Filter’s Richard Patrick Rewires The Algorithm

A conversation with the alt-rock veteran about the impetus behind the band’s new album

Filter’s Richard Patrick (Image: Chapman Baehler)

“I feel like The Algorithm is perfect. I think it’s a great record. I think it’s a beautiful record,” says Filter frontman Richard Patrick, talking about his band’s hard-hitting latest album (out on today via Golden Robot Records). 

As on Filter’s previous seven releases, The Algorithm features hard-hitting alternative rock– but, as he’s quick to point out, it also includes the group’s usual sonic diversity: “The whole front side of the record is pretty heavy, and I leave the mellow stuff towards the end. I have to rock. I have to be loud. I want something that makes me feel good if I’m driving down the road or running on a treadmill – I want stuff that kind of kicks my ass, so I have to feed that beast. And then it’s time to mellow. Then I can have a few songs that are acoustic and lighter.”

He does this, he says, “because I always think that a great record is like a party: when you get there, there’s loud music and it’s fun and everybody’s meeting each other and it’s highly active. And then about two hours later, someone lights a joint, puts on some mellow music, and starts to chill out. And that’s how I like to sequence records – halfway through, it kind of mellows out and turns into something else. I’ve had records that turn into ambient music by the end of it. I’ve always been proud of that little signature thing that we do.”

The Algorithm came about after Patrick released a few standalone songs in recent years, then realized he still had a ton of extra music laying around. Also, he had a lot of things he wanted to get off his chest, so he poured his thoughts into his lyrics. He says one song, “Obliteration,” ended up being autobiographical in nature, delving into his past as an alcoholic. 


VIDEO: Filter “Obliteration”

Much of the rest of the album, though, is more outward-looking, centering around Patrick’s deep misgivings about modern life.

“I’m concerned about the planet. I’m concerned about society,” he says. “I’m convinced that a lot of people out there are just really out to get you and are bad. We’re headed for some really dark shit.”

“The whole theme of the album is, there’s this astronaut that has come back to Earth and it’s apocalyptic,” he continues. “He’s trying to find a survivor and he can’t find anyone; he’s completely alone. And it’s because of the algorithms that people are being led by. Social media is dangerous and crazy. You find yourself on your phone doom scrolling, where you’re seeing some interesting things, but you’re mostly seeing bad things. And it’s just kind of wild that we all have these algorithms, and they’re telling us who to be, and it’s scary, and it sucks.”

All that said, Patrick also stresses that people should feel free to create their own interpretations of these songs.

“I would hope that everyone comes up with their own conclusion as to what the record’s about,” he says. “The songs have deep meaning to me, but if I tell that meaning to everyone else, they’re going to be like, ‘Oh wow, that wasn’t my take.’”

He points to Filter’s 1999 hit “Take a Picture” as a prime example of this.

“People come away with so many different interpretations of that piece of music that I’m stunned that they get so much out of it, and it’s not nearly what I was saying at the time,” he explains. “The song was a cry for help. I didn’t realize that until maybe five years after I wrote it. ‘Could you take my picture ’cause I won’t remember’ is basically what I was thinking every day when I would wake up from another alcoholic binge, and I’d be like, ‘What the fuck did I do last night? What did I say last night? Why are so many people leaving messages on my answering machine?’ But I don’t want that song to be that for every person that hears it.”

But other tracks Patrick has written are less ambiguous, as with the song “Hey Man Nice Shot,” which is about a Pennsylvania politician, R. Budd Dwyer, who fatally shot himself at a press conference in 1987. Released in 1995 on Filter’s debut album, Short Bus, the song immediately became a massive hit and established the band as one of the foremost alternative rock bands of the 1990s.

“I didn’t want to write love songs having not really grown up, having not really matured into a person that could write about that,” Patrick says of his decision to write about such unconventional topics, “so I wrote about topical events and my views on the world, and it came out that way.”

He learned songwriting by emulating his idols.

“Bono and Joe Strummer and Nivek Ogre and Al Jourgensen are my favorite lyricists,” he says, referring to the frontmen of U2, The Clash, Skinny Puppy, and Ministry, respectively. “They have no problem saying what they want to say, and I love that. And it’s not ‘Baby, I love you.’ And if it is ‘Baby, I love you,’ they fucking mean it, it’s fucking real.”

Patrick says that it was always clear that he would follow their lead and become a professional musician himself, because “There was nothing I could do other than play music and write music and hang out with my friends in a basement and play loud rock music. I literally completely, totally, and utterly was drawn to music from the minute I heard Neil Diamond when my dad played it on his record player in 1973. That’s as far back as I can remember, when I was four years old. I can still remember sitting in my dad’s chair listening to Neil Diamond. And he would play Pink Floyd and all kinds of great music.”

Patrick went on to join Nine Inch Nails as a touring guitarist, and that band became one of the most successful industrial groups in the world during his tenure with them. “I was so proud of it, and I was so proud of Trent [Reznor, NIN’s frontman] – he did such a great job,” Patrick says.

Filter The Algorithm, Golden Robot Records 2023

Even so, he felt compelled to leave NIN so he could try his luck fronting his own band, founding Filter in 1993. “I wrote ‘Hey Man Nice Shot,’ and I knew it was a huge hit. I just believed in it. And I was like, ‘If I don’t leave now and try and do it, then I’ll never go and do it.’ In my 25-year-old world, that was just how I saw that.”

Filter’s longstanding success proves that this was the right call, with “Hey Man Nice Shot” and “Take a Picture” remaining popular for decades now. Patrick says he and the band will happily play those particular songs at their many tour dates, which extend through the rest of this year and on into 2024.

“These are my babies,” he proclaims. “These songs have helped me tremendously, so I pay homage to them by singing them, and I love it. I have no problem doing it.”

For several shows, Filter will share the bill with Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper and Ministry for the much-anticipated Freaks on Parade tour.

“We are opening the show, and we are very proudly going to play all the hits, and then our latest single, and deliver the goods,” Patrick says. “We are a great band right now.” Later, Filter will do a run of headlining dates.

As he surveys his career, Patrick is content. “I hear ‘Take a Picture’ in the grocery store – that’s when you know you’ve made it, when you’re just walking around a mall and all the sudden you hear it,” he says with a laugh.

As he releases The Algorithm, it seems likely that there will be even more Filter songs that capture listeners for decades to come.


Katherine Yeske Taylor
Latest posts by Katherine Yeske Taylor (see all)

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Katherine Yeske Taylor

Katherine Yeske Taylor is a longtime New Yorker, but she began her rock critic career in Atlanta in the 1990s, interviewing Georgia musical royalty such as the Indigo Girls, R.E.M. and the Black Crowes while she was still a teenager. Since then, she has conducted thousands of interviews with a wide range of artists for dozens of national, regional, and local magazines and newspapers, including Billboard, Spin, American Songwriter, FLOOD, etc. She is the author of two forthcoming books: She’s a Badass: Women in Rock Shaping Feminism (out December 2023 via Backbeat Books), and she's helping Eugene Hütz of Gogol Bordello write his memoir, Rock the Hützpah: Undestructible Ukrainian in the Free World (out in 2024 via Matt Holt Books/BenBella). She also contributed to two prestigious music books (Rolling Stone’s Alt-Rock-A-Rama and The Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock. She has also written album liner notes and artist bios (PR materials) for several major musical artists.

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