When Faith No More returned with Sol Invictus earlier this year, they brought with them massive expectations based on their back catalog. The album ended up receiving wide acclaim, including our four-star review, in which AllMusic editor Mark Deming asserts that the album "truly adds to the strength of the group's legacy rather than diluting it."
Matt Wallace definitely knows that back catalog and legacy better than most: he produced the band's first demo in his parents' garage, ran sound on their first live show, worked with them through the commercial success of The Real Thing and critically-lauded Angel Dust. He pursued other musical avenues through the 90s and 00s, including producing Maroon 5's mega-smash debut Songs About Jane and is currently in the studio with 3 Doors Down, but he managed to return to his roots by teaming back up with Faith No More to assist with the mixing on Sol Invictus. We talked with Wallace about watching the band grow, how members came and went, his unexpected reaction the first time he heard The Real Thing, and what it was like to dive headfirst into the mainstream pop world after working with a more challenging band.
AllMusic: You go all the way back with Faith No More to their first record. How did you initially meet them?
Matt Wallace: I met Bill, the bass player, back in ’82 when he was producing a band in the Bay Area, we were all going to UC Berkeley at the time, and he had a band called Your First Born, and he was like, “Here’s this band, do you want to produce it?” I was doing my own self-promotion and marketing at the time, I was putting up fliers where bands would rehearse, at clubs, record stores, and Bill found this thing that said, “Eight-track recordings, 12 dollars an hour,” so he brought in this band, and afterwards he said, “I have my own band, would you record us?”
At the time, they were called Sharp Young Men, and they had a different guitar player and keyboard player, but it was still the same drummer, so you had Bill Gould and Mike Bordin on drums, and I did their first demos, and then they came back and I did a seven-inch single with them. They changed keyboard players and got Roddy Bottum on keyboards and Jim Martin on guitar, and then they became Faith No More. It was Sharp Young Men to Faith No Man to Faith No More, so I started with them a long, long time ago and did their first recordings in my parents’ suburban garage. I’ve been with them from the moment they started up through and including Angel Dust, and I did sound for their very first show, when it was just Mike Bordin and Bill on bass and a guy named Joe on guitar and someone else on vocals, that was the first Faith No More show.
AllMusic: So eventually it moved from your parents' garage to a more proper studio.
Wallace: I moved it from my parents’ garage to a studio in Oakland, and I had a larger eight-track studio and did a lot of the demos that would ultimately become Introduce Yourself, their first record on Slash Records, we did that at my studio there. There was the indie record we did on Mordam Records, We Care A Lot, and that was our first time using a 24-track together.
AllMusic: How did they tell you that they were splitting with Chuck Mosley and bringing in Mike Patton?
Wallace: I knew that there was a lot of internal frustration in the band. I was a big fan of what Chuck did, I like what he did and I thought he was a good lyricist. He wasn’t technically a great singer but he was a really good frontman, I thought he did a good job and I liked him in the band. Chuck was always the guy who would show up to things at the very, very last minute, and I’d seen him do shows, one time with P.i.L., where the band started to play the set and there was no Chuck anywhere, it was like, “I guess we’ll just do an instrumental set,” and at the last moment Chuck would stumble onstage, either his bus was late or he drank too much or whatever, so I think the band was at a point where everyone except for Chuck was prepared for success, they’d really worked hard and been very, very diligent, they had their eye on what they were trying to accomplish, and at a certain point Chuck felt like he wasn’t like-minded.
According to Bill they never actually fired him, they all just kind of quit around him, so Bill quit the band, then they all quit around him. So it was like a two-step version of firing. I was working with them while they were a singer-less band, they had new material, which ultimately became The Real Thing, and then it was a big transition once we got Patton on board.
AllMusic: Were you already familiar with him through Mr. Bungle?
Wallace: I knew about the Bungle stuff, I was a Bay Area guy, they did Eureka and all that area, so I was kind of familiar with them. Jim Martin had heard about Bungle first and he had his eye on Patton first, and then when I was working at Slash Records I put out feelers for a singer for Faith No More, and I’d gotten the Bungle tapes and said, “This guy is really cool,” but I think Jim Martin was already on it. Certainly, his singing ability was really cool. I wasn’t a big fan of the Bungle music but I really liked his vocals.
AllMusic: The band must have been excited about having a whole new vocal palette to work with.
Wallace: I think so. Technically, Patton is a ridiculously talented singer, I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and to find someone like him, who’s built to sing, he can sing cookie monster, hamburger throat, raging metal stuff all the way to R&B crooning and everything in between, his voice is an instrument. To me, it was pretty apparent that this guy could sing. One of my frustrations was that during the making of The Real Thing, when we were doing a song like “Epic,” he’d sing in that really nasally voice. It was interesting, but then when you’d stop recording, on his own he’d sing with this really big, full-bodied voice between takes, and I was like, “Oh my god, we should get that on the recording,” because I thought he was such a technically good singer that we should have done that. We certainly argued about it, and what ended up on the record is the thing which, to his credit, I think was the right approach, it was very angsty, teenager-y, that kind of vibe, and I think that was what really spoke to a lot of the young people who ultimately heard that record.
So that was someone who had a lot of tools in the toolbox and he could try on different things and take different approaches. From the moment he started singing, I just thought, “Wow, this guy is really something.” And he wrote all of the lyrics for that album within two weeks, and some of those lyrics are really stunningly impressive, I think, for a young guy who was maybe 19 years old at the time, that was really something to be able to walk in, the music was already done, the band was not going to change the music or the arrangements, so he had to shoehorn his ideas into that, and I think he did an admirable job of jumping on board with a band that was somewhat established and made it work. He was ready to work hard. Patton was always kind of still attached to Bungle, he had a foot in two different camps, and that was apparent for quite a while. But when he was present in Faith No More, he was really a force to be reckoned with.
AllMusic: So when you were making Angel Dust and he didn't do that nasal voice anymore, you must have been thrilled.
Wallace: I was really, really happy that he started doing that. For me, the big change within Patton was that during The Real Thing, he was still not 100 percent committed to Faith No More, and this is my own reading, I could be wrong, but I think his way of protecting himself and feeling like he was still part of Bungle was that he took on almost a different persona on The Real Thing, which made it easy to say, “Yeah, I’m in this band, but I’m not really in it.” But once Angel Dust came around, Patton was much more involved in the genesis of the songs, he was there during the inception, during the writing, he was there guiding the arrangements, and I think he became much more involved and invested in that record.
So at that point, I think he really came to the forefront of what he could do, which is use his voice as an instrument, sing fully and deeply and use every spectrum of his vocal range, and that was really exciting. And he was listening to a bunch of Tibetan chanting, Eskimo nose singing, all these things, and he’d bring these different ideas into the record within the context of a heavy rock, alternative, progressive band, he was bringing his ideas on how his vocals should go. And it was really forward-thinking, because a lot of bands, after that record, kind of followed in his footsteps, because Patton was unafraid to try different things, whether it was a different vocal approach or a different lyric, some of the lyrics are pretty challenging. I thought it was really stunning that he came to the forefront and grabbed the flag. That was a thrill, that whole record was a thrill to make.
AllMusic: There's that four-hour video floating around of a day inside the Angel Dust sessions, which includes footage of Patton teaching Jim Martin how one of the songs is going to go. I think it's "Malpractice." It's interesting because it's rare to see Patton playing an instrument and also because it shows that Martin was sort of on the outside looking in at that point.
Wallace: It was frustrating, the bottom line was that Jim’s dad had died three weeks before we started making that record, and the guys in the band and myself were saying, “Why don’t we take a pause on this thing, let’s regroup in a few months, give you some time to grieve your dad and let that settle,” but he comes from a more macho approach to life and said, “No, don’t talk about my personal shit, we’re going to make this record.” So the band had a rehearsal place in Oakland, which was a trek for them because they were in San Francisco, and Jim just wasn’t available in a lot of ways. He wasn’t particularly keen on the direction the record was going, either, and I said, “If you don’t like what’s happening, jump in with your big, heavy guitars, your rock and metal vibe and let’s get this over to what’s ultimately a Faith No More record,” and it was very challenging and frustrating to go through that process. I think Jim was feeling a bit marginalized or kind of marginalized himself, and Patton was at the forefront, so that was an interesting transition, that whole record.
AllMusic: After Angel Dust did you think Martin would be back, or was it obvious that they had to make a change?
Wallace: At the end of Angel Dust, because it was such a difficult record to make, there was pretty severe acrimony within the band, certainly between everyone and Jim, and there were some really heated arguments. Roddy was having his own struggles with some addiction issues, we were at a recording studio that really wasn’t supportive at all, I had to basically produce, engineer, assistant engineer and answer the phones, and it was a really stressful record to make. So at the end of it I took off for a couple of months and said, “I’m done with this music thing for a while,” and at the end of that record I said to those guys, “Listen, I think it’s time for you to find a new producer, a new guitarist or both.”
I like those guys, I’m friends with them and we still talk, there wasn’t any malice or anger, I just said, “I’m done, I think I’ve probably taken you guys as far as I can take you, maybe you need some fresh blood in this band,” and it seemed like Jim was not that interested. We did a lot of work, we did all the guitars, but it was always separate. It would be him and I, then all the other guys would come in afterwards, so it was a very difficult situation to navigate. But I didn’t expect to work with them after that record, the writing was on the wall and I was stating the obvious. He was just not into the music they were making.
AllMusic: After you moved on, did you keep up with their next two records?
Wallace: I didn’t follow them closely, I’d talk to them and go to shows, but I was not as familiar with their music once I left the fold, I figured it was time for me to move on. I liked some of the stuff they did. I did go over a few times when they were working on Album of the Year, they were doing it at Bill Gould’s house, so I’d pop by and say hi and see what they were up to. I was keeping tabs, and I do like some things they did on those records.
AllMusic: You must have gotten a lot of bands coming to you to try to duplicate the Faith No More sound.
Wallace: There was a lot of that going on, it was around that time, between The Real Thing and Angel Dust, people got a hold of my home phone number and would call me to see if I’d work with them, whether it was Korn or Hoobastank, a bunch of bands, some really good bands, too, but I’m similar to Faith No More in that my tastes are pretty eclectic and after doing some heavy rock stuff I really want to go in the opposite direction with some melodic, more pop things, and that’s kind of what I did.
I tried to avoid doing any band that sounded like them because I felt it wouldn’t be authentic to what I wanted to do, and a lot of those bands didn’t get what Faith No More were trying to do. They would go in any direction, they weren’t a heavy rock or metal band, they did have that element to what they were doing, but then you go to “Be Aggressive,” there’s no heavy rock band I know that would sing that song in a million years because it’s a song about being gay, basically, and Patton would boldly go in those directions, and that’s a thing I appreciated about that band that a band like Korn or the other bands that were approaching me, I was like, “I’m not really feeling it.” I got a lot of that kind of stuff, and I think I could have had a little better career if I’d followed that thing, I could have had more success and popularity in a short amount of time, but I liked the fact that both of us went off in different directions.
AllMusic: So you definitely went in a different direction when you made Songs About Jane with Maroon 5. Was it obvious from the start that they were going to be huge pop stars, and did the label pressure you accordingly?
Wallace: Initially it was going to be on an independent label, they were on Octone Records, a brand new label formed by James Diener, he had gotten some seed money to start a record label. It wasn’t the traditional pressure you’d get from an act a major label feels is going to go somewhere big, I think they knew it was going to do well but not as good as it did. And it was a low budget record, that was an indie label and I was offered twice as much money to work with another band, but I heard this Maroon 5 stuff and said, “Man, these songs are so good, I think these songs could be pretty big.” People thought they were a bunch of generic white rip-offs, nobody heard what I heard in that band. It was a big left turn to take, but we were allowed to do what we wanted to do, the band wanted to make a few turns into urban and hip-hop stuff, and the head of the label said, “You’re a guitar band, make sure you keep that in mind,” so we steered it back in that direction, and his instincts were absolutely correct. There wasn’t pressure until we were mixing the thing and the label was like, “I know exactly where I want this thing to go.” That was when it was like, “OK, we have to steer the band back toward where they really live.”
AllMusic: It must have been interesting to go from a band so set on challenging its audience to one that aimed entirely to please.
Wallace: Yeah, with a band like Faith No More, they changed that whole pop thing. When we made Angel Dust, the record label came down there and they really wanted to hear The Real Thing: Part 2, and when they heard the new music they said, “We hope you guys didn’t buy any houses,” meaning that this record wasn’t going to do anything. They said, “You should call this album Commercial Suicide.” So there was more pressure at the beginning of making Angel Dust from the record label than at the beginning when I made Songs About Jane, because there was an established, “Hey, this band’s done something, we could make a lot of money if they do The Real Thing: Part 2,” whereas with Maroon 5 it was more, “Hey, here’s a band, they used to be kind of a grunge band, they’ve written some great songs, let’s see where we can take this.” So it was a different kind of pressure. With Maroon 5, we aimed for wanting to get on the radio, that’s what we aimed to do, that was our goal, we wanted to have a record people would listen to all around the world, and that’s what happened, so that was very cool.
AllMusic: How did you get word that Faith No More would be making new music?
Wallace: They toured for about a year, they went around the world a few times, and I was in contact with them and knew they were touring, and then they started talking about recording, so I knew about it. The thing was, I couldn’t tell anybody about it, I talked to Bill Gould and Mike Bordin about it, so I knew about it a good year, year and a half before they told anybody else, it was one of those things where I couldn’t say anything; I didn’t tell my wife, I didn’t tell anybody, they were like, “Listen, we’re doing this thing, it’s really quiet, we don’t know what it’s going to turn into.” Bill came down about a year before we started mixing and he played me what they were working on, so I was checking it out and saying, “Let’s talk about the aesthetics of it, the sound,” because he was producing on his own, engineering on his own, he recorded it in their rehearsal space, I think they were confident in their direction but just wanted to make sure that they had the sonics correct, and they nailed it, they did a great job.
AllMusic: Have you caught any of the live shows where they've brought Mosley out onstage?
Wallace: Yeah, I was at that show. It was really wonderful, it was great to see Chuck out there doing his thing, that was really, really cool. People give Chuck a bad time, people who are major Patton fans, but lyrically, he did some really good stuff, and I liked his vibe. He was not a crappy frontman, Patton just took it to a whole other level, he’s a different beast altogether and certainly very talented, too.
It’s interesting that the band trusted their instincts, they did Angel Dust and put it out there and it didn’t sell well in the States, but it did well overseas, and about eight or nine years ago, Kerrang magazine did a thing about the most influential records of all time, and I started in the 50s, 40s, 30s, and I said, “Man, none of my records made this,” I was hoping something I’d worked on would have made it, and at number one was Angel Dust, they thought it had influenced so many bands, and that’s a really nice indication of a band that just trusts their gut, and seeing them live in L.A. a few months ago when they did “Midlife Crisis,” the entire place, everyone sang that thing a cappella like it was a huge hit, it was really wonderful to see a song that’s kind of a twisted lyric and kind of a unique song, but so many people sang the entire chorus, and it was really surreal. That moment for me was one of the best.
AllMusic: Many bands have tried and failed to copy the Faith No More sound. What nuances are they missing?
Wallace: It’s like when people try to copy Led Zeppelin, they get parts of it but they don’t get the whole aesthetic. They maybe get the heaviness of a band like Zeppelin but they don’t get the delicate, acoustic side. With Faith No More, when I tried to explain the version with Jim Martin and Mike Patton, it was like a spiderweb that was pulling equally in five different directions, there was no de facto leader. One guy’s in metal land, Jim Martin was going towards Black Sabbath and Patton’s going towards Sade and Roddy’s going to more dance-oriented stuff, so it was a really interesting tension of five guys pulling in different directions that made this music.
And what else really separated Faith No More is that when Roddy comes in with a song like “Be Aggressive,” which is about guys giving each other oral sex, Patton was unafraid to stand up there and sing that, he knew he was taking on a persona. Metallica or whoever would never sing a song like that, they were afraid to present themselves in that light, where Patton said, “I will sing about anything if it’s interesting, I will take on that persona.” I think as a band, they were willing to go do a cover of “Easy” and then go do “Woodpecker From Mars,” they’d vacillate wildly. What people miss is a band can go anywhere, whether it’s really pop or really brutal, and that’s what makes that band so unique and special.
They were never trying to make pop music. They stumbled upon it with “Epic,” but they never seemed to try for it. “What can we do that’s interesting to us? That’s what we’re going to do.” “Epic” is their biggest radio song, and it has a 45-second instrumental solo in it where the drums, bass, guitar, everyone’s just going off, and to have a song like that reach Number Eight on the chart, it’s unheard of. When we turned that record in to the label, Slash and Warner Bros. said, “We love this record, but you’re not going to get on radio because radio doesn’t play this kind of music.” Well, they were right, except that Faith No More made people listen to that kind of music on the radio.
AllMusic: Was there a big "no rapping" sign in the studio on Angel Dust?
Wallace: The thing they were avoiding wasn’t the song “Epic” but it was the label that had been put upon them, which was basically rap-metal, and every time they heard that they said, “We are not a rap-metal band.” They aren’t any kind of specific music, that’s why Angel Dust was so different, I don’t think there’s any rap on there. As a producer and engineer, I really wanted to distance myself from the sound of The Real Thing, because to me, it had a lot of compression and it didn’t sound very good on car stereos, I was really disappointed with it. I wanted to make a bigger-sounding record with more low end and less compression, so I think the band and I both had different reasons for distancing ourselves from The Real Thing.
When I was at the mastering for that record, I almost started crying, because I thought it sounded so bad. I honestly called my mom and said, “How do I get into real estate, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.” It just sounded so bad to me on my home stereo, on my car stereo, it didn’t sound good. When we were working a studio in L.A., we walked by and a guy was using “Epic” to reference his mix to, and I went in and said, “Don’t reference to that, too much high end! Too much compression!” So for me, sonically, it left a lot to be desired, but on MTV when it came out through those speakers, it sounded really good.
AllMusic: How did you get involved with Sol Invictus?
Wallace: The only involvement I had was giving Bill a little bit of advice on what he sent me. They basically produced and recorded it all themselves, and so I got in on the mixing part of it. They had done a mix of “Motherfucker” and put it out and Bill said, “Do you want to mix a song?” and I said, “Great,” so I mixed “Superhero,” the second single, that went well, and Bill said, “I don’t want to mix the rest of this record, are you interested?” We did it a song at a time, every time I did a mix and they liked it, it was like, “Let’s do another song.” So my involvement was just in the mixing and one day of giving my words of wisdom about the sonics and what they were doing and basically just being supportive.
AllMusic: Did anything about the new music surprise you?
Wallace: The biggest thing, from a musical standpoint, is that they’re old enough and accomplished enough that they just relaxed into making music. In the old days they had something to prove, so it was kind of a young man’s angst and energy, always pushing hard against something. This is the first time I felt like they were just letting their instruments do the talking, and I think they were just being who they are. Listening to Patton’s vocal tracks that he’d send as we were mixing, that was really impressive. Here you have a guy who’s been making music for at least 20 years, and he’s coming up with unique lyrics and unique melodies, and when you listen to him sing, he is all-in. Some of these songs had 12 different vocal tracks on them, and I sent him an email saying, “I don’t know how you do it after all these years, it’s still interesting and unique,” and I thought by now he’d have used up all those ideas with all his projects. I believe this is the first real album that Patton’s been himself on, for me. “This is who I am and this is what I’m doing,” it’s more honest.
AllMusic: Patton had been very outspoken against a reunion for a long time, and I think some people worried that his heart wouldn't be in it.
Wallace: I was just in shock the first time I heard the vocal tracks, he was all-in. I thought maybe he’d phone it in, and I just sat there in awe. He’s biting into every single performance. They started making the recordings without him to see what they could come up with, and he heard it and said, “I want to do this.” They said, “We don’t want to keep playing old music when we tour,” and I think they enjoy working with each other and are more relaxed and can just do what they want to do.
AllMusic: Is there a Faith No More track you especially got to put your stamp on?
Wallace: Recently I was listening to Introduce Yourself, which I hadn’t listen to in a long time, and there’s a song called “Death March,” and he starts singing “Ring Around the Rosie,” from back in the Bubonic Plague days. I was like, “Hey Chuck, why don’t you sing that there?” Generally I was just a quiet ear who would sit back and say, “That’s too far, we should go further here,” I was mostly their champion and a fan. We were sleeping in the same place when we made We Care a Lot, and when we made Introduce Yourself, Mike Bordin, Jim Martin and I slept together in a Tropicana hotel room. They’re the only band that I had that kind of close thing with, where we’d drive to the studio together, go eat food together, all that. Because they started in my parents’ garage and we really all grew up together, I learned to produce and engineer while they were being a band, and then we had huge success together, it’s been like a family. It’s a unique situation, that’s for sure.
Image from the 'We Care A Lot' sessions courtesy Matt Wallace