Faith No More were just in town for the Soundwave Festival, and as always, their music is a great reminder of the importance of clever arrangement. Nothing in Faith No More’s music happens by accident and their approach is more like that of a classical composer than an alternative rock band.
Ever notice how you pretty much never hear the guitar, bass and keys play the same riff in the same way? That’s very intentional and it is part of what makes them sound so big, so unique and so complex. In Faith No More’s case, much of the focus is on what bass player Billy Gould is doing. Gould is one of the band’s primary songwriters and much of the arrangement side of things also comes from him. So let’s have a look at some of these tricks via some ‘Faith No Moreesque’ riffs. A big part of the Faith No More sonic philosophy is to have the bass take on as much of a melodic role as a rhythmic one while the keys provide atmospherics. The rhythm guitar is often left to a much more rhythmic approach than in many bands, and Gould says this is often inspired by what a hi-hat might usually be doing. This also frees up drummer Mike Bordin to get a little more creative with his grooves and rhythms, since the rhythm guitar is often providing a steady pulse. Let’s look at an idea inspired by ‘Land Of Sunshine’ from the Angel Dust album. (This isn’t the specific riff but just something you can play in the same style). I’ve notated a two-bar sequence with guitar, bass, keys and drums and you’ll see that each is playing a totally different part. If you have tablature notating software like Guitar Pro, enter this in and have a listen and for the full effect turn the guitar volume down to about half that of the bass, since the bass is really leading the charge here. Let’s look at each part individually.
The bass is playing a repeating pattern in the key of F#, although you’ll notice that it starts on an E which gives each six-note sequence a feeling of propulsion. There’s an octave on the third note of the sequence which helps it to pop out, and it’s designed to preface the snare hit by setting up a bit of drama and tension to be released when that stick comes down. You can play this part with a pick to get extra attack and aggression out of your sound, you can slap-and-pop it for a bit more groove, or play it with your fingers to lay back a bit. Personally I like to play it with a pick for emphasis but then bring it back to fingers if you’re playing it as a verse.
The guitar part here is pretty simple. It’s just three basic two-note power chords following the basic contour of the bass part in a few places but also just chugging away on that F#5 chord at the second fret. The first two notes of each bar are played with emphasis but the rest are palm-muted, and can be choked down on quite heavily to get the full ‘guitar as hi-hat’ effect.
The drums are performing a pattern that sounds kind of like skipping to me. The rhythm is pretty basic but when played on its own it sounds like it’s from an entirely different song; more “Rock n’ Roll Part II” than anything Faith No More would do. If you do enter this into Guitar Pro, try soloing the drums to see what I mean, then add in the guitar to get the full effect and you’ll see how the two work together in a way that a bass and drum kit might otherwise lock in. Note the cymbal crash on the last beat of the two-bar cycle.
The keys are playing a very simple pad using a different chord for each of the two bars. This part is ultra-simple and certainly the least rhythmically challenging but since the guitars and bass are playing the exact same thing for both bars, this keyboard part keeps it from sounding too samey.