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Sinister Seven: Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance

Tuesday, October 20, 2020 | Interviews, Music


To celebrate the Halloween launch of the rerecorded THE RAGING WRATH OF THE EASTER BUNNY DEMO (read our review here), the new record from Mr. Bungle (the mighty Mike Patton’s first band), RUE MORGUE reached out to the influential group’s guitarist Trey Spruance, the album’s visual artist Eric Livingston and their “Eracist” video director Derrick Scocchera, for a trio of Sinister Seven interviews. Here is part one of those three…

Born in 1969, Spruance grew up in the little town of Eureka, CA (five hours north of San Francisco) and kept himself busy musically since he first picked up a six-string in his teens. The man has played in many bands (including Torcher, FCA, Scourge and Faxed Head), and 35 years ago, Spruance formed the little weird group called Mr. Bungle with fellow metal enthusiasts Trevor Dunn and Patton (who went on to join Faith No More, among many others). After releasing four cassette demos (including 1986’s original RAGING WRATH), Mr. Bungle had evolved from a death/thrash-metal band to a radically avant-garde outfit, blending all sorts of influences, from metal to funk and ska, to rap, polka, Middle Eastern music, jazz, noise, exotica and much more. It’s the kind of band you can’t put in a box.

In 1991, the band put out their self-titled first album, produced by experimental jazz composer/saxophonist John Zorn, through major label Warner Bros. Records (and started performing shows in masks, years before Slipknot). They released two more records–1995’s DISCO VOLANTE and 1999’s CALIFORNIA–before calling it quits in 2000. However, in the mid-’90s, in addition to handling guitar duties on FNM’s record KING FOR A DAY… FOOL FOR A LIFETIME and founding his own record label (Web of Mimicry), Spruance formed Secret Chiefs 3 with Mr. Bungle members Dunn, Danny Heifetz (drums, trumpet) and Clinton “Bar” McKinnon (sax, clarinet, keys). The band’s mainly instrumental sound also blends many influences, from surf to Arabic music, with a big cinematic vibe (their 2009 “Traditionalists” record LE MANI DESTRE RECISE DEGLI ULTIMI UOMINI is the soundtrack of an unmade giallo). SC3 toured with many bands, from Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin to Dead Cross (Patton’s newest project with Slayer’s Dave Lombardo).​

The Bungle reunion match was actually lit at a Dead Cross show in Brooklyn, with Secret Chiefs 3 opening, on September 13, 2017. Spruance, Patton, Lombardo and Dunn were all together backstage when the latter said something along the lines of “What if we played those Mr. Bungle BUNNY songs together with Dave on drums?” While it made perfect sense to have Lombardo on board (since Slayer was a major influence on the band, and he had been playing for two decades with both Patton and Dunn in Fantômas), the vocalist then asked another thrash veteran to join them, in order to beef up the offer. Turned out Anthrax’s Scott Ian was a big fan of Bungle; he even owned one of the original BUNNY cassettes! Surprise, surprise: In August 2019, the band announced they were back together to play their very first demo live with the two aforementioned metal legends in February 2020, for three shows only in LA, New York City and at home in San Francisco (they soon added four more to please their rabid fanbase).

Right after this historic seven-concert stint, Bungle’s 2020 lineup went straight into the studio to bottle that lightning bolt of a BUNNY (along with new old songs and some period-accurate covers), before the world went into the Big Lockdown. When asked about how the 2020 recordings compares to the 1986 ones (which took place in the garage of Jed Watts, their first drummer), Spruance states “The process was similar. It was, y’know, rehearse the band, get your shit together and try to record as fast as possible. It’s pretty faithful to the original way of doing it, all in a room.” Actually, it took just under 10 days to record the whole thing.

With the new BUNNY coming out October 30, throwing a livestreamed concert on Halloween was a more than fitting move for Spruance’s first real band. Plus, since concepts and visuals are always key for its members, to promote the show, they commissioned visual artist Eric Livingston to produce a poster and trailer both inspired by John Carpenter’s 1978 classic. Yes, you can spot a familiar mask in the four-minute clip. “That’s the original Michael Myers mask I used to wear with Mr. Bungle in, like, 1991; I still fuckin’ have that, with the jumpsuit and all that. I just pulled it out when we were making that little trailer; we were all self-filming, and I thought, ‘What am I gonna do?’ ” He believes his first time ever seeing HALLOWEEN was in the early ’80s, at an October drive-in showing with his pal Eddie Matthews, when he was about 12.

“What I remember the most was that guy getting stabbed through the heart and being stuck to the wall, ’cause the butcher knife goes through hard enough, and the way Michael Myers just stands there, looks at him for a sec…I remember that being a big moment for me.” It may have something to do with Carpenter’s music too. “I’ve been messing with that score for a long time. It’s so strong, the melody,” says the guitarist, who often covered the HALLOWEEN theme with SC3.

And what can horror fans can expect from this Halloween concert? “In Mr. Bungle history, Halloween was the day when we took the masks off, but there are some graphics the [live] video editor can mess with, and some other things–I have to keep them secret, like conceptual stuff, guests, that kind of stuff.”

Also, with three members of Fantômas on stage, one can hope to hear at least one of the horror-movie themes included on their 2001 DIRECTOR’S CUT album (i.e. THE OMEN, ROSEMARY’S BABY, SPIDER BABY and HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER). RUE MORGUE couldn’t get any confirmation on that–but didn’t get a no either. Also, it would be a crime not to include the HALLOWEEN theme as well, right? Perhaps fans will be lucky and they’ll get some treats…

We concluded our chat with an all-horror Sinister Seven, to pick Spruance’s brain about his favorite movies:

What’s the very first horror movie you ever saw?

THE SHINING. I think I was 9 or 10, something like that. The first one my mom ever took me to was HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. Actually, that film was shot in a small town outside of Eureka, in Loleta, California, very close to where I grew up. Besides the first one, it’s my favorite film of the HALLOWEEN franchise. I love it.

What is the last horror movie you’ve seen?

[Asking his wife, who’s in the room with him] We rewatched this movie SAUNA [2008; Antti-Jussi Annila], a Finnish film. It’s a great, totally overlooked horror film that’s set, I think, in the 18th century, on the border between Finland and Russia. These surveyors discover a town of old believer villagers that’s sort of off the map, and really, really weird things are happening there. They have a sauna in the middle of a swamp, and it seems that it’s been possessed by something…really sick, really fucked; it’s kind of like a cult, in the middle of nowhere. It’s fuckin’ dope. We also watched THE WITCH recently, which is in the same category, I guess. THE WITCH worked for me for the Protestant culture the film depicts.

Do you have a favorite giallo?

I guess, instead of trying to push my obscure things, I’m gonna default back to SUSPIRIA, because it’s really hard to find faults there. It just has the right vibe. I also like ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK.

Aside from SUSPIRIA, what are your other favorite Dario Argento movies?

DEEP RED, definitely, but also THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE; it’s so good. I like THE STENDHAL SYNDROME which gets overlooked a lot. A really good film.

Do you have a favorite horror soundtrack?

I guess I should’ve known you were gonna ask that, and I’m gonna give you a curveball on this one: the Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack for THE OMEN, it’s either that or the soundtrack he did for a film called THE MEPHISTO WALTZ [1971; Paul Wendkos], which is an interesting kind of horror flick, a satanic film. And it’s a fuckin’ incredible soundtrack. Absolutely incredible. And then, there are a couple of [Ennio] Morricone Argento soundtracks, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS; they are both fuckin’ amazing.

You know, there’s a soundtrack John Carpenter did for one of his less-appreciated films, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, which I used to listen to all the time. And you know what, fuck! What I should’ve said: Thomas Dolby’s soundtrack for GOTHIC, the Ken Russell film. That is a fuckin’ incredible, incredibly overlooked soundtrack.

What’s your favorite occult film?

Probably INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER [a 12-minute 1969 short] by Kenneth Anger. And you know who did the soundtrack on that one? Mick Jagger. It’s true. It’s good, it’s like synthesizers, drones; it’s a great, creepy-ass film. Anger did the kind of films that would be now called art-house, experimental type of stuff.

Wasn’t he an acquaintance of Charles Manson?

His protégé/boyfriend was Bobby Beausoleil, who was involved with the Manson stuff.

To you, what’s the scariest horror film there is?

If I was honest, I would say JAWS, because it scared the living shit out of me. If there is a movie that traumatized me, it would be that one. When that came out, I was living like 400 miles inland, up in the mountains, and I was afraid that shark was gonna come up through the drain in the second-floor shower. I imagined all the tiles being broken open and this giant great white shark swallowing me. Even just touching water, I was afraid.

What would be your favorite horror movie ever?

POSSESSION, by Andrzej Zulawski. I love his movies. THE DEVIL is another of his special horror films. SZAMANKA is another great one. But POSSESSION fucks my head like no other–more than JAWS at 10 years old! It resonates with me like no other film. Saw it first at a friend’s house on Japanese laserdisc in the mid-’90s. Couldn’t see it any other way in the States back then. That viewing experience sent me on a quest, and made me a Zulawski fanatic. He’s the only director I’ve collected all the special releases of; so insanely over the top. But POSSESSION might be the jewel in the crown.

So, what’s next for Mr. Bungle? “There is a new video coming. I can’t really tell you more about it, but it’s the one I’m most excited about, to be honest. In that era-specific music from the mid-’80s, thrash metal, people always think about the satanic panic element, but the other big subplot that gets forgotten is the nuclear holocaust; [the next video] is revisiting some of that.” Just like Voïvod, Nuclear Assault and Dark Angel did back in the day. When is it coming out? “I think November, maybe. It’s up the director, and he’s a fuckin’ good director.” Spruance can’t tell us which song it’s for or the filmmaker’s name, but will confirmed he has done feature films and “he’s well-liked.” Intriguing…

The multi-instrumentalist also notes that he had composed two records for SC3’s metal section “Holy Vehm” prior to the Bungle reunion; the first one (featuring Unhuman’s growler Youri Raymond, from Montreal) should be completed by the end of the year, for a launch in 2021. For more information about Mr. Bungle’s Halloween streamed concert, click here.