Trey Spruance of Mr. Bungle - Back
Trey Spruance, like his Mr Bungle partner Mike Patton, is a man who likes to keep busy. The obsessive composer/producer didn’t get a wink of sleep the night before I caught up with him. Apart from doing press for the new Secret Chiefs 3 album ‘Book Of Horizons’, he has just completed a five-day straight production marathon for a death metal band that he is producing up in the mountains of the California coast. Additionally, he is also running his label ‘Mimicry Records’ while obsessively working away on a mammoth trilogy of new albums for the Secret Chiefs 3 – this being the “band” that he formed right after his brief stint as guitarist on Faith No More’s ‘King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime’ album. The first installment, ‘Book of Horizons’ has just been unleashed to the public and features a massive production scale that hasn’t been attempted since his other band, Mr Bungle’s 1999 release ‘California’. The album features an astonishing number of guests including composer/violinist Eyvind Kang, Danny Heifetz (Dieselhed, Mr Bungle), Shazad Ismaily (Brian Eno, Air, Elysian Fields), William Winant (Xenakis, Sonic Youth, Yo Yo Ma), Phil Franklin (Barbara Manning, Sunburned Hand of the Man), John Merriman (Cephalic Carnage), Ches Smith (Theory of Ruin, Good For Cows), Unhuman, Ursula Knudesen, Estradasphere, and many more. I caught up with Trey Spruance to get all the goss on the new album and to clear up all of those rumours concerning Mr Bungle.

1. The upcoming trilogy of albums from Secret Chiefs 3, including the first installment ‘Book of Horizons’, will feature seven different bands under the Secret Chiefs 3 guise with every band having seven tracks each distributed over the three albums. Where did this idea come from?

Trey Spruance:
I guess the best thing is to say is that it came from Geometry. What I’ve done is I guess I’ve assigned bands to occupy certain positions in just a big crazy sort of cosmological scheme that I’ve been obsessed with for a long time actually. What’s happening with this record is that it’s the first in the sense that there are seven bands – there are two that are associated with the 1st CD more heavily than the others and two that are associated with the 2nd more heavily than the others and then three that are associated with the 3rd more heavily than the others. So the “bands” that are more heavily associated with the first CD have their sort of primary musical statements on this CD whereas the other bands will have variations of their primary musical statements and you’ll hear their primary musical statements on the subsequent CDs. There’s a real timelessness to the composition. It’s theme and variation going all over the place and maybe seemingly very scattered and random at first listen but the more you listen to this CD and the other CDs, the more you will just automatically start drawing the connections between all of them.

2. When will parts II and III of the trilogy be released?

Trey Spruance: The next one we’re going to try to get out by Spring next year. I’m notoriously bad at guessing when my albums are going to be finished because they always take a really long time to do. It would all have to be pretty well worked out way ahead of time. All of the music is finished and composed and some of it is recorded for all of that – that’s like the next two CDs. So really I just have to put in about six months of solid work per CD to get them out. This one (‘Book of Horizons’), to get it going, took a year and a half just because I was working on all of it at once. It was really about two and a half years.

3. Is it true that the production process for ‘Book of Horizons’ was even crazier than for Mr Bungle’s ‘California’?

Trey Spruance: It is. The compositional process and the production process are really sort of intertwined. To me at least, as an artist, it’s not discernible the difference between the two anymore which is really something that I’ve always sort of leaned towards and now I guess spending all this time up in the mountains obsessing over this crap – I can actually do it. It’s kind of what’s happening now.

4. Trevor Dunn (Mr Bungle, Fantomas, etc) hasn’t been involved on the last few releases – is he still a part of the Chiefs?

Trey Spruance: No, he moved to New York and he’s been real busy playing with a lot of people. He’s becoming one of the great bass players in New York. I have very specific sort of needs as far as just recording and stuff like that. When it comes to going out and touring and that kind of thing, it’s a different sort of scenario. I guess the quick answer to your question is that there are a lot of musicians who are willing to help me on this thing. I feel unbelievably lucky to be able to work with all of them. So it would be sort of ridiculous, considering that, to try to bother Trevor all the time to have him come out here and play on this shit when I’m surrounded by all of these unbelievable musicians and they’re all just willing to work on this stuff. It’s great.

5. Is it hard to get everyone together – especially with both Danny and Bar (both also from Mr Bungle) living in Australia?

Trey Spruance: It sure is, yeah. I just sort of take the opportunity if Danny is in the country. Try to set up some recording, etc. And teaching him his drum parts for all three records last time he was out here. So yeah, scheduling is a big deal. There are a lot of members who are constantly traveling and are all over the world and going all over the place. So if somebody’s going to be gone like to India for six months and I need to get something from them, I have to make sure I get it from them either before they go or figure out how I’m going to get it after. There’s a lot of logistics – in fact you wouldn’t believe the amount of logistical crap that goes into trying to pull something this huge off. It’s pretty considerable the amount of planning that goes into it.

6. Is it true that you haven’t spoken to Mike Patton since the last Mr Bungle tour in 2000?

Trey Spruance: Yeah, it’s totally true. At the end of that tour, we didn’t really talk anymore after that. I tried calling him and he left me a message and that’s about where it’s at.

7. Could it possibly be because of the management situation during the ‘California’ period because I know you weren’t really happy with that situation at the time?

Trey Spruance: Wow, yeah! You know about that? Well then, yeah, I can just say yes. From my perspective, that’s what the problem is. I mean Patton and I, we always have like little stuff that we would butt heads about – that’s nothing new. But he and I could fight until the end of the universe and this situation wouldn’t get resolved because it’s not really about Patton and me. It’s a political situation that has not fared very well for Mr Bungle – let’s just put it that way. It’s just not a good situation for the band, the band members, or the musical direction, or any of it. It’s not good for the band. So yeah, I would say the management situation.

8. Would you say then that there will be no further releases from Mr Bungle?

Trey Spruance: I wouldn’t say that. But I would say that people shouldn’t expect anything until something changed (with the political situation).

9. Is it just a matter of you and Mike Patton getting back in contact?

Trey Spruance: It isn’t really that, I swear. Maybe Patton and I getting together and having a little fight and then saying ok you’re great, ok I love you again. Maybe that would be good. But it certainly wouldn’t solve this problem. That really isn’t the issue that’s happening here. Put it this way, we know that he feels most comfortable with our management situation the way it is. I don’t know if you know Mike Patton at all, but he certainly is not willing to budge on something like that. Some of the rest of us were able to take that as far as we could. We would exist under those conditions to our absolute limit and then we reached our absolute limit and now we just sit at our absolute limit and wait. That’s all we can do.

Hopefully it will all be resolved.

Trey Spruance: I hope so because that band could take over the fucking world if it wanted to.

Absolutely! It’s disappointing that Warner Bros didn’t push ‘California’ as much as they could have.

Trey Spruance: Well I mean now with all of these labels and everything, you’d think that we’d be able to, like I said, take over the fucking world. And we could, but now we have this little problem. The music industry is populated and filled with people who have all kinds of mixed agendas and are very opportunistic to their own benefit and don’t give a fucking shit what happens to music or bands or whatever. So, Mr Bungle’s just yet another victim of that little problem. But I’m unwilling to think that the band itself is doomed just because of that because I’m personally not doomed because of that kind of shit. That’s just going on around me all the time. I don’t fucking care man. I’ll go into the gutter - I don’t care where I go. I’m going to make some music and it’s going to be the way the music is supposed to be. So to the extent that Mr Bungle can acclimate itself back into being that kind of a band, then it would happen again.

10. Has the Mr Bungle contract with Warner Bros officially ended?

Trey Spruance: We finally got dropped from Warner Bros which is the best thing that ever happened but unfortunately it was kind of too late…pending the current situation.

11. Will some of those previously unreleased Mr Bungle tracks such as ‘Cold Sore’ ever see the light of day?

Trey Spruance: There are some of us that would really love to see that happen and in fact while we were still actively engaged with the band, we were trying to get things like that to happen but there’s others who don’t feel that way. So in how it serves their interest or whatever, I would say that isn’t going to happen.

12. Do you still plan to write about the recording process for ‘California’ some day?

Trey Spruance: Oh yeah. I really have to do that. I’ve been pretty busy doing a lot of other stuff. I actually had most of that finished. I had actually written most of it up and the device that I was typing all of that into got stolen. So that was a drag. Kind of took the wind out of my sails because it was really lengthy and detailed. But, it’s true, that’s got to happen. The more I talk to engineers and people in studios and people who produce records, the more I realize that it was kind of a milestone in some ways and it’s a story that should be common knowledge really rather than just being told and it should be known what went into that record. The answer is, once I get off my fucking lazy ass and carve out some time, and do something other than all of this other shit that I’m doing, goddammit, I will do that.

13. Do you have a career highlight that you can share?

Trey Spruance: I would say the highlight for me personally is going to Japan and touring with a band called Faxed Head and helping them play their shows. That was really great because on that tour I was able to see a lot of the Japanese noise bands that I had really liked. I think this was like 1995. A lot of these bands weren’t really playing anymore. Like that whole scene had come and gone but they kind of came out of the woodwork and I got to see all of them on that trip and everybody was so nice. It was an all around great experience. That’s my favourite thing as far as fun is concerned. That’s the most fun I’ve ever had.

14. Are you still a member of Faxed Head?

Trey Spruance: Well I help them get their act together and yeah, they’re just as great as they’ve always been those guys.

15. Do you own a lot of your own memorabilia?

Trey Spruance: I don’t even have a copy of any of my own records. I just can’t keep it together. I’ve got too much shit going on. You know, I always seem to give people stuff too. Somebody will ask me, hey do you have that ‘Book M’ Secret Chiefs album and I don’t have it. I don’t even have one copy. I guess I give them away and then I just don’t have them. I have a ski guitar from the Sno Core tour (a mini festival that Mr Bungle were a part of in 2000 that also featured Incubus, System Of A Down, and Puya). I bought a guitar that was made out of a ski. Incredibly stupid guitar. I bought it because I saw it at a pawn shop and I figured it would fit with the theme of Sno Core. It was really hard to play. If you can imagine playing a ski. I have that - I have a couple of things. I think I have a poster. Some of the stuff was sitting in my shed and got messed up a little while ago.”

16. Do you ever go onto the Mr Bungle message boards over the internet?

Trey Spruance: I used to go on those things towards the end of the 20th century. But then I decided that I’m not going to go onto them anymore. It’s not a good place to look at anything. I mean I’ll go onto other message boards and read about other people. I guess the deal is this - I like to be in control of the disinformation that’s going on around me. And when there’s nothing but disinformation going on, I feel that I don’t really have a place to contribute to it. It just feels weird to even interfere with people’s perceptions of what I do. Why do it? They would rather believe other things so who am I to interfere?

17. So what do you have on your agenda for the next year?

Trey Spruance: Well I’m putting out an awful lot of records. There’s a band called Sleepytime Gorilla Museum – I’m putting out their record. A band called The Young – I’m putting out their record. A band called Brazaville, and a band called The Tuna Helpers. Some more Secret Chiefs 3 stuff - there’s going to be a tour in the USA in the Fall, and then maybe coming over to Australia in January. That’s what I’m hoping for. We’re trying to set that up. That would be the coolest. And then to do the 2nd installment of the Secret Chiefs trilogy and have that come out in the Spring and start releasing separate albums from the different “bands” that make up the Secret Chiefs 3. I sort of have like a commitment on my hands where I’m going to be essentially working on this thing for 10 years or something at least in order to fulfill this ridiculous obsessive vision that I’m pursuing to my own detriment. Hehe.

The new Secret Chiefs 3 album ‘Book of Horizons’ is out now.

© 2004 Danny Canak - [email protected]