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After all the noisy experimental albums and genre-bending collaborations, Mike Patton should know his place in the world.

That place, you'd think, would not be in the opening act slot for dinosaur rockers the Who, which Patton's latest act, Peeping Tom, supported during a United States' tour last year.

The former Faith No More frontman and his cohorts were booed off the stage at several Who gigs.

"Who listens to the Who?" asks Patton, in explanation. The cross-over audience, it seems, wasn't there.

"I mean, when you're opening, it never really ever works. It's like going to war in some sense," he says down the phone from San Francisco, where General Patton as he's known in another musical incarnation, is trying to figure out which Peeping Tom members will accompany him on his own headline tour Down Under.

If the Who tie-up seems as ill-matched as Faith No More's fraught tour with Guns N' Roses in the early 90s, it also shows Patton's unwillingness to be put in one box musically.

Peeping Tom's music is about as mainstream as Patton has gone since the FNM days. The album of the same name features a diverse range of collaborators - hip-hop star Kool Keith, Massive Attack, rapper Rahzel and hip-hop producer Dan "the Automator" Nakamura among them.

"A lot of people think it should be top 40, a lot think it's bullshit. I really can't be too concerned," says Patton. "I'm glad anybody likes it [but] it's nice to be thought of, even in a negative way."

A tribute to Michael Powell's 1960 psychological thriller of the same name, Peeping Tom is a seedy, noirish affair, as musically diverse as Faith No More's experimental masterpiece Angel Dust.

"This is my version of pop music," says Patton who hadn't even met some of his Peeping Tom collaborators prior to sending them demo tracks by mail. He simply contacted their agents or asked music industry friends to put him in touch.

That started back in 2000. Peeping Tom for years was a virtual album created by a virtual band, with Patton pulling together the samples between recording sessions and tours for his key projects, experimental group Fantomas and the electronic-tinged hard rock outfit Tomahawk.

It's a style of music-making Patton, a versatile musician and programmer, has long been comfortable with.

"It's nothing new really. You want to work with as many people who share your vision. I don't think it's ground-breaking," he says.

He didn't get his dream Peeping Tom line-up - there'll be another chance at that with Peeping Tom 2 which is already in the works. But the man known for breaking up his thrash metal live performances with Britney Spears and Karen Carpenter covers, again reached out to his softer musical sensibilities.

Such was the case with silky-voiced songstress Norah Jones, who took a real risk entering Patton's musical lair, given the lyrics he penned for her track.

"What makes you think you're my only lover? The truth kinda hurts don't it [expletive]," she whispers on Sucker.

The risque lyrics have attracted much attention for the singer-songwriter, but the brief track is one of the less impressive on Peeping Tom, which is at its best on the electro-pop rock of Don't Even Trip and Mojo.

The music video for the latter features Patton's friend Danny DeVito slouched in front of a TV set watching late night infomercials, one of which features Kiwi model, Rachel Hunter.

"The director pulled her in," says Patton of Hunter's appearance in the music video. He has no idea who she is, so I give him some background on Glenfield's greatest export.

"Congratulations!" he shouts down the line with all the mock enthusiasm he can muster.

Where Patton's inspiration for Peeping Tom comes from is hard to tell. He admits that musically, he lives in his own "own little universe".

It's a phrase he has used in several interviews. While you can interweave tracks from Patton's now defunct side project Mr Bungle with Faith No More and Tomahawk songs to uniform effect, it's hard to know what's at the centre of Patton's creative universe - and what inspires his more unusual Fantomas and solo voice projects.

"In terms of the overall concept. I take it as it comes," is all he will say.

After numerous Peeping Tom gigs, he's even unsure of who is listening to the album. "It's hard to tell whether they're meatheads or hipsters."

If Patton was mischievously hoping to find himself in the top 40 with Peeping Tom, which was released a year ago, he'll have been disappointed. It hovered around the 100 mark on the Billboard albums chart, though the single Mojo briefly claimed 40th spot on the Billboard rock chart.

Still, the album has been the biggest commercial success so far for Patton's independent music label Ipecac, which since 1999 has developed an impressive roster of quirky and experimental artists and cut through the big label red tape for Patton's numerous projects and collaborations.

Patton will follow up his tour down under with the release in July of Anonymous, the highly anticipated new album from Tomahawk, Patton's collaboration with Duane Denison and John Stanier.

"The album is basically Duane's baby. He had the idea of doing original arrangements of Native American public domain material," says Patton.

Six Litanies for Heliogabalus, a collaboration with prolific avant-garde instrumentalist John Zorn was released in March.

"It's some of his best work," says Patton, who is squeezing in two short European tours prior to bringing Peeping Tom down here. One is with experimental Austrian musician Christian Fennesz, the other Mondo Cane, features "Italian golden-era pop tunes" rearranged by Patton with chorus singers and orchestra.

"I took them and arranged them and put them into my language," says Patton.

Touring Peeping Tom is a logistical nightmare.

"The people involved?" Patton sighs. "It's very hard to guess. The band has varied every single time on tour. Everything with Peeping Tom is kind of a guessing game. It's constantly exhilarating, but also exhausting." Don't expect Norah to appear.

While the musical collaborations continue at a furious pace, Patton seems as laidback and unwilling to take himself or the world too seriously as he's ever been throughout his varied musical career.

An unedited interview with MTV filmed in 1992 during the making of Angel Dust doing the rounds on YouTube shows a bored-looking Patton cracking jokes and eating junk food as his band mate Roddy Bottum tries to coax the right sound out of his keyboard. You wouldn't think one of the most influential rock albums of the 90s came out of those sessions.

If he has repeatedly come across in the press as dismissive of his achievements with Faith No More, Patton says it's because he was always uncomfortable being the focus of the media's attention.

"The Faith No More stuff isn't about me. It was a band. Maybe that's where a lot of journalists got the wrong idea," says Patton. "You don't just pluck a song off a tree and put vocals on it. It takes a lot of work to put this shit to life."

While he's showing no signs of shaking his workaholic music making habits, Patton, a 20-year resident of San Francisco, wants to keeps expanding his musical universe - but spend more time at home.

"I'm a little tired of travelling the world, jaded as that may sound."

Lowdown
Who: Mike Patton
Latest project: Peeping Tom
Past projects: Faith No More; Fantomas; Tomahawk; General Patton and the X-Ecutioners
Essential albums: The Real Thing - Faith No More (1989); Angel Dust - Faith No More (1992); The Directors Cut - Fantomas; Tomahawk -Tomahawk (2001).
Latest album: Peeping Tom, out now
Where & when: St James, Auckland, June 16 - CANCELLED