We chat to Patton about the live debut of tētēma, his project with Australian experimental composer and pianist Anthony Pateras.
Mike Patton has a black belt in collaboration. Over the years, the Faith No Morefrontman, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and film composer, has worked alongside artists such as Merzbow, the Dillinger Escape Plan, Sepultura, John Zorn and others, to create ambitious and innovative music that challenges him as much as his audience.
Their 2014 debut album geocidal, recorded across three continents, including sessions at a French convent and a San Francisco studio, featured analogue electronics, strings, brass, woodwind, and Patton's face-frying vocal range.
The two will debut tētēma's debut live performance as part of MOFO 2017, Hobart's experimental music and art festival that is curated by the Violent Femmes' Brian Ritchie. The duo will be writing new, previously unheard material for the band's live quartet formation that includes percussionist Will Guthrie and violinist Erkki Veltheim.
Noisey: How did you and Anthony get together? I read that Anthony sent you some of his stuff to the label and you had a listen, is that right?
Mike Patton: I think our romance started before that. I'd heard a record that he'd done on Tzadik [records] and it flipped me out. I asked Zorn [John], the owner of the label, "Who is this fucking guy? Where did he come from?" He gave me his email and I was going on tour in Australia with Fantomas and I sent the guy an email saying, "Let's grab a coffee and talk", and in my mind I was thinking "wow, maybe he would wanna work with me at some point," because I could tell from his record that we had similar… lets just say… instincts. Low and behold I was right.
When somebody with your musical profile, approaches somebody like Anthony who's career is a lot more in the avant-garde sphere nowhere near as known as yours, is that kind of weird?
Nah! We're just two human beings, two musicians, on the same level talking shop. The only times I think I've had weirdness with collaborators is when they've been heroes of mine meaning i'm fucking nervous and putting out some weird energy. You know, trying to be cool but I can't be cool.
Ha! How do you get around that?
You just fucking fake it. Just talk your way through it. You have to look at it from a workman's point of view like, "Hey, we've got a job to do here. You do this and I'll do that. What were doing here is something completely outside of ourselves and we need to make it important!"
Was this particular project a purely collaborative project from the beginning or was it something Anthony had worked on and then you came on board?
I would say the latter, I don't know. You'd have to ask him. He said, "I've got a bunch of stuff and I want to send it to you. Give it a think and see if you wanna overdub some stuff." We were doing this remotely, he was down there and I was up here. Basically, he threw a bunch of stuff against the wall and a lot of it stuck. A lot if it was amazing. I was blown away with the stuff that he sent me and we ended up using most of it. It wasn't a traditional collaboration. I did get involved much later in the process and we did some sessions together while he was here in San Francisco where we did some really fun ad-lib vocal sessions where he directed me and literally pressed record. We ended up using a lot of that stuff. Then, after the fact, I added more and yeah, that's sort of the way it went.
Anthony has said that one of his favourite parts of the album was you screaming directly into his ear to demonstrate the different harmony's you could achieve by varying your throat position. The thought of that is really amusing.
Yeah, that's the only way I can do it. I'm not a trained musician. I can't write it down on paper like he does. So I was like, 'do you want this aaaahhh to be this way, or that way, so I give him options. I did the same thing with John Zorn in the studio as well.
Have you developed a better understanding of your voice and your screams?
Yeah, I would say so. In earlier years I was more of a clown with a big bag of tricks. I'd show up in the studio and kind-of go, 'well, what do you want? do you want the screaming banshee or the howling owl?' Now, I've got a better understanding of what's appropriate. It's not about what you can do but about what fits and what the composer wants, and when you're collaborating that's what it's all about. It's not even about the person but it's about the music. With Anthony and I, there was him, there was me, and then there was THE MUSIC and the music pretty much dictates everything.
Maybe this a better question for Anthony but the name Geocidal refers to 'the murder of place'. Did you have anything to do with that idea?
Yeah, we talked about it. We had a few different titles and we talked about that because there was a book he was reading that referenced that. Basically, once we found the thread of this record and where we wanted to go with it, it became about creating a sound world that wasn't this one- a world that doesn't exist. Geocidal seemed to fit really well into that.
Anytime you put suffix 'cidal' to a word it usually brings about some pretty dark connotations. Was the music created from a darker place?
I think all of the above. If you listen to the stuff, it's kind of all over the place. It's haunting, it's brutal, it's rhythmic and celebratory, and it's even ritualistic in many ways. I don't think that there's one direction that we approached it from.
You've played the big 'drink beer and rock out' festivals as well as more curated, avant-garde arts type festivals. Do you approach them differently?
No, it's a show. We're there to recreate musical events that we've, in most cases, recorded. Or sometimes not, sometimes it's an improv gig. I remember playing with John Zorn and Ikue Mori in Taiwan in a school classroom. There were like 15 people there maybe and they were sitting at the classroom desks and we played under the chalkboard. There's no difference between playing that and the 'download' festival. It's the same shit. It looks different but…
What has your relationship with Australia been like?
I would say love-hate but the hate part is because it takes so fucking long to get there. I've never had worse jet lag in my life. But when I'm there, I'm happy. And most of the experiences, even the big festival stuff, has gone off without a hitch. There's a couple of promoters that I won't name but other than that, it's a great place to play and for whatever reason, they keep asking me back so I'll keep coming!
The first few times I went to Sydney and Melbourne I thought that it was like California but with English people.
No offence there.
No, no, None taken!
tētēma perform at MOFO Jan 21 2017