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In February this year, cult Californian musical experimentalists Mr Bungle played their first shows in twenty years.
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At the conclusion of each of the seven performances, audiences were left as confounded as they were entertained, as the band—original members Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn and Trey Spruance, with able assistance from thrash metal superstars Dave Lombardo and Scott Ian—played literally none of the songs that made them famous.
Instead, the group focused the entire set around their first, obscure 1986 demo of death metal songs. It was, of course, exactly what they said they were going to do. But those songs were so unknown to all but the most dedicated of fans that some people simply didn’t know how to accept them.
“That first demo has always been close to our hearts, and there was certain times when we were on tour in the 90s when we played a couple of things from that demo,” Dunn says breezily. Of course, nobody knew what they were. They would think we were doing a metal cover song, or something.”
Chatting from his home a week out from the release of the reworked version of that first demo, Trevor Dunn shrugs off any criticism that what they were doing wasn’t the real Mr Bungle.
“I find it hilarious when people start saying, ‘This isn’t the real Mr Bungle’. You’re telling me who the real Mr Bungle is? Pretty sure I was there!” he says, dismissively. “I can understand if people were introduced to Mr Bungle by our first records, and this new album is far from those. I can understand why they might feel we’re doing something that’s unusual. We are, but at the same time, it’s a journey back to our roots.”
Dunn says redoing that first recording was something that had been discussed for years, but a real idea began to take shape when he met up with his former bandmates after a Dead Cross show in 2018.
“Trey, Mike and Dave Lombardo were all there in the room when I put across this idea that I had of rerecording Raging Wrath,” he says. “A whole year went by – I mean, they were all into it – but a whole year went by and nothing really happened so I brought it up again, and then the ball started rolling. I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was early last year, and then we started trying to figure how we were going to do this, when we were going to do it.”
The first inkling the world at large received of Bungle’s return was an announcement in August 2019 of reunion shows in February. Response was swift, and three shows soon blew out to seven. According to Dunn, playing shows was an afterthought. The real focus for the band was the recording. It all happened not a moment too soon.
“The idea of doing the show was secondary. We just wanted to re-record [the demo]. So we booked the shows and got the recording done, and luckily we got it all done before any sort of quarantine happened.”
He muses that the whole thing might have run out of steam if they’d been forced to wait another twelve months, or more, to get it done: “The timing was right for us. It could have gone on for another year. Thank goodness it didn’t, because it wouldn’t have happened. And Trey, Mike and I have been communicating a lot more over the last couple of years, so it just felt like it was time to do something.”
I can understand if people were introduced to Mr Bungle by our first records, and this new album is far from those. I can understand why they might feel we’re doing something that’s unusual. We are, but at the same time, it’s a journey back to our roots.
[ Trevor Dunn ]
To help them reinterpret those old tunes, the three original Bunglers recruited two of their teenage heroes. Dave Lombardo was the obvious choice for a drummer, and not just because Patton and Dunn have worked with him extensively in the past.
“When our music was written in the 80s, it was written with him in mind,” Dunn says. “Trey, Mike and I were all major metalheads, so our music was written with a lot of bands in mind! Bands like Metallica, Exodus, Possessed, or Death Angel, or Mercyful Fate… luckily, we just happened to know Dave. Our 17-year-old selves wouldn’t’ve believed it!”
Ever reliable metal Everywhere Man Scott Ian from Anthrax was also brought in.
“Both of those guys are workhorses, man,” Dunn says. “They’re totally down to do what it takes to make it happen.”
Making it happen started with the band relearning the songs. With the age, quality and availability of that original demo recording, it wasn’t an easy task. Before they could start on the actual album, they had to have something fairly legible to play for the new recruits to learn the material. It meant going right back to brass tacks.
“Once I really dug in to relearn them,” Dunn says, “I mean, I had to go back… Me and Trey had to go back to the original demo and there’s no legible copies of that around anywhere. We struggle with that as much as anyone, soundwise. Luckily we kind of remembered some of the tunes so we made new demos for Scott and Dave to hear, with drum programming, so the ideas were really clear. So we had to remake a demo, and then I had to learn that!”
He also candidly admits that he no longer has quite the stamina or energy he once did to play music like that. Anything he might have lost, he says, is made up for by the apparent tirelessness of Lombardo and Ian.
“It was really fun, working on this bunch of songs, and the shows too. Especially with guys like Dave and Scott. Playing with those guys, they have a fire under their ass the whole time. I don’t know how they do that! I already knew that about Dave, but now I’m getting it from both sides! Scott is older than the rest of us, but he’s got a ton of energy!”
Mr Bungle did a pay-per-view show on Halloween weekend as the official launch for The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, but with “venues the last things on anyone’s mind” now, Trevor Dunn isn’t sure when his next gig will be, “with this or any band. We’re all kind of scrambling to make some money here or there.” He can at least feel content in fulfilling the true potential of Mr Bungle’s mayhemic death and grind dream. In August, he was quoted as saying that he can die now. Reminded of that, he laughs.
“Obviously I was being facetious, because I do have a lot of other goals musically, a lot of my own music,” he says with a smile. “I think what I was referring to was, that music was never represented correctly. Now it’s been presented the way it was meant to be heard. I guess maybe what I meant was that the metalhead in me can die now.”