Mike Patton And Duane Denison Talk Tomahawk ‘Downtime’
In light of the 1999 Duane Denison interview and Jesus Lizard trivia labyrinth that have recently been posted in these parts, here’s another vintage conversation with the guitarist, along with Tomahawk bandmate Mike Patton. In it, fans will be reminded as to why they should never have bitten their nails over Tomahawk, if they ever did. Great as they were/are – the band’s MySpace page went cold around the release of 2007’s Anonymous – Tomahawk were pretty much intended to be an on-again, off-again affair from early on.
Originally published in 2003, before the release of that year’s Mit Gas (the successor to 2000’s impenetrable Tomahawk), the article below admittedly isn’t much to write home about, as the cliché goes. But there are some telling words from the ‘Hawk guys, and posterity beckons, so …
They are underground rock’s four Wise Men: Duane Denison, rattlesnake-guitar whip behind now-dissolved venom–rockers the Jesus Lizard. John Stanier, once recognized for wreaking havoc behind Helmet’s drum kit. Kevin Rutmanis, a gargling bass whiz known for his membership in the Melvins and Cows. And Mike Patton, one-time Faith No More guru and main power supply behind such acts Mr. Bungle, Lovage, Peeping Tom, Maldoror and Fantômas.
Together, this quixotic quintet is known as Tomahawk, an assailing squadron every bit as sharp, heavy and dangerous as their name implies.
“I made a decision a few years back to work with new people,” Denison reveals in a late-January telephone conversation. “I was kind of getting in a rut in Chicago.” The downturn began when the Lizard croaked back in the summer of ’98 (the same year Faith No More splintered). Denison packed his bags for Nashville, where he met up with Hank Williams III and joined the wacko country player’s assemblage.
“Being a sideman’s fine, but you don’t get a chance to write or arrange as much,” Denison says of the experience, “And at that time, Hank III was getting into more of a metal thing, which I’m not that good at and don’t really much, either.” He later adds, “I think I’m an authentic American rock guitar player, a fairly inauthentic form of music, anyway.”
On both fronts, Denison has found utopia in Tomahawk. The principal songwriter finds comfort in the band’s rugged aesthetic: a serrated, hard-hitting smack devoid of any direct affiliation to punk, metal or other easily classifiable brands. Their rookie attempt, Tomahawk, is a rock rebirth of sorts, like when those old folks in Cocoon hit the ball field and teach the youngins how the game really ought to be played.
Like Denison, Patton sees Tomahawk as an outlet for pent-up energies. “I was a bit stifled in Faith No More,” he says. “I did not have much time to do anything else besides an occasional Mr. Bungle record. Once Faith No More ended, I already had ideas for Fantômas and Maldoror. I love all types of music and want to work with many different types of musicians. Tomahawk is great! It is mostly Duane, which helps lighten my load and make it easier.”
The mutual admirers crossed paths at a Mr. Bungle show in Nashville in early 2000, at which point Patton asked Denison what new material he’d been working on. Denison promptly shipped off some prepubescent tunes to Ipecac, Patton’s Alameda, CA-based label.
Denison recalls, “At first, some of it was as basic as you can get – acoustic guitar and a metronome. Gradually, I started sending home demos – guitar, bass, drum machine.” When Patton asked Denison if he had a vocalist in mind, the two agreed that Patton would fill the vacancy perfectly. Once the two fixed their plans, “Mike added stuff [to the demos], then we got together, just Mike and myself. We recruited the band and I worked with those guys one at a time. When we went to record [in Nashville], we all got together a week or so before and hashed things out.”
Says Patton, “There was a feeling-out period, but we were drinking and wrestling before you know it.”
Following the album release, Tomahawk hit the road for a brief spell across the U.S. For Denison, there was some comfort to be had in starting from scratch. Well, almost scratch. “Because we’re all known commodities,” Denison states, “We didn’t have to start over at the very beginning, play small basements and sell cassettes out the back of the van. On the other hand, I don’t think you’ll see us on VH1 or in People anytime soon.”
The band is already drawing crowds of up to 1,000 souls, which may be swelling even further as they cruise through Europe until mid-March. As Denison and Patton disclose, concertgoers will find everything from improvisational jams to Roxy Music or Mott the Hoople covers to altogether new songs.
According to Denison, three new songs are already in the bag, with more to follow shortly. He predicts the next Tomahawk material to lean in a different direction. “The next album we do, I think you’ll hear more of everyone’s individual input, because we will have played those songs for a while before they were recorded live.”
While Denison’s enthusiasm for his new project seems to know no bounds, the other three Tomahawks remain obligated to other acts, as well. Patton remarks, “I don’t rank the bands [Fantômas, Lovage, etc.] in terms of importance,” but later counters, “Having said that, I’m hoping my newest project, Peeping Tom [a space/R&B/pretty-pop ensemble], is the one that takes over a lot of my time.”
Denison also admits, “I think there’ll be some downtime for Tomahawk. I imagine the Melvins will have to do some stuff, I don’t know what’s up with Fantômas, either.” All the same, the crew is considering another swing through the Midwest and southern U.S. once they return from Europe. So long as this Tomahawk exists, expect the heads to keep on rollin’.
Originally published in Mean Street, February 2003.
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