Mr. Bungle 30 - Danny Heifetz Interview
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the debut album by Mr. Bungle we had the privilege of chatting to members of the band and discussed their thoughts on this seminal record. Our third interview is with the unprecedently talented and underrated drummer Danny Heifetz. Reposted in celebration of thirty years.
Danny joined the band in 1988, his first recording being the demo OU818, and served as Mr. Bungle's drummer until their demise in 2000. He now plays and teaches drumming in Sydney, Australia.
When was the last time you listened to Mr Bungle's debut album? If recently how did it sound?
I don't think I've listened to that record in its entirety since a couple years after it came out. I remember feeling a bit of pride having helped create it during those first few months after its release, but I really became unhappy with the drum sounds, once I learnt how much better they could have been without gates ON EVERYTHING. I have listened to individual tracks - usually years apart - a few times since then. Most recently was about a year ago hearing the ending of "Carousel", which reminded me of its rather beautiful digital nature on a mostly analog record.
As for its general, overall sound, I'd have to say parts of the album don't sound horrible. That Eventide unit sure got some good usage. As did the Cylon-like auto-panner that we discovered in the racks at Different Fur. One could have compared our in-studio actions to those of kids cut loose on a free-for-all toy-shopping extravaganza.
Can you briefly explain how you came to be a part of Mr. Bungle.
My first gig with Bungle was actually playing trumpet on a micro-tour to Portland, OR in the summer of '88, I believe. I guess I was such a mediocre trumpeter that they just had to make me their drummer. But, of course, there was Eggly Bagelface, the slightly superior band in the Arcata-Eureka area at the time. Hell, we got to open that Fishbone gig at that brewery in Eureka! It was around that time the Bungle lads realised how 'good' we were and that the only way to dominate the ‘north of Ukiah’ market was to reel me in. Even after Bagelface lost a future Bay Commissioner and became Barn, they knew we were a force and that Rich Engel was gonna take over the world (or join the Peace Corps) if he wasn't stopped (or slowed a bit). So Bungle claimed there was a problem with their shit-hot current drummer Hans Wagner who, on that fateful '88 tour, dove headfirst into a rock submerged (about a meter or two) along the banks of Oregon’s slightly majestic Rogue River. I probably presented myself to them as a person that would be less likely to dive headfirst into a shallow rock-laden river (while on tour) so they must have said, "Ok, git ‘im." Or at least Trevor thought something like that because he called me to drum with them literally the day before I moved back east to drive taxis on Martha's Vineyard as a late summer job to make some money for what ended up being a failed trip up the Amazon with some old friends (which never happened because my fabulous pals gambled their earnings away at a horsetrack in Florida). So I told Trevor if they could wait till I get back in January ('89), I'd love to do it. But I ended up missing the boat on a taxi job. That's actually funny. Ha, etc. Because i had just taken the ferry from Woods Hole, MA to the island, where my friends picked me up in their island cab on what they then informed me was basically the last day of the tourist season: Sunday of Labor Day weekend. (I should have realized things sucked since I was one of three people on board, watching the return ferry pass us filled with sunburnt bastards that had spent all their money on things like… TAXIS!! I ended up as a prep cook/dishwasher at a beautiful old BnB there and eventually crawled back to CA after some more work in New York (on a Greyhound, not my knees) but, guess what - Mike had joined FNM while I was learning how to make cioppino and effectively operate a Hobart washer. (I was fucking good on that thing.) So yeah, there’s the short version of the story and you’re welcome, Mike.
Many fans describe the record as 'life changing'. Why do you think it's held in such high regard?
Perhaps the creepy artwork and kooky lyrics were enough to make a 13-year-old boy feel different than if it were a Human Nature record. I have met quite a few people (boys/men - what a surprise!) that had been about that age and told me what an effect it had on them. What I find most incredible is that several of them are now school teachers and, as if that weren't enough, some among them are award-winning teachers at that! I guess that's high regard coming to fruition, so I'm happy with those results.
NOTE: Just today another teacher (at my daughter’s current school) told me he used to practice drums to Bungle records. No surprise then, that he’s a fabulous, loved, well-respected teacher! How does a song like “Squeeze Me Macaroni” help to form amazing individuals? I don’t get it but I ain’t complaining!
If you were to go back and change anything what would it be?
I suppose I would have loved for Zorn to have been there for my drum tracking. I’m sure I would have been totally intimidated but I also would have learnt and benefited a crapload from that experience, whether it would have been some technical knowhow, new musical ideas from him or something as simple as a boost in my confidence.
I sure as hell wouldn't have changed most of the skins on my kit just before hitting RECORD, which is what I was asked to do by Dave Bryson, who recorded us. He was a great engineer for us but I wish we would have discussed drum heads a few weeks before recording because according to him (and later Zorn, I imagine) we had to gate everything in the mix. That’s because the new skins were ringing like a goddam carillon during tracking. Beautiful 70's Slingerlands with brand new heads somehow made for a pretty shit sound. My old skins sounded fine but were considered too dead from which to get any decent sonic life. He was right, I suppose, but it would have been nice to have known about it before I got set up. We were literally ready to track, (mics in place, etc.) when it was decided to go re-skin, NOW. I'm sure they had been mostly the same skins we used for the demo (OU818) a couple years before. I remember loving the sounds Bryson got from that. But then again I haven't listened to that tape in about 75 goat years. As a side note, I feel I must for no particular reason mention that Bryson fancied himself quite the windsurfer at the time. I hope he still does. Has anyone ever picked up on that nuance of the album or in the mix? Now I am done with that side note. OK then…
There is a lot of juvenile but endearing humor that was put into the album. How does this feel to you 25 years later?
I'm not embarrassed by all of it but somebody probably is, somewhere. That's not to say I'm not ashamed of any of it. Shouldn't we have gotten sued for some of that riffraff? Did Colonel Sanders really have to demean himself to the point of crapping to two-inch? That must have been the low point of his career, post-KFC. On that topic, I still think JFKFC was the best band name ever, (except for maybe "ShittyShittyBandBand", who played at my wedding in SF.) I never heard JFKFC but their logo absolutely wins whatever band logo contest might exist. Please check it out and go make your own JFKFC t-shirt because it will make you some new friends.
So yeah, to answer your question: “No.” Or perhaps: “It just doesn’t”.
Was the constant changing of pace and time signatures hard to capture in the studio as a drummer? (The one who has to knit the songs together.)
I don’t remember having much trouble with song arrangements on that first album (unlike the next record – DV - which took a bit more work to get right in the studio). We tracked drums and bass live while Trey and Mike played along with their half-ass (yet entertaining) scratch tracks in the control room. I’m pretty sure Dunn was in the main room with me, with his amp hidden away somewhere, I think. (His amp was in a goddam BATHROOM for DV.) Dunn and I got our parts done in a day and a half. I don’t remember how long it took for everybody else to do their parts (weeks) but it made me want to go back and fix a few things once everyone else’s contributions started to stack up. Changes were being made to original guitar, keys and vocal parts but me and Dunn were stuck with having laid down the foundations; the idea of us going back and ‘fixing’ anything would have been a foolhardy idea; we’d probably still be eating those same worms from that same mega-Costco can.
What are your favorite songs/moments on the album?
Best thing we did was the tracking of “DeadGoon”. It was the only song recorded in separate sections because a big part of it consisted of the ingredients on what I’m now dubbing ‘The Extra Reel’, which was never called that until right now. We had bought one too many reels of 2” tape (Ampex?) so we had to use it, duh. We just improvised for 15 minutes and eventually edited some of it via ACTUAL TAPE SPLICING with the bits of ‘song’ we had earlier re-recorded based on a previous improvisation, one that was luckily recorded on cassette at a band practice inside an actual chook shithole known as TheChickenCoop up in Manila (or it might have been Samoa; but it was on the spit between Arcata and Eureka) a year or two before.
There was some overdubbing on that because my favorite moment overall (visually, anyway) was when Mike was doing the “floating…floating” vocal bit. He was using a Manhasset metal music stand to create the creaking/swaying sound when he just let go of it. It might have fallen into the side of what might have been George Winston’s piano. The possibility of it leaving a dent in the side is pure hearsay. But whatever, it sounded great. It was the moment that, to me, verified us as a neo-false “new age” band.
How did the experience of creating this record aid in your future work?
Everything I’ve done in the studio since then stems from what I did and did not learn at those sessions. I probably knew the least about high-end recording of anyone in that studio, though I had my own ways of doing things for years prior, on my ¼” TEAC 4-track. I’d been recording on tape for years so I knew the value in that. But as far as things like outboard gear and patch bays went, I was as clueless as they get; and still am in a lot of ways, which isn’t very unpathetic. I was very lucky to have worked with such incredible creeps who gave me an opportunity to voice the occasional musical/technical opinion, despite being rather dumbfuckish about it all.
…Did I mention that Trevor Dunn is about the easiest guy I’ve ever worked with (especially considering his ability and talent) and easily one of my favorite people on the planet? No offense everybody else, but that’s a fact, Jack… (I’ll give quarter-century praise to the rest of you jackass geniuses in 2020 for DV and 2024 for CA.)
The inevitable last question. What would it take for Mr. Bungle to reunite?
Yeah, whatevzz, let’s do this shit you guys; but everything’s in 4/4 this time, dammit. (Ok, maybe one tune in 6/something.)
Photo by Heather Leah Kennedy (Danny with Dieselhead Live in San Francisco, May 21st, 2006, at 12 Galaxies.)
Thanks to Rodrigo Roros for hooking us up with Danny.