When you encounter the gaggle of lunatics who make up insane San Francisco metallers Mr. Bungle, just don't mention the F-word. There's no funk here, insist Mike Patton and his cohorts -- just a lot of John Zorn-produced weirdness, not to mention masturbation. But will the spectre of Faith No More hinder the unbalanced sextet forever, wonders MIKE GITTER, or will they manage to duck the contractual hassles and be left to their own devices -- that is, whiffing their own farts?
Kerrang! | Issue 350 | 20.07.1991
BUNG-HO! by Mike Gitter
"I'm writing a book," Mike Patton dead pans. "It's called 'It's Lonely at the Top'."
"If you read about him, he's not really like that," offers Danny Heifetz, Mr. Bungle's balding skinsman. "So many lies, so much deceit, all the mistrust ..."
Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn and guitarist Trey Spruance join in with a grinning idiots' chorus: "'Life on the road -- they said it couldn't happen!'"
See ya at Caesar's in Vegas too. Sarcastic, biting, miserable youths, that's Mr. Bungle. Faith No More's vocalist has come home to his 'other' band mates. Here he passes himself off as Vlad Dracula. Get them together in one room and they can barely eke out a coherent thought between the six of them.
Still, when Mr. Bungle get down to business, they play like Earth, Wind and Fire in a Salvador Dali painting -- if you can imagine that. In the space of one four minute song they wheedle through more sudden shifts in sound, texture and tempo than most bands pull off in an entire set.
Their much-anticipated self-titled debut proves Mr. Bungle are much more than the t-shirt Patton's so fond of wearing at every possible opportunity -- very different, but just as talented as FNM. An odd bunch fond of masks and costumes to whom the words 'retard' and 'genius' could apply in the same breath.
But what else can you expect from someone who got their name from the puppet hero of a series of 1950's health and hygiene films? ("The 50s version of 'Your Brain on Drugs'," according to Trey). As an interview, they're often uncooperative; fixated on the schoolboy humor of bestiality, porn, masturbation and how much their farts smell like rotting eggs.
"Eggies! Eggies! Eggies!" Trevor howls like Pink Flamingos' Egg-Lady as the reek of Patton's flatulence wafts through a New York hotel room. "Don't know about you," chuckles Trey. "At least we're enjoying this."
Six years before Faith No More were to burst up the charts and become its current vocalist's favourite uncomfortable situation, Mr. Bungle came together in the remote Northern California coastal town of Eureka, some 300 miles north of San Francisco.
"It's full of retards," smirks Trevor.
"I'm frightened by a lot of it," admits Trey. "There's a lot of pot growers with machine guns and cops running around, not to mention all the red necks who want to beat you over the head with baseball bats. It's White Trash-ville USA! About 10 miles away, this town called Ferndale -- which is where they filmed 'Salem's Lot' -- almost had a Satanic mayor," the moustachioed guitarist continues. "He's this psycho-sculptor guy named Hobart Brown who they wouldn't let run because he was a Satanist."
"He would have been good for the local economy," reasons Patton.
The sons of 'unbelievably normal' parents, Mr. Bungle first came together from the merger of two Humboldt county speed metal bands. Mike and Trevor were in Fiend -- a "Metallica-Slayer-Exciter cover band," Trey calls it. The guitarist refuses to name his own former "Exodus-like sorta band."
"Then we travelled down to the Bay Area to teach the bands there how to play fast," Trevor interjects. "We'd walk into the Stone and everyone would just bow to us because they knew we were way faster than any of them could possibly ever imagine."
"Kirk from Metallica came up and asked me for permission to play fast," sniggers Trey. "And then I taught Joe Satriani how to play and he taught Kirk how to play. That's the chain, it started with me ... of course, I owe it all to Y&T. Dave Meniketti is my god."
"It's just like how the Incas taught speed metal and mathematics to Sepultura," offers Trevor.
During one of these Frisco road trips, a topic came up that was forever destined to change Mr. Bungle's lyrical bent: masturbation. "It was like one big confessional," Trevor admits. "We all confessed to each other that, uh, well ..."
"I don't," Mike jumps in.
"It's nothing we're, uh, uncomfortable about," Dunn notes.
"Then we started touching each other," Patton sneers.
"Telling each other what feels good," Trevor smirks.
"We're just like any young American boys, collecting our Easy Riders, our Playboys," adds Trey. "Growing up, we'd keep 'em stashed in the woods, away from our parents. Then they'd get rained on and we'd get a blow dryer out to dry 'em. That's the way it started. By now we all have pretty enormous ... collections."
Precisely the lyrical litany carried by songs like 'Squeeze Me Macaroni', 'Love is a Fist', or 'Girls of Porn'. So it's not surprising that, before their mastering session, the foursome spend their free day in NY in Times Square's 42nd Street porn district.
"This one store had the best sign in the window," Mike recalls. "'If you don't see what you're looking for, just ask'. Now there's a thought."
Don't ask 'em about funk, though. "No, not the F word," Trey protests. "I guess we sort of committed that crime on our last demo (OU818). But Jesus, that was two years ago! It's too easy. You could jump out of your punk roots or your metal roots, buy a Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt and wholla -- you were F.U.N.K.! It's funny, we get criticized for that, for not grooving or funking as hard as other bands from the northern California area. Sorry, we're not here to apply background music to people's bullshit."
To help them blaze a more unorthodox path, Mr. Bungle chose jazz-metal noise terrorist John Zorn as producer. "We were just fans," says Danny about the mad alto saxophonist, known for the jarring 'cable-TV-in-hell' sound-bludgeons of Naked City, Painkiller and Torture Garden.
"And really, just like in porno shopping, all we had to do was ask," explains Mike. "Besides, he was cheaper than Thomas Dolby."
It is Zorn's twisted jazz sensibilities that give Mr. Bungle a certain edge in the strangeness department, above and beyond their own headfirst leap into the lunatic fringe.
"Zorn could lend a lot of definition of parts; his music moves in pretty much the same way ours does," says Trey. "We wanted every part within a song to have an entirely different character and he really brought that out."
As pay-back, Zorn "pinched my ass, ripped out a couple of butt-hairs and asked me to sing for Naked City. I guess he liked the way I screamed," sniggers Mike, who fronted the outfit on a string of East Coast dates.
"By the way, I'm leaving both Faith No More and Mr. Bungle for Naked City."
There's that nasty issue again: which band is Mike Patton truly committed to? Now that the Bungle disc is released, everyone insists the problems are resolved. But as Mike bitched to the press for months, getting matters to this stage was no mean feat.
"Lots of problems! Lots of problems!" squawks Trevor.
"Mostly legal," Spruance adds. "We didn't know what we could do and what we couldn't do. We were running around with our hands tied behind our backs because nobody was telling us anything. We all kept pushing, Mike kept pushing and the people at the record company started seeing that yes, it was a real thing and that it had to happen."
Admittedly, Warner's did cut through an awful lot of legal red tape by simply signing the band. Was there ever any fear that Mr. Bungle were going to be contractualised out of existence? Any hints of a conspiracy against them?
"No," Trey says flatly. "As extreme and sometimes inaccessible as the album is, the people at Warners seem to really like it. They tell us things like, 'You guys are great! It's really Zappa!'. In LA record company talk, Zappa is the pinnacle of 'out there' and the standard against which everything else is judged against. The further out there you go, the closer you're getting to Zappa. Not to denounce Zappa, of course!
"It's funny, FNM don't slow us down at all," he continues. "It only affects us when it interrupts something we're doing -- like in the middle of recording Mike had to go and do that Rock in Rio thing. He just leaves and comes back. That's fine, we're not a full-time band anyway -- we're in college. Mike's doing his thing. I think if we were doing this 100 percent of the time we'd lose our momentum to make things the way they are. FNM just gives us a schedule to work with."
Yet there's no denying that Mr. Bungle might not be as far along now if it wasn't for Patton's more gainful employment.
"I guess," the guitarist says, mulling over the point. "How far along are we, really? People have heard of us, sure. This wasn't exactly a recording budget we couldn't have gotten elsewhere. In fact, before Mike's offer to join FNM, we had an offer from another label that we almost took. Who knows how things would have turned out? Who knows if Mike would have even ended up in FNM? Mr. Bungle are as far along now as Mr. Bungle should be."
And to the unwary FNM fan expecting a 'Real Thing' out-takes album as Mr. Bungle's vinyl debut ... Think again.
"People will buy the record, some for the right reasons, others for the wrong reason," Trey smiles.
"Regardless, they're definitely going to hear the difference immediately. Look, you can sell the CD back for about four or five bucks.
"See ya in the used bin!"