Adding Spice Amid the Chaos, an Interview With Faith No More's Billy Gould
Faith No More's producer, songwriter and bassist on the songwriting craft, the re-release of their first album, and the real reasons behind guitarist Jim Martin's departure.
Billy Gould is a music enthusiast. I don’t just mean that he's a music fan. Gould is truly enthusiastic about music from the inception to the production to the listening to the live performances. He is almost giddy as I pick his brain about his 40-year career.
At the time that I'm speaking to him, however, he's also exasperated. The re-release of Faith No More’s first album, We Care a Lot, is only days away. Gould oversaw and distributed the re-release through his own label Koolarrow Records. In that Gould is not only the band’s bassist but also producer, how hard could a re-release be? “Putting / getting this record ready is more work than I even imagined.” Gould confides in me. “It comes out on Thursday, and I hope I make it through the week,” he laughs.
That laughter is a constant staple of my conversation with Gould. He may be as exasperated as he is enthusiastic but there's an air of “having fun” about him as he keeps as many balls in the air as possible. Much like Faith No More’s music, Gould is completely professional while never taking anything too seriously. That said, the professional side is always there, and he puts his enthusiasm into his work.
That is, especially, as We Care a Lot was his first big professional break in the industry and re-releasing it is something he has put his heart and soul into. “It’s kind of like looking at high school yearbook photos or something,” Gould tells me. “I was kind of embarrassed of it for a few years because it was just very primitive.” However, within this process, Gould has been able to look at the album a different way. “We were kids, but there’s just this energy in that record and the performances that is really there. You almost have to throw your fingers up and you’re not going to lose that feeling. There’s not much massaging that you have to do, really. It’s really interesting to hear after all these years because I hadn’t listened to it in thirty years. So it was a pleasant surprise.”
As excited as Gould is about We Care a Lot today, it’s interesting to note that the re-release idea came almost by accident. “It’s a record that came out in 1985 but it hasn’t been available since 1996. So for the past 20 years a lot of people don’t know anything about it and we’d actually forgotten about it till I was cleaning out my basement and I found the master tapes. I was [saying] ‘Okay, guys, I don’t know if you remember this, but we have an album that isn’t even available that we never did [live].’ So I went to Fantasy Studios and I baked the tapes [a low heat process used to keep the oxide on the tape.] Just listening to it in the studio, listening to it on the monitors it reminded me of when we first mixed it. It had that sound and I just told everybody ‘We should re-release this because I think we could actually bring it up to date a little bit and it’d sound really good.’ That was it.”
Well, the light-hearted yet professional Gould may say “that was it” but this is not entirely the case. This was only the very beginning of a long process that is only now seeing its fruition. “Okay, we remastered it, right, which means we did a new transfer. We used, you know, modern converters, so to speak, as opposed to ‘80s converters. Maor Appelbaum [re]mastered the mixes. It’s just a bit of a different approach to try to bring things up differently than they used to before. Didn’t get too loud with them but kept the pulse and made them a little fatter.”
Sound complex? Gould isn’t done. “I had some two inch tape that I restored as well and I just gave three tracks to Matt Wallace unmixed and said ‘If you could ever mix these songs again, what would you do?’ I just gave it to him. Just put out what he would have done and how different and how not different it is, it’s just kind of an interesting experiment. We had the tapes, we figured we might as well do something cool.
"The other thing we have are these eight track demos that we did before we went in the studio and they were just us kind of pre-production, getting ready to go in because we wanted to know that we had everything arranged before we went into the studio because we had limited funds and we wanted to make the most out of our time. So that’s just a way to hear the demos of the songs in a little more primitive, you know, thrown-together fashion.”
Gould’s glee over deconstructing and reconstructing some of his very oldest songs leads me to ask him if he is a frequent listener to his own music. His answer is an unequivocal “No!”
“Generally not. If I’m in a club and some song’s playing I will stop talking to people and listen to it just to pick apart the production [laughs] and find errors.” This perfectionist side of Gould comes from his involvement in the production of Faith No More since the earliest days. Those “thrown-together” demos he mentions are bonus features on the re-release? Those were his.
The bassist rolls back his memory to the earliest days of Faith No More. “I had a little Tascam Portastudio and we wrote our songs on that and kind of tried to do pre-production, always do pre-production.” This was born out of a band necessity. The band couldn’t afford to waste studio time polishing the songs when only a few hours were available.
“We have a day in the studio and we’re going to use every ounce of that day and we need to know exactly what we’re going to do when we go in there. So we kind of went into arrangement and listening to how things translate on tape. Because something in a room and something on two speakers can be totally different. I just kind of continued. It was just something that the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I just naturally did it.” Of course for the past 20 years of Faith No More, Gould has been the official producer, cutting out the middleman. He laughingly admits that “twenty years went by really quickly.”
The last 20 years are one thing, but considering Faith No More was formed in 1979, those 20 quick years only tell part of the story. Born in 1963, Gould has an eclectic mix of influences which help make Faith No More one of the most genre-undefinable bands in music.
“I started off playing when I was like twelve. If you wanted to be a musician in, I guess it’d be 1974-75, basically prog rockers were the guys that dominated. If you wanted to be a musician, those were the guys you’d look up to.” To be sure, the prog rock influence on Faith No More can be heard on every album, but the story continues and deepens. “When I was about fifteen, sixteen I discovered Punk Rock and got rid of all the prog stuff and kind of went into just writing songs and feeling good about playing and not trying to be the best, technically, the best at anything. I kind of continued with that and Punk Rock kind of turned into Post-Punk where it became a little bit more sophisticated, a little more interesting tones and rhythms and a lot of different directions.”
Then Gould tells me something surprising about his history, especially coming from one of rock’s most creative bands. He soon found himself burned out on rock and roll. By the time We Care a Lot was recorded, the experimental bassist was barely listening to rock at all. “I got into dub music, the kind of hypnotic stuff and then kind of rediscovered rock and roll,” he says. What was the catalyst for that? “Metallica was just kind of coming and we knew those guys and I thought they were doing something interesting with rock. I had kind of written rock music off and [Metallica] got me back into it.”
The “rock” label has been a double edged sword for Gould and the band. The band’s breakthrough album The Real Thing was a rock record that brought with it many perceptions and misconceptions about the band. “It’s a rock record but I was thinking of other things too. We all kind of have really broad tastes and you know there was this kind of path that was put up before us, like, ‘Okay you are this rock band now and you are hanging out with all these other rock bands.’ We were writing songs that weren’t necessarily rock and people were like, you know, ‘Why are you doing THAT?’ We kind of had this moment where we could do what we were supposed to do or we could do what we wanted to do and make it out the other side and still feel good about what we’re doing and that’s kind of what we did.”
Gould isn’t anti-genre, but he does certainly espouse an air of removing limits. “What gets me into rock 'n' roll or punk rock or whatever, is the freedom. Like randomness and chaos. Like I always get attracted to the energy and freedom of doing anything and being anything and going out and seeing a band that could be just an accordion and a female singer or some totally slamming death metal band. It’s that kind of randomness that, to me, is exciting and one thing I noticed about the music business is it’s very conservative when it comes to how it looks at music, especially rock music. There’s all these rules that are predefined and all these things that you have to do to fit into this category and it’s just so boring! Whatever happened to the chaos, you know? Where is the chaos that brought people out of their conservative shells to let loose? I really, I would like to, if anything, I don’t know what style we fit or what we didn’t fit but I’d like to bring a little randomness into the genre, maybe."
These are anthemic if unsurprising words from one of the leaders of Faith No More, the band most often described as “genre-bending”. This mixing of music (on both sides of the production board) may be unique in mainstream music (it certainly was when Faith No More hit it big in 1989) but it is almost expected elsewhere. Why not music?
Gould starts his analogy thusly. “People do it with food.” He explains, “It’s just kind of like ‘Whoa, I can get this, mix it with some of that and it’s kind of this COOL thing’, you know, like ... like Asian Mexican fusion. [laughs]. It makes sense when people eat that kind of stuff and they like it, but I mean, we kind of look at it that way with music. Kind of like if there’s something that feels good that we’re using a couple of different elements that you might not expect, but it still ... it works! That’s kind of the fun of writing is doing really cool things and seeing how they fit together and keep going to new places.”
So we have Billy Gould: Musical Chef? Gould laughs, but agrees. “I mean that’s kind of how we look at, like, music is like cooking food really. Adding spice.”
This brings us back to the aftermath of The Real Thing in the early 1990s when Faith No More was having fun with public perception like few other bands could. Gould and I share a laugh over a humorous appearance on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball when lead vocalist Mike Patton was asked what genre Faith No More considers themselves to be. His response was bold, loud and covertly sarcastic “DEATH METAL!”
To be sure, FNM’s rock cred was bolstered by the fact that The Real Thing featured a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and as the band got bigger, metal heads would demand to hear that song in live performances. In response, Faith No More dropped “War Pigs” from their sets and replaced the song with “Easy” by The Commodores.
“When things get really predictable, it just gets boring to me. We have short attention spans and we like to ... I mean, pissing people off to do ‘Easy’ gave me adrenaline, personally. I liked it!” To be fair, so did I. I told Gould that at the time I was a big metal head with eclectic tastes myself and when my fellow headbangers complained about the choice I responded “Guys! That’s kind of the most metal thing they could possibly have done.”
Gould laughs again at this memory and runs with it. “What’s funny about teasing people, sometimes it’s a really honest way of communicating. Because you’re getting this honest reaction from people. They’re throwing coins at you but there is a real communication there. You’re not just saying ‘Hey, we love you guys, you’re wonderful! Everybody rock, let’s hear some noise!’, you know, all that trite stuff. I mean, we’re actually communicating and when you get into a big crowd and you’re communicating, that’s where the magic is, I think. Even when it pisses them off, there’s still magic going on.”
This same magical defiance went into the band’s follow-up to The Real Thing, one of their most acclaimed, successful and enduring albums Angel Dust (1992). While considered a classic today, that same confused response of “What are you doing?” initially met this auspicious release. Where a lot of bands would approach a follow-up to their top forty breakthrough (even a not-so-top-forty style album like The Real Thing) with a need to replicate success and stay on top with a sequel to the previous album, Faith No More went in almost the opposite direction. Going as alternative and experimental as possible, Angel Dust was far from what was expected by the music industry or the fans.
This didn’t surprise Gould. What surprised him is that Angel Dust ultimately became the success it has. “That one really stuck over a long period of time and I’m going to figure out what that thing is that people like about it.” he tells me with bewilderment. “I mean, I like the record. We were really happy when we did it. It was a real labor, a labor of love. It was a battle. I like what we did,” he says but he scoffs when he tells me “One of these days I’m going to figure out what it is that people [love so much].”
Gould doesn’t seem to dislike the album but he sounds almost exhausted when I bring Angel Dust up, more so even than when discussing the hectic re-release of We Care a Lot. Perhaps this is due to the fact that this album was the “battle” and “labor of love” that Gould described and it also marked the ending of something of an era of strife and turnover for the band.
FNM fans know that as great as Mike Patton is, he wasn’t the band’s first singer. In fact, one of the selling points Gould mentions to me about the We Care a Lot re-release is the fact that it features Chuck Mosley on vocals. “For people who think they know Faith No More now, I think it’s an interesting way of looking at the band from a different lens.”
After one more album with Mosley, 1987’s Introduce Yourself, the band had to part ways with the singer. Rumors of substance abuse and creative differences show up in any article about this era, but Gould reveals to me that the troubles with Chuck almost meant the end of Faith No More. “I think the band would have split up if we didn’t part ways. I think it became dysfunctional to a point where either that’s the end of the band or we have to make a change.” Gould confirms that this was far from a difficult decision. “Our history of this band is kind of trusting our gut instincts and it’s never let us down so far so why stop now?”
That said, the band is hardly enemies with their former frontman. “Chuck lives in Cleveland and so it’s not like we see him very often, but we’re going to see him this week, he’s playing in San Francisco.”
This leads us to talk about the second big noteworthy departure from the band, that of longtime guitarist Jim Martin following the release of Angel Dust. Over the years the role of Martin (who resisted the drastic musical change between The Real Thing and Angel Dust) in the writing and recording of that later album has been debated among fans and in the press. Was Martin involved at all or were these studio musicians?
Gould sets the record straight. “No studio musicians. He played, but the writing process was extremely difficult because he wasn’t really much of a fan of the music. He wasn’t really behind it. He wasn’t really into it. So it was a tough process. I mean, I think, really, we realized that he wasn’t going to continue while we were making that record because he was just on a different musical page.” The dynamic the band was in was similar to that which led to Mosley’s termination. “It could not have continued the way it did,” Gould says seriously.
Years later in 2009 when Faith No More announced their reunion tour, Martin’s name was conspicuously absent. I had to ask if Martin had actually been invited at all. Gould is, again, unequivocal. “Yyyyyyyyyep!”
And so he clearly declined, then?
“Yyyyyyyyyep! Well, the last time I asked him, he didn’t write me back, so… what can you do? I mean, you know, whatever, it’s all good.”
However, Gould isn’t without praise for Martin whom he talks about like a long lost old buddy. “To be honest, he did some great work. He could play. He’s got a great tone, he had a great approach to things that we couldn’t find from other people at the time. I had a lot of good times with him on the road. So, you know, it was a tough split.” Gould elaborates “We don’t really act on things until it’s too late and it probably could’ve been done a little easier. But in any case, it would be great to have him be involved in something because there’s enough water under the bridge after this many years that it’s not really that personal anymore.”
Of course, Martin and Mosely have continued to be productive outside of Faith No More just as all of the band members have. Famously Mike Patton came from the band Mr. Bungle, a band the singer stayed with even after joining Faith No More, and he has been no stranger to other projects.
Gould himself has played with Mike Bordin and Roddy Bottum in Faith No More since the early days but has also had his side projects (including several supergroups) in which Gould has played not only bass but lead guitar and keyboards (depending on the band).
One of the more noteworthy of these side projects was the one-off supergroup “Shandi’s Addiction” who formed to record a remake of Kiss’ “Doctor Love”. Named after one of Kiss’ more obscure love songs from 1980’s Unmasked (and combined, obviously, with the name Jane’s Addiction), Shandi’s Addiction gave Gould the chance to play with some big name friends of his.
“I had heard that Kiss wanted to have a covers record of their songs and I don’t think that anybody in Faith No More was into doing it. They weren’t interested and I knew that Tom [Morello of Rage against the Machine] and Maynard [James Keenan of Tool] was a Kiss fan at one point. I know Tom Morello and Brad [Wilk of Rage Against the Machine] were into doing it. I’d never done anything with those guys before and we kind of just got together one day and banged it out. It was really fun. We didn’t really take it for anything more than that and it was great.”
Does that mean Gould himself is, as he described Maynard, a Kiss fan? “I used to be. Yeah. I mean, I guess I still am, but yeah when I was a kid, for sure! Before my punk rock phase I was definitely listening to Kiss.”
Gould seems to have little but praise for his bandmates (in any band) and in spite of the fact that he is working eight days a week to get this re-release complete, he doesn’t take a lot of credit for himself. This is noteworthy because he is credited on almost every Faith No More song as a writer and he has had major influence behind the board and as a musician. “My playing is so simple,” he tells me.
However, there is a big difference between simplicity and not overthinking things. Gould’s previous comments about going with gut instincts also shape his music and writing. “I’ve known these guys for so long now, we all kind of know how each other thinks, so when I write, I write with them in mind. Because I know what their strengths are and I write for their strengths because I know that they can take what my ideas are and take them further. So I think like that. I think about how the drummer feels and how he approaches things and I just try to integrate everything. I guess I think like a bass player. I write like a bass player.”
That said, the albums’ music wasn’t written with Mosley, Patton or any other singer in mind specifically. “Actually, most of the time we write the music and the singers kind of come in later.”
The distinctive bassline that introduces the title track “We Care a Lot” is just one example of this instinctual approach to composition. “The drummer [Bordin] and I were getting our voice together. We were kind of learning how we worked together because he’s really prominent with the kick drum and he’s really down beat oriented and I was kind of learning how we worked together. I actually wrote the chords in ‘We Care a Lot’ but it didn’t sound ... [laughs] very good rhythmically because I did it by myself and we came into the rehearsal room and we were just fooling around with beats and he had this beat and I came and I put my bass to the beat and that was it. It worked real fast. We knew within two minutes that was the way to go. It was almost too easy and too simple but we didn’t catch ourselves and overthink it. It felt right and we just kept going.”
While the mega-hit “Epic” may be the song that made Faith No More into superstars, it could be argued that “We Care a Lot” was the song that made Faith No More and without that track nothing of the band we know and love might have followed. “We Care a Lot” lent its name to the first album (the album Gould’s Koolarrow just re-released to his great relief) and became the band’s first single. This was the song that was rerecorded for Introduce Yourself and got the band great notice. Without this song and the album of the same name, Faith No More would not be the band we know them as today.
As to the promotion of We Care a Lot’s reincarnation, Gould again shrugs off credit for himself. “We have a fanbase that is really strong and organized but not only that, they’re really, actually, a lot of them are really intelligent people.” Gould tells me with excitement. “So to promote this record, because we can’t tour with the old singer, you know, that’s not going to happen… we’ve been doing these listening parties.” He explains that these listening parties happen in cities where Faith No More’s fanbase is the most dedicated. “It’s totally organized and they’ve totally got their shit together and it’s a great spot to be.” Gould clarifies that this is “not so much thinking about record sales but thinking about like this cool community that that has gotten connected because of your music. It’s almost bigger than the band itself.” From Georgia to Croatia to South America to the United States, these Faith No More listening parties are almost a surrogate tour for the music without the band itself.
That is the essence of Billy Gould. He's the hardworking professional producer, songwriter, record label CEO, touring musician, recording artist and all around great guy to talk to, yet for all his accomplishments he really gives the credit to his bandmates and to the fans of the band.
Yeah, Gould still cares a lot, possibly now more than ever and that shows in his attention to detail on the re-release of this 31-year-old album that put his name on the map. “It’s kind of like all my focus, it’s crazy.” he tells me and adds “I want to stay productive for sure.” He hints that the future of Faith No More won’t be just re-releases but more music. In that way, the musical chef has no plans to stop enthusiastically adding spice to one of the most musically diverse rock bands in history.