After spending some hang time on the phone with Faith No More singer Mike Patton to discuss his current project, Mondo Cane, I’ve become certain that he might not require sleep anymore like the rest of us. Not that I ever thought he was like the rest of us. So put away your meatballs and Chianti because Patton didn’t make “a fucking karaoke record.” This is not the new soundtrack to the San Gennaro Festival, nor is it the next point-of-purchase hit at Starbucks. It’s one of those brilliantly unhinged curiosities that beg for attention because they’re so unexpected. Thankfully, Patton’s brave foray into orchestral seduction hits all the right notes, with some of his infamous screamin’ to spare.

Calling from San Francisco, Patton is humble about his awe-inspiring Italian-pop project, to a degree that would make his peers and rabid fan base proud and uncomfortable. Surely, perfecting the type of croon he displays at full tilt (on album highpoints “Il Cielo in Una Stanza” and “L’Uomo Che Non Sapeva Amare”) and expert managing of a 40-piece band/orchestra for Mondo Cane would garner a handful of self-aggrandizing statements, but Patton, who has been making music since his teens with first band Mr. Bungle, plays it straight, and plays it cool.

The look on your face during a video of you performing “Il Cielo in Una Stanza” stunned me. It was a look of pure bliss. This is obviously a very important moment for you as an artist.
Well, yeah! I’ve always wanted to do a record where I could relax and sing. Crooning is a format that welcomes that. I always thought, “Well, I’ve got to do a crooning record someday,” and it just so happened that it coincided with my seduction into Italian pop of the 50s and 60s. Which sort of struck me when I was living there. I just sort of put a dog ear on my life [laughs], that period of my life, put it that way, and always knew that at some point I’d love to reinterpret this stuff. That it would be a nice format to croon, and to do that thing. And that’s not something I get the chance to do very often.

When you first began your intro to Italian pop music and its stars years ago, what struck you about that music that affected you so deeply?
The arrangements. Not really the singer or what they were saying, because at that point I didn’t even speak Italian! I had no idea what they were saying! Could have been singing about anything. But what I was fascinated by was the density of the music and what was going on inside of it. And the deeper I got, the more that I learned; I realized that the arrangers that were working on these “pop tunes” were really some of the maestros of the era, like [Ennio] Morricone. This was just their day gig. They were working with pop singers in between films and, to me, that really lent an avant-garde approach to pop music, and there was a really exciting crossroads there. I think that drew me in.

Judging by your delivery alone, the romance and elegance you’ve presented here is argument enough against today’s so-called pop music. What do you think is missing these days other than discernible talent over highly packaged personality?
I’m no one to day. I do what feels comfortable to me, and I’m too old to dissect the scene, or to try and fit in. It’s just not in my DNA anymore. I do what I do, and if it finds an audience, I feel lucky. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

Do you feel you’ve come full circle now in a way? With touring with Faith No More at the same time you’ve just released one of the most audacious and important projects of your career. Can you ever be completely satisfied?
[laughs] Of course it’s possible! You know, from moment to moment.

Artistically speaking –
Well, that’s what I mean. But that’s a fleeting thing. I’m not going to sit around and say, “I’m miserable. Fuck!” but there’s always something next. There’s always something left to do and this Mondo Cane record is an exercise and I’m really happy with it, and I’m glad. It took a long time to actually execute, and it took me a long time to present it in a way that I wanted to do it. Now it’s done! It’s awkward to be talking about it in those kind of terms, like it’s a dead animal, but in some ways, it is for me. I’m moving on.

mondo_cane_album_cover1One of my first reactions to Mondo Cane was, “This is absolutely unhinged!” What was yours?
I’ve heard these songs so many thousands of times, that I just have no real objective opinion about them. To me, let’s just take song #4 on the record. Take one part. The first violin or maybe the third female singer. Maybe both of them were out of tune at the same time. I’m just telling you that I really had to perform surgery on a lot of the stuff to make it presentable. It’s a live record in disguise. I recorded the orchestra and the band during our first three concerts that we ever played. Which, in hindsight, maybe wasn’t a great idea [laughs] but that was my raw material, and that was what I had to work with. And, you know, because I’m not Brad Pitt, I can’t just have an orchestra come into my house! I had to record them when I had the chance. So that’s what I did, and I had to make a record out of what we played. More or less. Through a lot of overdubbing, and through a lot of editing, and a lot of rearranging, after the fact, that’s what you’re hearing on this record. Hopefully it comes off like a studio record because that’s what I wanted it to sound like. But, in essence, it’s a live record.

“Che Notte” and “20 KM Al Giornio” seem like loads of fun for you. I imagine they were entertaining to arrange and perform. Were they?
I didn’t have to think too much about the way I interpreted those songs. I heard them, and I immediately… [they] hit me. They struck me in a certain way and I knew that some day I would sing these songs in my way. I finally got the chance to do it, and that was it! I didn’t think about, “Hey, is it different, or am I being too true to the original?” Sometimes you hear things or you see things and you interpret them in your own way. That’s the filtering process. And to me, I heard them in the way that I presented them. The real trick was to try and present them in the way that they struck you in the first place.

“Urlo Negro,” which was quite frightening and playful, is definitely something your Faith No More and Fantomas fans would embrace (given the subject matter).
Well, to me, that’s like, the perfect detour. There’s a record of orchestral pop music – you need something to kind of wake people up. So, I chose this tune that I really loved, and it’s very obscure; not a lot of Italians even know it.

The Blackmen –
Yeah! I mean, that’s a Beat Generation type group that nobody knows.

I love the original.
Yeah, it’s great, but the original basically said to me, “Okay, I need a screamer.” No doubt about it! [laughs]

Seems like you have a lot of voices in your head. Do you? How did you discover your range as a vocalist?
Just learning. I’m moving forward and taking chances, and sometimes making a complete fool of myself, but [laughs] that is the only way I know of to learn. So that’s what I keep doing in some ways and every record I do is a learning process.

As a big fan of Morricone, was “Deep Down” the centerpiece of the record for you?
No, not at all. That to me was a detour on the record. Basically, the record is based on singer-songwriters. That’s the vibe. The addition of film tunes and things of that nature are a detour. And I think, gives the thing a little bit of extra spice. It’s not just a fucking karaoke record. [laughs] You know, “That’s Amore!” type of a… I didn’t want to make a pizza-pie record. You know? [laughs] That’s not what I want to do. So, in painting a broader stroke, and including some really obscure stuff, and some film stuff, I thought that was a nice way of rounding out the record. And not making it just some piano bar bullshit.


Any chance you’d release a video of these performances?
Yeah! There is a really nice DVD that was filmed of us playing in Amsterdam that at some point would be a nice DVD. We’ll see.

Although you’re on tour with Faith No More right now, is there any chance you’d stage any of these Mondo Cane shows here in America?
Of course, but it’s not my decision. This is a real unwieldy thing we’re talking about. I’m doing a tour in July in Europe with this, and I’ve had to scale down the band and the orchestra just to make it palatable. Just to make it cost effective! I’m going to try and do the same thing in the States. Unfortunately, I don’t think America is gonna be –

Ready for it?
Yeeeaaahh. Just not gonna be too interested in this. It’s expensive and it’s not a trend-maker or anything like that! I’m crossing my fingers that at least I can do a few dates in the States.

What’s next? You always have something cooking.
Well, yeah. Doesn’t mean that’s necessarily what I want to do, but [laughs] I’m finishing a film score right now for a European indie film, from Italy. The film’s great, it’s called…what’s the translation? “The Solitude of Prime Numbers.” It’s based on a book that did really well over there. After that, got a new band that I’ve got to sort out.

What’s going on with that?
Ehhh, you know! [laughs] Gotta record and execute it. It’s called Nevermen with Tunde from TV on the Radio, and Doseone. So it’ll be a vocal trio, and I hope to get to that by the end of the year. And then, I’ve still got some personal matters to sort out. I’ve gotta do another Peeping Tom record, I’ve gotta do another Fantomas record. Those are the next things on my docket.

You’re like a racehorse.
It’s not that big of a deal. Normal people — quote unquote — people that have a life where they have two or three kids, and a 9-to-5 job, [and] a few hobbies, are way busier than me. Trust me!

–Carrie Alison, Photos by Jay Blakesberg

  1. Yeah another Fantomas record baby! Peeping Tom is alright, but Tomahawk would be better. And maybe in the next life will see Mr. Bungle reunite because chances are we won’t ever see them play again. Who knows? But anyway, Patton is the smartest and hardest working man in music and it’ll be great to see him play with Mondo Cane in the states. It won’t be as exciting as being in a pit with Faith No More, but it will be really great to see Patton sing some beautiful songs and just seeing Patton alone. Damn US! why do we have to pay attention to all that pop generic american music when we can have real talent like Patton and many other bands touring the states.


  2. So this is more like spaghetti puttanesca? Bad girls pasta! And, no you’re not taking away my Chianti.

    I think Issue Project Room does the great operas on the Redhook piers and in the American Can Factory if I’m not mistaken. If the production could pick and choose a few locations for the States expose, I’d be into it.


  3. Good interview. What an intelligent and eloquent man is this Mike Patton….I’m not Brad Pitt..that was good.