Harvest Festival has amassed an eclectic assortment of artists for its 2012 lineup. Yet despite a varied bill that includes acts as diverse as Beck, Sigur Rós and Beirut, a legitimate argument can be made that perhaps the most marginal music on offer comes in the form of Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane.
Released in 2010, Mondo Cane sees the sound-shifting singer cover a handful of Italian pop songs from the 50s and 60s, giving every tune the Patton touch while delivering each orchestra/band/choir-backed number in its original language.
Of course venturing into uncharted territory is nothing new for Patton, who epitomises the term ‘working musician’. A member of multiple bands throughout his career including Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, Peeping Tom, Tomahawk and most famously Faith No More, the multifaceted troubadour is seemingly in constant flux.
When Music Feeds calls Patton, the celebrated vocalist is in his studio in San Francisco finishing up the final day of work on the new Tomahawk record, which Patton expects to be released in early 2013. Work on the upcoming album was preceded by finishing the score for Derek Cianfrance’s new movie The Place Beyond the Pines and although Patton is well versed in switching almost instantly between projects, he does elaborate on the unique beast that is soundtracking a film.
“When you score a movie you’re sort of, how can I say, you’re sort of owned in a way, you’re sort of under contract. Meaning it’s done whenever the film’s done and you may think you’re done and they may tell you’re done and then they can completely change their minds.”
“So you have to be really willing when you’re doing a film score to adapt on the fly and it’s just the nature of the way films are made, it’s nobody’s fault but sometimes the music is the last thing that they think about and it’s the thing that they want done the quickest,” Patton knowingly chuckles.
“So it can be stressful but it’s also challenging and fun.”
Patton has made well known his admiration for legendary film scorer, composer Ennio Morricone, a man whose music Patton covered on his Mondo Cane record. Morricone, who is best known for his work with Sergio Leone, shared an unorthodox working relationship with the director by virtue of Leone constructing his scenes around the composer’s music. It’s an alternative method of filmmaking that Patton would revel in but concedes is highly unlikely.
“Well, I mean yeah, that’d be ideal but, you know, nobody does it that way”
“That’s why those (Leone and Morricone films) not only…look amazing but also…there’s a perfect marriage and a synergy of music and image and, yeah, you’d think that directors would want to approach it that way but, you know, it’s difficult.”
“There are financial concerns, there’s lot of… I mean one thing I’ve learned about film scoring is, wow, I mean the different faculties that it takes to make a film; the different disciplines meaning, OK you just can’t be (an) artist you’ve got to be a businessman, you got to be a politician, you got to be all these different people to really make a film and that can take eight years, you know, from start to finish.”
“My hat goes off to these directors who have the nerve and the stones to really do that… I couldn’t handle it,” Patton laughingly admits.
In the past, Patton has confessed that building the soundtrack for a film forces the songsmith to combat his self-diagnosed weaknesses for overorchestrating. Given the sizeable
orchestra, band and choir utilised to record Mondo Cane, one might assume that by recreating the dense Italian tunes, Patton was afforded the opportunity to indulge his demons, but as the vocalist points out, even though the title may be Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane, the music was already complexly constructed by its original composers.
“It was a record of, you know, my interpretations of other people’s music so I had a certain amount of license, yes, but I also had to be respectful to the source material; at least that’s the way I saw it.”
“That being said, no one wants to hear a rehash of tunes from the 60s from Italy. I mean, no one wants to hear that, I don’t want to hear it, I’ll tell you that,” Patton laughs, “So yes, you have to make them adventurous and challenging and you have to make them yours in a way, but really what you’re doing is just kind of joining hands in a spiritual way, I guess, with that particular composer and saying, ‘Hey, I love what you did, here’s my take on it and I may take it a little bit away from what you wanted but this is my version of it and that’s that’.”
“But it should be like an amicable relationship. I’m not here to destroy, you know, Jerry Goldsmith or anybody’s music that I cover, any of the Morricone stuff whatsoever, I really revere that stuff and really, really love it.”
“So this was sort of just my way of paying tribute to it.”
Behind Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane exists a rich history and culture that otherwise may not have been exposed to a wider audience if it weren’t for Patton’s efforts. By persevering with the song’s original language, Mondo Cane encourages Patton’s fans, who in all probability don’t speak Italian or Neapolitan, to go beyond the surface of the lyrics and delve deeper into the music and the origins of the album.
Yet no matter what listeners might take away from Mondo Cane, Patton is quick to dispel any notions of intent and assures that this particular project, like all his work, comes from a personal desire to explore rather than explain.
“I did it because I like the music. You start from humble beginnings and every project that I do starts with a very basic instinct.”
“It’s out of love, it’s out of like, a genuine creative impulse, you know, an absolute spark, a real piece of electricity you can’t control and it’s like, ‘OK I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do this’ and you follow it all the way through to the end and hopefully you learn while you’re following that tightrope, and sometimes you fall off and it doesn’t work out so well and other times you do a little balancing act and it works out great.”
“And what really is important to me is it’ll lead me somewhere else, and so you get off that tightrope and…there’s a few new things for you that you discover that you didn’t know were there when you started.”
“I’m not a teacher. You know, if I wanted to educate people I’d be in the university…and that wouldn’t work out so well, trust me,” Patton wisecracks.
“I guess if anything I just put questions in front of people and let them decide for themselves. I’m not a teacher, I pose questions to people, musical questions.”
“Hopefully it’ll set a little light bulb off here and there and, yes, maybe they [fans] can discover things, but, you know, I’m not one to say what is right and what is wrong… I’m here to pose musical problems, and I hope that people will think about them and it’ll inspire them in some way.”
“If people are into me for what I’ve done in the past, you know, that’s wonderful, but if they’re curious enough then, yeah, this would be a different level, and maybe they could hear some things that they have not already heard.”
“Do I calculate what my audience knows or expects of me…that honest answer is no. I respect them and…I feel really lucky that people even shake a stick at anything that I do, but my responsibility is not to think about that stuff, not to cater to them, not to think about them, I’ve got to think about what I’m doing here.”
“And what I’m doing here is, like I said, I’m putting problems on people’s tables and hoping that it sets a spark off in someone else like so many artists did for me.”
For those paying attention, Mike Patton has already performed the music of Mondo Cane in Australia earlier this year as part of Sydney Festival. However, in an unusual move Patton is returning to our shores only 9 months after this initial 2012 visit (Patton will return again next year for Soundwave 2013 as part of Tomahawk) to once again bring his take on Italian pop to Australian fans.
Patton jokingly admits he’s not quite sure how the quick turn-around come into fruition but expresses delight at having Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane appear on the 2012 Harvest Festival lineup.
“The (Sydney Festival) shows went really, really well the last time we were there. I can tell you for sure, from my side I would have to say it was one of the best times I’ve had down there, like ever, you know, I’ve been going there for like 20 years.”
“I don’t know why, everything just turned out great. The schedule was perfect, the music was great, the promoter was nice and the venues where perfect; everything kind of lined up.”
“And when we were down there last we sort of talked about possibly coming back towards the end of the year, but I didn’t think it would happen. Lo and behold the promoter said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this festival’ and he followed up on it and I looked at the bill. It looks like a really nice interesting bill and I think that, you know, in some strange way it does make sense.”
“I think that on a bill like this, to have Mondo Cane is actually pretty adventurous and I really applaud the promoter for having us. I’m really, really excited to do it.”
Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane has a heightened affinity for live performance. When the album was originally recorded, it was done so over three live shows in Italy, backed by an orchestra, band and choir. Then for Sydney Festival, Mondo Cane was recreated with the help of a 25-piece ensemble.
Fans lucky enough to be headed to Harvest are surely in for a compelling and entertaining experience from Mike Patton, provided of course they’re not filtering the set through their phones.
When Jack White recently visited Australia he encouraged fans to sheath recording devices in order to be completely enveloped by the music and the atmosphere. Patton shares similar views that the overdocumentation of gigs can take away from the fleeting essence of live music, but at the same time, doesn’t attempt to enforce his ideology on fans.
“I don’t really care if fans do (record live performances) it’s up to them, personal choice. I don’t prevent anyone from doing that to be honest, but I do reserve the right to not release live recordings because I’m just not crazy about them, personally; it’s a personal decision. So that’s why I haven’t put out many live records and the few that I have I’m actually not very happy with,” Patton reveals.
“Look, there are exceptions. Sometimes it just feels right, but I really do enjoy, I guess on a basic level, the idea. Maybe it’s an archaic way of looking at things, but you go to a concert and that’s what’s happening that night and it’s never going to happen again and it shouldn’t be recorded, shouldn’t be broadcast, it shouldn’t be reproduced in anyway. It should stick with those people, those hundred people or those thousand people or those twenty thousand people who were there that night.”
“And that to me is still what’s special or one of the special things about going to a live concert these days. Otherwise hey, we could just sit at home naked in our underwear, watching everything on the Internet; we’d never have a reason to leave the fucking house.”
“So really that is one of the last frontiers of human contact in terms of, you know, the music is a live show and I think that it’s still important.”
Monday, 12 November
Regent Theatre, Melbourne 18+
Watch: Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane – Sydney Festival 2012