Faith No More’s Jon Hudson cares a lot, and not just because that’s a reference to the band’s 1985 single. No, he really does care a lot apparently, because he can scarcely answer a question or voice an opinion without adding a “not that there’s anything wrong with that”- style disclaimer. He is so thoughtful, soft-spoken, and considered in his responses that it’s hard to imagine anyone taking issue with what he has to say, but he clarifies his statements just the same, lending a cool weight and humble gravity to his words.
Hudson spoke to GP in measured tones (for the first time since his October 1997 interview on the then-new release Album of the Year) about the first FNM album in 18 years, Sol Invictus [Reclamation], his sound, and how he feels about Faith No More’s indefatigable fan base.
You guys have obviously played a lot of shows since Album of the Year, but you haven’t made a record in 18 years. Can you describe how this experience was different for you since the last time around?
I don’t think it was really all that different in terms of the overall approach, but the technology has obviously changed considerably. I think the fundamentals of recording haven’t changed all that much, as far as writing and arranging and coming up with parts. But the Internet has changed everything. We can send files back and forth. You can work on audio after it’s been recorded in a way that you never could have done prior to Pro Tools. When you come up with an idea you can record it on your iPhone or anything. That part of the technology is definitely very liberating, but at the same time it doesn’t do anything on its own.
Talk about the guitars in “Superhero.”
Bill [Gould, bassist] had the idea for the song. I played with the drummer while he tracked it and then we put more guitar and bass on later. I changed the rhythm parts a little bit where I thought necessary. As for the guitar solo, we weren’t even sure what was going to happen with it, so we kept it open ended, and the guitar solo on that song is actually Bill. He was working on it and recorded it, and I thought it was great. I didn’t see any reason to try to change it. All the rest of the guitars on there are me.
That tune definitely has the dramatic dynamic shifts that I associate with Faith No More. How important are those to what you guys do?
I think it’s not just a big part of the band’s sound, but our approach. Without those dynamics, I think the band doesn’t function as well. We really thrive on those big shifts. That doesn’t necessarily work for other bands, but it works for this one. In a lot of our songs, the guitar or keyboards or both will completely drop out at times. It’s like negative space, and that’s really important. You hear it said all the time—it’s the space in between the notes. I think that’s not emphasized enough. There’s so much of a tendency to say or do too much. You have to lay out and you have to know that there’s potency in that. It goes for playing and writing too.
How did you create that big rhythm sound?
I double tracked the rhythm parts. The basic setup in the studio was a Marshall JCM800, one cabinet with different speakers in it, and different mics on those speakers. The microphones were recorded to different channels, which becomes more of a headache later on when you’re trying to keep track of everything, but it was better than trying to bounce them down to one track.
In “Separation Anxiety” there are some really cool, jangly chords. They’re not clean, but they’re not totally dirty. What’s the key to making a part like that speak the way you want it to, both in the studio and live?
That was a struggle. Seriously, I think we tried it about a million different ways. The part itself is straightforward, but getting it to work was trickier than I would have imagined. I’d actually be interested to go back and find out which track ended up getting used for that song because Bill had a Kemper and a Fractal Axe-Fx in the studio. We were looking for something that had a little less low end and maybe just enough midrange that it would find its own place without going crazy with EQ at mixdown. I think we knew if it wasn’t working before the mix, it wasn’t going to work at all.
How do you plan on pulling off that one live?
Just by incorporating my existing setup—using my rig in a way where I can get in the ballpark. There’s always the option of using something with presets. Sometimes when you do that, though, the part loses its focus in a way. You start noticing that you’re using presets, although I have no objection to that. I’ll use whatever is necessary live. You find out how to make it work. What I’ll most likely do is use an EQ in a way that the low end doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the sound.
You employ EQ pedals in an interesting way to clean up your Marshall. You’re not switching channels—you’re actually getting your clean tone from the same head on the same channel by using an EQ. How do you set it?
Just to be clear, I don’t really have anything against a channel-switching amp. It’s just that sometimes the second or the clean channel doesn’t quite get it for me, but that’s just me. Maybe other people have more success and they can get what they want out of it. I just don’t. I want the sound to be a little bit more manageable than simply rolling off my guitar volume. A few years ago I started messing around with a little EQ pedal as an alternative. Typically I’m using it subtractively so the amp is getting less signal. It’s as simple as that really, but it’s effective for me because that’s sort of like my clean channel. The JCM800s don’t have that much gain compared to what’s out there nowadays, so it actually is possible to get away with just using a pedal like that to clean it up. Typically, I’ll knock most of the low and mid frequencies off the pedal.
I’ll also use an EQ instead of an overdrive. I like overdrive pedals, but they sometimes compress a little too much. The sound is really satisfactory when I’m playing by myself, but live I can tell it’s getting squashed. The EQ actually adds just enough gain on the top so it’s a little crunchier. With two EQ pedals, I can get that range out of the Marshall. That’s not saying that they don’t have enough range on their own—because I think they do—but I definitely wanted some additional contrast. This seems to be another option.
When you use an EQ pedal as a boost, are you boosting some or all of the sliders or just the level?
The midrange frequencies maybe get kicked up a little bit with the volume, and that’s it. I don’t go crazy with it. I’m not really trying to change the sound of the amp all that much. An overdrive will tighten up the sound quite a bit and also cut the bass considerably. A lot of players love that. I don’t mind that, but I’m not looking to change my sound that drastically.
Are you running all your pedals in the front end of your amp or do you put them in the loop?
I never use a loop. I have no objection to it, I just don’t have any need for it.
So you’re running your delay and reverb pedals into the front end of the Marshall as well?
Yeah. Typically there’s no problem with that, however, you have to be mindful of the settings that end up going into it because if you have a neck pickup and you’re playing really quietly through the reverb into the amp, you get a certain sound. But if you are full blast with a boost going into that same pedal into the amp, it’s a nice little surprise. I just have the small Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano. That’s my Twin Reverb-style tank right there, and it does its job. I just got this Red Witch Violetta delay, which is really cool. I have a couple of those now. I have one for slapback and then one set at maybe 400 milliseconds. Those go in the front end as well. I like the sound of effects going into the front of the amp. I’ve never really messed around with effects loops all that much, although it’s a nice option to have. Even when I used a rack unit, it was still going through the front of the amp.
What can you say about the loyalty of this Faith No More fan base? They’ve not only stuck by you guys, but they’ve remained absolutely rabid over all these years, through everything.
The most obvious thing I can say is we’re incredibly fortunate in that regard. The band has a loyal following of people that are receptive to what the band does. Not every band can get away with what we get away with. I don’t mean in antics, I mean in terms of the sound and the approach. What the band does wouldn’t work for everyone else. I think we just do what we do and we do that whether there are 50 people out there or 5,000. We got a great reception after such a long hiatus. We came back and there were people out there that were bringing their kids to the show and their kids are now fans of the band. It had been quite a while, and we’re really lucky that we still have this big following.