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Interviews, Music History

Faith No More Stripped Down Their Sound on the 1995 Masterpiece ‘King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime’

The story of 'King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime' told by the band members themselves

faith no more interview

Faith No More pictured with guitarist Dean Menta (center) in a 1995 press photo

1995 was a period of intense growth and change for hard rock titans Faith No More. The band had recently excised guitarist Jim Martin and parted with longtime producer Matt Wallace. In the wake of 1992’s Angel Dust, they would choose to abandon the indulgent approach of that album, opting to go back to basics with a stripped-down sound. Faith No More used their next album, King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime, as an opportunity to purge years of tension; the album is a sonic catalogue of the band’s catharsis during this period of upheaval. The record is one of the band’s best and also one of most underrated rock records of its era.

Faith No More burst onto the national stage in 1989, propelled by their breakout hit ‘Epic’ (to date the only Faith No More single to reach Billboard’s top ten in the U.S.). The band ventured into darker, heavier depths on 1992’s Angel Dust – but sales fell short of expectations. “Angel Dust kind of got a lukewarm reaction,” said bassist Bill Gould during a phone interview with Culture Creature. “And we weren’t working out with the guitar player. We had a lot of pent-up frustration.” Gould noted the mood surrounding their Angel Dust follow-up: “If this didn’t sell well, we were basically done.”

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Guitarist Jim Martin had been a member of the band since its 1985’s We Care A Lot – but his commitment to the band had largely dissipated since the band’s debut. During a 1995 radio interview, drummer Mike ‘Puffy’ Bordin said, “It means a lot to me to stand onstage with somebody that I know is busting his ass and is as committed as I am. I couldn’t say that before and it really frustrated me. That was the worst part about the last tours with Jim.”

faith no more interview

Faith No More, circa 1995 (L to R): Roddy Bottum, Mike Patton, Trey Spruance, Mike Bordin, Bill Gould

Faith No More recruited Trey Spruance – Mike Patton’s bandmate in Mr. Bungle – to replace Martin on their follow-up to Angel Dust. A 1994 Faith No More feature in Kerrang! magazine announced “Faith’s New Guitarist UNMASKED!” over a photo of Spruance. In the photo, Trey sported dreadlocks and a leather bondage face mask, looking very much like a precursor to the costumes of theatrical metal act Slipknot and psychotic WWF character Mankind.

Faith No More sought a return to basics after the kitchen-sink approach of Angel Dust, which indulged in lush production, samples of wildlife sounds (on ‘Caffeine’ and ‘Jizzlobber’), and a rendition of a film theme (‘Midnight Cowboy’). On King for a Day, Gould said, “We wanted to strip things down musically, get away from some of that density, and just release.”

Related: Faith No More’s Bill Gould on the Band’s Early Years

The band chose producer Andy Wallace to help them achieve the lean sound of King for a Day. “I just liked the directness of the sound of his records,” Gould explained. “He did Slayer, he did a lot of really interesting stuff, he did Run-D.M.C – big, fat, simple, that’s where we were headed. We were kind of going in that direction and he seemed like the right guy to do it with.”

Gould and his bandmates wrote much of the material that would become King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime before Spruance came onboard. They recorded rough demos of their ideas in their San Francisco rehearsal space before heading across the country to Bearsville Studios in upstate New York, where King for a Day was recorded. Spruance came prepared with his own ideas, having recorded “sketches” of his own compositions.

Gould praised Spruance’s ability to improve the band’s concepts. “He came in after a lot of it was written,” Gould said. “But he did add things that I couldn’t have written, that’s for sure. He’s a real guitar player; I’m a bass player that thinks he’s a guitar player. He did add a lot. He can see where you wanna go and actually take it there and do it better. And that is amazing.”

faith no more king for a day

In the studio with Trey Spruance (right). Is Roddy making a ‘please shoot me’ gesture here?

Spruance described his experience during an extensive interview with Culture Creature. “They had very specific ideas about what they wanted for the guitar,” he said. “They didn’t know them literally. They didn’t have guitar parts. But they knew the exact vibe that they wanted from every little riff. I think I was the right guy for the job ‘cause I could try doing different things. Puffy would like one thing, and Billy would hate it, and you just have to negotiate, constantly, all these parts.”

The rural isolation of upstate New York provided the opportunity to concentrate – but it also removed the band from its natural West Coast habitat. “I thought it was kind of odd,” Gould said of the mood in the studio. “Because we all left home, we were in New York. It was the first time we’d gone away to record. We kind of holed ourselves up in Bearsville, which is kind of in the country, in a cabin. For about a month and a half, two months, we really didn’t have a lot of other stimulation other than the studio. It was a cool thing to do – but for me, it was a trip, it was bizarre.”

Spruance’s portrayal of the mood in the studio is a bit darker. “At the time,” he said, “there was kind of a dread, I have to admit. I don’t think that was just me. But at the same time, there’s kind of a perseverance through the dread, which is really an amazing thing to be a part of. I was completely tangential to all of the issues that were going on – which was good, that’s where I’d rather be. There was so much bad energy floating around, I had to do what what I could to try to stay out of it, or maybe try to make solutions.”

king for a day fool for a lifetime

‘King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime’ cover art by Eric Drooker

The band dynamic was further complicated by the reduced role of keyboardist Roddy Bottum. Bottum participated somewhat less on King for a Day than on previous albums, due in part to his work on his sobriety.

Mike Patton seemed to enjoy himself in spite of interpersonal issues in the band. He later told author Greg Prato, “Probably I can say that King for a Day was the funnest [Faith No More album] to make, so that may be my favorite. ‘Cause it was a pleasant experience making it, a lot of the others had dramas going on that really left a bad taste. I’m not even talking about the music, I’m just talking about looking back and remembering the experience of recording the record.”

The personal, creative and commercial pressures that Faith No More was grappling with converged for a cathartic blend of aggressive rock, jazz, and other styles. Gould says the band’s emotional release on King for a Day was “an explosion of sorts.” The record begins with adrenalized blast ‘Get Out’ – the album’s only track written entirely by Patton. King for a Day yielded the singles ‘Digging the Grave,’ ‘Ricochet,’ and ‘Evidence.’

‘Evidence’ is a jazzy R&B number, written by Gould, which remains a mainstay of the band’s live act and typifies Faith No More’s bold approach to genres outside of the heavy metal realm. ‘What a Day’ contains the album’s funniest chorus (“What a day, what a day / When you can look it in the face and hold your vomit”) and a lyric cribbed from Hunter S. Thompson (“kill the body and the head will die”). The demented, scatological number ‘Cuckoo for Caca’ was written by Gould with elements contributed by Spruance, who recalled that the song’s eerie keyboard cascades originated from his demos.

Bill Gould says that Mike Patton astonished him with their collaboration on explosive King for a Day cut ‘The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.’ “I had some riffs that I couldn’t do anything with on ‘The Gentle Art of Making Enemies,’” Gould said, “and Mike just took ‘em and went home and arranged the whole song! With a couple of my riffs and some of his riffs. He did it, like, overnight. He came back the next day and was like, ‘Look what I did with those riffs you had.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s the song right there.’”

King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime was released in March of 1995. Like Angel Dust before it, the album received a mixed critical response. Rolling Stone skewered it, calling it an “almost desperately eclectic” batch of songs, some of which are “dreadfully silly” or “completely ruined by Patton’s histrionic screaming.” On the contrary, Faith No More fans saw a vocalist at the peak of his powers. Patton’s vocal palette has never been broader or more nuanced than on King for a Day; he evokes an array of moods by employing eruptive screams, plaintive baritone verses, melodic hooks and more.

“Those might be our wildest shows we ever did,” says Gould. “There was a real chaos that was going on back then.”

Spruance excused himself from Faith No More immediately after returning home from Bearsville. Commenting on Spruance’s departure in 1995, Bordin said, “In [Trey’s] own words, he wasn’t up for the commitment of touring for 12–15 months at a time.” In 2016, Spruance said that version of the story was Faith No More’s “cover story” for his departure, and that his primary reason for leaving was that he felt he was in “perpetual limbo” regarding his status in the band.

The band hired guitarist Dean Menta for the ensuing King for a Day tour. “We got Dean,” Gould said, “who was our keyboard tech, to jump in on guitar. It was a little weird, but he was great live. He did a great job…. The shows were actually pretty good. As far as live shows, we were probably the wildest we’ve been as a band. That might be our wildest shows we ever did. There was a certain real chaos that was going on back then.”

King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime is a boundless listening experience that careens wherever it pleases, delighting in its ability to gently caress the audience before jolting us to attention. The album did not receive the praise it deserved on its release – but revisit King for a Day today and you’ll find what critics missed in 1995: one of the finest rock records of any era.

A deluxe edition of Faith No More’s King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime is available tomorrow, 9/9/16.

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