It’s been a while between drinks as far as Mr. Bungle touring Australia is concerned, but guitarist Trey Spruance certainly has some good – if not characteristically offbeat – memories about that 1999 visit.
“If I remember right, we had our biggest audience in Australia on that tour in Sydney,” he tells Tone Deaf. “It was at Bondi Beach, we played some huge venue and I remember (US standup comedian/singer) Neil Hamburger was opening up for us.
“Mike Patton and I decided to see what it was like to be onstage with Neil Hamburger. We could see the things that people were throwing at him and the way he would just slowly dodge and move out of the way of coins or whatever people had in their pockets, they were just throwing them at him and it was bouncing off our equipment. It was totally hilarious.”
A few years later Spruance, Patton, and bassist Trevor Dunn put a lid on Mr. Bungle to focus on their other projects. It wasn’t until 2020 that they regrouped along with Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Dave Lombardo (ex-Slayer) to re-record Mr. Bungle’s first demo release from 1986, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny. If the reunion was unexpected, reimagining a then 34-year-old demo was even more so.
“We stopped for 20 years and then started up again to help inaugurate the pandemic,” Spruance laughs. “It actually happened right at that moment, our last show on that first tour that we did in February of 2020. Some of us came down with what we now look back on is probably COVID right before we recorded the record. Three of us were suffering from that so it was very interesting.
“It’s totally different than it is for fans. I empathise with the fans who would like to hear us play our ‘90s music. Most of them are – and have been until now – unaware that there was six years or so of Mr. Bungle before we started making the music that we made in the ‘90s. And for us that that’s like the root of the band, but for the listeners the root of the band was the first record. So I think our experience of The Raging Wrath is very different and it was a big surprise to a lot of people.
“For us, it’s just very natural to play that music. It’s like it felt like coming home, we’re really comfortable playing that kind of thing. It’s a little bit demanding physically and all that and I had to go back to, you know, being 15 years old again and try to relate to all of that on the instrument and everything. But otherwise, it feels really good for us.”
Beyond the physical act of performing the music was the psychological factor of deep diving into songs that were written when the band members were still young and impressionable.
“That’s a really interesting thing to bring up,” Spruance agrees, “because Mike Trevor and I definitely bonded when we were teenagers, I would say severely in kind of an adverse relationship with the world around us. You know, we’ve kind of created our own musical universe. That started with this aggressive sort of black death metal type of stuff but from the beginning, all of the seeds for what the band would become later were kind of already there.
“Trevor and I were already doing a lot of listening to 20th century classical music and playing in jazz combos and working with really good teachers. So in a way revisiting all of that was, in a way remembering that our common route is all of that… a kind of us against the world thing.
“I think that really prepared us for later, our first time going on a national tour, and having a kind of a weird, confrontational, cultural situation, with people’s expectations back then thinking that we were going to sound like Faith No More or something. But by then we were very well versed in this kind of cognitive dissonance between what we’re doing and what the audience expects.
“So it was kind of easy for us to naturally – without even thinking about it – react to those situations and make something interesting out of it.”
The recruitment of Ian and Lombardo for the album and subsequent touring, according to Spruance, has been somewhat perfect. “It just turned out to be the most astonishingly beautiful thing,” he notes, “because here we have the guitar player and the drummer that we were probably influenced by the most when we were writing this music.”
What still excites Truance most about Mr. Bungle is what he refers to as their ‘hive mind’: the band is an organic beast with no agendas or preconceptions within.
“I’ve played in like millions of different musical situations, including, you know, commanding my own band, being my own band leader, all of that stuff,” he says. “The Mr. Bungle thing, especially if you think about Disco Volante (1995), and California (1999), we never sat around deciding what was going to go on the record. We all just knew what was going to go on the record. We didn’t debate about how a part was going to work. We all knew how it was going to work. I don’t know that that happens all the time. Like it certainly fucking doesn’t happen in any of the other stuff that I work on.”
Confounding expectations as ever, Mr. Bungle have been including the unlikeliest cover versions in their live sets since they’ve returned to the road. An eclectic musical curator, Patton has led the band through heavy selections from Slayer and Sepultura, through to mainstream pleasantries from Spandau Ballet, Seals & Crofts, and 10cc.
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“I think that Mike Patton has an almost an extrasensory perceptive ability to know how a cover song is going to come across from an audience perspective,” Spruance insists.
“We never talked about this stuff. He’s never expressed it that way, but I’ve watched it for how many decades now? Like, not that he chooses all of the cover songs, but actually, yeah, at this point, yeah, he kind of does. It’s his suggestions that are so intriguing. He’ll throw a few things out there, and they’re never what you would expect, it’s always a surprise.
“And then you start thinking he’s not really overly concerned about what the approach to the orchestration should be on that stuff. So once we start figuring that out it all just kind of congeals and becomes what it’s supposed to be. I have to give the credit to him for having the right vision for constructing a setlist and constructing an experience for an audience, and the covers are really important, and he just pulls these weird ideas out of his ass and they fucking work!
“It’s kind of mysterious. It’s mysterious to me, and I’ve known him forever. It’s one of the great things about playing with him.”
Mr. Bungle 2024 Australia & New Zealand Tour
With special guests Melvins
Sunday, March 3rd
Town Hall, Auckland, NZ
Wednesday, March 6th
Festival Hall, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday, March 7th
Hindley Street Music Hall, Adelaide, SA
Saturday, March 9th
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, NSW
Sunday, March 10th
Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, QLD
Tuesday, March 12th
Metro City, Perth, WA