Those who know how to chuck tomahawks say that the trick is to throw it the same every time. Such folk would congratulate me on my performance, but everybody else is more than welcome to take me out back and shoot me. Screw on the silencer and have some fun.
The thought of talking to Mike Patton nearly made me eat shit myself. Or just shit myself. The moment the interview – one of only three he agreed to do for Australian media – was confirmed, I felt like a bashful teenager with a crush being prodded towards the object of my infatuation by meddling friends. You know what it’s like to have a crippling crush: that mixture of passion and abject terror rushing to your head every time you see your crush-ee. Well that’s me when it comes to Mike Patton. I absolutely idolise the man, but I’m also scared shitless (hehe) of him. When the day arrived, I took the morning off work. Everything was set. The appointed time for the phone call came.
Just as I was drafting a note to John Howard to point out (again) the evils of privatisation, the phone rang. The Telstra lady apologised for the lateness, and put me on hold while she rang Mike’s place. After another five minutes or so, Telstra lady checks back in and says she’s getting an answering machine.
“Is he really scary?” she asks in the middle of her explanation!?!!! Great, that’s all I need. Confirmation of the fact that Mike Patton is terrifying. Apparently his answering machine message is a bit odd. Anyway, the Telstra lady is saying something about contacting Shock to see if they have the right number and blah blah blah but I’m not listening. I’m too busy losing it. She puts me back on hold, and FINALLY, she says the words I’m waiting desperately to hear, and dreading: “I have Mike Patton on the line.”
So what happened?
“Oh, I was downstairs doing my laundry. I had some music on and I couldn’t hear the phone,” he drawls in that distinctly Pattonesque brogue. My terror vanished. Mike Patton isn’t scary; he’s an ordinary man with dirty laundry.
I told him about the Telstra lady’s comment. He laughed and said, “awwwrrrghheeeeeeekkkkkssplllggghhhhoooow.” Right there, and for the rest of the interview, the tape sounds like Mike was skinning cats on heat. I had somehow managed to throw my second Tomahawk interview.
So the rest of this article is a combination of the notes I quickly jotted down from memory, a bit of research, and the Tomahawk standard bio (you’ve gotta give me points for honesty). Tomahawk formed when Patton and Denison met after a Mr Bungle gig in Nashville, where Denison lives, and was completed when Denison enlisted John Stanier (Helmet) and Patton roped in Kevin Rutmanis (The Melvins). Their self titled debut album was recorded in Nashville during June 2001 by Joe Funderburk, whose production credits include Emmylou Harris and The Judds. This album is an intoxicating mix of restless weird-arsed rock with occasional twisted, barely recognisable country stylings, no doubt courtesy of Nashville, a place Mike didn’t enjoy that much.
“Never again,” he barked, when I mentioned the place. “It’s Duane’s band so we wanted to humour him, but never again. Nashville is the sort of place that if you spend too long there, it does weird things to you. And we did the album over an intensive two-week period, when we concentrated solely on making this record. It’s not the way I like making records. I like making music between doing other things, like buying stamps – or doing my washing,” he joked. “I don’t like putting my normal life on hold and just focussing on one thing for so long.”
His reservations about Nashville and intensive recording processes aside, Mike seems pretty thrilled with Tomahawk. It’s probably the closest thing to Faith No More that he’s done since Faith No More, in terms of being relatively straightforward rock. Relatively. In an interview with the New York Press in November last year he said: “I see it that way. The other guys in the band certainly don’t. They think I’m insane. ‘Yeah, sure, it’s real straight, Mike. It sounds like the Rolling Stones.'” He told me that as much as it seems like he enjoys pushing musical boundaries, and then some, he actually does like “working within the limits and confines of a genre to a certain degree.” Although he’s also made it clear on numerous occasions that he’s “come to the realisation that anything I do is not going to fit in any category.” This doesn’t bother him in the slightest.
When I asked him about his recent tendency to form collaborations with other esteemed musicians that coalesce into supergroups, he explained that as he gets older he generally prefers “to work with other musicians who have proved themselves. I love putting together new bands with new people. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It helps me to learn and improve to be constantly playing with different people, and it helps if those people know what they’re on about. You only get better by playing with people who bust your arse and challenge you.”
While Tomahawk may be relatively straight for Patton (just about straight enough for Hannibal Lector to have dinner to), Mike’s solo shows are something else altogether. I asked him what we could expect from the solo show; songs, improv, a bit of spoken word maybe? “Who do you think I am. Henry Rollins!” he laughed. “Maybe I’ll just tour reading from someone’s else’s book. Yeah, that’ll be fun. Nah, it’ll be mostly improv, very interesting.”
Well, that kind of goes without saying.