An Interview with Richard Patrick of Filter

Kevin Keating
Richard Patrick (Filter); Credit: Kevin Keating
Filter, fronted by signer and guitarist Richard Patrick, swung through the Bay Area this past weekend when they rocked the Avalon in Santa Clara to support their 2010 album 'The Trouble with Angels'. We had a chance to spend some time with Patrick before the show to talk about Bay Area memories, leaving Nine Inch Nails, his side project Army of Anyone, and the current state of the music industry. The full interview is below and be sure to check our our prior coverage here.

With any luck, we'll see more of Filter in 2012!

SFBAC: You've played a number of times through the Bay Area, do you have any favorite memories?

Richard Patrick: We played that place, the Warfield Theater. It was a nice place and we had a good time. I played here with Army of Anyone, at a place called Slim's. That was a good time.

SFBAC: Any venues you haven't played that you want to?

Richard Patrick: I think those are the two, I remember meeting Bill Graham, he had this Amphitheater that he was running on the first Lollapalooza. He would take us around to all the different little areas and there was a tent set up for people who were having bad trips on acid, and you know it was cool. Only 20 years after Woodstock and, you know, kind of seeing this living legend bigger, larger than life personality... teaching us newcomers a thing or two about rock venues and what they should be like and all the different things that promoters can do for us musicians.

SFBAC: So of the places you've toured in the past what cities stand out?

Richard Patrick: I think Moscow is a big deal because I made the realization that literally... these are Russians who don't know any English and they're singing the words to the songs... and that was when I realized that music is definitely border-less and it has no government... and I go "we're from America" and they kinda booed a little bit and I go "but we're here because we love music" and they were like "yay" and it was just this amazing thing. I remember seeing Peter Jennings or whoever standing in front of the Kremlin and St. Basil's Church, and just thinking to myself "wow I'm never gonna go there" and one day I'm standing in Red Square with fans that were singing my lyrics and just thinking to myself that's probably the furthest I've ever been from home. Just what an amazing thing that music has given me, this ability to see the world, and that people are people, they are literally the same people. The crowd that comes to see our shows are music fans and that's all they wanna do, is hang out and hear music and they're all the same all over the world and they all know the lyrics, they just wanna have a good time.

SFBAC: Are there any differences in the crowds across the world?

Richard Patrick: Germans are crazier, the Germans are definitely crazier. The Europeans in general are way more participatory. Hollywood is definitely "too cool for school" but I don't care, like, I'm going to get them dirty, the first thing I do is throw water on them and like "you will get sweaty tonight, I don't fucking care, you're not cool, you're not too cool for school here at this concert."

SFBAC: How about your writing and recording process over the years, how has it changed and can you describe how you typically go through recording a new record?

Richard Patrick: It used to be, I'd have a couple hundred grand and I would put my friends on salaries and everyone would sit around and just make music slowly and we would build something together. And now it's like, build five hits as quick as you possibly can, record it on your iMac and completely avoid the entrapment's of huge costly studios and pull one over on everybody and kind of force yourself to be creative with literally no money.

When I worked with Bob Marlette, he showed me how to write, literally how to write, because I've always had great ideas, but he showed me how to tie things together better. And taking that knowledge and working with all the other components of my band -- whether it's Rob Patterson who does a lot of the heavy stuff or maybe Jon Radtke who is our new guitar player or maybe Mitch Marlow -- I can start five or six songs per guitar player and rally this entire record quickly and get it done with an iMac. You can make your guitar sound like it's coming through a vintage AC30 from 1968 and you can replicate those sounds virtually and it's identical, it's just identical.

And so hanging out with the young people like Mitch Marlow and Jon Radtke, with the experience of someone like Bob Marlette, lets me be the head of an organization that I'm the focal point and I can just kinda sit back and be the singer and quickly run through and quickly get stuff together to put out what I call the "last CD". Someone's gonna end up buying the last CD in the next ten years and we're all trying to make that last CD. It's amazing the amount of talent that we have around, and this next writing session should just be gigantically fast and I'm gonna like rip out another record as soon as possible because we went on tour with Bush and Chevelle and there was a bunch of record companies that saw us and were like "fuck, Filter's really good now!" or "Filter's just really great, I never noticed how great Filter was". So all of a sudden there's these record companies that are like "well we'll fuckin' get behind this and we'll do this" and I'm like "Okay". So we're just jumping back into writing and jumping back into making another record.

SFBAC: Your first record, 'Short Bus' was released on Reprise Records in 1995 and over the years you've been with a number of labels. You've been with Sanctuary for the past year. Would you consider going back to a major label?

Richard Patrick: Yeah because the reality is that the name still has enough pull that I could always kind of have the record deal that I want as opposed to the record deal that some of these kids are signing. These kids are signing these 360 deals and if you're not Justin Bieber you're just never gonna make any money. So I can do whatever I want in fact I could probably release a record on my own and make 100% of the money and do fairly well and make actually a lot of money, but I still like the resources of a big company. I don't know, it's hard for me, like some of the salaries of these guys, some of the salaries of these record company guys, I don't think they're worth it. Nevertheless, if someone's going to pump a lot of energy behind your band and they've got a whole network of friends that are all over the country and they're like "yeah, this is really great, we've got to get behind this" then there are certain circumstances.

But yeah, Carl Stubner [Sanctuary CEO] and Jamie, they are key to this band right now, they are literally, I love all my other managers but it's clicking like it works with these guys and so I work really hard for them and I've told them it's time to manage me and tell me what to do, tell me what I need to work on, and they're like "Well you need to do this" and I'm like "Done". I enjoy that, I like being kind of aimed and told "you need to sit back" and "you need to go do these shows, you need to go do this, you need to go do that." So with the understanding of Carl and Jamie they were like "we're gonna work with you but we wanna manage you and we want you to be willing to be managed," which I thought was interesting.

SFBAC: You were one of the earlier bands to communicate with fans and embrace the whole social experience, MySpace and now Facebook, direct Email to fans. How do you see, if at all, that's helped cultivate your fanbase, career or your music?

Richard Patrick: You know, the reality is, if a fan wants to get in touch with me, they literally can. I think one of the most amazing things with me is, with MySpace and with all these other social networking things is that I'm kind of openly a recovering alcoholic and I've had the ability to communicate with others, especially young people, that are like "I'm 17, I've got my third DUI and I drink a fifth of Vodka every night by myself in my room and I don't know what to do" and I'm like "Wow, you're absolutely an alcoholic, you need to admit that and then you need to start going to some meetings and that's pretty much all I can tell you to do but you can do it." Because I was waking up drinking at 7am just to tie my shoes, literally like "Oh my God, I gotta get ready to go get sued, okay, well I better put my shoes on, I better have a drink, you know, fuck you I'm not goin'!".

The social networking is just so amazing because that kid actually, this one kid, actually stopped drinking, got into an organization of recovery, and he ended up getting a scholarship to the school of his choice in the state that he lives in. He's in med school and he's like this genius and if it wasn't for, and I certainly don't think that I hold myself totally accountable, but he loved my music, he heard that I got sober, he contacted me on MySpace, we communicated, he got his shit together and now he's going on to become this insane doctor, this great doctor, and to me it's just mind-blowing because he will go on to change thousands of lives.

I love getting on Facebook, I love talking to the fans, I say "I'm upset, I'm hurt, I'm not feeling well today, I've got a bunch of problems, put me in your thoughts" you know what I mean? 'Cause I don't even think that there should be a wall, it's just like Imogen Heap, she's like 'I don't believe in a wall between me and you' and I don't either.

I mean, the more down I dress and the funnier I am in concert, like in real life I'm actually a really goofy funny person and when I get on stage and I'm like super serious sometimes, I just feel like there's a part of me that's missing. I've actually started to laugh at myself, I just don't take it that seriously anymore, I just don't think that life has to be that serious, especially when you're singing and entertaining. The audience is like sitting there laughing having a great time. That, at the end of the day, is why I got into this.

When I was a kid, there was an amazing party at my house once, in like '97, we were all drinking and it was all these lead singers who will remain anonymous and all these lead singers are sitting around my coffee table and we're all sitting there smoking and partying, doing all this shit. And every one of these guys were like "I got into it because I wanna be fuckin' rich" and "I got into it because I love the girls" you know, and then "I got into it because I love attention man, I love being fuckin' the center of attention". And then it got to me and it was like, I mean I hated to top them, but I was just like "I got into it because I wanted to bring people together and make them feel happy" as opposed to feeling like shit or feeling like anything, I wanted to make a difference. They all kinda sat there like "that's the shit, Richie Patrick man he just kinda showed us up", but really that's the thing. Every time I sign an autograph after the show, I walk right off the stage right to the merch table and I just sit there and sign autographs because usually they start hanging out by the bus and they smell the diesel and they got all that crap and it's rainy, I just make it easy. I just walk right off stage and I sign some autographs and people are just genuinely happy and entertained that I'm doing what I'm doing and I'm just like "alright!". My kids get to eat, you get entertained, thanks for buying the shirt because at the end of the day it's about selling shirts at this point [laughs].
Richard Patrick (Filter); Credit: Kevin Keating
SFBAC: You've had a public battle with alcoholism and drug abuse, how has that affected your music over the past twenty-five years? And you've been clean now for close to ten?

Richard Patrick: Nine years, nine working on 10. I just turned nine in September, late September. It's insane how, it's surprisingly bizarre how it literally is a mental illness and you believe in your soul that you're not doing anything wrong and that when you're high, you know my favorite lyrics and Bob Marlette, it's funny I'll tie this all together somehow. Bob Marlet sat me down and he goes "Hey Rich, I heard Army of Anyone and you're positive and you're happy and you're writing what you know" because before it was always Hunter S. Thomspon lived Gonzo lyric writing, that's what I thought, like Gonzo lyrics, writing, live it now, record it now! Don't even fuckin' write it down just fuckin' record what you're saying and thinking and feeling. "It's Gonna Kill Me" was all at the mic, there was no lyrics I was just frying my brains out on drugs but it was so real and you could hear it in my voice. Then I got sober and it was happy time, then I was happy, and Bob goes "We wanna hang out with a nutter, we wanna hang out with the crazy because we all know normal and happy we want nutter, we want crazy. Why are you talking about this guys public suicide? Why you talking about that shit, why are you so creepy?"

So we started talking about this song "Drug Boy" and he goes "What were some of the things you were thinking about?" and I was like "When you're really, really high and it's the perfect combination of drugs, you felt like God." I walked in a realm of happiness and confidence that must have felt like winning the world series or winning every fuckin' Oscar for everything or going triple quadruple platinum or whatever. And he's like "well, what does that mean?" and I said "tonight these chemicals are God" and he's like "write that down". So what Bob told me was it's great that you're happy, but we need you to tap into that span of time between 19-34 and talk about some of the issues that you had and write from an experienced, personal... you know, it doesn't have to be lived, it just has to be experienced. So I thought to myself, now I can be reflective, which is great because at 43 I have so many memories and there are so many thoughts that fly through my brain, writing is actually really easy. So when it comes to writing, when it comes to making music, it's fast and it's genuine and if I say I was hurt you know damn well I was hurt and I didn't have to conjure the feeling in the lyric book I had to just think about it and go "Oh man, I remember that day" and it's just become this amazingly wonderful thing. I literally will sit at the mic and just sit there and go "check this out" and it'll all make sense. So writing has actually become this incredibly fun thing after a long time of just not really knowing what to say, 'cause nine years of sobriety, you've figured yourself out and I like the chaos of where I came from. Boy, Trent and I were so confused, we didn't know what we were doing, he was crazy, I was crazy. He was very smart but I was crazy, I was nuts.

SFBAC: Were the drugs or alcohol the reason you left Nine Inch Nails?

Richard Patrick: Well, Nine Inch Nails is Trent's band. Trent's trying to make his music the best way he can think of. What am I doing in it? I'm not that great of a guitar player, I'm a great performer. Piggy was a great character, he was this crazy skinny guy on stage, I made him laugh. Trent, I used to make that fucker laugh 24 hours a day and just be his sidekick, his piggy, his goofy "come here piggy, what do you think about this? Ehh fuck it" you know? And I would go out of my way to be his, the extension of his chaos. I would be his right hand man and he wouldn't wanna get himself in trouble but I would do it and he would go "Piggy, what do you think about that?" Like there was this day, Chris Vrenna had his... his laundry was all being put together and we were all in a hotel room and my bags had like shit all in it and everything is stinky and Chris Vrenna's bag is packed immaculately and he's like "Piggy, look at that man, doesn't that just make you sick, look at how perfect he is, socks are in the sock thing and he's got his underwear over there, he's got his little dopp kit all set up, what do you think of that?" and I'm like "Piggy not like". I would just go over and just attack it. Chris and I ended up getting into a huge fight and I threw him into a coffee table and he bled all over the place but we didn't know what we were doing but we knew that the extremism that we had was powerful. People would hand us their records and be like "here's my new record" and we would smash it in front of them and rip it up, take out all the tape from the tapes, it was tapes back then and we would light it on fire you know "that's what we fuckin' think of your fuckin' shitty fuckin' music man", we were so horrible. People were like "I can't believe they just did that."

The way Trent lived... he signed a deal with TVT Records that said I will give you all of my publishing for four records, forever, in perpetuity for like 20,000 bucks. Now I own 100% of "Hey Man Nice Shot," that song's gonna put my kids through college. The publishing on "Take A Picture," if a car company buys that and uses that song or a camera company or someone like that uses that song I get like 95% of that money because I own the publishing. Trent was so short-sighted with Nine Inch Nails and we were so downtrodden and you gotta think 1989 man, that music, that fuckin' shit that was out there, and bless his heart Jani Lane never lived it down but guys like Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell... we just literally didn't think we were gonna make it, Trent and I were just like, we are never gonna make it and so he grabbed some quick money and you know this guy got him. So when Trent started getting really successful and I was 25 and I'm Piggy and I'm making 400 bucks a month on retainer and, I always tell this story 'cause it's kind of the basis, the kind of function or defunction of our relationship, I had "Hey Man, Nice Shot" and I wrote this song. I had five record companies going "This is the shit, it's gonna be a huge hit, we love it, we wanna put it out" here's Warner Brothers, 500,000 bucks, here's all these other companies "we just believe in you, you're voice is amazing". You know, I had never heard that before. Record companies telling me my voice is amazing, I always just thought I was shit because I was standing next to someone who was awesome and I was always just kind of overlooked. And I even played "Hey Man, Nice Shot" to Trent and Trent was like "Ehhh, maybe we'll do a little EP, we'll do a little thing" and he would put all of his money into Meat Beat Manifesto and all these other records, on Nothing [Reznor's Record Label] and I'm like standing there making 400 bucks a month living with my brother. I didn't wanna live with Trent at the band house that he had set up for Brian Liesegang and other people, and then I got a call from John Malm and it was like "Hey Rich, we know that you want more money, we don't see you that much, what are you working on?"

"Well, I'm just doing my own thing, just doing some music, I'm trying to come up with some music to present to Trent" which was true, and then they were like "Well alright listen, we know you want some more money and Trent wants you to learn a bit about responsibility and there's a little Pizzeria that's down on the bottom of Cielo Drive in Coldwater, two good things: you learn the city a little bit more, you'd be driving for eight hours a day and you'd make some money. It's a little driver's pizza delivery job down the street, we think maybe you should try and get that". Trent Reznor was driving a $400,000 Porsche, limited edition car living in a mansion house, the Sharon Tate mansion house and they were like seriously telling me "Hey, great song, we love what you do, why don't you go learn the meaning of the word respect and drive pizzas to people".

I was like holy shit that just happened and literally the phone clicked, call waiting, you know you hit that button and "Hey, it's Richard Bishop, I just wanna let you know we've got dinner with Atlantic tomorrow, please don't be late for that, it's Danny Goldberg the President of the company and then we've got Warner Brothers, Mike Austin so loves you, they've already offered you something, don't tell anybody that they've offered you, we don't wanna start a bidding war because that's not the way we wanna do this"  and I'm like "okay." I go "John, I hate to say this but I mean, I'm gonna get offered a million dollars to go put a record out and it's gonna be my record" and I'm so glad that "Short Bus" was a, it's a couple of kids who are obviously drinking, I have more in common with Ween's "Pure Guava", remember that record? Four track, it was written in the contract, their record deal was written in the contract it can only be a four track recording. You can never allow us to go beyond this, we will never go beyond a four track recording and we were like "well we're never gonna fuckin' put real drums in, because we want drum machines, right? I guess". We were so totally completely out of our minds and breaking the rules, Moby was like "I didn't realize it was a drum machine until the third listening and I'm like Mr. Electronic."

It was just that and it wasn't refined and it wasn't 'Downward Spiral' and it wasn't even Ministry, it was grunge and anger and a real avante-garde approach to song writing with computers and samplers and Brian Liesegang and there's heavy element. Short Bus to me is one of those records where it's just like I hope I... the new record I literally want to release like two records, I wanna put one out called Gurney which is the follow up to Short Bus and then another record called Burning The Books which is the next Filter record in progression of what it should be naturally, you know what I mean? So Gurney is literally just the angry Short Bus, not refined, you know you can sing things a million times and it'll sound perfect. I kinda like some of the takes where I was like "I don't know what's going on dude, whatever, fuck it, who cares!" that's the way it was back then you know "fuck you, it sounds fine go fuck yourself" you know what I mean. I just love that, but that was my Nine Inch Nails thing, it was just like "Hey man, I know you want me to be your friend and I know I'm funny but at the same time I don't think I'm doing anything other than entertaining you and being funny". Would "Hey Man Nice Shot" have been the perfect Nine Inch Nails song? I don't think so, so I think it was a great thing, I'm glad I left when I did and I have everything I need in my life and I wish him all the best.

SFBAC: Would you guys ever work together again?

Richard Patrick: Yeah, well he's doing this thing called Tapeworm, he's talked to me about it a couple of times but I think he's now moved into movies and doing all that stuff, he loves scoring so good for him.

SFBAC: How about the DeLeo Brothers?

Richard Patrick: Those guys are amazing, it's basically this simple: Robert has a studio in his basement where he can totally do his old-fashioned kind of classic sound. They can write and record at any moment in time, they can get Ray Luzier in to play drums and I can take it for a week or two and write vocals or sing it. So it's as easy as them kind of recording everything, which is actually probably tough because they're constantly working with Scott on Stone Temple Pilot stuff. So the band is always there, you know what I mean, we're alive, we talk, Dean and I are constantly in communication. Ray Luzier, every time I see him he's like "Man that Army of Anyone record is still, people still come up to me and talk about that Army of Anyone record". And I think that I honestly could probably do a way better job just 'cause of what I've learned lately as a singer. I just always think I'm improving, hopefully, once you stop improving I think that's when you should hang it up. I think the best Army of Anyone record is still to come, it's still totally doable and could be even better.

SFBAC: Where do you see the music industry of going? Do you have any thoughts about Pandora or Spotify?

Richard Patrick: Pandora pays, 70% of it's money goes towards artists. It's got to be really hard for bands that are trying now because they will just not get a fair shot. If U2 released Boy, which failed, and October, which failed and War which kind of did okay, their records didn't sell much but their live shows were big because they were a Christian rock band and they would cart all these Christian groups and all these youth groups into their shows, that's why they were so huge. And they got this big live following, but if U2 were 17 again or 18 today trying to make it, they wouldn't make it. Same with Bruce Springsteen. Bruce Springsteen's third record, which cost a million dollars for one song "Born to Run," you know he wouldn't have made it. He would have been Bruce Springsteen, the guy down the street that plays guitar but no one cares about.

That's the tragedy, is that there's this amazing homogenized, blended, superficial, musical shit out there, you've got three judges picking out your favorite singers and once in a while you're gonna find someone like, I think Justin Timberlake was literally a... he is a huge gigantic talent like Frank Sinatra talent. He literally can sing his ass off, he's now an actor, he's funny, he literally is a gigantically talented person but I just wonder, it's the quirky, it's the Perry Farrells, it's the Neil Youngs. He's got such a bizarre voice I just wonder if Neil Young would really make it today and that's the scary thing, 'cause it's really it's all hard. From my perspective, I've had such a crazy up and down career and so have all my friends in music, I take it day by day because I keep getting these bizarre things like "Hey, go make another record because there's record companies willing to put a ton of money behind it" and I still get those.

My options keep expanding the harder I work, these last couple of years, the better it gets. So to me it's always just about the next opportunity but for these young bands that have nothing, like if you don't make it in your first fuckin' single you're gone, they just won't put the money behind you because there's no money and its because people fucking don't pay for music. That's the sad thing, the audience is destroying new music, the audience is destroying an industry that might have been a little bloated during the 90's or maybe even the 80's but still, I mean, look what oil is doing. Oil is making the most profit they've ever made, profit not's net, it's not gross it's net, you know what I mean? So, I don't know why the audience thinks where everybody is just a rich fuckin' rock-star but it's not the case.

You know what, I mean, there are bands making it so we're all trying to figure out how to do it man. You still need record people, you know someone once said Facebook is just a big telephone book and the average consumer wants to hear something new, it's like someone has to kinda sift through the shit to go "Hey, this is a band that we think you might like" you know "here's Avenged Sevenfold". At some point someone had to sit down and go like well Avenged Sevenfold is connecting and they're cool and they're really good musicians. At some point someone kind of has to A&R it and that's the thing. I just hope it's not Usher 24 hours a day A&Ring everything you know or "Simon", whoever the fuck Simon is. I do know that Randy is a big Filter fan, yeah he's a big Filter fan and I found this out, this will fuckin' blow your mind. The guys that run the Mars Rovers, I'm a huge fan and I know someone in NASA that somehow got to that thing and said "Do you know the band Filter?" and they're like yes we love Filter and she goes "The singer of the band is the biggest pro-NASA guy, he's so totally all about research and Mars" and they're like "That's badass! Cool, we love Filter" and I'm thinking to myself the fuckin' Mar's Rovers are being controlled by people who might know my music! How fuckin' badass is that?

SFBAC: That's great. Thanks again for your time and we're looking forward to new music from Filter soon!

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