I Love You, Mike Patton

On the occasion of Mike Patton's 50th birthday, Kerrang! writer Simon Young reflects on a lifelong love for the enigmatic and iconic vocalist's many and varied musical outlets.

I Love You, Mike Patton

It's Mike Patton's 50th birthday today. And in those years he's been a hugely important figure in the rock, metal and alternative world, thanks to his endless creativity, fearlessness and prolificacy. Here's to a true one of a kind artist, who is as vital today as the day he started out. Over to K! writer Simon Young to bow down and pay tribute…

Like so many other metal fans who existed before the internet, I would get turned on to new bands by either reading Kerrang!, listening to Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show on Radio 1 or set the video for The Power Hour which was shown during the night on ITV.

In my early teens, Iron Maiden was my favourite band. After seeing Can I Play With Madness by chance on Top Of The Pops in March 1988, I quickly traded in my vinyl copies of Bros, Wet Wet Wet and The Christians – I was 12, alright? – for Powerslave and my musical tastes remained forever changed.

From then, I discovered Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Nuclear Assault and amassed a sweet collection of C-90 cassettes thanks to older friends who lived on the Jarrow housing estate where I grew up.

Come 1990, it could have been an episode of The Power Hour or Raw Power – it underwent a name change that year – I saw Faith No More’s video for From Out Of Nowhere, a re-release of the band’s first single with Mike Patton. The video wasn’t particularly remarkable, but the band looked unlike anything I’d seen before; the keyboardist was wearing a cowboy hat, the guitarist looked like one of the bikers who’d hang out on Newcastle’s Westgate Road, the drummer was a mass of dreadlocks and the bassist looked like someone who dressed for Hawaiian shirt Friday but forgot to tell his bandmates. Then there was the singer, dressed in a black vest, shorts and a mass of sleek hair. And he sang. Like, properly sang, not screeched like Nuclear Assault’s John Connolly who I’d likened to Bad News’ Vim Fuego and spoiled the band for me somewhat. Mike Patton sang over crunching riffs and elastic basslines. That was it. I bought The Real Thing and bagged a copy of Mr Bungle’s first album too. I was in for the long haul.

Faith No More – From Out Of Nowhere

Patton can perhaps be regarded as one of the most prolific musicians, ever. There’s no decade long gaps in between record releases. To date, he’s released 32 studio albums and has made appearances on over 60 more, including Björk’s Medúlla and Sepultura’s Roots. But to keep track of his output would be like trying to count raindrops on a Bank Holiday weekend. After all, he created his own label Ipecac Recordings with former Alternative Tentacles label manager Greg Werckman to release Fantômas’ first album and it grew, allowing him to indulge in whatever genre he turns his throat to. He’s also released albums by Melvins, Isis, At The Drive-In’s Omar Rodríguez-López, Mutation and anti-comic Neil Hamburger.

“I'll wake up and try and write whether I feel like it or not,” he told NPR’s Jonathan Dick of his compulsion to create. “I'll go to the studio and try and write for like six, seven, eight hours a day, and whatever happens, happens and then you close it off. By the same token, I'll wake up in the middle of the night and have an idea. And thank god I have a home studio.”

As I type this, I’m more than happy to bet my record collection that he’s currently holed up in his studio, chugging coffee and committing song ideas to his studio hard drive before forming a new band or arranging a collaborative project with an artist based in some far-off exotic clime to challenge his musicianship and impressive six-octave, 1/2 note vocal range (Eb1 to E7, apparently), which is greater than Mariah Carey.

The highlights of his innovative output are plentiful. There’s Tomahawk – the supergroup featuring Duane Denison of The Jesus Lizard, former Helmet drummer John Stanier and Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn – whose self-titled debut is one of the greatest albums of all time. His vocals on God Hates A Coward and Flashback are without fault. Peeping Tom – a pop album – showcases his rich vocals and introduced the wider world to the fantastic Brooklyn dub-crossover act Dub Trio (he also contributes vocals to Not Alone, which appears on their 2006 album New Heavy). The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Irony Is a Dead Scene EP, a four-track release released in 2002, sees Patton’s vocal versatility as the perfect foil for their ferocious, all-out assault.

Tomahawk – God Hates A Coward (live)

He can do hip hop (General Patton vs. The X-Ecutioners), hardcore (Dead Cross), avant-garde grindcore (Fantômas) or lend his fluent Italian to 50s and 60s Italian pop songs (his solo album, Mondo Cane). He’s also made soundtracks for four films – A Perfect Place, Crank: High Voltage, The Solitude of Prime Numbers and The Place Beyond The Pines – and was hired to record this savage monster noises for Will Smith’s last-man-on-earth caper I Am Legend.

That’s not to say I’m obsessed by everything he’s released. My purchase of his solo albums, 1996’s Adult Themes for Voice and its 1997 follow-up Pranzo Oltranzista – both released on New York saxophonist John Zorn’s avant-garde label Tzadik – were two expensive lessons in buyer’s remorse. The first was recorded in hotel rooms during a Faith No More tour and features 34 tracks of screaming and noise. The second is abstract and frustrating.

Yet thanks to that grainy VHS recording I made in 1990, I discovered an artist in the truest sense of the word and 27 years on, I still regard him as one of the finest vocalists ever. Simply put, Patton – who turns 50 today – is a vocal magician who defies the restraints of genre and easy categorisation and to dip into his discography will reap many rewards.

Words: Simon Young

Like what you read, see and hear? Then check out our essential playlist of Mike Patton's many head-spinning sonic adventures below.

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