The Addiction Tumult that Inspired “Take a Picture” by Filter

Richard Patrick has always been the one consistent member and driving force behind the band Filter. After originally collaborating with Trent Reznor in Nine Inch Nails and convincing the industrial icon to integrate guitars into his hard synth-driven music, Patrick started the guitar-heavy Filter on his own in 1993. He soon landed his own deal with Reprise Records and scored a big hit with the aggressive “Hey Man Nice Shot,” a brooding and blistering song inspired by the live television suicide of Pennsylvania state treasurer R. Budd Dwyer.

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The rock radio success of that song and constant touring helped make Filter’s 1995 debut album Short Bus a Platinum seller. It led to movie soundtrack contributions to The Crow: City of Angels, Spawn, and The X-Files. But it was the second single from Filter’s 1999 sophomore album Title of Record that would become their true chart hit, and it stemmed from a highly personal place.

Transitional Angst

While he was creating his band’s second album, Patrick was undergoing a lot of changes in his own life. While he had recorded Short Bus with producer and electronic programmer Brian Liesegang, creative differences led the Filter frontman to a split and then bringing in touring guitarist Geno Lenardo, bassist Frank Cavanagh, drummer Steve Gillis, and Short Bus mixer Ben Grosse as co-producer for the Title of Record sessions at his new Abyssinian Sons Studio in Chicago. The facility also acted as his living quarters and the band’s tour rehearsal space. The album still mainly featured Patrick’s playing and some programming, but he let in some band input.

On a more personal note, Patrick was involved in a relationship with married Smashing Pumpkins bassist D’arcy Wretzky-Brown. He felt guilty about the situation, but he said she told him she was in an open marriage. But the relationship ended during the Title of Record sessions, and some songs were written about her. She even provided backing vocals on the song “Cancer.”

Patrick also struggled with crippling drug and alcohol addiction, and that was also chronicled on the album. “Take a Picture” was one of those autobiographical portraits.

On a High While Up High

The lyrics for “Take a Picture” were inspired by an incident where Patrick got inebriated on a flight and ended up roaming the cabin naked. When he wrote the song he quickly knew he had a hit on his hands, so he stopped working on it and dove into other material.

“I was like, OK, well, the hit’s out of the way, let’s work on the fun stuff,” Patrick told me during our interview for the Title of Record liner notes for the album’s 2019 reissue. “It’s fun to make loud music, but ‘Take a Picture’ was the punk kind of ethical thing—the music was this luscious bed of gorgeous chords and dreamy, luscious sound because it’s the drug. It’s what drugs feel like. But the reality of being a drug addict or an alcoholic was ‘take a picture because I won’t remember.’ I’m either dreaming or I’m not. I’m naked on an airplane or who knows what’s going on.”

Unlike most of Filter’s harder-driving music, “Take a Picture” was propelled more by acoustic guitar and languid vocals, making it akin to the song “Stuck in Here” from the band’s debut album. It was one of the songs that allowed the singer to confess to his issues without overtly admitting to them. Interestingly enough, despite 1999 through 2001 being a very dark period for him because of his addictions, he said that he recorded most of Title of Record sober.

The video for “Take a Picture” featured a number of scenes involving water—Patrick falling into the ocean following a fiery plane crash, sitting in a house that was filling up with water, and performing with his bandmates atop a house that looked like flood waters had overtaken most of it. Those metaphorical images certainly reflected the way he felt in the song, and his seemingly blissful or unconcerned expressions in the clip perhaps mirrored a surface indifference to his problems. But underneath his emotions were churning.

Patrick would make major changes to his life, and he became sober in 2002.

A Personal Statement Becomes a Hit

“Take a Picture” is a standout song in the Filter catalog not simply because it’s a highly personal ballad, but because it also showed that Patrick was quickly maturing as an artist. He did not want to stick with a formula that his label likely would have wanted from him, and other songs on Title of Record reflected that sense of adventure. It also turned out to be the band’s one big chart hit, reaching No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and helping to push Title of Record to Platinum status like its predecessor.

“Take a Picture” remains a big hit, racking up 100 million Spotify listens and 26 million YouTube views, although “Hey Man Nice Shot” is neck and neck with 98 million Spotify listens and 30 million YouTube views.

While this period would be the band’s most commercially successful, Filter have soldiered on and released other solid tunes on albums like Anthems for the Damned, The Trouble with Angels, and their eighth and most recent studio release, The Algorithm.  Many of them have been of a more sociopolitical nature. The group toured for their 30th anniversary last year, combining headlining shows, festival dates, and opening on the Freaks on Parade Tour featuring Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, and Ministry. They are currently touring the UK and Europe.

Although the making of Title of Record came during a time of upheaval for Patrick, he channeled that angst and uncertainty into a strong musical statement.

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Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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