Freak of Nature
Mike Patton: The Man of a Thousand Voices
w/the Melvins, Skeleton Key
Mon May 5, Showbox, 8 pm, $20 adv/$22 DOS (all ages).
Mike Patton is one of the greatest male vocalists on the planet. Whether he's covering horror-film theme songs with Fantômas, crooning lounge-lizard ditties with Dan the Automator in Lovage, or manically genre-surfing with his pre-Faith No More outfit Mr. Bungle, Patton wields a vocal range that could shatter Mariah Carey's eardrums and make Barry White sound like a castrato. After helping out the Dillinger Escape Plan when they were between vocalists last year, he returned his attention to his label, Ipecac, and to conducting Tomahawk, a beautifully blistering hard-rock orchestra featuring ex-Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, former Helmet drummer John Stanier, and Melvins bassist Kevin Rutmanis. Chatting from the studio in L.A. while mixing the next Fantômas record, Patton was friendly, funny, and audibly hyperactive.
Did you have any clear creative goals when Mr. Bungle started?
No, we were bored teenagers making noise--as opposed to a bunch of old crotchety men making noise, which is what I do now [laughing]. We grew up in a small town [Eureka, California] with nothing to do. You either become a lumberjack, start a meth lab, or do your own thing, which is what we did.
Were you disciplined at all? It seems like you must have a strong creative work ethic now...
Not back then. It was just a diversion from an otherwise uneventful and boring existence. Like a lot of other musicians I know, it starts out as a joke, like playing with yourself. But then time passes and the joke becomes your life! You start taking it a bit more seriously, and that's when goals come into the picture.
Your approach to vocals has evolved rather dramatically--you seem fascinated with adding as many bizarre dynamics as you can.
I try to do whatever I can do to bring the music to life--or to death, in other cases. It's just another instrument that I fit into whatever project I'm working on. I think in the early days I forced the issue a lot--"Gee, I've gotta try this technique, or get this sound on the record"--and now I just do what's appropriate. Every project or band is its own little universe, and you have to do what's right for the music. For instance, Fantômas: I decided early on that I didn't want any lyrics in there--the music is already a pain in the ass enough, why bother having to listen to some guy spout off? I'm just going to be like a guitar in this band. You gotta have different weapons for different projects.
It's got to be exhausting, sliding all around your vocal range like that--have you ever blown out your voice?
I have lost it a couple of times, but not in a while. I have no idea what I'm doing, so I wouldn't know how to prepare for it or take care of it. When I go out on a month-long tour, the first few days are rough. It is athletic in that sense--it's like a muscle, and once you start using it you can get into it and go on autopilot.
The new Tomahawk record sounds very accessible--and I don't mean that in a simplistic way, but I do think you might attract a lot of new fans. Did Tomahawk get a good response right out of the gate?
A lot of people came and checked it out the first time. I've never been really good at putting my finger on the pulse and determining whether something is "hot or not." I know the record is good, but we've all been through the ringer and know better than to hold our collective breath for a breakout hit. In all likelihood, we're going to put a good record out, do a couple of tours, and then it's on to the next thing.
It must be nice to be so pragmatic about it--you can just focus on producing your work on your own terms.
There is no niche for what I do, really. Sure, you could call it "experimental," but not all my stuff is like that. It's not rock, it's not easy listening, but it's always going to be some cross-pollinated mess. I've realized I don't have a lot of control over it. And I'm very comfortable with that now.