INTERVIEW: TREY SPRUANCE, MR. BUNGLE

After the recent release of MR BUNGLE's eponymous first album, our poor journo Mark Blake was invited to their padded cell with the intention of getting some sense out of guitarist Trey Spruance, and maybe write an article on it as well…


PSYCHO-EROTICA


Trey Spruance’s answerphone message is a classic. And I encounter it twice while attempting to make contact with the MR BUNGLE guitarist at his Californian home. The phone rings three or four times before the caller is treated to an earlier telephone conversation between Trey and an exasperated female acquaintance. Quote:

Female: “ I'm feeling totally fucked up”
Trey: “ Why?”
Female: “ I'm in this crowded bar and I'm feeling suicidal. Trey, why are you fucking with me?”
Trey: “ I'm not fucking with you...”

Throughout the entire soliloquy (which the guitarist later tells me lasted for a full 15 minutes) MR BUNGLE vocalist and FAITH NO MORE day-jobber Mike Patton can be heard screaming hysterically in the background, like a brat that's just lost his mother somewhere between the deli-counter and the check-out till! Bizarre shit from a member of a band who have just recorded an album full of the same!

Indeed, MR BUNGLE's debut offering is something that truly defies description. Perry Farrel once described JANE'S ADDICTION's music as a cross between DUKE ELLINGTON and BAD BRAINS, and it's a comparison which might have suited MR BUNGLE even more. The six-piece, that's Trey (guitar), Mike Patton alias ‘Vlad Dracula’ (vocals), Trevor Dunn (bass), Danny Heifetz (drums), Theo Lengyel (alto sax), and Bear McKinnon (tenor sax), have left no musical stone unturned in their quest for the ultimate groove. The album shocks, amuses irritates, and generally swings the listener around the nether regions, while quietly frying their brains. If you thought Bay Area funksters PRIMUS were the last word in weird shit, then you ain't heard nothing yet!

"Yeah...I guess it is pretty manic," Trey agrees, having finally picked up the phone. "We've all known each other since high school and we came together out of two bands. Myself, our bass player Trevor, and Mike were all in this real death metal band, but we grew a little sick of all that after a while, and had this real identity crisis. that was when we joined up with Danny the drummer and the horn players and just...loosened up I guess...and started taking some of what we'd done before and mixing it up."
The mixing up seems to have involved a host of styles: funk, thrash, sca jazz... the list is endless. Yet, the album itself sounds totally original as well as being a real bugger to review! Do you think that's one of the record's strongest points?
"Well, yeah, because people will be listening to hear who we sound like. That always happens, and I guess we're in a good position if we do sound totally unique. I mean, I could talk you through our record collections to give you some idea of what we listen to, but I don't get many ideas from other bands. For instance, we went down to a penny arcade the other week, where you drop a coin into one of these player pianos and it comes out with the tune. Now that gave me an idea for a song far more than something I might have heard on the radio!"
Lyrically you seem to have avoided most of those 'radio' topics, opting instead for a wealth of subject matter, including porn, masturbation, and coprophilia (that's shit eating, folks). Interesting stuff?
"Yeah, and you know the record company aren't trying to make us tone down the act,” reveals Trey, obviously pleased. “Most of our ideas come from very close to home. I can't really say too much. Some of it's about close friends who were killed. But sometimes we just come up with an idea. Like we were all out in the car when we started talking about what it would be like for a person with no arms, no legs, eyes or mouth... Just a nose. I mean, how would he feel if he woke up one morning and he couldn't smell anymore? That gave us the idea for 'Travolta,' although the song changed a great deal and became a lot of other things after that."
"Travolta" is the album’s opening song, which my notes tell me has hints of BAD MANNERS, EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER, and, er, drugs. I gather there's plans to release that track as a single?
"Yes, but they want to cut it down from 5 minutes 40 seconds to 4 minutes. We just can't do that. I mean, it took ages to put that thing together. We can't just take a piece out to make sure it gets played on the radio!"
We've also heard stories about a very elaborate stage show with costumes, props, etc. What kind of performance can we expect?
"It's different every night,” explains the guitarist. “We have suitcases full of costumes that we take to all the shows, and we just decide what we're going to do depending on our mood at the time. We let the feeling take over, like, if an audience is being too responsive too soon, we start playing badly."
You enjoy being heckled then and given a hard time by the crowd?
"Absolutely. It's a challenge! A lot of the show is improvisation. The songs all have structures, but where, as on the album, it's very meticulous, on stage, it's much looser. We do some great cover versions as well. We do BILLY SQUIRES’ 'The Stroke' with a kind of GODFLESH treatment. It's excellent... I think it's the best song in the set! We do ENNIO MORRICONE's 'Gringo Like Me,' and we are planning a version of the 'Wild World of Sport' theme tune."
Mike Patton has always stressed the point that MR BUNGLE is a band and not just his solo project, and, as such, he's always been very public in his decision to carry on with the group despite his commitments to FAITH NO MORE. How do you view the relationship between the two?
"The only conflict occurs around scheduling and the like," Trey reveals. "It can be difficult to time everything we do so it doesn't interfere with FAITH NO MORE. But that's the only problem. Musically we're totally different, and Mike seems able to cope with both projects without a clash of interest. He brought MR BUNGLE to the wider public's attention when he joined FAITH NO MORE because he wanted to stay in the band and wanted to help us get a deal. The thing I'd like to stress is that we don't see this as a one-off project. I believe we are contracted for another seven albums!" 
Another 7 albums of Bungle-mania?!! Don't say you haven't been warned!

Mark Blake
Riff Raff
August, 1991
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