Loco Hero 

After hitching to stardom with Faith No More, singer Mike Patton rode his twisted genius in all directions, not letting rock, fame, or even truth stand in his way.

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It is a testament to Patton's musical integrity that rather than Faith No More influencing Bungle, it was the other way around. Bungle-tude began to seep into the bigger band: Each record after The Real Thing became more and more infused with Patton's style, growing darker, weirder, and more dissonant. Behind the scenes, the young man was still up to his old pee-pee and poo-poo stuff -- this time leaving his own fecal matter all around different hotel rooms, either in the heating vents or in the bathroom hair dryers. He has told interviewers in the past that it was an attempt to stay sane in the insane world of mainstream rock, but those close to him know it was just Mike being an ass simply to entertain himself.

It was at the height of Faith No More's fame that Patton worked his first solo record, Adult Themes For Voice, a vocals-only album recorded in hotel rooms on a four-track. The results were millions of miles away from what Faith No More was doing, and were more attuned to sensibilities he picked up from Zorn. His song titles, such as "Hurry Up and Kill Me, I'm Cold" and "A Leper with the Face of a Baby Girl" seem deliberately obtuse, the words of a man feeling himself out in the genre of experimental music.

The sounds on the record were composed through creative use of microphone and mixer, with Patton taking his voice on a journey of shouts, whirrs, chirps, clucks, and high-pitched wails. The otherworldliness of the record was a bit much for even die-hard Bungle fans, and Faith No More followers were left completely flummoxed, thinking that the record had to be another one of Patton's odd pranks. "I honestly think that Mike is just playing with you," one listener wrote about the record on Amazon.com. "He's probably on this site all the time, laughing at you people who actually like to listen to these albums!"

To his detractors Patton has one thing to say: nothing. He shows no interest in winning their approval, nor does he even care about explaining his music to those who like it. "I don't necessarily feel that I have a lot to say or explain about my music," he says. "I'm not going to give you some doctoral thesis on how my music works; I don't even know how it works."

This isn't to say that he's lackadaisical. One thing most of Patton's collaborators say about him is that he's intense, focused, and a true musician who is absorbed by his craft instead of his audience. "Mike is super-intense wherever he is," says Buzz. "He's a freak, he's a weirdo. He talks to himself. He listens to music in the tour van. ... He can hear the music, but he moves his lips to different lyrics than the ones you can hear through his headphones ... explain that to me! He also sleeps with his eyes wide open. I carried on a half-hour conversation with him and he was dead asleep."

In past year alone, Patton has put out records with Fantomas (the well-received Director's Cut, his take on movie soundtracks), Tomahawk, and Lovage, and is working on forthcoming stuff with three other ensembles. He thrives on new experiences and contexts, and is by all accounts a workaholic, downing cup after cup of coffee as he handles label affairs, makes phone calls and travel plans, and creates music.

This year, Patton says, he made a New Year's resolution to spend less time away from home. So far it hasn't worked. "People say I am working too hard all the time, and sometimes I agree with them," he admits. "But there's nothing I can do about it. I don't feel comfortable unless I've got a few unfinished things; I don't like empty space in front of me."

But isn't there then a danger of his music becoming little more than busywork? "Yes," he says. "I just try and keep it all good stuff, make sure it's coming from an honest place, not a place that I'm just doing it because I gotta do it. What I'm learning is it's not just going in, learning your parts, and then wiping your hands clean of it and hoping it turns out good: There's no such thing as being marginally involved."

This is evident, he says, in his collaboration with the Dillinger Escape Plan, for which he initially intended just to sing on some tracks; now he's handling the cover art for the CD and talking about going on tour. "I'm not so good at saying no," Patton admits.

The singer's extreme work ethic has posed problems for his relationships, with more than one person close to him suggesting that he should slow down. But Patton sees it as something he cannot change about himself. "I'm a lifer," he says. "I think in order to do that you have to make a lot of sacrifices. That means personal things, that means relationships, a lot of things. But with me, that's my baggage, that's my thing. I'm gonna work too much, I'm gonna be completely self-absorbed -- I'm gonna be a fucking asshole, and that's just the way it is. Anybody that's decent at anything is pretty selfish. They gotta be. I'm not in this to be a good guy."

His conceit is perhaps forgivable, given that the notoriously snobby New Music crowd views him as some sort of amazing visionary. Winant, an esteemed drummer who has performed in more than two hundred Bungle shows and on its last two albums, met Patton through John Zorn, when both musicians were guests on Zorn's Naked City project. Winant, who has worked with everyone from John Cage to Danny Elfman to Sonic Youth, puts Patton right up there with them. "He's very talented," he says. "He's considered this sort of virtuoso instrumentalist in a lot of ways. He's a great singer, he's also a great improviser."

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