PUNK was this subculture where you could BE WHO YOU WANT and not ANSWER TO ANYONE
AS THE BASSIST AND BEATING HEART OF FAITH NO MORE FOR ALMOST FOUR DECADES, BILLY GOULD HAS CERTAINLY EARNED A PLACE AT ROCK’S TOP TABLE. HERE, HE TALKS PUNK ROCK, PUNCH-UPS, AND THE POSSIBILITY OF A NEW RECORD…
When Billy Gould is asked whether Faith No More are still a going concern, he laughs and weaves around the question with the practised ease of a slalom skier.
“We talk all the time,” he says.“are we still a band? I can’t tell you. Last time around, we didn’t even tell our wives that we were making music again, so I’m fucked if I’m going to tell you!”
Last seen onstage at the Troubadour nightclub in Los Angeles in August 2016, promoting the reissue of their 1985 debut album We Care A Lot, complete with former frontman Chuck Mosley (now sadly deceased), Faith No More have no current bookings on their docket. But if the maverick rockers are lying low, their 54-year-old bassist is far from idle. Having completed work on a new album from his experimental music project Talking Book, Billy has recently been conducting media duties in his capacity as Executive Producer of Rockabul, a documentary about the rise and fall of District Unknown, Afghanistan’s first metal band, which premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival on February 1.
He’s equally enthusiastic when discussing another new venture, his role in importing Eastern European brandy, Rakia, into America.
“It gives me the same buzz that music does,” he insists.“but I’ll be making music all my life; there’s music in my head every time I walk down the street.”
WORDS: PAUL BRANNIGAN PHOTOS: RYAN TUTTLE
Faith No More was so DYSFUNCTIONAL, the tension just kept building
WHAT WAS THE FIRST RECORD YOU BOUGHT WITH YOUR OWN MONEY?
“It’s interesting, because Roddy [Bottum, FNM keyboardist] and I both bought the same record, Elton John’s Greatest Hits.we were in the same class in school.this was fifth grade, so we were 10 years old, maybe 11.That album was the shit!”
DID MUSIC ALREADY FEEL LIKE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN YOUR LIFE?
“I think so. My father was really into music – Led Zeppelin,the Beatles, David Bowie – and about a year before I bought that Elton John record he took me to see Bowie live.that gig showed me that music isn’t just about music, that it was about a lifestyle which was different to my middle class American upbringing. It taught me that music is a gateway into another world.”
WAS THE DISCOVERY OF PUNK ROCK LIBERATING FOR YOU?
“Extremely. I was into prog rock when I first started playing bass, because there are a lot of incredible musicians in prog.the first time I heard punk – specifically the Sex Pistols album [1977’s Never Mind The Bollocks…] – I thought it was complete shit.that impression lasted for maybe six or seven hours. But then the songs stuck in my head, and pretty much overnight, prog was gone.”
WHAT FLIPPED THE SWITCH?
“Prog was about proficiency – almost in a macho, competitive way – and punk threw that out the window. It reminded me of the reasons I originally connected with music, which was the discovery of this free subculture where you could be who you want and not answer to anyone. Punk offered this giant smorgasbord of music to choose from.”
WIKIPEDIA DESCRIBES YOUR HIGH SCHOOL BAND, THE ANIMATED, AS ‘A CROSS BETWEEN THE BUZZCOCKS, XTC AND MICHAEL JACKSON’. IS THAT ACCURATE?
“That’s as accurate as I could come up with it! Those were our influences, certainly.we didn’t fit in with anybody. I was into it. Chuck Mosley was the keyboard player, and he was a few years older, and could buy me beer, so that was another connection for later years.”
YOU CAME TO LONDON FOR A SUMMER WHEN YOU FINISHED HIGH SCHOOL. WHY?
“I wanted to get a record deal for The Animated. I knew I was going to [university] the next year up in San Francisco and would probably have to leave the band, so I kinda wanted to leave a document of our recordings. I came to the UK for a couple of months and slept on people’s couches and tried to have meetings with record companies to get a record deal, or at least distribution.”
DID ANYONE BITE?
“No, not really. I was 18 years old, and looked about 15, so people humoured me and treated me really well. I had a moped and I drove all over town just dropping envelopes off with labels. I remember going to Rough Trade and meeting a guy, and we smoked a joint and had a cup of tea while listening to the record, and he was nice but said there was nothing they could do with it. Nothing came out of it, but it was a fucking great experience. People were cool and receptive, and they took me to some great gigs and turned me on to some great music.”
YOU ONCE SAID THAT SAN FRANCISCO WAS “A GOOD PLACE TO FIND YOURSELF AND LEARN WHO YOU ARE”. WHAT WAS SO SPECIAL ABOUT THE CITY FOR YOU IN THE EARLY ’80S?
“You could basically do anything you wanted.we lived in the Mission District, and the police didn’t care what you did.you could have after-hours clubs without permits, you could put on shows anywhere, you could have parties in your living room. On a Saturday night you’d walk down the street, see an open door and you’d walk in and there’d be a band playing or a party happening. It was a great atmosphere, and there were a lot of heretical ideas being passed around.”
WHEN FAITH NO MORE STARTED YOU WERE USING DIFFERENT VOCALISTS AT EVERY GIG – MOST FAMOUSLY COURTNEY LOVE – BUT THEN CHUCK RE-ENTERED YOUR LIFE. HE ONCE SAID, “I FIGURED I COULDN’T MAKE THE BAND ANY WORSE THAN IT ALREADY WAS.” WERE YOU REALLY THAT BAD?
“I think we were. I don’t think we thought we were, but we probably were.we had this thing where there were no rules, and if somebody fucked up, that was just part of the performance. San Francisco had lots of horrible bands who had a certain charm, and so even if Chuck was kinda awful, that was fine. Having a following wasn’t that important to us. I had a peer group of smart people who were doing interesting things.them being interested in us was enough to keep us interested in making music.”
FAITH NO MORE WERE FRIENDS WITH METALLICA. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST MEMORY OF SEEING THEM LIVE?
“I was friends with Cliff [Burton, Metallica’s late
bassist] before I ever saw Metallica. I remember Puffy [FNM drummer Mike Bordin] saying,‘my friend Cliff is in this metal band and they’re doing really good.’ I remember being over at his house listening to rough mixes, but I still didn’t really know who they were.then I saw them with Death Angel at the Kabuki Theater [in March 1985] and they were great.we’d ask them for advice all the time and they were really good at putting things into perspective.”
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER OF YOUR FIRST TIME OVERSEAS WITH FAITH NO MORE?
“It was great.there was already tension with Chuck, and we were drinking a lot, but we were playing well, and our shows were good. It was exciting and stressful at the same time. I remember we did a disastrous interview with Melody Maker – we just got drunk and got in a fight – and I was thinking, ‘Okay, the tour ends right here.’ But then I read the article and it was hilarious, and I thought,‘oh, maybe we’ll be okay.’”
YOU’D ALREADY BEEN ON THE COVER OF SOUNDS MAGAZINE BY THEN, BEFORE YOU’D EVER PLAYED A SHOW IN THE UK…
“Yeah, I remember [music journalist] Neil Perry flew out to Atlanta to interview us, but we didn’t really know why.we had a 10-day break in our tour, and had no money, so we were sleeping on the floor of a club.this guy had flown from England to interview us and he might as well have been from Mars.”
THERE’S A QUOTE IN THAT FEATURE WHERE CHUCK SAYS ‘BILLY IS PERPETUALLY TORTURED BY DEMONS…’
“Chuck was one of those demons!”
HE LEFT AFTER YOU ATTACKED HIM DURING A REHEARSAL, RIGHT?
“Yeah, that was the final straw. It’s hard to come back from that.the band was dysfunctional for a long time and the tension was building, so I exploded.”
WAS ANYONE ELSE IN THE FRAME TO REPLACE HIM, BEFORE MIKE PATTON JOINED FULL-TIME?
“We tried out about 10 other people, but no-one came close to Patton.we played some music to him cold and he came up with ideas right off the top of his head that were the closest anyone else had come to what we were thinking about music. I was like,‘wow, he actually gets it.’”
THE NEXT ALBUM, THE REAL THING, BECAME A HUGE SUCCESS, EVENTUALLY. WAS THAT AN EXCITING TIME?
“New, exciting and completely life-changing. But fuck, we were so burned out by the end of it. And so broke! We were broke when we made the record, and when it finally became a hit we were still broke, because royalties don’t come through for a year, and yet everyone was treating us like we were millionaires.that was weird – it felt like we had been scammed!”
BY 1997’S ALBUM OF THE YEAR, YOU WERE HOLDING FAITH NO MORE TOGETHER. WOULD THINGS HAVE ENDED EARLIER?
“I would say so. Everyone had other things they were doing, and I was like the person at home, cooking dinner for everybody. I like that record, but it’s a bit of a downer, which is how the vibe was then. By the end of that cycle, I was pretty much done with it.”
FAITH NO MORE HAD BEEN PART OF YOUR LIFE BY THAT POINT FOR ALMOST TWO DECADES: HOW DID IT FEEL TO HAVE THAT CRUMBLE BENEATH YOU?
“Well, I dropped out of school to be in a band, thinking,‘this is what I’m going to do with my life.’ So when Faith No More got successful I took it personally, because it was kind of a validation of the choices I’d made in life.then when the band split, I felt like I couldn’t separate myself from that, because I felt that it was the only validation I had in my life, and I’d lost my identity. It took me close to a decade to figure out that I was not necessarily my band.”
HOW DID YOU GET THROUGH THAT?
“By trying to stay busy. But man, there wasn’t a whole lot of love coming my way. I started a label, Koolarrow, and no-one wanted to distribute it. So, all of a sudden, I was completely back to where I was when I was 20 years old. I was thinking,‘holy shit, that rug sure came out fast.’”
IN FAIRNESS, KOOLARROW WAS RELEASING EXPERIMENTAL, LEFT-FIELD ROCK…
“Yeah, because that’s where my gut was taking me. That’s how I’d lived my whole life, so my thinking was,‘why stop now?’ I was still trying to figure out who I was.”
YOU PLAYED WITH JELLO BIAFRA FOR A WHILE. GIVEN HIS PIVOTAL ROLE IN SAN FRANCISCO PUNK ROCK, DID IT FEEL LIKE YOUR LIFE WAS COMING FULL-CIRCLE?
“In a way. I was a major Dead Kennedys fan in my high school years, and I first met Jello when I was 16 years old at The Whisky [a Go Go] in Los Angeles. We told the people guarding the backstage that we were guests, and he saw us and said,‘yeah, they’re okay, come on in.’ He hung out with us, even though we were kids. But also, in playing in his band, I was just a bass player and I had to do my job.at the time, that was perfect for me: liberating in a different way.”
DID YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT REUNITING FAITH NO MORE?
“Absolutely.there were trust issues, and so you think,‘are we going to regret this?’ I knew that not all the dysfunction would have gone away.the question was how I would handle it. Luckily, I trusted the process. I’m happy that Album Of The Year wasn’t our last record.”
SO, IS SOL INVICTUS THE LAST RECORD THAT YOU’LL DO?
“That I don’t know. I’m open to any outcome. If we do another one it’ll be because we’re 100 per cent behind it: if not, I don’t see the point.there’s so much shit out there and so much noise, the world doesn’t need a half-hearted Faith No More record.”