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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What really impresses the drummer is the fact that Patton can't write music, yet he holds it all in his head and has perfect pitch. "He can hear things and then immediately sing it back. And the amazing thing is that he's completely self-taught," says Winant. "He's a much better musician than people I see who teach at UC Berkeley. He's got more music in his pinky than a lot of these professors at universities."

Denison concurs. "He's very knowledgeable of all different types of music, and he has a great range of different styles," says the Tomahawk guitarist. "He's also got good ears. I will change one little thing here and there, one note in a chord, and he'll pick it out. I'm always impressed by that."

Patton's Fantomas records offer some insight into his creative process. The first, a divine jumble of heavy guitar, skittish, possessed and screaming vocals, and pregnant pauses, was conceived entirely in his head. He dreamed up the parts for each instrument, and set out to find people to carry out the project, settling on Buzz on guitar, Dave Lombardo from Slayer on drums, and his old Bungle bandmate Trevor Dunn on bass. To first-time listeners, it sounds like a bit of an improvisation, but the entire thing was meticulously planned. The second Fantomas release garnered the most attention. It was Mike's interpretation of movie soundtracks, including The Godfather, Rosemary's Baby, Twin Peaks, and The Omen. The Director's Cut was among the best releases of 2001, a creative yet harsh synthesis of fear and loathing worthy of an orchestra but played on rock instruments. Metallica may have attempted a "classical" approach to metal with the San Francisco Symphony, but only Patton could pull it off.

The inspiration for Ipecac -- named for a root that induces vomiting -- came when Patton made the first Fantomas record and couldn't find a label to put it out. Undaunted, he decided to do it himself.

The singer wanted to create a place for music that didn't have a home elsewhere, a sort of Island of Misfit Toys for bands. He rounded up Werckman to handle the business end, running the label out of a cottage behind Werckman's Alameda home. They had low overhead and low expectations, and now the success of the joint venture more than sustains the two of them.

If there is one act that epitomizes what his label is trying to do, it's the Kids of Widney High. "They are Ipecac," says Werckman. Widney High is a school for physically and developmentally disabled teenagers, and some of the students write and perform their own songs. The music is everything from upbeat party songs to stop-staring-at-me heartbreakers. During the '80s, copies of their self-recorded albums were making the rounds among underground and "outsider" record collectors whose ranks, of course, included Patton. He became totally enamored, talking up the records in interviews and giving them high praise. Those articles came to the attention of Michael Monagan, the kids' music teacher, who contacted Patton about having the Kids open up for a Mr. Bungle show. "I was in tears!" says Patton. "I couldn't believe it, they contacted me. It was amazing."

The question is, why would a teacher of disabled children put his trust in the altruism of a prankster from an obnoxious little band like Mr. Bungle? "I had read some stuff about what he had done ... pissing on stage and stuff like that," says Monagan in a telephone interview. "But the thing is, he was so genuine. I mean I know there are people who think this is a joke or something, but I knew right from the get-go that Mike was very genuine about his interest and was wishing that when we put the record out there would be a lot more acceptance for it."

"There's actually a great story," adds Monagan about that first concert. "There was some exec from Warner Brothers there, and she apparently said to Mike before the show, 'What do you think you're doing, putting these kids up there like that?' And he said, 'You know what? Just watch the show and we'll talk afterwards.' So I guess he and Greg kept an eye on her, and after one song, she had a big smile on her face, she really got it. It's tough not to get it."

Werckman and Patton convinced the teacher to release his kids' record on Ipecac, and Let's Get Busy became one of the label's first releases. "That's why we put our heads together and started a label," says Patton. "To put out stuff that's great, honest, and that doesn't have a place in the world."

The label has worked for Patton in two ways. He has slowly created a cocoon for himself and other artists with the same sensibilities and disregard for the trappings of the music biz. He's also made decent money at it, with the Fantomas records and the Tomahawk release each selling more than 100,000 copies worldwide. Those are phenomenal numbers for an independent label. "At first, having a label scared the shit out of me," Patton says. "I thought it would be way more consuming than it actually is. But now the stuff that I thought would consume me actually feeds me. I get off on it. It's fabulous, it's great. Not only that, but we created our own context. I've got a home now. It's really comforting."

Patton plays it like owning your own label is a piece of cake. But most small-label owners don't have the leverage of his name, a base of thousands of loyal fans who will buy anything he breathes on, and the chance to release three Melvins records in one year. To be fair, he's also made some smart choices for his label, like Kid606, Oakland's electronic golden boy, who Patton jokes may inadvertently make Ipecac chic.

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