared to other territories?
A: There is more to it, but there are a number of factors in why Faith No More tailed off in the US. Firstly, timing. They were at their commercial peak in 1990 and came back with a new look and sound in 1992. In 1991 and early 1992, grunge and alternative broke big, and Faith No More were out of the picture just when the window of opportunity was open for them.
Secondly, they lost recognition value when Jim Martin left. Thirdly, the American music landscape changed utterly in the mid-1990s. There were four metal/rock albums in the top 10 best-selling albums of 1992, but by 1995, R&B and country began to dominate. Fourthly, their record label lost a little faith and were not as supportive after Angel Dust. And the band had a habit of alienating US radio station bosses, largely by bad-mouthing radio stations and causing riots at radio station events. Finally, the band split up just as rock and metal were becoming popular again.
Q: There are some great stories relayed in the book. One of my favourites is Faith No More, due to waning popularity, being essentially forced to tour with Limp Bizkit as the opening act. That just seems surreal nowadays. Were there a lot of entertaining tidbits that you simply couldn’t utilise due to space constraints, or because they didn’t progress the story effectively?
A: I could easily have written another few hundred pages, and about 30,000 words were culled from the final version to make the book as tight as possible. But all the best tales are still there – some of the best involving Bruce Willis, Billy Idol, Axl Rose, Milli Vanilli, the fall of the Berlin Wall and a lot more.
Q: By many measures, Faith No More have enjoyed a successful career, yet have never graduated to “household name” status in many territories. Do you feel they were simply too contrarian, both musically and personality wise, to ever reach that level?
A: Small Victories is so named because Faith No More were a band who were both more successful than they should have been, and less successful than they could have been. Reading the book, it is pretty clear that Faith No More achieved much greater success than anyone could have predicted when they started out in 1983 or even in 1989 when The Real Thing was floundering. They possibly could have achieved that household status you mention if everything had fallen into place exactly as it needed to, or if they had delivered a series of “Epic” follow-ups.
But that was never going to happen. While the band were ambitious and driven and never self-saboteurs (at least after Chuck left), the music was always more important to them than anything else, whether that be success, comfort or intraband relationships.
Q: Shifting topics, do you have any further books planned?
A: I have a few ideas at the minute. I’d certainly love to write another band biography, and there are a few bands which are crying out for a similarly definitive biography. In the shorter term, I have started some ghostwriting on an autobiography of a Premier League football/soccer player.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: The commercial and critical reception to Small Victories has almost perfectly mirrored that of the band itself. So while only a few US outlets have featured the book, it has been widely featured in the UK and Europe. And it appears from initial reports, that, just as with the band’s music, the book is selling especially well in Australia, where Faith No More have more number one singles than AC/DC, INXS, and Nick Cave combined. So I’d like to thank everyone there for buying the book.