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Mike Patton: The Modern Renaissance Musician

Updated on January 3, 2015
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Who is Mike Patton?

Mike Patton spent his early years singing in bands such as Mr.Bungle and Faith No More. The latter gained him international recognition, and helped him build a loyal fan base.

Whereas many musicians forge a career out of producing and playing with only one ensemble, Patton went on to play in a number of formations across a variety of styles and genres. He created trip-hop influenced pop tunes with Peeping Tom, sang Italian mid-twentieth century influenced tunes backed with a classical orchestra with Mondo Cane. He also recorded sexy lunge tunes with Dan The Automator, and sang on an album of mathcore superstars Dillinger Escape Plan. If this wasn't enough, he composed the score of such movies as Fire Walk With Me and The Place Beyond The Pines.

He also acted in the thriller Firecracker, a film that was nominated for best feature in the Sundance Film Festival. He also recorded the voiceover for the zombies in the blockbuster I Am Legend. He also collaborated on the voice over of such cult video games as Portal and Left 4 Dead.

Mike Patton on stage while performing Mondo Cane.
Mike Patton on stage while performing Mondo Cane. | Source

Early life

Mike Patton was born in Eureka, California on the 27th of January in 1968. Mike got hooked on coffee in his early, formative years, and recalls watching cartoons for hours each day, while drinking coffee.

Patton views Walt Disney composer Carl Stalling as one of his biggest idols. Stalling was a composer on multiple Walt Disney cartoons in the 1920s. Stalling went on to compose for the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, thus his work was an important influence on the young, cartoon loving Mike Patton. It is no wonder that Patton went on to compose songs that mix together a variety of styles. Watching cartoons with scores that cut between swing, classical music as well as latin tunes within a matter of minutes made an impression on his young mind.

Urban legend has it that Patton wanted to be a meteorologist while growing up. However it is hard to imagine him doing anything that doesn't involve innovative and crazy vocals.

Mr. Bungle

Mike Patton formed Mr. Bungle with his friends in 1984. They first released only demo cassette tapes, but some of those songs made it to the recordings of the band, which were released under Warner Brothers.

The band was named after a character in a Pee-wee Herman movie. The band featured the early influences of Patton, often using multiple musical styles in one song. The band's Zappa-esque punk-funk-jazz earned them a following first in California, then worldwide.

The band's first major album was produced by John Zorn. The jazz musician had an effect on the band's style, making the album a dizzying mixture of genres. The album was hit with controversy, as the first song off the album was planned to be called Travolta. However the actor threatened to sue the band, so it was changed to Quote Unquote. Controversy was a part of the band's future, including a fute with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1998/99.

The band released two more albums, Disco Volante in 1995 and California in 1999 before officially disbanding in 2004.

Faith No More

Patton replaced the original frontman of Faith No More, Chuck Mosley in 1989, after the latter allegedly spent the money the band collected for him to pay for vocal classes on cocaine. Mike's name came up after the guitarist heard him sing on a demo of Mr. Bungle. It is rumoured that Jim Martin harassed Patton with drunken phone calls until he finally agreed to join.

Faith No More got an exceptional vocalist with an ability to bring the songs to life with a unique style. At the same time Patton earned a solid ensemble. The marriage of the two catapulted them to international fame and recognition. It is part of the truth that initially Patton viewed the gig as a joke, which included recording all kinds of vocal styles over the instrumental tracks, giving birth to a unique sound.

The first big hit of the new group was 'Epic'. This song landed on the British Top 40 charts as well, gaining international recognition for the band. The music video features Patton jumping in front of the band dressed according to the California punk-funk style of the time, rocking a Mr.Bungle T-shirt, and beating in the air with big artificial rubber fists. The band played in front of an artificial storm, a post-modern setting that set the video apart from many at the time.

Patton always spoke highly of his years with Faith No More, and views it as a fundamental learning experience about both writing music and the industry.

A happy, smiley Mike Patton
A happy, smiley Mike Patton | Source

Controvery with RHCP

The Red Hot Chili Peppers Controversy

After seeing the music video of Epic, Anthony Kiedis, the singer of RHCP claimed that Mike Patton was mocking his mannerisms and dance moves. The singer felt that the music was also a rip-off of the style of RHCP. His claims understandably started intense fight between the two singers.

In 1999, Mr. Bungle was about to release their new album 'California'. On the 8th of June, however RHCP were set to release Californication on the same date. As both bands were signed with Warner Brothers, the company decided to release the RHCP album, and move back the release date of the Mr. Bungle album.

Anthony Kiedis demanded the record label and the staff of many summer festivals to cancel Mr. Bungle concert dates, as he would not perform in one festival with Mr. Bungle. As a form of retaliation, Mr. Bungle went on stage in 1999 in Massachusetts dressed as the members of RHCP, performing their songs, mocking their drug use, their on stage movements and antics. The band members even got fake tattoos made to mirror the looks of the RHCP members.

Interview style

Patton is quite a character in his interviews. One of the reasons why he has a cult following is that he is always ready to give himself. When faced with dull, run-of-the-mill questions from interviewers he often makes fun of the question by sarcastically saying the answer most musicians would give, or saying something so outlandish that it becomes funny.

Such remarks include ''Just as much as Liberacci pawed the way for us" when asked by a reporter how much Faith No More pawed the way for the Seattle Grunge Sound. Or remarking that he doesn't "like to listen to music very much". He also bashed on Wolfmother in an interview during a music festival. All of these honest remarks help draw those with similar style and feeling to him, and those with confronting styles away from him. This separation helped him establish, and sustain a cult following.

Patton was always known to have a weird sense of humor. During a US Faith No More tour in 1992 he defecated into the hairdryer of their support band L7.

Peeping Tom (2006)

Patton recorded an album with his own formation in 2006. The album was title Peeping Tom, and features collaborations with contemporary pop artists such as Massive Attack, Norah Jones and Dub Trio. Patton views the album as his take on pop music. In an interview he remarked "I don't listen to the radio, but if I did, this is what I'd want it to sound like".

I personally enjoy the album a lot, as its laid-back vibes are close to my heart, but in my opinion the ensemble's live performances were truly special. It is enough to listen to the band's live cover of Marvin Gaye's Desperate Situation to feel the energy that the band had live on stage.

Mondo Cane (2010)

While spending his vacation in Italy, Patton heard old recordings of 1950s and 1960s Italian songs. Patton instantly fell in love with their style, and started searching the record stores for old recordings. In the end this love story lead to putting a forty-piece orchestra together and recording original compositions. The first iteration of the project didn't go anywhere, but it featured plans of Patton performing with a quartet from Rome.

Years later an Italian promoter friend of Patton hooked him up with an orchestra and asked him to write original compositions. The resulting Mondo Cane album landed second in the US Classical charts. Despite the foreign language, and the classical arrangements, the songs have a pop tune to them, which makes it enjoyable for even those who are not hardcore opera fans - like myself.

Patton has since said that opera is something he is still trying to learn about. His ability to bring himself to various projects, instead of trying to copy another style is what allowed him to be successful and be followed by his fans throughout his various musical ventures.

Voiceover and Soundtrack work

Mike Patton provided the voice to the Anger Sphere in the cult video game Portal in 2007. He gave the Anger Sphere a shrieking, shouting voice, which is a signature singing style of Patton. Similar sounds can be heard in the blockbuster Will Smith movie I Am Legend, as Patton provided the voice of the zombies in the movie. He also did voice over for games such as The Darkness, The Darkness 2, Left 4 Dead, The Last of Us and Bionic Commando.

He also did the soundtrack for Crank:High Voltage. His soundtrack for The Place Beyond the Pines was featured on the Oscar shortlist for Best Original Score in 2014.

Faith No More cover of Poker Face from Lady Gaga

Faith No More Reunion

In 2009 Faith No More announced that they are reuniting for a live shows, and possibly recording new material. Journalists and fans had been pushing for the reunion for years, before the band made the announcement on the 10th of June on their official website.

Their live show at the Download Festival became famous for the band's cover of Poker Face, where Patton featured his versatile singing techniques and vocal style. In between their European concert dates the band started working on new material, and in September of 2014 they announced the release of a new album, the first one in 18 years.

Which one is your favorite Mike Patton group/project?

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