Hutch Harris (the Thermals) Talks Faith No More’s Sol Invictus

Faith No More's reunion album totally sounds like a '90s record, yet it breaks new ground. Our writer explains.

The last decade of the 20th century was an interesting time to be alive. It was the end of an incredibly progressive and violent hundred years for the United States — a country that, although still in its infancy, was dominating the rest of the world with messy and cruel foreign policies and candy-coated pop culture.

In 2001, the U.S. became a strange and occasionally brave new world. You no longer needed real world experience, or intelligence, to be president. You no longer needed missiles to topple buildings. For a while, you no longer needed money to buy music; in fact, you didn’t have to buy it at all. Thanks to the internet, you could now just take what you wanted. Major record labels long had a history of robbing musicians. Now it was the fans’ turn! It was a veritable feeding frenzy, and we all took part. With record sales rapidly declining, rock bands sought to make money elsewhere, often in advertising. The stigma of “selling out” rapidly disappeared. Rock music grew safer to satisfy the tastes of marketing executives. No time to challenge the status quo, the biggest concern when making a record became “Will it challenge the listener to buy a new Kia?”

Popular music has rarely been known for being subversive, but there was a time when it was truly weird. Only ’90s kids will remember — well, only those of us that didn’t fry our brains with black gel acid or Molly, back when we still called her Ecstasy — that the radio rock back then was often silly, stupid and brilliant. What other time in history could you have a hit song about peaches, or a detachable penis? Cobain may have ushered in the age of grunge, but the truly alternative bands that also rose from the ashes of hair metal weren’t angry and they weren’t depressed and they weren’t wearing their hearts on flannel sleeves. They were freaky, they were unafraid. They were too high to die. It’s almost as if bands in the ’90s knew that a great cleansing was coming, that in the next century the real world would be too strange for strange music. December 31, 1999 was the cutoff for any weirdness in popular music. You had to gets yours in before the Y2K virus reset the entire culture. “Party over, whoops, out of time.”

I can’t, and never will, shut up about the ’90s. Nevermind (1991) came out the year I turned 16. Siamese Dream (1993) came out the year I graduated from high school. I’m turning 40 this year, which means I will listen to your new band, but there is a .001% chance I will like it. All the music I loved in high school has now become the soundtrack to my midlife crisis. I’m not complaining. I’m still alive. I did the ’90s hard. I had a tractor in my balls. Satan loved me.  My life was falling to pieces.  If these references mean little to you, I can only assume Faith No More and FNM singer Mike Patton’s “other” band Mr. Bungle meant little to you as well. They meant everything to me. I grew up in the South Bay, California, where it wasn’t uncommon to see Mr. Bungle playing small clubs, before Faith No More’s The Real Thing (1989) exploded. FNM and Bungle were wildly creative and even scary, but most important was that they had a strong sense of humor. A deep, dark, brooding humor. These bands, and their records, weren’t for cool people. The members resembled comic book characters more than rock stars. These were the bands that inspired me. These were the weirdos I could relate to, in a way I could never relate to the “rebirth of too-cool” kids coming out of NYC post-9/11.

Reunion albums aren’t usually groundbreaking. They usually sound as old and tired as the bands making them. But Sol Invictus doesn’t sound like a reunion record. It does sound like a Faith No More record, which is to say it sounds like a band that has always been experimental. Faith No More has always been breaking new ground, and they’ve always been unafraid to look like total freaks doing it. More important, though, is that they’ve created their own world, and have always sounded consistently like themselves, no matter what direction their music takes. You know Sol Invictus is a Faith No More album from the opening piano on the first (and title) track. Yep, that’s Roddy Bottum. The thundering, lumbering yet tight-as-fuck pounding of the rhythm section on “Separation Anxiety?” Yeah, that’s Billy Gould and Mike Bordin. (I don’t think they call him “Puffy” anymore, but he is still rockin’ the dreads.) That elastic, psychotic voice that can go from child to beast to reaper in the same verse? Yeah, that’s Mike Patton. The single is called “Motherfucker”?! Yeah, that’s Faith No More.

Sol Invictus is weird and beautiful and emotionally disturbed. I can relate. I don’t know how to describe music. There…are…drums…look, I told you my brain is fried. The ’90s were my ’60s, man. I regret nothing. Sol Invictus totally sounds like a ’90s record. Obviously, I mean that as a compliment.

Hutch Harris was born in New York City, raised in Silicon Valley and has resided in Portland, Oregon for the past twenty years.  Harris founded and was the lead singer/songwriter of the Thermals. He is currently working on his first solo LP. Follow Harris on Twitter here.

(Photo Credit: Westin Glass)