Dead Cross' self-titled debut won't come out for another three months, but frontman Mike Patton is already cracking up about recording a gristly hardcore-punk LP at his age. "Let's be honest, being in a band like this at almost 50 years old is a little comical," he says. "I'm not some young tough guy trying to prove a point anymore. For me to make a record like this, it's entirely a musical adventure. I just think it's fun, and it makes me smile and laugh a lot." And on cue, he laughs.
Judging from the spasmodic vocal acrobatics he pulls off on the record, which is due out August 4th, it certainly sounds like he's having fun. Easily the snottiest record the Faith No More and Mr. Bungle frontman has made in years, Dead Cross contains 10 charging, head-spinning ragers, like the sub-two-minute "Grave Slave" premiering here, that whirr by in just 28 minutes. The group – which includes former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, Retox/Locust bassist Justin Pearson and Retox guitarist Michael Crain – originally sounded a bit like acronym-punks D.R.I. and M.D.C. when they recorded the album last year with aggro-rock producer Ross Robinson (Korn, Slipknot). But the recent addition of Patton as their vocalist gives their music a certain mania. It's a union that almost didn't happen, because Lombardo, who worked with Patton in Fantômas, didn't think he'd be into it.
When the band's original frontman, Retox and Locust member Gabe Serbian, quit last year to spend more time with his daughter (according to Lombardo) the drummer entertained drafting a couple of other singers. But one name kept popping up. "My assistant said, 'Dave, why don't you just call your friend, Patton?'" he recalls. "I said, 'No, he's busy with Faith No More, and he's doing film work.' I just didn't think of it. But after she was persistent three or four times, I asked him if he'd do it over text, and he said, 'Absolutely. I would love to work on this.' It blew me away. This guy is one of the top 10 vocalists in the world."
The way Patton remembers it, he'd reached out to Lombardo asking to issue Dead Cross' debut on his Ipecac label but didn't hear anything back until he got the drummer's text. "My jaw dropped," he says. "I was like, 'Who, me? Hmm …' And I think it took like all of 30 seconds, but in a sarcastic way, I'm like, 'Yeah, of course. I can do this. Are you sure you want me?' So I kind of second-guessed him a little bit. And he said, 'Man, you'd be our dream vocalist.' And then it was just a matter of logistics. I decided to record it here in my basement, which is fitting. It shouldn't sound too polished."
From the time the band turned its recordings over to Patton until he sent them some scratch vocals (Patton demonstrates his gibberish vocals by flapping his lips à la Looney Tunes), they had no idea how he would approach their music. They didn't even ask for it to sound a certain way. "It was a total surprise," Lombardo says. "At two in the morning, he'd email a song, and we'd listen to it and be floored. It's Patton singing hardcore. He's dabbled in it, but not in this capacity. I don't know what the hardcore community is going to do with all this information."
"To me, it is a traditional hardcore record," Patton says. "It is very pointed, direct and visceral. Like, I wasn't going to play keyboards, add samples or any kind of orchestration. It was like, 'Yo, just go for it.' In some ways, it reminded me of stuff that we had collectively all grown up with and loved when we were like teenagers – bands like the Accüsed, Deep Wound or Siege, stuff that was just brutal, uncompromising and right to the point. I was listening to all those bands again before this came to be, so it was already back infused in my blood. And now I got a chance to do a pencil-in-your-eye record."
That said, he made no qualms about departing from hardcore by adding layers of operatic background vocals and stereo voice effects throughout the record. "Can't avoid that," he says with a laugh. "That surprised them too. I was like, 'Dudes, that's just the way I'm hearing it.'"
"The harmonies are what gets me," Lombardo says. "He has such a great ear. They add so much depth to a vicious album."
"I did it to create these paths and different textures and give it more depth in certain parts," Patton says. "Not the whole time, because it's still got to go for the throat."
Lombardo wanted to create the group as an aggressive, go-for-the-throat band a few years back when he was going through what he describes as "a bit of turmoil in my life." Then he became enraged by the Bataclan terrorist attacks in Paris and decided to funnel his ire into Dead Cross. "The album is only 28 minutes long," he says. "And the funny thing is [Slayer's] Reign in Blood was 29 minutes. This album carries so much anger and frustration. You hear it in my drumming. It was the perfect birth of a hardcore album. It's one of the most brutal albums I've ever done."
Also ruthless are Patton's lyrics, which he wrote loosely around themes but more around the syllable constructions of his scratch vocal tracks. "Grave Slave," whose title predates Patton's lyrics, finds the vocalist singing about a "pistolero" – just a word that fit his gibberish. "I was like, 'This could be about a gunslinger or drug dealer at the border – a cartel,'" he says. "The other guys in the band come from Southern California, and I've spent a lot of time in San Diego, so pistoleros are a part of our lives." He laughs. "It's a huge point of contention with our new president, so I thought it was a cool topic."
Another violent track is "Shillelagh" – a charging, punky number that leaked in March – whose title references an Irish walking stick that doubles as a weapon. "It reminded me of a time I had trouble in Ireland with a bunch of skinheads maybe 20 years ago," he says. "After a show, I got chased down and one of the guys had one of these things – or at least I thought he did – and they were also weirdly homophobic, like, 'Faggot, blah, blah, blah.' Those things stick with you, but I've got no bad blood. It's no big deal. I just love the idea of a walking stick that can be used to beat someone up. The song is done with humor."
And of what of the song's strangest lyric, "I took a pee and it came out red/I took a dump, and it came out dead"? "Well, you know, if you get beat, those things happen." He laughs. "All I'm going to tell you about that."
But perhaps the most interesting song on the record is a cover of Bauhaus' goth epic "Bela Lugosi's Dead." "When we started, we realized we only had 20 minutes of music," Lombardo says. "Justin suggested 'Bela Lugosi,' because it was a little longer, mid-paced song to break up the chaos." But where Bauhaus' lasted nine minutes, Dead Cross' "long" song is two-and-a-half minutes long. "Yeah, it's got a dark vibe to it," the drummer says. "It's eerie. I like it."
"I was nervous about it because that to me is kind of sacred ground," Patton says. "And I also thought it was maybe obvious. I asked if we could do another song, but they were playing it so well, I was like, 'You know what, let me give it a try.' And it worked. Hopefully it doesn't sound like too much of a parody or a caricature, which was what I was worried about, like, 'Ugh, here we are going goth.' But I think it came out pretty solid. Also, it's like a great detour on the record, in between all this spastic stuff."
The band has yet to rehearse the songs with Patton, but they're looking forward to some light touring after the LP comes out. They've announced an appearance at Riot Fest in Chicago in September, and are setting up a roughly two-week West Coast run in August and another one on the East Coast in September. "I really don't like going out on tour without fans hearing the new record," Lombardo says. "It's not cool when we start a song and nobody knows what we're doing."
"Live, it's going to be pretty fucking ... pretty goddamn simple," Patton says. "The one thing that I wanted to do – and I doubt it'll happen, just because of finances – was to have three backup singers, but all skinheads. Like, in full boots and braces. So instead of, like, three black, female, hot backup singers, it's three tough skinheads with good falsettos. I thought that would be really, really funny."
Beyond Dead Cross, both musicians are busy with other projects. Lombardo joined the long-running hardcore group Suicidal Tendencies last year and has been touring with them and played on their World Gone Mad LP. He also played drums for the Misfits reunion last year, and he's hopeful they'll consider doing more shows in the future.
Patton has been working on a film score for a Netflix movie called 1922 based on a Stephen King novella ("It's more haunting and Hitchcock-y than you might thing," he says), and has been collaborating with onetime Serge Gainsbourg collaborator, composer and arranger Jean-Claude Vannier, on an album of orchestral ballads. "It's very, very lush," he says. "I'm doing a lot of crooning in different languages, and the instrumentation is all over the map." And will it contain Gainsbourg's famous dirty lyrics? "There are plenty of those, don't worry," he says. "They just don't sound so sexy in English." Faith No More, he says, are an "open-ended book," so "if something happens, you're pleasantly surprised."
Overall, Lombardo hopes Dead Cross, the album, shakes up the heavy-music status quo a bit. "Metal bands have discovered a formula," Lombardo says. "It's very difficult to find things that are inspiring, at least in metal. I've heard it all before. Maybe that comes with age, seniority, but it's like, 'I know what's coming now. There's the breakdown, there's the verse, there's the chorus.' Don't' get me wrong, there's a lot of great talent out there, but a lot of people follow formulas that stifle their creativity and it becomes mundane."
"It's funny," Patton says. "The few people that I've played the record for, I'm like, 'Hey, what do you think of this thing I'm doing now? It's really funny, right?' And they're like, 'Funny? Jesus Christ, this is brutal.' I almost consider it like a vacation. It's fun. But different friends keep saying, 'Holy shit, this is not old school. This is something else. Patton, you've done something great here!' I'm like, 'Oh, OK. I did not know that.' So everyone's got a warped perception of what normal and weird is, I guess, is my point. None of them compete with me."