By Eddie Jorgensen
For music-lovers who grew up in the region during the late 1980s, chances are they knew of a band from Eureka called Mr. Bungle – a group that garnered a large following through word of mouth and eventually headlined sell-out shows all around California. What separated Mr. Bungle from other funk bands that were crowding the scene was its intelligent arrangements, awkward lyrics and a live, unrivalled energy at the time.
While the band’s line-up has changed from its earliest recordings, its core members – Mike Patton (vocals), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Trey Spruance (guitar) – still comprise the majority of the quintet. Today’s incarnation is rounded out by two well-known heavy metal legends: Drummer Dave Lombardo (Slayer, Fantomas, Dead Cross) and guitarist Scott Ian (Anthrax, Stormtroopers Of Death).
Mr. Bungle released ‘The Raging Wrath of The Easter Bunny Demo” during the pandemic – October 2020 – on boutique label, Ipecac Recordings. It was basically a re-recording and revved-up version of the group’s first demo tape. It included a spirited cover of Corrosion of Conformity’s “Loss for Words,” as well as a Spanish-named version of Stormtroopers Of Death’s “Speak English Or Die.”
SN&R caught up with bassist Trevor Dunn before Mr. Bungle’s upcoming West Coast shows got underway. We wanted to understand the origins of the band and where they are today.
SN&R: Mr. Bungle’s rise to fame in the North Bay seemingly came from the ‘Goddammit I Love America!!!$ɫ!!’ EP, which was sold as a crudely photo-copied demo tape. I saw the band open a bill in Petaluma at the Palace Theatre with Victims Family, fIREHOSE, and The Doughboys, and it seemed much of the draw was your own. What do you attribute to your inevitable frenzy all over California?
Dunn: Back in the day we were fairly involved in the tape trading scene. I still have friends worldwide to this day who I met through snail mail. Honestly, I think the hype started a bit later — more around the ‘OU818’ demo. Either way, ‘Goddammit’ was our first demo recorded in an actual studio, our song writing was starting to mature, and we were taking the band more seriously; trying to get out of town to play shows, find management, etc.
SN&R: What’s the reason Mr. Bungle rarely played songs the same way live? Boredom?
Dunn: We played them a lot the same way live, so at a certain point, mostly in order to
keep ourselves entertained, we started messing with the arrangements. There’s
a lot you can do to a song to keep it familiar and interesting at the same time.
SN&R: Getting signed out of the gates to Warner Bros. was quite a feat for a band hailing from Eureka. What other labels were interested and what were the terms of the deal? Was the advance quite large given Patton’s status with Faith No More?
Dunn: After being more or less a garage band for several years we started taking the
band more seriously – recording ‘OU818’ – and shopping that demo around. In
Effect records (whose biggest band at the time was 24-7 Spyz) showed some
interest. Their A&R guy actually flew up to Eureka to take us out to lunch. But
ultimately, Patton couldn’t leave the Warner family. We, in turn, gave them an
ultimatum they couldn’t refuse and ended up on WB proper. If I remember
correctly, the contract was a seven-album deal with each one being “on option,” which
meant that after each record they would decide if they wanted to pick us up again.
It was all a matter of record sales and the potential for us to write some MTV hit which, of course, we knew would never happen. It was a very non-committal relationship, but they took us to dinner and we fucked them, haha. I think they gave us 100k for that first record, most of which we spent in the studio doing what we wanted. With a bit of leftover money we bought some gear.
SN&R: Do you own your Warner Bros. masters? Any plans for special re-issues?
Dunn: At the time, the label didn’t bother us, which was great. We made the records we
wanted to make without anyone breathing down our necks trying to tell us how to
write a hit. As with most deals of this sort, the label owns the masters although
I’m pretty sure we ended up with all of the multi-track tapes ourselves. There are
SN&R: I was present at the first shows at the Fonda Theatre in Southern California, and the band seemed to be having a blast and didn’t adorn any costumes as previous Mr.
Bungle shows did. Did you get any feedback from fans wanting the funk/disco years
Dunn: We are constantly getting that sort of feedback. No one is ever satisfied, which is
why we have to focus on satisfying ourselves. And yes, we were having a blast!
SN&R: What places had the most voracious fans during your recent touring cycles?
Dunn: Chile is notorious for its Beatlemania style support. I feel that in the states it
varies from town to town, but smaller towns are often the most hungry. I can
relate coming from a small town myself. Of course, we have mostly focused on
bigger cities in the last couple years as we are old and get tired very easily.
SN&R: How many times does the band rehearse for a tour and where given how members all live in different zip-codes and states in some instances? How did you go about song selection including Mr. Bungle material and covers?
Dunn: Rehearsing depends on how recent our last tour was. We were just in South
America in December so for this next run of shows we booked a whopping two
days of rehearsal. Everyone is feeling good about the material being under our
fingers. As always, Mr. Bungle has never been “Patton’s other band” or however
the media spins it. It has always been a collective but the ideas in the band,
covers or otherwise, come from all the individuals involved.
SN&R: Will we ever see Trio-Convulsant live anytime soon? How many shows did that
configuration play and where? Anymore music left to record?
Dunn: In October of 2022, I released the third Trio-Convulsant recording on Pyroclastic
Records. It’s called ‘Séances’ and is configured by the trio expanded with a
quartet. We did a record release show that month in NYC. I’m currently working
on more new music for that line-up and hope to be more active with it next year.
The previous configuration as simply a trio toured quite extensively in the U.S. at
least in respect to bands that play that type of music. We opened for Fantômas
and (the) Melvins back in 2004/2005. We played a handful of one-off gigs after that
but it took me a long time to figure out where I wanted to take the idea of new
music with that band.’
SN&R: The upcoming U.S. show schedule is very limited. Now that drummer Dave Lombardo has left Testament, Anthrax is on hold due to Charlie Benante’s Pantera involvement, and Mike Patton has no Faith No More plans, do you see more being added in 2023 and 2024?
Dunn: We recently announced another short run on the East Coast in September of this
year. There’s a chance we’ll go to Europe next year, but it remains to be seen. We
are taking things slowly and aren’t really interested in being in a bus for more than
a couple weeks at a time. Everyone in the band has a particular schedule to work
around, and for Bungle, that has always been the case, and totally fine.
SN&R: Will you ever re-issue ‘Goddammit I Love America!!!$ɫ!!’ and ‘OU818’ and revisit these songs live or is ‘The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny’ pretty much it for demos?
Dunn: I can’t imagine ever re-issuing those other old demos or re-recording any of those
songs. We moved on from that music in the early ‘90s. ‘The Raging Wrath…’ is a
different story in terms of the band’s history which is why we felt the need to
revisit it. Any of the songs from “Goddammit’ or ‘OU818’ that we felt strongly
about ended up on our first WB record so that has all been played out.
Mr. Bungle plays two nights – May 23rd (sold out) and 24th – at the Fox Theater located at 1807 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. Doors open at 7pm and show starts at 8pm. All ages are welcome. Support comes from (the) Melvins and Spotlight. Tickets start at $55 and top out at $135 for Platinum.