The Untimely Death and Glorious Rebirth of Faith No More
Keyboardist Roddy Bottum talks gimps, Sasquatch musicals, and that time they met "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.
Roddy Bottum won’t tell us who the gimp is. His multiplatinum-selling band, Faith No More, recently unveiled a promotional photograph in which the members appear in tuxes while Bottum—the self-proclaimed “gay one in the band”—has a masked gimp on a leash. “The photo was my idea, obviously,” he tells us with a chuckle. “But the gimp has yet to be named.”
The photo is significant beyond its comic value: It portends a new Faith No More album, Sol Invictus—the band’s first in nearly 20 years. When Faith No More went tits up in 1998, Bottum thought they’d never play again, much less record new material. When he and his bandmates—vocalist Mike Patton, bassist Billy Gould, drummer Mike Bordin and guitarist Jon Hudson—reunited in 2009, a new record wasn’t on the menu. But six years later, they’ve delivered what many (including us) believed to be impossible: a fantastic new Faith No More album that actually stands up to gloriously bizarre-o classics like 1989’s The Real Thing, 1992’s Angel Dust and 1997’s vastly underrated Album Of The Year—the record that seemed destined to be their last.
Clearly, there’s a lot to discuss: The unlikelihood of the FNM reunion itself; the conspicuous absence of longtime guitarist Jim Martin (whom Hudson replaced in 1996), and the fact that Bottum recently wrote an opera about Sasquatch cheekily entitled Sasquatch: The Opera. But there’s also his groundbreaking coming-out interview with gay icon Lance Loud in The Advocate back in 1993, and that one time he met the other Roddy, pro wrestler and They Live star “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Noisey: Your real name is Roswell. When did people start calling you Roddy?
Roddy Bottum: It’s a family name. It wasn’t invented by my friends or anything like that. My grandfather’s name was Roswell, like the town in New Mexico, and they called him “Roddy.” My dad’s name was also Roswell, and they called him “Ros.” So when it came to me, Roswell Christopher Bottum III, I was “Roddy.” I’ve been Roddy since I was a kid. It’s a nickname, but it’s on my driver’s license. It’s all I’ve ever been called, but it is a super-funny name. Can you imagine having that name growing up in school? “Roddy Bottum” read aloud in front of a bunch of kids? It was a tough one, very character-building.
It makes me think of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Oh yeah—totally. I met him once.
No way. A meeting of the Roddies?
Yeah, it was amazing. We were in England and we were on this TV show. It was kind of like a talk show, but we performed on it and then we were sitting in the chairs, and then Rowdy Roddy Piper was on, and he was out of control. We were onstage, and then he came onstage and I think he was basically just flipping out because it was a rock band so he felt like had a little bit of competition. He was full-on energy, bouncing off the walls in his kilt. I was trying to get a word in edgewise, but it wasn’t possible. Then they were like, “OK, we’re cutting to commercial.” The camera stopped, and then he was all calm, like, “Hey, what are you guys up to?” He just turned it on and then turned it off.
The Faith No More reunion was announced in early 2009, but when did you guys start talking about it in a serious way?
Three out of five of us hung out when I got married in Los Angeles. We didn’t really talk about it then, but it was the first time we were in the same geographic space for the first time in a long time. It felt very comfortable, like a high school reunion feels. I’ve been through a lot of stuff with those guys, you know, and being in the same room with them after such a long time felt really nice. I think everyone felt that way. Suddenly some opportunity came up for a show, and though I don’t think any of us ever thought we would do it, having spent some time together made us more open to it than we would’ve been. I don’t know. It just happened.
When did you get married?
I don’t know. I’m not good with years, J. [Laughs] I never have been. I know when I graduated high school, though—’81. That’s about it.
During all those years Faith No More was inactive, did you ever feel like a reunion would happen?
No, absolutely not. By the time we got to where we got with the band, we were so sick of each other. It was the last thing on anyone’s mind. We went through hell together. It was like war. From the first tour we did in a ’66 Dodge, sleeping on couches for years, to go from that point to selling millions of records—it’s a hard travail. It’s a really difficult road. And for kids in their twenties, making creative decisions, making business decisions, living together, working together, sleeping together, drugs… just so much stuff. It was a lot to go through. By the time we got famous and on the brink of breaking up, we were really, really done with each other. At that point, we all turned our backs on it and never thought it would be a returnable thing.
Was there a specific moment for you personally when you were over it?
Well, I went through a lot of shit in the ’90s. I was doing a lot of drugs. Then I stopped doing drugs, but all these crazy things happened at once—two really good friends of mine died and my dad died. When things like that happen in your life, my experience is that it makes everything else seem kinda pointless. Unless you really love it, why are you bothering? And when we were on our last couple records, I just didn’t love it so much. It just seemed really insignificant after all that tragedy.
Was there anyone in Faith No More at that point who wanted the band to keep going?
I think it was kinda contagious. Shame on me for having taken it that way and pushing it in that direction, but I started another band and I was more into that band. Everyone had different projects and opportunities, and it became contagious. A couple of us started being not so into it, and the rest just fell into line. It just dissipated.
The band you started is Imperial Teen. Was it initially a reaction to Faith No More?
Yeah, I think it was. When we started Faith No More, [bassist] Billy Gould was my best friend. We grew up together and were so close. But the road that we traveled made us sort of distant. All of sudden, I was playing music with people I was not friendly with anymore. So Imperial Teen was really about seeking solace and creativity with people I was good friends with. So yeah, in that way it was a reaction to Faith No More, because we were disgruntled old men at that point.
Did you not like the last couple of Faith No More records?
It was just hard for me to concentrate on anything at that point of my life because of all those things I mentioned earlier. I think I got on board with it eventually, but it was a hard sell for me at the time. It was a hard time in my life.
So Faith No More breaks up in 1998 and you play again for the first time 11 years later. What was that first reunion show like?
It was really, really crazy. I don’t know if you have these kinds of dreams, but I have these dreams where I’m back in high school and a test is coming but I haven’t studied. I used to have that dream an awful lot. And then sometime after Faith No More broke up, it turned into this dream: I’m showing up for a Faith No More show, and I’ve forgotten how to play the songs. It was a nightmare that kept coming back and coming back. So when we played that first reunion show, it was this crazy reckoning of getting through that nightmare, addressing it, and moving on in some weird, pivotal way. It was super, super emotional. The band was so much a part of my youth, you know? Going back to it and having it be a good thing after all those years was really, really empowering. It’s an opportunity that no one gets. I don’t know who gets to rebuild those bridges that have been burned in their lives.
Was it understood that Jim Martin would not be involved, or did you initially reach out to him?
Oh, we totally reached out to him. I was of the mind that, of course we would not do this without Jim. There’s no way. I think we all felt pretty strongly about that initially—well, some of us maybe more strongly than others. Jim was a real contentious person in the band, but I loved him. He’s a great guy, and a real oddball. He’s the total polar opposite to what I’m all about—you could not find two more different people in a band than he and I—but I like him and I’ve always liked him. I wanted him to do it, and I actually talked to him about it. I thought it was going that way, but it just didn’t work out.
Did he just have no interest?
I think he had interest. But I think he also had really pent-up resentments about the way we broke up. I think it was difficult for him to come back into the fold, and he set it up in such a way that… I think, unconsciously, he was gonna cut off his nose to spite his face. Like he was so damaged from resentment that he dug a hole and didn’t come out of it. Which is a shame. That’s my take. I’m sure he’d tell you a different story, but he’s a very masculine, closed person who doesn’t really talk about that sort of stuff.
He’s a championship pumpkin farmer now.
Yeah, we talked about that. I think he has two daughters and he’s married. I think he still makes some music. And he grows pumpkins. He seems happy.
How did you end up deciding to make a new Faith No More album? It’s one thing to get the band back together and play the old jams, but making a new record is a big step. Was there any concern that the old spirit would be elusive?
You know, that was the last thing that came up. I don’t think that was ever a concern for anyone, that we wouldn’t be able to pull it off creatively. It was a situation where we played a bunch of shows, and then we agreed to another leg of the tour. As we were doing it, it kinda felt like hauling around a dead horse by just playing old songs. It felt a little bit cheesy. So we decided to at least write one new song for the last leg, which we did. It was really comfortable and satisfying. It was a language that we all speak together, and it was clear that it was still there. Then we decided that we wouldn’t play any more shows unless we made more music. So we did.
To me, the new album is classic Faith No More—like you never went away. Does it feel that way to you, and is that important?
It is kind of important, but I honestly feel like there’s no other way we could do it. We’re just gonna sound like the way we sound. We’re not gonna sound like anything else because we’re not really capable of it. But thanks—that’s very nice to hear. For the first time, I’m talking to people who have actually heard the record, and it’s cool to get their take. It’s interesting to hear you say that.
I have to admit I was skeptical at first. When bands get back together after an extended period of time and write new music, it’s not always so good.
Yeah, I don’t blame you. I feel that way, too. If a band that you love when you’re younger gets back together, it’s like, “I’m scared. I don’t even wanna hear it.” It’s a hard thing to pull off. A lot of bands try to sound current and it doesn’t really fly. I was really rooting for the Pixies, you know, but it’s a hard thing to pull off. For us, I think part of the success came from not telling anyone we were doing it. We did it behind closed doors and didn’t have any outside expectations. There was no one else involved except the five of us. So we did the only thing we’re capable of doing, which is sounding like ourselves. But there was an intention to sort of take it back to our roots. I’m pretty confident that we pulled that off.
The first single is called “Motherfucker.” It feels like a statement of some sort, and the song itself is not very representative of the record as a whole. Was that intentional?
It wasn’t intentional, but it felt like a really nice statement to put out into the public, to let people know we’re not playing any games. We don’t really care if it’s on the radio. It’s sort of offensive and playful and bold and maybe a little bit antagonistic. Just the word itself was a fun thing to put out there. But yeah, it’s totally different than the rest of the record. It’s me singing on it, which is a little bit different, and it’s really simple and stripped down. Something called “Motherfucker” just felt like a nice place for us to kick off a new chapter for Faith No More.
Faith No More often gets blamed for spawning bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. Do you feel any sense of responsibility there?
No responsibility whatsoever, really. That’s out of my realm. I don’t even really know what those bands sound like. But I certainly don’t feel an affinity towards them. That’s a weird breed of music. I’m in the fortunate position of having brought the sort of feminine sound to the band, so I feel safe. I’m never gonna be tagged as the aggro one, you know? [Laughs] But I guess there’s elements of the band that other people pick up on and focus on. I don’t really hear it myself, though. But I do find that people who make bad music often have really good taste.
Lance Loud interviewed you for The Advocate in 1993, which was pretty much your coming-out party. What kind of perspective do you have on that process these days? In 2015, it seems like way less of a big deal for an artist to come out as gay, but in 1993—especially in the heavy music realm—it seemed like a very big deal.
In that era, for sure. There were a lot of people back then who weren’t open about their sexuality—especially in that realm. At the time, I think we were on tour with Guns N’ Roses and Metallica, so it was a really odd kind of undertaking. But at the same time, it felt really profound. It felt very extreme to come out in that kind of environment. It seemed to make a point. And I did get an awful lot of words of encouragement and gratuity from young gay kids who were rockers. It meant a lot to a lot of people, so it made me feel good. But it’s a whole different world today. I don’t really find it to be an issue for kids.
You beat Rob Halford from Judas Priest by five years. He didn’t come out until ’98.
That’s funny, because we were just in Australia playing a festival that Judas Priest played and I made it a point to meet Rob Halford. He’s awesome—he’s so cool. That kind of music was never my bag, but I saw their show and thought it was really cool. Mike [Bordin], our drummer, is really into them, and he was saying, “Oh, no—Rob’s been out of the closet forever.” I was like, “No way—not before me.” We were actually about to Google it but then we got distracted.
Were you concerned about any potential backlash at the time?
No. One of our managers at the time tried to put the brakes on it. He said, “You might wanna think twice about this. It could cause some problems for you guys selling records.” I was like, “Seriously?” But he was from, like, Bumfuck, Florida, or something. He wasn’t the kind of person whose words I was gonna heed at all. Even back then, when people did maybe care about that shit, I don’t think we sold any less records. I don’t think anyone said, “Roddy Bottum’s gay, so I’m done with Faith No More.” I doubt it happened to Rob Halford and Judas Priest, either.
You recently wrote an opera called Sasquatch: The Opera. We’re gonna need the full rundown on that.
[Laughs] It’s not a traditional opera—it’s more like weird little operettas. I grew up in L.A., but I moved to New York specifically to get into opera, and I had this preposterous idea for a Sasquatch love story. I wrote the story, I wrote the music, and we’re gonna premiere it next month. It’s just gonna be three scenes from the opera, but then I’m gonna elaborate on it and build it into a bigger production.
You know, my favorite characters are the kind of gentle giants like Frankenstein or the Elephant Man—a misunderstood monster who it turns out is very sensitive and has a high intellect. That always gets me. It felt like Sasquatch could satisfy that really well. I’m moved by the big thug who has a heart of gold.
J. Bennett is upset that he will be missing all three of Faith No More’s L.A. shows.