T.S. Eliot dubbed April "the cruelest month," but even The Waste Land neglected to point out that National Humor and National Anxiety Month share the same calendar page. As do National Welding Month, International Guitar Month, and Uh-Huh Month, which might quicken the failing hearts of John Cougar Mellencamp devotees but could seriously impair everyone else's.
April also plays host to such vastly undercelebrated holidays as Tell-A-Lie Day, Plan Your Epitaph Day, Don't Go To Work Unless It's Fun Day, and Go For Broke Day, the last of which shares the April 5 release date of Suspended Animation, the latest album from Fantômas, the experimental supergroup consisting of Buzz Osborne of the Melvins on guitar, ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, Trevor Dunn (ex-Mr. Bungle) on bass, and one Mike Patton (ex-Faith No More, ex-Mr. Bungle, and current member of Tomahawk, Peeping Tom, and General Patton vs. the X-ecutioners).
Suspended Animation contains 30 merciless pieces of music, one aimed at each day in April. "April Fool's has been a special holiday to me," says Patton. And, in fact, the fourth month of the year holds several distinctive time markers for Patton. Seven Aprils ago, his day job as lead singer of Faith No More ended just as he was putting together Fantômas. The following April, Patton and manager Greg Werckman formed Ipecac Records and released the self-titled Fantômas debut on which Patton sonically interpreted 30 consecutive pages of a comic book.
This time around, he was inspired by the cartoon illustrations of kids and puppies sent to him by Japanese pop artist Yoshitomo Nara. "I had 30 original art works Nara had done for this record," says Patton. "I was racking my brain trying to figure out 'How am I gonna use them all?' It's not like I'm gonna just choose four or five of the best ones. So what I did was just make a calendar using all of them."
Thus the idea was to make the album a sonic calendar as well. Since the artwork wasn't bundled with advance copies of the CD, it's difficult to follow where you are in the month of music, although the depressing "April 15th" casts a predictable pall, just as the real day assuredly will even if you're in the giddy throes of celebrating Rubber Eraser Day.
But judged on its auditory merits, Suspended Animation is no less mesmerizing. Patton set out to make what he describes as "a skewed children's music approach to it," complete with samples and sound effects from classic old cartoons like Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny, with a Twilight Zone flourish or two thrown in the mix. Only the more cryptic scenes in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? come close to describing the malevolent thrust of this heavy-go-frivolous soundscape. It's as if a giant cat is trying to tickle your funny bone in one breath and rapid-staple-gun you to a diving board the next.
By juxtaposing the standard heavy-metal riffs and rapid-fire drumming of grindcore with arrow boings and children's giggles, Fantômas has created an environment where heavy music actually sounds heavy and dangerous again.
"I would say my favorite pieces are the ones where we used the sample as a springboard and wrote a piece around it," says Patton of the album's genesis. "You kind of wind up sampling yourself in a weird way. There's a xylophone glissando, I think it was used on a Tom and Jerry cartoon, where someone was falling down the stairs or running down a mountain. We took that and layered it 55 times with all kinds of marimbas, xylophones, and created a kind of xylophone orchestra around one stupid sound -- and of course you can't even tell what the hell it is. But I know."
With each of its albums, Fantmas consciously gainsays the one that came before it. After album one proved difficult to play live, Patton promised the guys something more fun and easier to sink their chops into. That was The Director's Cut, a CD of mostly horror and suspense movie theme covers. After the band did a merger with Melvins Big Band for a live concert LP, Millennium Monsterwork, Fantômas went dark with Delirium Cordia (subtitled The Surgical Sound Specimens From the Museum of Skin). Grimly packaged with surgical photos, it consisted of one 73-minute track.
"Actually, it was 50 minutes," Patton helpfully points out. "Those who are stubborn enough can listen to a whole twenty minutes of record surface noise at the end. I wanted it to sound like chamber music or a small classical music ensemble as opposed to a rock record. When we had 50 pieces, I chose the ones I liked and sewed them into one track."
While Patton specializes in making exciting and impulsive music every time out, it must be vexing that the most famous music he's made -- which contains the most conventional use of his vocal talents -- is predictably trotted out each year by his onetime record label. Does he have any say into how Faith No More music gets disseminated to futurekind?
"Zero," says Patton, emphatically. "Basically, we don't own that music. The people that do, i.e., the record company, they can repackage, remix, remaster, rethink, rewrite and re-represent that music as many times and as many ways as they want. So you'll continue to see plenty of greatest hits or this and that remix. I try my best to stay the hell out of it; otherwise, I've got to tear my hair out."
Patton's penchant for multiple projects began when he was tapped to join Faith No More and chose to continue to tour and record with Mr. Bungle, the band he was originally in.
"Obviously, it was really busy touring with those guys (Faith No More). But when I had a few months free, I'd look ahead and wonder what I could do. That's when I had certain things burning in my belly I felt I had to do. It wasn't really a decision. I did it without thinking. I didn't have a lot else going in my life. That helped. Still does. Over the years you wind up trimming the fat -- there's barely enough hours in the day to do the important shit. I try and focus on that."
For Patton, the secret to juggling projects is as easy as "You buy a fuckin' calendar and start writing shit down."
With several projects constantly going at once, does he have a pecking order on which takes precedent?
"No, I don't have a hierarchy. Maybe that's one of my problems. I'll let you guys figure that shit out. To me, I just go through phases where different things are really important to me. Right now my focus is this record and playing it live. And I'm sure we'll be playing it live and I'll be thinking about mowing the lawn."
One imagines Patton's fan base has its own preferences. Are there ever people who come to a show and call out to hear something from, say, Loveage, his campy lounge-trip-hop collaboration of just a few years ago?
"All the time!" Patton says. "And they're almost always sorely disappointed. There's always a contingent of malcontents at any show I play because they're expecting one thing and don't get it."
Patton can console himself that his target audience actually gets this new record. "I was talking to an interviewer who had kids ages one, three and six, and they play it incessantly. I was overjoyed," he says of the album's sole toddler endorsement to date. "I don't have any kids. (Dave) Lombardo has kids. But they probably wouldn't bat an eye at this music because they've grown up on Slayer."
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