Mike Patton is working every night to make you sick. In support of the recently released album Mit Gas, his band Tomahawk is out on the Ipecac Records Geek Tour with the Melvins and Dalek, spreading the label's demented sounds across America to hoards of waiting masochists.
"I'm very happy with how the tour has been going," says Patton, who also happens to head up the Ipecac label. "Our initial attitude was, 'Well, let's see if this works, if it doesn't blow up in our face.' And if it does work, it will give us the license to subject people to the same type of torture year after year."
Referred to by many as "the man of 1,000 bands," Patton is a notoriously active member of countless other musical collectives, from the trip-hop sex fiends Lovage to cartoonish noise-burst freaks the Fantomas. However, he gained his initial notoriety with Faith No More, alt-metal staple of mid-'90s radio and still the most commercially accessible project Patton has been a part of to date. Tomahawk's other members are also veterans of the '90s grunge and metal scene. Bassist Kevin Rutmanis still plays in the Melvins, guitarist Duane Denison headed up Jesus Lizard, and drummer John Stanier was behind the skins for Helmet.
The material for Tomahawk's debut self-titled album -- released by Ipecac in 2001 -- was all written by Denison over a period of several years before it was presented to the band, who practiced the material for a mere three days before heading into the studio, where the album's recording took only a week.
As far as the creative process goes, little changed for work on Mit Gas. "Duane basically created everything once again," says Patton. "Obviously, we all add things ... I add lyrics and mess with arrangements, but I think the idea is to keep his vision intact, unless it sucks," he laughs.
However, a year of touring and playing together has given Tomahawk's sound a real cohesion that wasn't evident on the debut. "The difference is that we played for a year and became a band on the road before the album was written," Patton explains. "We had already sniffed each other's tails and licked each other's balls many times and knew each other's ins and outs. This record reflects more of a band aesthetic than the first one, which was more of a science experiment."
To avid Mike Patton fans, Tomahawk exhibits a surprisingly straightforward approach to music. Confrontational noisy hard rock that's mostly in 4/4 time with a strong verse/chorus format, Tomahawk's music is a far cry from the more bizarre projects with which Patton has been involved in the past few years -- notably the genre-shifting Mr. Bungle, the aforementioned Fantomas, or tech-grind kings Dillinger Escape Plan.
Mit Gas maintains Tomahawk's signature grungy aesthetic, but it also exhibits an improvement in Denison's songwriting. The album also manages to expand upon every extreme that appeared on the self-titled release. The punk sections are grittier, the country melodies are twangier, the electronic samples are getting weirder, and the choruses are even more anthemic. The result is a devastating rock album that, despite its manic mood shifts, truly fleshes out the basic roots in Tomahawk's grunge, metal and punk-based lineup.
"Straightforward is not a dirty word to me. There is a part of me that wants to sing songs that have verses and choruses, and I don't really have many outlets for this," Patton states. "This is absolutely one of the more straightforward things I've been doing, but I really enjoy it and I felt that there was a sort of void there for the last five years or so where I didn't have a 'rock band,' and I felt that there was still something I could say and accomplish in that format."
Tomahawk may be considered simple and digestible in the context of some of Patton's more oddball projects, but the demented circus melodies, grating screams and ambient electronics that appear on Mit Gas are still miles away from any sort of commercial radio viability. "Anything I do isn't really going to be easy, so to speak. It's always going to be some little bastard freak that won't fit anywhere, and I've come to accept that over the years," Patton laughs. "I'm glad that I have a label now where my music has a comfortable home and I can do whatever I want. That's the clincher."