INTERVIEW: Danny Heifetz from Mr. Bungle
- Matthew Carlin
Mr. Bungle started a very long time ago in the county of Eureka in the state of California. After its vocalist, Mike Patton, joined Faith No More and became awfully popular in the beginning of the '90s, Mr. Bungle became known as "Patton's other band." Despite the agita this seemed to cause certain individuals, it did help land the group a deal with Warner Bros., which spurred a notorious self-titled album produced by John Zorn in 1991. With a rousing blend of carnival, heavy metal, jazz, other sorts of music and absolutely filthy lyrics, "Mr. Bungle" and the ensuing tour inspired a very loyal, some would say cult, following.
Dedicated fans didn't hear much from Mr. Bungle again until 1995 when Disco Volante was quietly released. Some were elated by this experimental masterpiece with lyrics that are more cryptic than nasty and a live show that stressed musicianship over breaking stuff. Other Bungle show denizens still screamed for "Girls of Porn" from the first album.
Now the members of Mr. Bungle have further defied categorization with a (no, really) wondrous pop music release. A sort of post-modern postcard that says "Fuck You" to post-modernism, California rivals Pet Sounds in terms of production, is more clever than OK Computer and contains more nifty keyboard sounds than those frogs from Air could even fathom. With the exit of horn player Theo Lengyel, there are five core members of Mr. Bungle: Patton, Trey Spruance, Bar (pronounced "bear") McKinnon, Trevor Dunn and drummer/percussionist extraordinaire Danny Heifetz who was happy to report he was in full touring mode, ready to answer some questions from Salt Lake City or Denver or somewhere or other west of New York.
CONSUMABLE ONLINE: There seems to be a lot of Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson influence on California. Is this a recent influence, or has it always been looming in the background?
DANNY HEIFETZ: Beach Boys and Brian Wilson have been in our heads for years. I tried to get these guys to do something from the Beach Boys Casino Royale about ten years ago. They didn't go for it. How can you not be influenced, at least slightly, by Brian Wilson if you have squeezable melodic intentions?
CO: There also seems to be some tunes that are more "marketable" than the usual Mr. Bungle stuff on the new one. Was this a conscious effort, or did it just kind of happen?
DH: It was a conscious effort to be more melodic and concise, but it was not guided by any "market planning strategy." It's just something we needed to spiritually flatten our inflated interpretations of today's musical voids, as grossfold as they are these days.
CO: There seems to be a strained relationship between the band and Warner Bros.-no video for Disco Volante, not a whole lot of promotion - what do you think that stems from?
DH: Disco Volante was our renaissance in the Age of Miscommunication. Sure, Warner Bros. didn't do shit. We thought somebody in our camp of one was doing all the communicating. It never started. Then again, we did have a reputation for maintaining a distant relationship with the label. This time things are going better (not great) with the Bros. Overseas, however, we are getting fucked HARD by the situation with Slash Records, our overseas label. They have nowhere to release the record over there, they say. So we're fucked, thanks to a "side deal" done in our original contract. Warner Bros.'s lawyer "found" this agreement after our summer Euro tour had been booked. Great. Thanks pal.
CO: Similarly, you guys (and a fair number of your fans too) seem kind of disheartened by the more mung-headed fans-the ones who yell "Girls of Porn" at every show. Does that piss you off?
DH: Last night's Denver show: "Girls of Porn"-huge fucking chant. Yuck. Oh, well. Some people never grow up. Christ, even we did!
CO: Why do you think they stick around (and yell "Girls of Porn" still) even though they're associating you with something you did almost 10 years ago?
DH: Denver was a classic example of this. We hadn't been there in over 7 years. No wonder they thought we still played that fucking song. Our fault, really. Although on our previous tour someone fucked up our Denver show, so we didn't get to play the DV tour in '95.
CO: Something that always struck me about Mr. Bungle is that the guys in the band seem to make it a point that this band is not the focus of their respective careers or lives, but more a project that is just one facet of that career/life. But at the same time, you guys have such an amazing chemistry and such a long history, why don't you make Bungle your main focus?
DH: Bungle is definitely our main focus through the end of the year. Of course everyone has other projects that involve people waiting for us. It sucks, but we have to "milk" this for a few months at least, or until it all dies down, whichever happens more enjoyably.
CO: Following that one, and although this is probably kind of an annoying one, do you think now that Mike Patton no longer has obligations to Faith No More that kind of frees everybody up to give Bungle a little more time and attention?
DH: Yeah, this is Mike's priority but he's got other shit going on all the while just like the rest of us.
CO: It has been mentioned that Mr. Bungle was set to play some European festival dates and that Anthony Keidis specifically asked you guys be taken off the bill. What was the deal with that?
DH: Keidis has a real problem with us. I don't know why. I loved their first two or three records. There, now put us back the tour. He seems to be getting fat, doesn't he? Hell, I am too. Can't we (fatties) all just get along?
CO: You guys are extremely ambitious and pretty experimental, yet always tuneful and listenable (jeez, I sound like a music critic), is this something you think about? I mean, do you and the band think in terms of writing songs specifically for Mr. Bungle?
DH: We make the music work within our realm but that is expandable and it contracts like any organism in either a microwave or a freezer. We are who we are. Let it Be. All you need is love. It's only a northern song. Obladi-Oblafuckingdah.
CO: Your name doesn't appear much in the writing credits for Mr. Bungle, why is that?
DH: I'm not a very helpful person.
CO: Your credit does appears on Disco Volante as "I Quit" playing "a woodblock-what was that about?
DH: I wasn't a very happy person back then. Plus I played the fuck out of that woodblock. I remember also thinking "if I quit, at least I could say my 30-day written notice had been handed in."
CO: Getting back to music questions, how do you prepare for a tour when the music is so complicated and has so many different instruments? Are the rehearsals just purely hellish?
DH: Rehearsals aren't as difficult as the technical organization and the arranging, which ends up being delegated to Trey and also Mike, with written shit going to Trevor and Bar. I sit in the corner reading New York Mets Inside Pitch, ordering the mini-Shea Stadium model from the Franklin Mint. It looks great. I played there once before a Mets-Cubs game in the heat of the September '84 pennant race. I was on the St. Regis Saints. We won the hotel fast-pitch softball title and played ABC-TV. I went one for three against the weatherman. Met Bobby Valentine, way back then. He's cool, fuck all you naysayers.
CO: After John Zorn produced the first one, the next two albums were self-produced, why the decision to do that?
DH: We know our music better than anybody.
CO: Speaking of the first album, I can barely hear the bass drum at all. This drives me nuts, did the production of the first one bother you at all?
DH: Yeah, I didn't know shit about recording drums at the time. I guess I was convinced that gates, new drum heads and shitty reverbs were really great things. I hope I'm not still that stupid.
CO: What happened to Theo?
DH: I miss him. He added a huge chemical imbalance that helped us on the road. He hates us and rightfully so. The music changed, plain and simple. Very little call for saxes, trombone or flute. He was an original member. I'm not. Makes me feel a bit like a union-buster. He once shit in a goldfish bowl on stage.