Laughing in the Face of Madness – The Filter Interview

Richard Patrick’s sound is rooted in the heavy industrial style where he started out playing with legends like Trent Reznor in NIN. One of the most interesting things about Filter’s sound is the interplay between vocal melodies and guitar riffs during the chorus of the songs. Both the vocal melodies and riffs come to a crescendo and build a very epic sound. Filter has always been famous for soaring choruses over heavy riffs. The use of drop A and drop D tunings is the basis for the sound of many of Filter’s songs.

For some bands, especially those with a strong heavy metal following there is a strict code that is to be followed when it comes to the band’s sound, and rule number one is, no drum machines or vocal auto tuning. That is a rule that has been unheeded by Richard from the very beginning. “Hey Man Nice Shot” was written and recorded entirely by Richard Patrick. Richard even did the programming of the drum track on the album. Yes, the drums on that song are done by a drum machine. Later in his career, Patrick jokingly used a vocal auto tuner for 16 bars on a song called “The Inevitable Relapse” on the Trouble With Angels album. This bequeathed a casual “fuck you” to the prudish purists who thrive on uniformity.

There has also been concern by critics and skeptics over the amount of lineup changes that Filter has seen over the years. In fact, just weeks prior to this interview, Filter welcomed Jonny Radtke as its new guitarist. The lineup changes only tend to serve up new unique and diverse songs for the band. With the personnel of Filter consistently in flux over the span of their career, the band has produced songs ranging from the very heavy to the radio friendly hits like “Take A Picture”. Dabbling in an array of such styles has created a fan base that spans the extensive spectrum of audiophiles, creating a conundrum for record companies, Richard explains, “The record company that I was with told me that they believed our fan base was eclectic enough to handle songs like Take A Picture as long as they get their dose of heavy.”

The great musicianship that has embodied Filter coupled with Patrick’s flair for brilliant songwriting has placed Filter among the elite of bands that emerged over the past 50 years. Patrick’s sonic tenor often centers on the use of drugs. Richard himself, now eight years sober, speaks very openly about his past drug abuse. Songs like “Drug Boy” and “God Damn Me” delve deep into the psyche of a person at different stages of drug use and addiction. Richard uses a unique Gonzo-esque style of songwriting where fiction and reality clash as they often do in drug induced states. The result is a white knuckle hell ride through vast chemical gardens, in short – a Filter song.

Filter continues to push the envelope of creative expression. In an industry run by greedy wankers in fancy suits, Richard Patrick and his gang of misfits navigate turbulent and shady streets, Laughing all the while in the face of madness – this is the story of Filter. Are you in the process of writing a new album?

Richard Patrick: The last thing we did was a cover of “Gimmie All Your Lovin” and that’s already on the radio. I’ve written four or five songs since then but nothing has been put down in a studio yet. But the thing about Filter is that it is a project – it’s like Queens of the Stone Age or Bruce Springsteen. There are so many amazing people to work with and I like to explore that. I still write with Mitch Marlow even though he doesn’t like touring – he’d rather spend time with his family. He doesn’t have the commitment to tour, but he still writes music. Then there’s a guy like Jonny Radtke who is an all-around talent. He’s got a solo thing called Polar Moon and he’s got a bunch of stuff and ideas that he brings to the table. Rob Patterson had to take a little break but he’s good at two things – speed metal and heavy metal. So I work with him and it’s a speed metal album – not for Filter but just something different. But I’d tell him I’d like to start writing some really simple songs for Filter because I want to do something like Short Bus.

And I want to put like three or four records out just keep putting out music consistently. I’ve talked with record labels and nobody really understands the model for putting out music. Like Chevelle puts out a song and it goes in to the Top 10 immediately because it’s a Chevelle song. For a band like Filter, we have our fan base and its split. The pop fans who like Take A Picture and then the heavy metal fans come to our shows to hear Hey Man Nice Shot. We’re sort of playing to a couple different niches and it tends to be harder for fans to know what to expect.

Its great to be able to write with other people and co-write and come up with new ideas for songs and if a song doesn’t get used for Filter, maybe it will end up as a trailer for a movie or something like that. I’ve always loved film and it’s great to work songs in to films like that too. The writing that we all do is non-stop. Was there ever a time in your career when you took a break from writing?

Patrick: Yes. In 1997 I didn’t write a song unless it was for a movie soundtrack or something. That went on for two or three years like that. When you decided to do another Filter project, was it difficult to get back to writing Filter songs?

Patrick: Yeah, I guess it was but I wasn’t really aware of it. The record company that I was with told me that they believed our fan base was eclectic enough to handle songs like Take A Picture as long as they get their dose of heavy. “Welcome to the Fold” was the last song I wrote for that album because we knew we needed something that was going to slam. So I tuned my guitar real weird (Drop A - AADBGE) and wrote it. You use a lot of Drop tunings.

Patrick: Yeah, like “God Damn Me” is in Drop D Major. I woke up and wrote that song in between blackouts. I was in a hotel room with my buddy because I had to have someone keep an eye on me to make sure I didn’t go into a coma. But I woke up and started messing around with different chord variations in Drop D and stumbled upon that riff that I thought sounded really new, like I hadn’t ever heard that before. Let’s do a rundown of the gear you’ve all brought on the road with you.

Jonny Radtke: I’m playing Gibson Les Pauls and using Blackstar Amps for the first time on this tour. So far they’re great I love them. On this tour I brought out my old analog pedals. I’ve got a Maxon Distortion, Line 6 Verbzilla, OCD pedal, Digi Tech Whammy, Cry Baby, a whole bunch of old classics. There’s a lot going on up there on stage.

Phil Buckman: I’m using Schecter Bass that is a prototype based on a custom bass I had designed for me. I run that into a Shure ULX Wireless system then into a splitter. Then from the splitter, one wire goes directly into a GK Fusion 550 Head which is powering two 1x15s. For EQ on the amp, everything is off except for Bass which I set at about two o’clock. The other line from the splitter goes into my pedal board where I have a Dunlop Bass Wah, MXR Distortion, and a Line 6 Echo Park which I modified with an expression cable hooked into the time function so I can have an expression pedal to adjust the time with my foot. I build my own pedal boards and cables and I do my own wiring. That goes into a Line 6 Verbzilla which is also looped into an expression pedal which I use just for the volume. That runs into a GK 550 where the EQ is set higher so you can hear the notes better.

Patrick: I’ve had like five Custom Telecasters from Fender and I’ve given them away back in my drinking days. I have this one, the first one they made which I call “Golden Boy”. I recently put on a pearl pickgaurd so maybe I should call it “Liberace” now. But when I pick up that Tele, its all the Filter guitar sounds. Playing live I like to use a couple Schecters. But when I have to play some of the more roust Filter songs like “Dose” the Tele comes out to make an appearance. Songs like that, even “Take A Picture” those were all that Telecaster. Nothing speaks more to me than that guitar. I did not use it much on this last record with Bob Marlette. Basically, my guitar sound was like a 9000 and then I had a table going down the house into the speakers. I had this [mixing] board which I believe was called a Fostex 812 from my 8 track days when I used an 8 track machine to do demos. And I would just crank 400 hertz and then play barre chord variations on top of that and it just sounded so unique and so different. I ended up losing that board somehow, I think Adam Walker walked away with it and I never saw it again. But I realized from a guy named Bob Ezrin, who produced the Army of anyone and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, he said that all microphones have something to offer – even the cheap stuff. I like how I recorded Short Bus because I used this really cheap crappy Audix Microphone. I felt like breaking some rules and abandon recording norms. So the next Filter song that came out after Short Bus we decide that we were only going to use DI guitars and that was our middle finger to the “right way” of doing things.” We recorded all the vocals on Trouble with Angels with an F7 – a 250 dollar microphone.

Dean DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots, Army of Anyone) won’t admit this in public but I introduced him to using [Line 6] Amp Farm to replicate the vintage tone without using vintage equipment. When we went in to do the Army of Anyone record they had every old amplifier from the 60’s in the middle of the room facing out towards the walls. And then they had all the bass amps in a circle around the room facing in towards the middle and they had every amp mic’ed up – it was amazing but it was pretty over the top. But that’s just the way they record. For example, Dean uses very little low end on his guitar because his brother Robert takes up so much of that frequency with his walking bass lines. So Dean uses a Stratocaster for that reason. And he uses the white Stratocaster Jimmy Page used on Physical Graffiti. He owns that guitar. It’s worth a couple hundred thousand dollars, its light, its delicate, it’s from the 50’s, and he plays it quite a bit. I’ve learned that sometimes you’ve got to abandon the rules and do something different to get that edge you’re looking for. For us right now its Blackstar Amps. Blackstar is my amp because it’s not the norm and it has this really cool dial where you can go from ‘California’ sound to a ‘British’ Sound. They are rigorous and they can take a beating on the road and that says a lot to me. My pedal is a Zoom G3 Multi Effects Pedal. It has everything I need on it. Joe Satriani uses one too, it replaced everything I had. When I got that pedal, I had a huge pedal board and I took everything off it and just put this one pedal in the middle. What does Golden Boy have for pickups?

Patrick: It’s got Seymour Duncan Hot Rails down at the bridge. And it’s got a Fender Noiseless Single Coil at the neck position. Do you have any of the other Custom Teles left?

Patrick: Yeah I have a few and every one of them sounds completely different. I have one called “Sparkle Motion” that’s totally silver with a mirror pickgaurd and I got a new Strat neck on it and a new modern vibrato system. You use the old 70’s style Strat necks on your Teles don’t you?

Patrick: No, I took those off. I thought it was just the headstock, nobody told me it was the whole neck. I’d be playing and my fingers kept flying off the fretboard. I just wanted the headstock to look all old and funky but they wouldn’t make me one like that. Yeah they were vintage style necks, they even said “Filter” on them – I took them off. Are they just standard Strat necks now?

Patrick: They’re all the modern neck from a Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster. You used a vocal auto tune on one of your songs. How did that idea come about?

Patrick: There are 16 bars on one song (“The Inevitable Relapse”) of an effect called auto tune. It’s an effect they use for rappers and people who cant sing good – it’s the Cher effect. And I have never been more criticized by my own fucking fans for that. I used a drum machine on the first fucking record. I’ve been breaking rules the entire time. My fans would say, “I can’t believe you used auto tune.” What!? I used a fucking drum machine on your ass on a rock record - that was the prank of the century! We were like Big Black in the studio at that time. We didn’t know any drummers. We didn’t like any drummers. We were more influenced by Ministry then we were by Soundgarden in that respect. I think they were pissed because I told them it would sound like the old stuff and there was a little effect on my vocals. I love my audience that stuck with it and went and got the record and realized that it’s a beautiful record with 16 bars of auto tune. I’m not a habitual user of auto tune as you’ll see tonight when I sing my ass off and its all real. I’m a great singer and I’m very proud of that. We used that effect and it was fun –we laughed when we recorded it because we knew it was crazy and funny. What was your first guitar?

Patrick: My mom bought me a Global Les Paul copy at K-Mart. I Pete Townsend-ed that motherfucker as soon as I hit puberty. I wanted a Strat when I was young so I got a G&L Strat – Trent Reznor destroyed that. Then he bought me a Gibson Les Paul Standard in London which was ridiculous because it cost a fortune. I brought it back and used it and wrote “Hey Man Nice Shot” with it. So now I don’t use it that much but Dean (Deleo) loves it.

Jonny Radtke: I bought myself my first Les Paul when I was 18 or 19 and I absolutely fell in love with it. It’s that Custom Alpine White Guitar. It was destroyed once actually on a flight. They wouldn’t let us carry it on board so they stowed it underneath the plane. We got to the venue; my tech opened it up and immediately was like “oh shit”. He brought it over to me and there was a boot print on the bridge and on the neck and on the headstock. So someone at the airlines opened up the case and purposely stomped my Les Paul. I was absolutely heartbroken. Then a friend of mine recommended a guy who specializes in fixing Les Pauls and he did an amazing job and when he heard the story he practically did it for free. And that’s the white Les Paul I still play today.

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