Roddy Bottum of Imperial Teen and Faith No More kindly answered questions about scoring for films, the fun and joy of being in Imperial Teen, and what the band will play at their upcoming shows (May 24th San Francisco & May 25th LA) .
After The Show: The 4 of you in Imperial Teen evenly split all songwriting credit, so how do you decide who sings lead vocals on any given song? Like do you sing “You’re One” because you brought the idea for it to the group?
Roddy Bottum: we’ve done that all different ways. usually it’s whoever happens to be at the microphone takes over. we write a lot of our lyrics together. will has the strongest singing voice so we usually let him take over in that department. but if it’s a super unique perspective that i feel comes from me i’ll insist on singing.
the girls mostly sing backups but lynn has sung leads on a couple songs in the past. usually ideas that she has brought to the table.
You’ve lived in LA, NY, & SF over the years…How do their music scenes differ, and was one place/time better for you as a musician?
SF was such a beautiful place back when i lived there. it was affordable more than anything and all different types of artists could get by and make music and rent spaces at affordable prices. i remember paying $160 a month for rent on 16th street in the mission. that was with six roommates but still…. such affordable housing doesn’t exist anymore and it’s changed the demographic.
LA is more serious minded, if you want to get into the music biz, it’s clearly a good option. there’s SO much work there. a lot of it is sketchy stupid hollywood television crap but there is a lot of opportunity. NYC is a nut i haven’t cracked yet. i’ve just moved there temporarily and am looking for my niche. i do know there is more culture and inspiration there for me now. there are vibrant classical progressive scenes and theater, obviously, and opera. i’m into opera. i’m going to write an opera and a musical next year in NYC.
When you’re scoring, what are your goals/responsibilities and how do you work?
all scoring jobs are different. my favorite ones are when i’m left alone and the director or producers trust me and let me do my own thing. that’s a unique and wonderful situation. i do stuff on the computer and play stuff and record it. whatever works. it’s all about pleasing the big project at the end of the day.
How do you inject your own essence/personality into a score while also respecting what the director wants for the project?
i usually feel pretty strongly about the notion that the director has hired me to be me. it’s really all i can bring to a project, myself. that said, i kind of just try to keep it as honestly pleasing to myself as i can. sometimes i feel a little misunderstood and there’s some rewriting that gets done but for the most part it’s all about making my personality or perspective heard.
At recent shows you’ve played new songs from Feel The Sound as well as older favorites like “Million $ Man,” “Sugar,” and “Yoo Hoo.” Are there any plans for the upcoming shows to add in other old songs like “Pig Latin” or “My Spy”?
we were practicing ‘pig latin’ for a little bit. ’my spy’ i don’t think we ever played live. we’re playing ‘our time’ and ‘room with a view’ this time around. those feel really good and we’re attempting another song off of FEEL THE SOUND. we haven’t done it yet but it was sounding good at practice. and another old song we hadn’t played in a long time.
It seems so rare for a band to stay productive, friendly, and positive over decades. What is it about your 4 personalities / work ethics / attitudes that makes IT a strong, fun band nearly 20 years after forming?
we have a lot of respect for each other and we really make each other laugh. we have a short hand language that we resort to that gets a lot of mileage. we’re a family that doesn’t really tire of each other. it’s still so much fun. we only do it for that joy of it. we certainly don’t make money doing what we do.
Did many Faith No More fans follow you to Imperial Teen? The two bands seem very different stylistically.
there are usually a couple of FNM fans in the house. that band really pushed the envelope as far as diversity goes. to the FNM fans’ credit… they are super open minded and usually get something out of what IT does. totally, though, night and day stylistically.
“Room With A View” and “Baby and the Band” sound like autobiographical stories of IT…so does “It’s You” to a lesser extent…
i think we only really write autobiographically. there were a couple tell all’s on this last record. we sometimes come from a ‘veiled’ perspective but usually tell it like it is and wear our hearts mostly on our collective sleeve. we aren’t great at writing about other people. pretty narcissistic.
What’s one of your favorite lyrics you’ve ever written?
i really like, ‘the hawk bit the chicken…. killing boys but giving birth to men.’ i’m good at writing lyrics. i wish i did it more. that’s why i got to write a musical.
Imperial Teen has some rare, out of print songs like “Pretty,” “Sweet and Touching,” and the cover “Shayla.” Any chance that newer fans can somehow hear those songs?
probably not a chance in hell. a couple of our records are out of print and we don’t have any of that old vinyl left.
How has your attitude/approach to songwriting changed over the years…have you noticed any major shifts from when you were 25 vs when you were 45?
my stylistic approach has changed a lot. i’m bored with the 4/4 time signature, honestly, and i like to confuse it up a lot more than i used to. it used to bug me when rhythms were confusing but now i like it. i also am open more to sounds as opposed to riffs. but i still really like a cheeky perspective. that sounds kind of lame but i think you know what i mean.
Does it matter to you how Feel The Sound has done commercially? It deserves so much more commercial success, and it’s on Merge. Do you think there’s some bias against older musicians amongst the more youth-centric indie demographic?
i was surprised and am always surprised when our stuff doesn’t catch on like wild fire. i love what we do and it always seems super likable to me. i don’t think there’s a bias against older musicians as much as there is a really short collective attention span. people like ‘new.’ that’s clear. i like new too but i also am a really loyal fan. i will see bands that i loved back when again and again and again. i saw frightwig and killing joke both last weekend and couldn’t have been happier… something about that time in your life… your twenties. the wallop of familiarity.
Care to share the meaning of “Seven”? Was it inspired by your sister?
yeah, it was about my sister. how she was younger and always taking care of me. that dichotomy. a younger person taking care of an older person, being wiser. it kind of reads sad, does it?
Thanks Roddy! Check out RoddyBottum.com & Roddy’s Twitter, and get SF and LA show info at ImperialTeen.com