Life beyond faith: Roddy Bottum's new 'teen' angst

By Jeff Walsh, Oasis Editor
July 1996

As the keyboardist for Faith No More, Roddy Bottum bent the stereotypical image of the "gay piano player." His melodic piano capped the band's monster hit "Epic," which until his piano solo is a rollicking metal-rap song. Bottum plays the melody at the part near the video's end where a fish is flipping around on the dirt.

Bottum, being openly gay in a metal band, is somewhat of a fish out of water himself. While Extra Fancy and other up and coming bands further break down those barriers, no other high profile member in a metal band has come out publicly since Bottum.

Since Faith No More's last release, Bottum has started a new band called Imperial Teen, whose debut album Seasick was recently released. Unlike Faith No More, Imperial Teen is a playful, pop band with lyrics that are simultaneously simple, beautiful, sardonic and revealing.

Bottum, 33, plays guitars and drums in addition to sharing lead vocals in Imperial Teen. The group is about to tour with Track Star, and will then launch its own solo tour. And although Faith No More has started work on its next album, Bottum says Imperial Teen has been taking the lion's share of his time.

"It's sort of eclipsing Faith No More as far as time being spent on it, importance and relativity," Bottum said. "Faith No More is a good place to be, but there's only so much input you can have as an instrumentalist in a band. I needed to express myself in a little bit more clearer terms. So, words, lyrics and message were important at the time we started doing the Imperial Teen thing ... And I'm playing with people I am really close to."

Many gay newspaper and magazines have ferreted through Seasick to find the "queer lyrics." There are some that could be perceived as having a queer slant, but finding them is like finding fool's gold. The real treasure is in letting the songs take you on their pleasurable sonic trip, with their clever wordplays and melodies.

"Being a San Francisco band and living here as long as I have, I would never sing from any sort of certain perspective," Bottum says. "I try to speak honestly with my lyrics, but I never intended them to be as gay as people seem to think they mean. All sorts of lines in songs that people keep quoting to me are not necessarily gay. They're just sort of ambiguous. I imagine they're more gay than straight, because that's more interesting to me ... a more interesting perspective and where I'm coming from.

"The lines 'Take it like a man, boy,' and 'Kiss me like a man, boy,' [from "you're one"] was actually something a straight guy said to me. So, it's not a gay reference point," Bottum says.

Another oft-quoted line is from a song called "Butch," which has the chorus "Butch is pink, and butch is blue, you like strawberries, I like you."

"That's just saying what it is," Bottum says. "Macho doesn't have to be the stereotypical sort of thing we're brought up believing, a pink and blue mentality. Macho can be either way. Macho can be sensitive, or macho can be hard-assed."

Imperial Teen is not a "gay band," Bottum says. He just doesn't look at music that way, he says.

"I don't really look at music as gay or not. I just like bands. The sexuality thing is really sort of a side issue," he says. "I appreciate it's being out there and statements are being made rather than songs about chicks and cars which has been done before. But I'm more into the artistic side of bands."

Bottum thinks the whole focus on him being a gay musician is misplaced.

"I'm gay, and I'm open to that. But it's just an uncomfortable feeling to be pigeonholed in any way," he says. "Although, I am gay. I'm certainly not embarrassed about it. I'm proud of that. Being called any one particular thing, even if it is what you are, is sort of limiting."

The focus should be on the music, he says. And when it comes to Imperial Teen, Bottum is blunt in saying he expected people to like the album.

"I like it a lot, and I think I have good taste, so I expected people to like it," he says. "It's a very honest sound, and an honest band. I think people can see it's not a lot of bullshit."

Keeping the Faith

Bottum says his coming out publicly hasn't caused any reaction among Faith No More's hard-core fans.

"It hasn't been too different, which I think says a lot," he says. "It's the type of thing where I imagine if anyone was biased against a gay person in a band or had problems with that, it's not the sort of thing I would hear. They would probably be talking about it behind my back. So, if there's been any negative repercussions, I don't know about them."

Bottum says his coming out has been mainly positive on a personal level.

"I think it's an honest statement -- a person's sexuality -- that younger people can identify with who have questions themselves," he says.

He says he has always been open about his sexuality, but it had remained a secret for a simple reason. "No one had ever asked me," he says, "and I wasn't feeling like I had to make a statement."

As for Faith No More, Bottum says they've recorded the basic tracks for the new album. Its singer is about to go into the studio to do work on the new album, and its drummer is touring with Ozzy Osbourne.

"We're all doing other things, I guess," he says. "And this is important for me to do right now."

'It's easy to be honest and proud of what you are'

Bottum started sorting out his sexuality when he had turned 18 and moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles.

"San Francisco's a really good place to experiment," he says. "And turning 18 and coming up here was certainly about experimentation -- drugs, sex, whatever. I probably started to sort of my sexuality around then, I guess. I would have girlfriends, boyfriends ... I wasn't very gender-specific at the time. I wasn't committed to any sort of role."

When he was 21, and around the time Faith No More was forming, he had already self-identified as gay and had come out to his parents.

Bottum says his advice to gay teens would be how insignificant sexuality becomes later in life.

"The thing that seems to speak the most is looking back on it. And I think any young kid who has been honest with themselves and other people about what they're feeling, later on in life and looking back on this time when you're not sure what to do, everything seems petty. It seems like a silly sort of predicament to be in. I think, looking back on it, it's really easy to be honest and proud of what you are. It's a very simple thing.

"There are problems in life that have much more magnitude. At the time when you're going through that, it's horrible. But the salvation that you can look forward to is looking back on it as such a petty drama," he says. "Not to belittle kid's feelings and insecurities about coming to terms with their sexuality, because it is a big deal at the time, but it's just nice to know that later on you go, 'God, why did I waste time on such a little stupid thing. No one cares.' Well, people care, but ... you know."

Inspiring minds want to know

Bottum says he doesn't mind gay kids looking up to him, but he's a little apprehensive about the term 'role model.'

"That sounds like a pompous stance to take. I mean, everybody's fucked up. I wouldn't want anyone basing their decisions ... hmm ... I guess I wouldn't want anyone using me as a role model. It's like that line about the club or the party," he says, presumably referring to "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member."

When it's mentioned that just his being openly gay and honest about it can help gay kids feel better about themselves, he seems okay with serving that purpose.

"That's really good," he says. "Role model is just a heavy phrase. I hope I can be a good inspiration for kids who are a little nervous about it."

The author, Jeff Walsh, may be contacted at jeff@oasismag.com.

Picture of Roddy Bottum live in concert with Faith No More courtesy of Rodney Gitzel, editor of Drop-D Magazine, http://dropd.com/.

©1996 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.