Mike Patton is many things to many people, but regardless of whether he’s singing, scatting, acting, growling or swearing, he’s a Renaissance man in the truest sense of the word. From his teens spent with genre-defying alternatives acts like Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, his various collaborations with avant-garde musicians, the deconstructed-pop music he created with Peeping Tom and currently cultivating a career as a film composer while simultaneously launching Crudo (an urban-skewed duo also featuring Dan The Automator) and Mondo Cane (an Italian language, orchestra driven pop standard project), there seems to be no limit to what Patton can do—and while his expansive career trajectory is difficult to express on paper, the brief biography which follows will probably turn obsessive Patton fans onto a few projects they never knew existed.
Born in 1968 in Eureka, California, Patton formed Mr. Bungle when he was 17 (a band he would work with on and off until 1999), which married experimental rock with, well, just about every other musical genre to create a unique brand of rock that’s still been impossible to imitate (though many try). From there, Patton joined the aforementioned Faith No More, which despite being best known for crossover hits like “Epic” and “Falling To Pieces” (and their respective music videos), the group also flirted with orchestral pop (i.e., Angel Dust’s “A Small Victory”) and soul (see their brilliant cover of the Commodores “Easy” recorded around the same time). While with FNM he received worldwide commercial acclaim and recognition.
Mike Patton could stop here and still have a musical legacy that would live on for decades—however in reality those two acts, while highly influential, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In 1998, Patton formed the experimental noise act Fantômas with former Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn, Buzz Osborne of The Melvins and Dave Lombardo from Slayer; a few years later he joined Tomahawk, a very alternative rock band founded by Duane Denison of the Jesus Lizard, Kevin Rutmanis of The Melvins and John Stanier of Battles, ex-Helmet; and, collaborated with house music and trip hop trailblazers Dan The Automator and Kid Koala in Lovage, who released the still-groundbreaking “Music To Make Love To Your Old Lady” in 2001. In 2007 he supplied the musical score to the short film “A Perfect Place” and is in discussions to continue his interest in film and television scoring.
In addition to all these ongoing—and seemingly disparate projects—Patton has also worked with a diverse roster of some of the most groundbreaking musicians in the world, releasing full-length records via collaborations like Maldoror (with Merzbow), Kaada/Patton, General Patton vs. The X-ecutioners and Fantômas/Melvins Big Band and working with John Zorn, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Björk, Subtle, Rahzel, Amon Tobin, Team Sleep, Massive Attack, Fennesz, Zu, Norah Jones, Tanya Tagaq, the Qemists and Kool Keith, to cite a very small cross-section. He notoriously has maintained a continuous touring cycle playing in front of crowds of all sizes with his various acts and collaborations in all corners of the world. Oh, and instead of, say, catching up on his sleep, in 1999 he founded the record label Ipecac Recordings alongside manager Greg Werckman, which has gone on to release most of Patton’s own recordings in addition to releases by The Melvins, Isis, Josh Homme and many others, and has developed a loyal following.
However, like all true Renaissance men, Patton hasn’t limited himself to just music. From his first appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1990 to his feature role in the motion picture thriller Firecracker (which was nominated for best film in the Raindance Film Festival) to his voiceover work in the videogames The Darkness, Bionic Commando, Portal, Left 4 Dead, to giving voice to the creatures in the Will Smith film “I Am Legend”. Patton has proved that the one constant in his career is that he’s willing to try almost anything, constantly challenging himself and those trying to follow his eclectic career.
Whether Patton is shredding his vocal pipes in Fantômas or singing Italian arias at the head of the orchestra pit, Patton always sounds like himself. Sure, his musical trajectory can seem mystifying, nonsensical and even schizophrenic, but ultimately all of these projects add up to create the clearest vision there is of Patton’s twisted genius.
Chances are, the best Patton project you’ve never heard of is lurking below, just waiting to be discovered.
Photo by Bjorn Opsahl