The Effortless Mastery of Faith No More's Roddy Bottum

For Roddy Bottum (right, holding the gimp), Faith No More's reunion is just another line item on an impressive resumé. (Photo: Dustin Rabin)

Roddy Bottum sounds exhausted. He answers the phone late in the afternoon from his New York apartment less than a month before Faith No More's upcoming international tour—their first in nearly 15 years. He allows compliments about their startlingly vital new record, Sol Invictus, to almost passively wash over him; he responds "Oh, thank you," with a firmly curbed enthusiasm that does not imply an exclamation point.

Bottum is both communicative and attentive, however, when he describes life as a creative artist spending over three decades traversing the worlds of musical theater, film scoring, and his resumed focus on playing keyboards in Faith No More. He's the good kind of exhausted, to paraphrase Patton Oswalt, sounding like he's about to enjoy the rest that comes from defeating one's enemies and securing one's destiny.

A question mark hovered over that destiny for quite a while. 1997's Album of the Year wasn't a bad record by any means, but it was a creative sputter, one that threatened to hold the mantle as the lackluster coda for an objectively great band.

Twenty-five years after breakthrough hit "Epic," Faith No More is still making vital music -- on their own terms.
Twenty-five years after breakthrough hit "Epic," Faith No More is still making vital music -- on their own terms.

“It was the end of a really, really long road,” Bottum says of the album's recording process. “We were just trying to salvage what we had and put our best foot forward.” Album of the Year was a coherent yet tame iteration of a band that once burst at the seams with invention. Simply put, the band was out of steam.

“We had no desire to see each other," Bottum adds. "There was a lot of animosity, a lot of pent-up resentment, a lot of through with it.” To a man, they were each in need of new creative outlets and a break from the improbably successful project they stewarded from their teens through their early 30s.

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When the band reunited for a handful of shows in 2009, there wasn't so much as a suggestion of new material, let alone another more extensive touring cycle. Yet that tour planted the seeds of a creative renaissance for the band, one that found them so enthusiastic about presenting new material, they didn't bother seeking out a label. With Sol Invictus, the band kept things lean across the board, recording in Billy Gould's own private studio (with Mr. Gould also manning the boards). With no big-name producers, vibe consultants, or celebrity guests, the band dared to let their first new music since 1997 stand on its own.

Turns out, it was a worthwhile dare. Sol Invictus is a true reinvigoration of the creative arc of Faith No More, a step forward that acknowledges what endures about their sound without clinging to what doesn't. With its assured balance of multiple atmospheres and sonic ecosystems, it may be their best record since 1992's seminal Angel Dust. It’s the intangible sound of a band that just works, unmediated aural chemistry. “There’s nothing worse than sounding like you’re trying too hard,” Bottum insists. “We’re pretty lucky that we were able to salvage our friendship and our creative relationship. I don’t know of anyone who gets to enjoy that opportunity.”

Along with a new album and new tour, the band offered a new aspect to their image, specifically, a man in a bondage mask. Looking dapper in suits in their new promo photos, the five members of Faith No More are now joined by a figure whom fans collectively refer to as “The Gimp,” a nod to the vanilla masses’ only reference point for BDSM, Pulp Fiction. But the idea behind that look was to generate an irony that you likely missed. Says Bottum, “I’ve always liked that James Bond look, where he’s in a suit and he’s got the girl.” He wanted to offset that “classy” and refined sensibility with the man in bondage, something that “felt like them.”

But while Bottum appreciates the rekindling of Faith No More’s chemistry, from the sounds to the jokes, he certainly wasn’t waiting by the phone for his bandmates to reconvene. Aside from his poppier, dancier work in SF’s Imperial Teen, he began scoring films -- a career path his bandmate Mike Patton followed, as well. Bottum scored several indie films, including the 2007 Lisa Kudrow vehicle Kabluey and 2008’s proto-normcore Gigantic, with Zooey Deschanel and Paul Dano in all their insufferable cuteness. He also debuted his first opera, Sasquatch, The Opera, in Brooklyn earlier this month. When asked about his approach to this daunting challenge, Bottum responds that he is “definitely running a monarchy” when it comes to composing and directing this beast partly inspired by “John Merrick of The Elephant Man...and a 100-pound four year-old,” Bottum first discovered on The Jerry Springer Show.

Oh yeah, and there’s that matter of his imminent tour with Faith No More, playing to crowds of thousands (occasionally tens of thousands) of fans. It’s a focused month-long run through North America, with nearly every venue sold out in advance, including two nights at The Warfield. Then they’ll hit the European mega festival circuit for the remainder of the summer (they’ve also very recently added North American dates to follow the European run).

(Photo: Faith No More's Facebook page)
(Photo: Faith No More's Facebook page)

Returning to stardom after years of niche work means an adjustment for Bottum, especially because random yahoos are now commenting on his Facebook page. A recent picture of him and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford sparked some unsavory comments that he felt compelled to delete. Halford was wearing makeup that added some pallor to his complexion, prompting some to suggest that he needed to check in to a hospital. So he deleted it...then reposted it. “It was like, ‘Hey, let’s just start over with this.’ This is our home where we post images and sounds of what we do.” The message of “respect this space” came through loud and clear when he reposted, and the iconic moment got its proper due.

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Maybe it’s not that Bottum is exhausted -- just disarmingly low-key. Bottum comes off like that utterly casual friend who tends to go with the flow, a flow that happens to take him past a platinum album and a teeny bopper magazine cover or two on the way. If success without windpipe-crushing ambition could have a single poster boy in 2015, Bottum would be the top nominee.

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