Billy Gould of Faith No More

by Jess Grant

In 1989, long before it became the most overused adjective of the 21st century, Faith No More shuttled on to the rock scene with "Epic," an instant classic power-driven by a deliciously groovy bass line, courtesy of founding member Billy Gould. Although "Epic" and the album on which it featured, The Real Thing, would be the only Faith No More material to sock a decent dent in the pop chart, it by no means marked the end of the San Francisco band's legacy, let alone Gould's.

In 1992, Faith No More unleashed the most important album of their career, Angel Dust. Watch the Making of... this album and you may notice an omnipresent studio figure – Gould - who dedicated his waking hours to a record which, 20 years down the line, is recognized as one of the most influential and intriguing metal albums of all time (if you can call a cover of Commodores' "Easy" "metal").

Two more brilliantly genre-blending albums later, and the ragingly underrated Faith No More went their separate ways in 1998. But this didn't temper the demand for Gould, whose iconic bass skills became the #1 choice for thunderous superbands including Tom Morello's Shandi's Addiction, James Shaffer's Fear And The Nervous System and Jello Biafra's The Guantanamo School of Medicine.

Following a decade of dormancy, Faith No More fans finally got the news they had been waiting for in 2009, when the band announced they would be embarking on a long-rumored reunion tour. Over 80 shows and one new song ("Matador") later and the "Second Coming" jaunt came to its booming conclusion in July 2012 at London's Brixton Academy – where a fledgling Faith No More recorded their one and only live album, the infamous You Fat Bastards, 12 years beforehand.

But is that it for the funk-metal mavericks? Who's to say... that question was hastily dodged by Gould. Not that he is twiddling his talented thumbs; the slap-bassist has spent the remainder of this year working away at two new experimental projects, The Talking Book and House of Hayduk, the both of which are issued through Koolarrow Records – a cutting-edge world music label, single-handedly launched by Gould at the turn of the 21st century.

We recently caught up with Billy to talk about his fascinating foray into experimental music with The Talking Book and House of Hayduk, and to also unearth some stories behind a few Faith No More classics.
Jess Grant (Songfacts): Later this month, you will team up with House of Hayduk to release City of Quartz. House of Hayduk comprises of some incredible artists: Charles Hayward (This Heat), Mads Heldtberg (Düreforsög), B J Miller (HEALTH), Peter Peter (SODS), Dean Hurley (David Lynch), Timba Harris (Estradasphere) and Anders Trentemøller. How did you all come together for this project?

Billy Gould: I've known Mads for years, as I had released two albums by his previous band Dureforsog on my label. The basis for the album involved myself, Charles and Mads together in a studio with no preconceptions. The additional musicians were handpicked by Mads, and came in later.

Songfacts: How did House of Hayduk approach the writing and recording of City of Quartz, what with everyone's undoubtedly busy and conflicting schedules? Was it a case of sending each other samples over email, or did you physically write and record together in a studio?

Billy: In this case, we wrote together in the studio. This is the first time I've gone into a session not knowing what was going to come out.

Songfacts: What happens when such an eclectic range of artists like that are brought together? Were there any creative conflicts?

Billy: My part of the tracking was fairly sparse and straightforward. No dramas whatsoever, except when I walked down the street to the liquor store. Would risking my life to buy beer be considered as a creative conflict?

Songfacts: How would you describe the sound of City of Quartz? I heard the sampler, and my mind was blown (in a good way)!

Billy: It goes a lot of places, so I would use the word "expansive."

Songfacts: You are only releasing 500 copies of City of Quartz. Why is that? Does it not sadden you to think that all of your hard work is only going to be heard by a small amount of (very lucky) people? Or does that sense of exclusivity excite you?

Traditional vinyl records weigh between 120g and 140g. 180g vinyl is heavier, thicker and cut with deeper grooves, allowing for the storage of more musical data. This latter format is favored by audiophiles for its cleaner stereo imaging, wider bandwidth and lack of surface noise. Most new releases are made available in 180g vinyl, but due to its weight and volume, the format is quite expensive to manufacture.
Billy: It's a balancing act on several fronts. In this case, our premier concern (next to killer music, of course) has been audio fidelity. We are of the opinion that vinyl sounds better... and 180 gram vinyl sounds even better than that (and MP3s of the album have been out of the question, for these same concerns). So from a sonic perspective to really do the music justice, we decided to go all out. The consequence is that 180 gram vinyl is much more expensive, which leads to a higher price all around. It's a bit of an experiment for us, but we figured that 500 was a good number that would supply the diehards, make zero compromises, cover our costs, and keep everyone happy.

As it turns out, we've basically sold out our entire stock on pre-orders alone, which means the demand was greater than we anticipated. Exclusivity is not our thing necessarily; if there are people who want to hear the music, and can't, that sucks.

Songfacts: In 2011, you released the experimental album, The Talking Book, alongside the sound artist, Jared Blum. When did you and Jared meet, and how did this project come to fruition?

Billy: I've known Jared for years through his work with the releases on his label Gigante Sound. In fact, a few of his albums were "ghetto mastered" at my studio, so we've had ample time to get to know each other's material and acclimate to each others' tastes. When we embarked on The Talking Book, it was basically an exploration to see what might come out of us putting both of our heads together.

Songfacts: For those who are yet to hear the album, how would you describe The Talking Book? It personally reminds me of some of Brian Eno's early work, like Thursday Afternoon.

Billy: Well, Eno's definitely been a musical influence for both of us. There is a lot of space, or I should say, the music inhabits a lot of different spaces. Not exactly a noise album, or drone album in the orthodox sense; we try to layer in melodies and arrangements as well. I would label this album as a soundtrack for a film that exists but has never materialized.

Songfacts: What inspired The Talking Book's soundscapes? Is there a thread or theme that runs between the tracks, or were you seeking to evoke any particular emotions? I find it quite frightening in places (again, I mean that in a good way)!

Billy: It's a mix of two processes: technical and emotional. On one hand, it's a very concrete process, much like making sculpture, that requires working and reworking, different sampling methods, and trying to reconcile contrasting content. On the other hand, there is definitely personal expression in this. The emotional part is what ties the entire thing together.

Songfacts: How comfortable were you with writing such experimental music? Did you find it came to you naturally?

Billy: I've listened to experimental music for most of my life, beginning when I was about 14 years old. But ironically, I've never played it... and I learned right away that in this genre, listening and playing are two different things! The more I do it, the better I get at it, but it is an acquired skill. The fact that Jared is completely at home there already made things much more enjoyable.

Songfacts: Both City of Quartz and The Talking Book are issued through your label, Koolarrow Records. May I just congratulate you on such an eclectic, innovative and plain awesome label! Why did you feel the need to start this label, and are there any future Koolarrow releases we should know about?

Billy: Thanks! The label originally began with the breakup of Faith No More. I didn't have a band but wanted to continue working with music, so this seemed like a good way to keep busy and inspired. And yes, there are future releases coming up, the next one being a band from Chile called COMO ASESINAR A FELIPES. They're playing a kind of music that has influences from Coltrane to Can to Company Flow, but it's completely their own music, and I am super excited to be the one to introduce them to the world.

Songfacts: Here at Songfacts, we like to unearth the stories behind the songs, so if you don't mind, I'd now like to focus on some Faith No More material. And it only seems apt to begin with the band's breakthrough hit, "Epic." Can you tell us the story behind this song? Why do you think it was (and still is) so popular?

Billy: It was conceived naturally as a riff in the studio between Roddy, myself and Mike Bordin during rehearsal that later got fleshed out into an entire song. At the time it was our favorite song on the album, but no one from the record label seemed too interested in it. In fact, we had done a video for "From Out Of Nowhere" which didn't get much traction, and the label told us, "Hey guys, the album didn't work. We'll do one more video for whatever song you want." So we picked "Epic" because it just felt the most natural at the time. We had very little expectations of it becoming a commercial hit.

Songfacts: Faith No More scored a #1 hit on the Modern Rock Tracks chart with "MidLife Crisis." I think I remember Mike Patton saying this song is about Madonna? Which is kind of funny, as it could still apply to her today.

Billy: It applies even more to her today.

Songfacts: Angel Dust – which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary - was one of the most influential alternative albums of the '90s. What is it about this album which continues to capture listeners deep into the 21st century? Why do you think Faith No More's final two albums – King for a Day... Fool for a Lifetime and Album of the Year – received a lukewarm reception in comparison?

Billy: There is a lot more to the story than you probably know. In fact, up until about 10 years ago, Angel Dust was considered our commercial failure. At least by the media and record industry; but not with the fans. We went into the next two albums with the same intentions that we approached Angel Dust; that is, we follow our gut instincts and not pay attention to certain expectations. You must be based in the US, because that is the only place in the world that believes that we received a lukewarm reception... everywhere else those albums were taken for what they were and generally were well received. As the artists who created these albums, I think that most of us in the band feel these two records were easily on par with all of the other efforts, and a lot of musicians have let me know that both of these albums were a major influence for them.

Songfacts: What is your favorite Faith No More song, Bill? Feel free to be as obscure as you wish!

Billy: I don't have one. Sorry!

Songfacts: Finally, Bill, what are your plans for the near future? Are you working on any new projects?

Billy: Always new projects, just trying to learn new things and keep the inspiration.

November 29, 2012. Get more from Billy Gould at Koolarrow Records.
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Comments: 3

  • Mayzee from Ottawa, Ontario, CanadaI just saw this now. I saw Faith No More last summer at Heavy Montreal. Best live performance of the festival. Seriously. It was a tie between them and Iggy Pop.
  • Zack from CanadaBilly Gould inspires me to pick up a bass.
  • Mark from IrelandLEGEND !!
see more comments

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