A Selection of Trevor Dunn Favourites
Updated: Jan 30
Bass player, composer and friend of our page Trevor Dunn celebrates his birthday today.
It is a mammoth task to appreciate or understand the amount of music Trevor has written and contributed to over the years, you only have to browse the discography section on his website to marvel at the extent of his work. From rock to jazz, experimental sounds to classical Trevor has it all covered.
There is Dunn-music that is easily accessible - mostly involving his childhood friend Mike Patton - but if you don't look past this you could miss out on some incredible stuff.
Below is a list of some of our favourite Trevor Dunn recordings.
1. Stare Baby (2018)
The brainchild of drummer Dan Weiss, this album mixes beats and structures of jazz with metal riffs resulting in a heavy but complex collection of music. It is foreboding, abstract and a perfect example of Dunn's musicianship.
Weiss cited metal bands such as Meshuggah and Metallica, electronic composer Luc Ferrariand and every type of jazz as influences. The themes on this record are inspired by the latest season of television show Twin Peaks, whose surreal landscape helped shape the overall feel of the music.
Danny is one of my favorite drummers even though we don't get the chance to play together that much. He hand-picked this new band of his and I did not hesitate to join. It's a pretty ridiculous bunch of 'jazz' musicians/composers. For me it's a challenge and a lot of fun. What's NOT attractive about it? - Trevor 2017
2. Mr. Bungle - California (1999)
Mr. Bungle's third album is simply one of the greatest recordings of all time. Like the impossibly crafted noise of Disco Volante the sound of California is equally as curious but in much different ways. It is a throw-back to 60s surf pop with expertly written songs. Trevor is credited with writing the incredible Retrovertigo, illustrating his ability to substitute experimental sound with traditional formats resulting in a stirring and twisted ballad.
These ideas of superficiality, a self-deprecating society, blind worship, making the outside pretty and colorful while the inside rots — along with other songs on the record, are what congealed to make California our closest thing to a concept record. - Trevor 2019
We spoke with Trevor about the making of the album for it's twenty years anniversary, you can read the full interview here.
For me, California is the culmination of a lot of individual and collective thought and a deeper understanding of orchestration and song form. There is something more mature about it and I suppose I say this mostly from a subjective vantage point, namely in regards to my own song-writing. That said, California is almost 20 years old and I find it difficult to look back on anything that distant and not see miles of room for improvement. So many things that I or we could have done better, to make a better album. But that I suppose is why we all continue to make music — it’s a life-long process of building and stripping away; finding the core of what we want to create and learning how to better execute it. - Trevor 2019
3. Trio Convulsant - Sister Phantom Owl Fish (2004)
The second release by Trevor Dunn's Trio Convulsant features guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Ches Smith. You can hear shades of Mr. Bungle as progressive rock meets free-style jazz.
People ask me what kind of music it is and I never know what to say. There is counterpoint; there are power chords & atonal melodies. Sometimes it swings; sometimes it tries hard not to swing. There are complicated written passages & sections of free improvisation. It’s not fusion but it does combine disparate styles & yet I like to think of forms developing organically as opposed to a cut-and-paste technique. - Trevor
4. Fantômas - The Director's Cut (2001)
Fantômas was Mike Patton’s first true project after Faith No More, but to realise the brutal avant garde compositions featured on the debut album he needed a group of artists competent in various styles. Patton of course turned to Trevor.
I was blown away by the demos he gave me, but when he told me who was in the band, I couldn't believe it. I'd met Buzz a couple of times, but I didn't know Dave at all. I mean, when Slayer released Reign In Blood in 1986, that was kind of it for Mike and I as far as metal goes. We figured it couldn't get any better than that, so we kind of stopped listening to it. I thought he had a lot of balls to call those guys up, but he did, and they were both into it. - Trevor 2013
The second album is Patton’s tribute to the art of horror/thriller film scores. Like many other projects Trevor is involved with he provides the bass without writing credits but his presence is felt in tracks such as Experiment in Terror and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
It’s a genre breaking, irreverent album that bridges everything from metal, jazz, sludgecore, grunge, and abstract electronica. Its’ ominous, foreboding, spooky and often hilarious. It knows no boundaries. Its also an acquired taste. But a taste well worth acquiring. It may be uneasy listening , but I’ll say this: its one of the most challenging, and rewarding albums of the year. - Drowned In Sound (2001)
5. Nocturnes (2019)
For a long time Trevor was in his own words ‘a side-man’ writing and playing with other equally unique and talented musicians which has unfortunately left his own compositions to ‘stagnate on the back burner’.
In 2019 he released 5 pieces of classical chamber music on Nocturnes.
The Secret Quartet, Carla Kihlstedt and Vicky Chow feature with Trevor on the CD which record label Tzadik described as a moody and brooding sound. We spoke to him about this work at the time of it's release, full interview here.
I don’t think being in a rock band is more more satisfying than writing chamber music. I have the privilege of being able to do both and that is what is most satisfying. That said the older I get the less joy I find in travelling and the more joy I find in sitting behind a desk with a pencil for days on end. I’ve been playing in rock bands pretty consistently for as long as I’ve played bass which is approaching 40 years. Writing chamber music has been much more sporadic and I feel deserves more attention. - Trevor 2019
6. Skadra Degis (2008)
Trevor has played jazz with many other accomplished musicians and the volume of work he has contributed can be overwhelming. We recommend Skadra Degis which brings together Dunn, composer and saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo and Jim Black on drums. A powerful sax trio with interesting improvisations, strong melodies and rhythms, fierce, hard-hitting yet at times sentimental and romantic.
7. Moonchild - Songs Without Words (2006)
Trevor has collaborated with John Zorn regularly since the 90s when the New York maestro was brought in to produce the debut Mr. Bungle album. One ensemble which stands out is the Moonchild Trio comprising of Trevor, Patton and Joey Baron, produced and conducted by Zorn. It was inspired by Aleister Crowley, who wrote the novel Moonchild, and is a aggressive jumble of dark atmospheric sounds. The music here is best represented live rather than the studio version, but still an intriguing listen.
8. Qui W/ Trevor Dunn (2017)
This collaboration between the noise punk duo Paul Christensen and Matt Cronk (guitar/vocals) covers a bit of everything, ranging from jagged, razor sharp math-rock to strung-out noise by way of surreal lounge-jazz and a Captain Beefheart cover (with King Buzzo of Melvins on vocals, no less). It’s a dizzying mixture but one certainly of interest to those with a taste for the experimental and dissonant.
9. Tomahawk - Oddfellows (2013)
The fourth album by Tomahawk is the first to include Dunn, who replaced Kevin Rutmanis. The music was written and orchestrated by Patton and Duane Denison with Dunn being little more than a session player. However it is in this list because it is a pretty awesome album and Tomahawk only get better for having Trevor onboard.
Pretty much Duane wrote everything. The writing process for that band is that Duane writes everything and he makes demos and sends them out to everyone. Patton then comes up with vocal melodies and some orchestration ideas, and the lyrics. Me and John just learn our parts, ultimately. We have a certain amount of our own input, but we are basically just there to realize Duane and Mike’s vision of the music. Duane, John and I got together for a week at the most, rehearsing all the music before we went into the studio.
10. MadLove - White With Foam (2009)
According to Ipecac‘s biography MadLove was Dunn‘s attempt to revisit his roots and form a rock band inspired by Cheap Trick, The Pretenders and Blondie. Stand out features of this music are the ‘Bjork-like’ tones of vocalist Sunny Kim, who unnerving melodies are haunting and addictive. Also Dunn’s deviant take on pop-rock. Trevor sings on the track Left With Nothing, and absolutely nails it.
Over the past few years, I've been writing more accessible rock music, almost as a personal challenge in a way. I like a lot of pop music and rock music. I should be able to do this instead of always writing some weird avant-garde stuff.
I'm just going to come out and say it. I'm a huge Britney Spears fan. I love pop music like that, and not just her, but other stuff in that vein. I'm fascinated about how, musically, it's achieved. I listen to that stuff and one of the first things that comes to mind is, 'How in the hell did they make that record?' It's really amazing how people make records like that. - Trevor 2009
10. Mr. Bungle - Methemathics (1986/2020)
After Trevor came up with the idea, Bungle returned last year with a re-recording of their debut demo cassette Raging Wrath of The Easter Bunny. He blasts through the eleven bonkers punk-thrash metal tracks with ease.
The song "Methematics" had an original title that was "Mathematics," but I never had any lyrics or vocal ideas for it. When we revisited the song and I was thinking about what to do, I talked to Trey and Mike and suggested that maybe it should be a tribute to Humboldt County, where we're from. Unfortunately, there's a lot of meth up there now. [Laughs] Trey and I still go up there to visit family, and we see the degradation happening before our eyes.
Through that conversation, we came up with the title "Methematics" and Patton wrote the lyrics. There's a lot of inside references to events that happened up there when we were kids that nobody would be able to decipher, but there's one line where he references one of our English teachers who turned us onto Marquis de Sade and [Jerzy] Kosinski's The Painted Bird, which is a brutal book. - Trevor 2020