Songwriter Interviews

Richard Patrick of Filter

by Greg Prato

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Although Richard Patrick found himself imploring Trent Reznor to explore his angrier/heavier side when they were together in Nine Inch Nails, Patrick also isn't afraid to show off his melodic side, as evidenced by such radio hits as "Hey Man, Nice Shot" and "Take A Picture," from his post-NIN band, Filter.

On Filter's sixth studio effort, The Sun Comes Out Tonight, Patrick has a new songwriting partner: ex-Kill Hannah guitarist Jonathan Radtke. And like the band's previous effort, 2010's The Trouble with Angels, Filter's latest features input from Bob Marlette in both a production and songwriting capacity.

In this interview, Patrick talked about the writing and recording of The Sun Comes Out Tonight, the stories behind Filter's biggest hits, and his lasting Nine Inch Nails memories. He also shared his thoughts on the short-lived supergroup, Army of Anyone, which saw Patrick joined by Stone Temple Pilots' Dean and Robert DeLeo, and Korn's Ray Luzier.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Let's talk about the new Filter album, The Sun Comes Out Tonight.

Richard Patrick: Well, it started with me and Jonny. We started piecing together music inside the computer first. We'd bash it out on guitar for a little bit and then we'd record a section, bash it out. And then we got together with Bob Marlette and we sat outside with acoustics, and we came up with like five parts for the song "What Do You Say."

We were listening to a band called Kasabian. They had kind of a cool groove, so we were inspired by that and picked up on that groove, and started writing around that. Then we put it into Filter chords, which is always way down by the third, fourth fret. You know, the third, sixth, and seventh fret. All that darkness all around in there.

And then Jonny whipped out a chorus really quick, so we had the music. Then we started recording the pieces together and as we were recording the pieces, we quickly went and started writing lyrics as I was hearing it on playback - when Jonny got done playing guitars.

I was like, "Hey, hey, what do you say?... Has anyone ever said that?" And I looked around on the Internet and thought to myself, it's one of those things that you hear, it's like, "Hey man, nice shot." Everyone says that at some point for something. They may throw a piece of paper into a garbage can from ten feet and they're like, "Hey, man, nice shot." It's a strange way to talk about R. Budd Dwyer [a state treasurer who shot himself during a press conference - and on camera - in 1987] and suicides and stuff. It's almost like a little callous and almost sarcastic.

So I was thinking, "Hey, hey, what do you say?" It really doesn't matter anyway, and everyone bitches and nothing gets done. Everybody spent a ton of money getting Obama into office, all the poor people, and as soon as he gets in, five guys from the Tea Party stop everything and now we can't even get the government doing anything. Everybody's screaming and yelling all at the same time and no one's listening. Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. No one's taking the time to actually sit there and listen. They're just out there making money. Rush does it for the money. Bill O'Reilly said he loves the money, he doesn't really care about what he's saying, as long as he makes money.

So it's a take on this constant noise level in society. We talk about that, too. When the music's done, we discuss it and talk about how it makes us feel. And I remember bringing it up: in 60, 70 years when the planet has changed and those polar icecaps melt, it will be such a very different place. We lost 30% of the polar icecaps in the last 30 years. So 100 years from now, literally we will have transformed the planet, and all of this arguing and bitching won't mean a thing because everyone is going to be like, "They fucked us up." This is what happens when you dump so much C02 every day.

So the point is: what do you say, it doesn't really matter anyways. When everything goes down, it's not going to matter. What's going to happen here, we'll laugh about it all one day. When it all goes down, the only thing that you'll be able to do is laugh about it and just throw your hands up.

Anyone can just say those lyrics and have no meaning behind it, but it was extremely important to us to have a conversation and really know what we're talking about, because when I sing it and perform it for the next ten years of my life, I'm going to want to feel that. I want to know what I'm talking about. Because I've been saying, "Hey man, nice shot" and I've been saying, "Take a picture" for ten years now, and when I sing another Filter hit, I've got to really feel that it's about the subject, because otherwise I'm just full of shit.

And that's one thing, when I see a little kid talking about how much they feel like, "Oh baby, I miss you," they have no idea what they're talking about. Those guys aren't genuine. If I write a love song, I fuckin' mean it. It's incredibly important to me.

So after that, we track it and get it done, and then it was over. I think we threw some overdubs on it and we moved some parts around, shortened some things in editing and then we were done. Less the drum machine parts. We like the drum machine parts; we didn't want to track drums. We just wanted to keep everything more "into the computer."

Songfacts: And as far as the songwriting and recording, how would you compare how this album went to the previous Filter albums?

Patrick: Similar. Very similar. The thing that really changed it was the addition of Jonny Radtke. Jonny Radtke came in and made it very special. The deal is this: to have a guitar player that can do anything can be the worst and best thing to happen to a band. The worst case scenario is the guy's playing some crazy-ass shit you don't want to hear. And the best thing that can happen is that stylistically, he's on the same page. That's Jonny. He's a brilliant, gifted guitar player.

Jonny, stylistically, comes from an appreciation of everything I was in Nine Inch Nails. He was listening to Tool and Soundgarden when he was growing up. He was also listening to Ministry, Skinny Puppy. And plus, he was also listening to a lot of Filter. So when Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot" came out, I think he was like 17 or something. So, ten years later here we are, he's 31, and he's already been out there and had his experience - he's already written hits with Kill Hannah. He's already had a ton of experience. So when he came into this band, I was talking to an old vet that has been with record companies and knows how things work, and slugged it out in a van and all that kind of stuff.

He paid his dues, so when he came into Filter it was just a red carpet, and it continues to be like that. So that's the big difference between all the other records: the addition of Jonny Radtke. He's definitely my muse right now.

Songfacts: When it comes to songwriting, do you primarily write the songs on guitar or do you write them through computer?

Patrick: I'm a guitar player, so I always start with guitar. But once it hits the computer, the production goes hand in hand with the songwriting. The overdubs, everything, it's so easy to do all that stuff immediately. You can kind of sense it. But I've found that the way to go is just hammering it out and getting it to make sense on guitar, getting the three/four/five main parts done, and going, "Look, this is it." Because otherwise you get into a spot where you're in the computer and you don't like something and you've got to redo everything. Like, "This isn't a chorus."

And it's funny to say this, but we kind of ran into that with "We Hate It When You Get What You Want." Because we were like, "Well, what's the chorus?" Because I'm starting the song off singing, "We hate it when you get what you want." But where's the payoff? And so I said, "I've got a fucking lyric, man. I've got some lyrics. This will be the payoff." And I said, "Sit yourself down!" I just screamed, "Yeah, sit yourself down, motherfucker, and like it." It resolves going back into the verse.

There's definitely a resolve in that B chorus. But it was a little bit of a challenge. Because we were like, "We like the riff, but what do we do with this?" I'm like, "What do the rappers do?" They don't songwrite, they get a groove going and it's two parts, and what are they doing? And then I was like, "Well, we have to do that, but we have to have a song, we have to actually have a song." So we just made sure that the "sit yourself down" part was really in-your-face and had that great overdub that was added later. We made a whole special part for that; we just cleared out on everything and had it soloed to that track just so it could be.

And that's a truly industrial kind of song, because it was literally pieced together in a computer. It wasn't an acoustic. It was like, "This is an electronic song from the very moment." Like, "We've got to go start in the computer and see what happens." So that's why it was kind of cool.

And then the song "It's My Time" was played on a guitar. It's two chords, and I think I changed one thing. Bob played the piano, and I sang it. That was super easy and we did that whole thing in 15 minutes and got it done - written and performed it in 15 minutes. Gettin' 'er done.

Songfacts: Before, you mentioned "Hey Man, Nice Shot." What do you remember about the writing and recording of that song?

Patrick: "Hey Man, Nice Shot" was the "aha moment," where you're like, "That was so easy." Coming up with the riff and chorus was one of those things like, "Well, how the fuck hasn't anyone ever done this?" Like, in the last 500 years of music, how in the hell has someone never just pieced this together? Because it makes so much sense, such a perfect little never-ending riff that you could just play forever and ever and ever and it would never get old.

Then we had that in the computer for a long time. I really had to focus on the verse, and so I just made the verse as sparse as possible. I threw in some atmospheric overdubs and stuff. The pre chorus was cool. You can tell that I wanted to build the song. I really didn't even notice I was creating a hook, because I didn't want it to sound like, "Oh, this is a hook." I was so far removed. I mean, the fact that I had anything remotely sounding like choruses to me was almost like selling out, because I was so into Skinny Puppy and the music that I was listening to was so avant-garde that I was like, "You can't write choruses anymore, man. That shit's been done." It was so puritanical and I'm so far removed from that...

And so when I wrote the chorus, I was like, "Well, there you go. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to just kill. I'm going to hit it out of the park." And that bass line spoke to me immediately when I wrote that. I thought, "That sounds like the Chameleons, but it's pretty bad bass." And then when I was done with it, I was like, "That's fuckin' great." And I'll never forget, I played it for Trent [Reznor], and I was like, "What do you think of this?" And he was like, "We should record that, because it's pretty cool." So I recorded it at Trent's house and we did the demo there. And I remember Trent, he was like, "This is really cool, maybe we'll release an EP."

A manager friend of mine had played it for someone at Warner Brothers, and they were like, "We'll just give you a whole record contract and you can be a signed Warner Brothers act from now on." And I was like, "Okay. Maybe I'll do that and be my own boss and not have to be the hired gun." Because the hired gun thing is tough. You're part of someone else's vision or dream. Trent offered me that, he offered me a little bit of being in Nine Inch Nails, but at the same time it wasn't like the whole thing. It wasn't going to be Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor and Richard Patrick. It was always going to be Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor.

So I was like, well, that's cool for him. That's great. But I want to try to have my own input and my own thing. So when I did Filter, that was the whole thing. When I had that success, I was like, "That's good enough for me. That's perfect. I don't have to be the biggest rock band in the world. But if I'm the guy in charge and it's fun and I can work with people I want to work with, I'll do that."

So that song sparked my whole career. That was almost too easy to write something that good.

When I wrote "Take A Picture," when I wrote the chorus, I was like, "That's golden. That's a hit. That's a hit song." And when I did "What Do You Say," same thing. I was like, "That's golden." When I did "Self Inflicted," I was like, "That's golden." When I did "Surprise" on this new record, I'm like, "That's golden. That's the shit. That's going to speak to people."

Then performing it, we were getting that emotional impact with the lyrics.

Although Richard is clearly visible in a few popular NIN videos (namely "Head Like A Hole" and "Wish") and was in the touring band that helped break the now-classic Pretty Hate Machine, he was not a major contributor in the recording studio (as he explains below, his solo NIN album appearance was some noise he provided between the songs "Sanctified" and "Something I Can Never Have"). No doubt, this resulted in his eventual decision to split from Reznor and company, and launch Filter.
Songfacts: Speaking of Trent, what are some memories of the Pretty Hate Machine sessions? You played on the song "Sanctified."

Patrick: Well, that was really easy. My part in that whole thing was, "Hey, Rich, I'm sequencing the record. I know you want to be on it. I want a segue between 'Sanctified' and 'Something I Can Never Have.' What do you got?" I came in with my rig and I made some feedback. I go, "There you go. Try piecing that together. Can you use that somehow?" And he goes, "Okay." And he recorded it. And he goes, "I found something great." He did the double of it and just kind of snuck it in there, and that was it. That was my involvement on Pretty Hate Machine.

The record was already done and I came in and I remember making comments like, "Dude, you can't do that." Like, his demo of "Down In It" and Adrian Sherwood's version of "Down In It" was completely different. The demo was really spacious and very simple, almost pop-y. And I was like, "You've got to go hardcore on this." Like, "Head Like A Hole," I was like, "You have to fucking show up. You have to make it industrial. You can't do something pop, you have to do something industrial."

That was my whole thing with him. I constantly was like, "Dude, we're wearing black." When I saw the record cover for Pretty Hate Machine, I was like, "Why is it pink? Why isn't it more black?" That was kind of my thing. I was always the guy whispering, "Hey, make it meaner and heavier."

Then when Broken came out, that was the record where he literally goes, "I'd like to thank my live band for influencing me into this direction." And that was the only credit I got: I was an influence. I was in his ear the whole time saying, "Mean. You're pissed. You're angry. That's what people want." And he was like, "All right. I get it."

And that was my main contribution, really, to Nine Inch Nails. And jumping around the stage and just being completely dedicated. I mean, he would tackle me onstage, he'd throw beer at me and I'd throw beer at him, and the audience just couldn't believe it. They're like, "These guys are out to kill each other!" Our shows were just over the top, so he got a little of that. My alter ego became "Piggy." I was Piggy.

And when I left it wasn't necessarily the nicest way to leave. So when I heard that song "Piggy" later on [on The Downward Spiral], I was like, "Oh, shit. Is that about me?" Because my nickname in the band was Piggy for three years.

Now I go over to Trent's house and blow his speakers up with my records, my unmastered record.

Songfacts: What are some memories of the filming of the "Head Like A Hole" video?

Patrick: Oh, the filming of "Head Like A Hole" was fun. I had just bought my new little amp. That little GK amp. And Trent was trying to knock it over. You can see me holding it up with my butt, trying to hold it up. And Trent was pissed. He was like, "Dude, let it fall over!" I'm like, "But I just bought this thing." I just spent $600 on this, man. He said, "We're making a fuckin' video, Rich." I'm like, "I know, but I had to ask my mom for 600 bucks. I don't have 600 bucks."

They put fake painting on us and stuff. I was bummed because I got sent home early. He got to hang out with Al, the night Al Jourgensen hung out, and I was this little bummed out, hurt kid that was like, "Awww, man, I had to go home with the gear and you guys got to fly back because you're doing special effects?"

It was fine. It was a key time in my life. I remember just thinking to myself, "One day I'm going to be leader of my own band." Good times.

The supergroup craze may have came and gone in the late '60s/early '70s, but there have been examples here and there - Audioslave, Oysterhead, and Atoms for Peace immediately come to mind, as well as the lesser-known Army of Anyone. The band saw Patrick joined by half of the Stone Temple Pilots - guitarist Dean DeLeo and bassist Robert DeLeo - as well as current Korn drummer Ray Luzier. Despite some success on mainstream rock radio (with the songs "Goodbye" and "Father Figure"), the group only lasted for a single self-titled debut before its members went their merry way.
Songfacts: Looking back, what are your thoughts on the Army of Anyone project?

Patrick: The reality is it was a side project for all of us. But it was a really huge, time-consuming thing, and I wished it just was something I could have just come in and sang and split and maybe do a little tour, instead of it encapsulating my entire life. I literally was with Robert and Dean, it was like, "This is it. This is the only thing we're doing. We're never going to be in Stone Temple Pilots again." And I was like, "Okay." And I even terminated my record contract with Warner Brothers - it was a really huge commitment on my behalf.

When it came out [the group's 2006 self-titled effort], I don't think there was a hit on the record. I think it was a great record for musicians, but I don't think it was something that necessarily connected to radio listeners. Back then, that's absolutely what you needed. The Internet still wasn't promoting itself. You weren't finding Skrillex on the Internet back then. It was still a radio-based world. Unfortunately, it was kind of a tough thing for me to do. I love Robert and Dean, and it was a very arduous, tough, time-consuming project. I don't know how much I got out of it, other than I put so much of my work into it and I have a great relationship with Robert and Dean. It seemed to drive everybody crazy, and then we put it on the road and it didn't take off.

I still hear people talking about it. Like, "Oh, wow, when are you going to do another Army of Anyone record?" I'm like, When people buy the first one. That's kind of how I feel about it. It was a wonderful musical experience. It was great participating with those guys. But ultimately, it was a big drag.

July 19, 2013. More on Filter at
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Comments: 1

  • Tony from San DiegoExcellent interview, kinda funny tho, never thought of them as Industrial. Just a heavy version of pop rock. Very talented but not industrial, almost TOO melodic. Love them !
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