Chain-smoking Marlboro Blacks as he sits near the end of an aging sofa, the 80s icon kicks on some rough demos of his latest project, a frontman outing with post-punk band Primitive Race due out this fall.
The music cuts angular and jagged, more raw and steel-edged than what you ever would imagine from the man who gave the world the optimism-tinged lyrics of the MTV hit “We Care A Lot.” A clicking drum line, soon to be filled in the studio by Dale Crover of The Melvins, whirs away. And Mosley — as he has since he debuted with lightning-pop auteurs The Animated in 1979 and, most famously, with rock giants Faith No More – does his thing without skipping a beat. The chorus’ vocals are a bassy rumble, vaguely sinister, weathered but with a ray of dark humor. He silently smokes as we listen.
“Lighter than the air I breathe/ Faster than the highest speed/ Lower than the lowest greed/ And funnier than you and me,” he sings. “But older than the tallest tree/ And uglier than you and me/ And more than I could ever be/ But holier than you and me.”
“That’s kind of been one of my problems all of my life, just being an outsider. Even groups I’m part of, I’m an outsider,” Mosley laments, in familiar, droning deadpan.
It’s derivative to say that Mosley, who made his name fronting Faith No More but was kicked out of the group when they were on the verge of achieving international superstardom with The Real Thing, is back. In fact, he never went anywhere, singing for punk legends Bad Brains and releasing two LPs with rock band Cement, playing out live, and releasing engaging solo records while backed by VUA (Vanduls Ugents Alliterasy) in a steady flow since splitting with Faith No More in the summer of 1988.
But the recent re-release of the We Care A Lot LP, Faith No More’s debut proper, Mosley’s live appearances with much of the group’s “original” line-up, and Mosley’s own solo career – a new acoustic record in the works, touring in the UK — is cause for critical reconsideration. In 2016, he set a breakneck pace and, in 2017, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Yet, despite the ups, the lines on Mosley’s face suggest their share of downs and he remains a slapdash portrait of success, heartbreak and regret.
“Yeah, Faith No More went on and became more famous than they ever were and Mike Patton’s a great singer but, without Chuck, would they have opened those doors?” asked Doug Esper, Mosley’s collaborator in the band Indoria, his tour manager for the Faith No More “reunion” shows and the man helping him to pen a tell-all book. “He gave them a voice. He gave them an image. He gave them a character. He was like, ‘We’re going to go out and make this is as outlandish as possible.’ And that’s how Chuck does everything.”
Or there’s the way producer Matt Wallace puts it. He recorded Mosley’s two LPs with Faith No More and also has worked with the band under Patton, most recently on 2015’s Sol Invictus, their first outing in 18 years.
“Chuck is not nearly as studied a singer as Patton. He doesn’t have those chops. But there’s a real clear line from Chuck’s lyrics and singing to his heart,” said Wallace, who works in Los Angeles and whose 100+ record producer resume also includes The Replacements, Maroon 5 and Train. “He’s definitely as good as Bob Dylan or Neil Young. And he was a window to get into the psyche of that band. I do think there’s a punky, ragged glory to what he does.”
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Born Dec. 26, 1959 to a white Jewish mother and half-African-American/half-Native-American father and adopted, at age one, as Charles Henry “Chuck” Mosley III to parents of exactly the same ethnic makeup, Mosley’s first memory is of someone talking gibberish to him while he was lying in a baby carriage in Echo Park, Los Angeles. Later, he watched his father, Chuck Jr., labeled a Communist in the Herald Examiner, targeted by the FBI, and forced to drink at different water fountains than his wife, Mosley’s mother. (When he wasn’t talking Leftist politics, Mosley says, his dad, a former bodyguard to Paul Robeson, was dining with Charlie Chaplin. True stories, all of them.) This left its share of fingerprints and you can trace the light-heartedness, as well as a streak of social commentary and rage, in Mosley’s performances. At his best, he is a full-throated purveyor of both darkness and light.
Raised in Los Angeles and coming of age in the 1970s, he also found himself surrounded by what came to become an image-defining drug culture, which led to bouts of experimentation and, later, to abuse. (He likes to off-handedly remark that he didn’t start smoking crack until the day Faith No More kicked him out of the band. The well-spread East Coast rumor I heard as a young Faith No More fan in the 1980s was that Patton came on-board because Mosley died of an overdose, obviously untrue.)
“Right now, it’s in the past but I grew up doing everything; I was crazy,” Mosley quipped.
He also isn’t shy in ta talking about a struggle a decade ago with opiates brought on by a hernia and also his back, which he had broken in a Cement tour bus crash years earlier.
“I was 45 years old [and the drugs] just masked everything,” he told me. ” It feels like an upper at some point ‘cause you get up and do stuff and everything. But, in the interim, I was turning [into an] old man… I’d been addicted to feeling good, not feeling any pain.”
Back to the narrative, though. A SoCal scenester and friend with Faith No More bassist Billy Gould from their days together in The Animated, Mosley, then a classically trained keyboard player but fronting the punk band Haircuts That Kill, was asked to replace Faith No More’s outgoing singer Courtney Love – yes, that Courtney Love – around 1983 for a few shows. He joined formally in 1985.
“Three shows turned into five turned into 10 turned into a few years,” he laughs, sitting in the living room of his Cleveland home in worn red-and-white flannel, beige Dickies and black work shoes, his signature black dreadlocks sporting patches of moon-gray.
Success followed and the group’s fan base blossomed beyond its native California. Crowds got larger. Labels started noticing. (“Hey Mr. Bigtime … what’s going on?” he later sings on “Introduce Yourself,” a track where Mosley is the only band member not introduced.) The band recorded its debut, though, kicked off with the familiar thudding bass line of “We Care A Lot,” for Maximumrocknroll-linked indie Mordam Records. But nothing was set in stone from Square One. When they entered Prairie Sun Studios with Wallace in 1985, Mosley was still in rage-at-the-mic mode, a very punk rock approach to singer duties at the time, but that changed dramatically and quickly.
“For the first day, Chuck just literally did screaming, hardcore punk for lack of a better word. We took him to the side and it was like, ‘You know, Frank Sinatra, do a little melody in your voice.’ And, to Chuck’s credit, he came in the next day and he was singing,” Wallace said. “I’ve never seen an artist do such a 180-about-face and land squarely on their feet. To me, that’s the beginning of Faith No More right there. Once Chuck came on-board and started singing, everything fell together.”
“It was the best time of my life,” Mosley said to me, when I drove from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to spend some time with him recently. “When I got up on stage, that killed all the pain.”
The group toured constantly to support their sound. The double-platinum Introduce Yourself LP followed on Warner Brothers imprint Slash Records two years later and the band started getting played on MTV thanks to a colorful, 80s-juicy video for “We Care A Lot.” But, though Mosley still professes love for his former bandmates, tensions were apparent and even Wallace says he’s “sure there were times he [Mosley] felt like an outsider.”
The group, when they toured, liked to band together and press or ridicule one person in the van, really make their life a living hell. Mosley, the last permanent addition to the lineup, was a frequent target.
“There may have been more times Chuck was in the hot seat,” said Wallace, a friend of the group since its early-80s days as Faith No Man.
Faith No More management, through a publicist, said all of the band members were declining comment for this article. Patton is not doing press and wouldn’t comment either, a publicist for his label, Ipecac Records, said when asked for specific comment from the man who now holds Mosley’s job.
Gould, when contacted through Facebook, forwarded all questions to keyboardist Roddy Bottum, who did not reply to e-mail. Love – who formed platinum-minted grunge act Hole, married and had a child with rock icon Kurt Cobain, and jumpstarted an acting career after leaving Faith No More – also did not return e-mails to her management seeking comment.
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Let’s be blunt: Mosley is not the best singer to come out of the hyperactive California indie rock and underground circles of the 1980s. But he is one of the better vocalists. Though he has an effective croon, Mosley knows and works incredibly well within his limitations, a kind of moany, raspy sing-song, and, when he’s at his stream-of-consciousness best, he accents silent pockets of music with an interjected “What?!,” hiccups an understated melody or – for the record: years before Patton – cleverly threads lines of Top 40 AOR pop songs into original compositions.
“I don’t write lyrics. I just blurt them out, like an instrument,” Mosley said. “When I write them out, they feel contrived.”
What isn’t contrived is his inspiration, which he traces back to an early, pre-teen love of David Bowie.
“I imagined myself being a singer, listening to David Bowie, singing in the shower with the hairbrush,” Mosley said. “Just listening to [Bowie’s] Diamond Dogs, I realized I was in his range and I took from him, I copied him and I realized I could croon a little bit. The next obstacle was to stay in tune.”
Mosley is hyper-critical of his own performances and sometimes suffers stage-fright before a gig but people who work or have worked with Mosley are quick to note his peculiar vocal-star quality.
Just ask guitarist Tim Parnin.
He’s the guy hammering away on all those solo/VUA recordings with Mosley, a constant collaborator since Mosley moved to Cleveland 21 years ago. He first saw Mosley perform at a Faith No More show in Greenwich Village, NYC on Oct. 31, 1987, when Parnin was living there in the eclectic, seedy years before Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s policies helped turn much of New York into a playground for trust-fund kids.
“His style is so idiosyncratic. You don’t say ‘This guy sounds like this guy or sounds like that guy.’ He has such a style, there’s no one like him,” said Parnin, a guitar store owner and Web developer who also plays with Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis in the band Sweet Apple. “[For Mosley] it’s got to be cool and it’s got to be rockin’ and there is the spirit of Chuck. It’s beautiful and maniacal all at once.”
It all is also greatly informed by laboring through the odds. Mosley’s life is never as cushy as his upper-middle-class bandmates in Faith No More, friends say, and his own story is pockmarked with failures and adversity as well as fame. He’s an easy interview; when he speaks, the stories gush out of him.
After being kicked out of Faith No More, he formed and disbanded a second group, Cement, and then, starting around 1997, spent more than a decade working on his first solo/VUA record – the accomplished and winningly titled Will Rap Over Hard Rock For Food – due to problems with producers and funds. In the end, the 11-track disc, which saw the light of day in 2009, featured guest appearances from John 5 of Marilyn Manson, Bottum, Michael Cartellone of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Korn frontman Jonathan Davis, who calls Mosley a huge influence.
The record was too highly studio-polished a stone for some (including Mosley, depending on his mood), but it’s also a brilliant introduction to Mosley’s ambitions as a frontman in the modern era. On the disc, there are more than a handful of incredible tracks that get your blood pumping and your mind reeling, but the one that rings most of commentary on Mosley’s life and strife is a wonderfully reworked, nu-metal style “We Care A Lot.” (Mosley also released a version of the single, in more straight-forward form, online in 2014.)
“I care about the young and the wicked /evil and smart, naked and stupid/ I care a lot about the little man who wanted it all but couldn’t have it,” Mosley barks, tellingly. (It’s not all serious; in another moment, he deadpans that he cares “about the fact that I can still get paid for doing this song.”)
Elsewhere on the disc, when Mosley roars about “a second rate version of you” before screaming “Just settle down!” you can’t help but get it.
Mosley holds mixed feelings about Will Rap Over Hard Rock For Food, its long incubation in particular, its existence as a footnote instead of a hallmark, and he is not alone.
“Sometimes, we’d be busy and then a year would go by, nothing,” Parnin said. “Some of the demos sounded better than the finished record.”
So, Mosley and VUA did what came naturally: they released the demos.
Demos For Sale, out in 2016, starts with the excellent “Tractor,” where, after some looped acoustics and a succession of bitter, choppy rock guitar, Mosley’s bark sounds like it’s just as vicious as his bite. It’s one of the better, more invigorating moments in his growing discography and, when you compare it to the good but more polished version on Will Rap Over Hard Rock For Food, you see why these guys are quick to cite the rough drafts.
Esper’s not surprised the record – and other Mosley projects – have their series of setbacks. He’s seen Mosley hit those tragedy potholes before.
But he stresses the method can have its benefits, too.
“Chuck is scatterbrained. That’s on the record and pretty well-known. Everything is that way – there’s no preplanning, there’s no agenda,” laughed Esper recently. “He wants to keep everything fresh. It’s frustrating, but it’s fun to watch. I guess it keeps you on your toes.”
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Doug Esper joined Mosley for a month-long solo acoustic tour of the United Kingdom to cap off a banner 2016 for the frontman. A record of new acoustic material, possibly with tracks from the tour, is in the works, Mosley said. He’s even flirting with the idea of making the release a CD/DVD affair.
“We went to a random bar in Edinburgh, The Black Bull tavern, and I sat down and sitting on the stool next to me in the bar is this guy, thick Scottish accent. I told him I was touring with Chuck Mosley and he almost spit out his beer. He’s like, ‘Faith No More’s Chuck Mosley?!’ This guy remembered everything Chuck did at a show 30 years ago,” Esper remembered. “Chuck leaves an impression.”
The acoustic project is far from the only thing on Mosley’s radar these days. Mosley has been pouring himself into Primitive Race, where his talents as a vocalist really shine, and he also is prepping a new solo/VUA record.
When Mosley isn’t living his music, he cooks at local restaurants and takes care of his long-time girlfriend, the artist Philipa “Pip” Logan, and their two adult daughters, Erica and Sophie. Mosley laments that, unlike some peers from his California days who went on to more success, he has not provided an easy, monetarily sound life for his family.
“I was only ever focused on music basically. And girls. And skating. I split my focuses around. But I never became responsible, put away for a rainy day, ‘build a nest egg for your kids.’ That’s my one regret,” said Mosley, slipping into the tone he might adopt for the book he’s working on with Esper. “The book’s gonna be a tell-all but we don’t have the exact ending yet. I’ll either end up in prison or happily whistling down the road with playing shows. Hopefully, God forbid, it shouldn’t end with my death.”
“The consensus has always been that I’m gonna be the one that hangs out longer than everybody.”