Interview With Richard Patrick Part 2: Writing Filter Hits & New Album

In Part 1 of my interview with Filter frontman Richard Patrick, Richard discussed his old supergroup Army of Anyone, Scott Weiland, and Filter’s tour bus recently breaking down. You can read Part 1 by clicking here. In Part 2 Richard discusses writing the Filter hits Hey Man Nice Shot, Take a Picture, and Welcome to the Fold along with the process of writing Filter’s new album The Sun Comes Out Tonight. Part 3 focuses on Richard’s relationship with former Filter members, his unreleased project with Jerry Cantrell from Alice In Chains, and a funny Billy Corgan story.

It’s probably good that Army of Anyone lasted short term because we’ve actually ended up getting more Filter music because of it.

I put out three Filter records as soon as that ended, and each one is getting better and better and closer to what put me on the map in the first place, but still sounding completely fresh now, and that’s a huge thing. Jonny [Radtke, Filter guitarist] and I even butted heads on how traditional I wanted to go with Filter and in a good way. Jonny is forging ahead, his whole thing is he loves stuff like, if you listen to Polar Moon, he’s really into stuff that’s like Take a Picture and Surprise is his favorite song off this record. I love that stuff, but for me and Gregg Wattenberg, Gregg is the guy who signed us at Wind Up Records, he was like ‘hey dude please I want you to bring the heavy.’ I’m like, ‘I want to talk about motherfuckin Sandy Hook a guy goes into a fuckin class and blows everybody away, why is this fuckin asshole doing this kind of shit?’

During the 90’s I was all about the now and the experience of Gonzo music writing in the same way that Hunter S. Thompson did Gonzo. I am hugely inspired by the way he would write his features and his books. He would experience it through the drugs, he would experience it through the chaos and try to report back from Gonzo. I believed in Gonzo music making, so I lived and wrote all at the same time. ‘Hey Dad what do you think of your son now’ [from Take a Picture] was a placeholder, and I was trying to think of other lyrics. They were like ‘that’s the fuckin most honest bizarre thing you could say in that song,’ and I’m like ‘yeah but am I mad at my Dad? Why do I care so much about what my Dad thinks? I mean he raised me and I’m doing fine, aren’t I?’ That pure honesty led to people coming up to me and saying, ‘My Dad left me in a hotel room when I was 3. There’s something about those lyrics that made me get over it and live my life as an adult and not succumb to the things that brought him down.’ So having those experiences was incredibly important.

As soon as I got sober, I tried to write from the perspective of now and how I feel now, but the reality is I’m fuckin happy now, I love my life. So what I wanted to do was I wanted to make sure that I remembered the chaos, and the drugs, and remembered everything, and reported back from those experiences. Because honestly, when my fans tell me to do something, I want to do it, because for me the music is always written for me. I’m trying to blow my own mind musically, that’s number one. But number two is I have to make sure that I do that for my fans, because it’s the fans that have fucking made me who I am today. It’s the fans who have allowed me to do this, and if the fans want chaos and reports from Gonzo music making. I was the first guy in the world to take the R. Budd Dwyer thing, a public suicide, other than that wimpy Pearl Jam song, you know that fuckin Jeremy thing. I brought it way more to the front and talked about how it might have been a good thing, depending on how you looked at it. Hey man nice shot, like it woke everybody the fuck up, ‘the smoke got clear, they’ve got a new kind of fear.’ At least those people right there know that they’re alive they lived, and it’s time to fuckin live life right. That’s kind of the perspective that I was trying to take. I wanted to bring the trauma of that and put it in the Top 40 and I fuckin put it in the Top 20, that song got all the way to number 14, and it’s still to this day considered a classic song. The brutal honesty of a young man’s imagination discovering that people fuckin kill themselves and it’s bizarre and why? I take that perspective and I use it for songs like “Self-Inflicted,” but I’m doing it from a position of knowing. I’ve experience that isolation, I’ve experienced that kind of frustration. So if I’m drawing from my past to remember that, I’ve earned it.

It’s a different perspective rather than being in the middle of it looking back at it, from what you’ve learned from it.

Yeah I mean you know Welcome to the Fold, I was like what the fuck-

That’s my favorite Filter song.

Yeah, and Ben Grosse is like, ‘are you going to have a point to your music?’ Even Marilyn Manson is like ‘what is your point?’ I’m like, I don’t know. I’m not writing from the perspective of I’m trying to say something. I’m writing from the perspective of here’s where I am. [Welcome to the Fold lyrics] ‘I drink to celebrate nothing, and I’m drinking myself away, but it feels A-OK.’ For me to write a song from the perspective of Drug Boy, you know ‘tonight these chemicals are god, tonight these chemicals are sunshine, golden sunshine.’ That is the drug experience, and that line spawned The Sun Comes Out Tonight. It’s all about, I grew up in Cleveland, you ain’t got shit to do. You could spend 7 bucks on hit acid and avoid going to fuckin places that are filled with people, and just kind of crawl on bridges. We used to get underneath the transportation bridge, and I know I’m beyond the statute of limitations on that [laughs]. I’d get underneath that drop edge and we would just walk underneath it and wait until the sun came out. We’d peak on whatever drugs, mushrooms whatever it was. We would just sit there and philosophize on ‘what the fuck is the point of us being on the planet if it sucks so bad for us being kids that fell through the cracks?’

I didn’t have a good time in high school, I didn’t learn anything. I learned, but it wasn’t what they were teaching me. The biggest thing I learned from high school was when my creative writing English teacher said ‘dude, dare to be different dare to dream.’ He was like ‘what do you want to do with your life?’ I’m like ‘I guess I’ll be an accountant.’ He was like ‘are you fucking kidding me? You’re not conservative you’re a romantic, you dream of so many bigger things.’ Nothing against accounting, but I’m not fascinated by numbers like accounts are. I have a friend that’s an accountant, he’s a genius, and he loves it. He’s like ‘god damn dude the equation, look at this thing blah blah the algorithm!’ He’s just all about it, and some of my biggest heroes like Neil DeGrasse Tyson he’s like ‘fuckin Math is everything and it’s awesome.’ So I appreciate accounting and stuff like, but for me it was all about standing in front of people and emoting and hopefully getting them to a level of like, ‘hey thank you for entertaining me, thank you for taking me out of my life for a second.’ That’s the thing that I learned from high school, you don’t have to fucking be normal. In fact, if you’re crazy and you dream, it just might work for you, and that’s what I got.

Now on The Sun Comes Out Tonight, getting back to that, I noticed the different kind of production sound on the album compared to the last couple of Filter albums. Now was that a conscience decision, or did it just happen? Like poppier songs like First You Break It, did that stuff call for it?

Those songs to me were, I wanted to pull from two different emotions that we’re famous for. The fans spoke and I’m working with this new young talent Jonny Radtke. I’m like, ‘Jonny now that we can do everything on a guitar, because you’re here, I want to try and do some fucking heavy riffs that fucking I can’t play. Because if you’re going to do it, and you can play guitar better than me, fuckin let’s go to the places that we need to go.’ So he gave me that, and he loves playing those riffs, those riffs are fuckin fun to him like What Do You Say, We Hate It When You Get What You Want, It’s Gotta Be Right Now, all of the stuff off of this record. The Sun Comes Out Tonight [title track] actually, [Jonny] woke up one day, we heard the Deftones record that came out. We were like ‘fuck!’ He like was just inspired and he wrote this really cool riff, but Jonny really likes music like Take a Picture and stuff like that, and Polar Moon is his band.

The production had to be very skillful, I tend to pull from The Edge. I do a lot of weird happy accident Brian Eno stuff when I do stuff on the guitar. I’m way more avant garde than anybody realizes, so we used my guitar almost as a sound design. For him, the biggest thing was we needed a big huge hook after that vocal thing ‘surprise surprise, no lies.’ You know when there were those big holes, we needed something that was like a piano. We tried all different kinds of stuff, eventually we just went to this piano sound with this cool inverse delay stuff that was going on with it. That took the talent of Mike Lorre and John Alloresto. Those were two men that were introduced to us through the label. Gregg Wattenberg had said ‘these guys are really great electronic guys let’s use them.’ So we sent them the tracks and they put some cool overdubs on top of everything. Like we wrote the melody for Surprise and said ‘can you please put some really great sounds for this?’ So we opened up our links, plus the other thing is we had Chris Lord-Alge mix Surprise. He mixed everything, he mixed all the singles. Probably the only one that might be a single is Self-Inflicted, and that was mixed by Bob [Marlette].

I’m curious what are the next singles going to be?

I really don’t know.

I think First You Break It would be a good one.

Well First You Break It means you’re going light.

But you’ve got to do at least one of those, one of the light songs as a single. Surprise works too.

Surprise seems like a slam dunk, that’s right underneath. But the thing is that people don’t realize is once you go to the light you can’t go back to the heavy.

I think you can just go wherever you want. With Filter I love the lighter sounding stuff and I love the heavier sounding stuff. I get what you mean from a public perspective though.

But even at like Active Rock [radio], as soon as those guys think that you’re going to the lighter stuff, they feel like, I don’t know what it is but there’s a science behind it. To me if we want to have the heavy rock audience longer I would say probably We Hate It When You Get What You Want or Self-Inflicted. Then when we choose to get over into alternative, and broaden beyond just the rock stations I’d say Surprise. Surprise is obviously a huge hit, we’ve just got to figure out when’s the appropriate time to release it. It might be the next one, who knows?

That reminds me of a Filter song from a few years ago that surprises me that it wasn’t a big hit, Fades Like A Photograph. Why wasn’t that released as a big single, because I still listen to that now.

It was, it was released.

It was but I don’t get why radio didn’t play it more.

No one worked it properly, it wasn’t worked properly, people didn’t care. You know fuckin Happy Together, which blew the fuck up off of The Great Gatsby trailer? All of the sudden that’s at a million and a half views on YouTube, then they tore it down, then someone reposted it and it’s at a million and a half again and almost 2 million. We sold 80,000 of those a week for like a month, people are like ‘where’s this been?’ I was like ‘it was released as a single 3 years ago, Stepfather soundtrack.’ If you don’t have that right hype or something behind it, like all of the sudden hearing it sitting next to Leonardo DiCaprio everybody realized ‘oh that’s really cool.’ But when it was heard on active rock late at night it didn’t matter for some reason. I mean Jay-Z’s taken a shit load of crap because it wasn’t on the soundtrack. There’s so many comments that are like ‘I came here to buy the Filter song, where the fuck is it?’ It’s kind of funny to read it on iTunes.