Mr. Bungle is a band from Northern California. Having gone through many incarnations throughout their career, the band is best known for their experimental rock period. During this time, they featured a highly eclectic style, cycling through several musical genres within the course of a single song, including heavy metal, avant-garde jazz, ska, disco, and funk. This period also saw the band utilizing unconventional structures and samples, playing a wide array of instruments, dressing up in masks, jumpsuits, and other costumes, and performing many diverse cover songs.
The band was founded in Eureka, California in 1985 as a death metal project while the members were still in high school. They were named after a character in the 1959 children’s educational film Beginning Responsibility: Lunchroom Manners, later featured in the 1981 HBO special The Pee-wee Herman Show. Mr. Bungle released four demo tapes in the mid-to-late 1980s, during which they primarily played ska punk. They signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1990 and released three full-length studio albums between 1991 and 1999, which featured the eclectic, experimental style they became known for. The band toured in 1999 and 2000 to support their third album before going on hiatus; ultimately revealing that they had dissolved in 2004. On August 13, 2019, it was announced Mr. Bungle would reunite as a thrash metal band for a series of shows in February 2020, which saw them performing their 1986 demo album The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny with Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo. The following month, it was announced that the band had returned to the studio to re-record the demo as a professional album, which is expected for release on October 30, 2020.
Although Mr. Bungle went through several line-up changes throughout each incarnation, the longest-serving members were vocalist Mike Patton, guitarist Trey Spruance, bassist Trevor Dunn, saxophonists Clinton “Bär” McKinnon and Theo Lengyel, and drummer Danny Heifetz, with Patton, Spruance, and Dunn performing in every version of band. Members were based in San Francisco during the band’s tenure with Warner Bros.
In various interviews, the band members noted that one reason they chose the Mr. Bungle moniker was because they identified with the Mr. Bungle character. This was due to the intense feelings of isolation they experienced while growing up in Eureka, given that the rest of the community bullied them and treated them as outsiders. This was especially true of Trey Spruance, who noted that the treatment he received was what motivated him to pursue music. Spruance recollected,
“I was listening to a lot of Devo actually, in the early, very early eighties. Like, 1981. I was very young. And I became kinda fanatical about them. And I was living in a redneck town, in Eureka, where everybody’s wearing AC/DC shirts and partying and stuff. And I would wear, I sent away to the Devo fan club, to get the energy dome, the red thing. And so I wore that to school with a couple of friends, and we got beat up so bad, you know, stuffed into garbage cans. And I think it was at the bottom of the garbage can, with my face, like, in the garbage, when I realized I had to be a musician. ‘Cause I was gonna get those people back somehow. I went through a period where I thought I would probably be a serial killer, or something like that. It made sense; I became like, an environmental terrorist for a while too. Um, but, it really was… music was going to be the career for me. ‘Cause environmental terrorism is effective in some things, but it’s not so effective on others. And being a serial killer doesn’t really do anybody any good. So, my choice ended up being music.”
Mr. Bungle emerged after its members were kicked out their respective bands. “It was kinda like a merger between two bands,” Mike Patton recalled. “One really horrible gothic metal band, which our guitarist and original drummer were in, and one really horrible metal band which did Metallica covers, which is the one Trevor and me came from.” Mr. Bungle initially described themselves as a death metal band, but also dabbled in speed metal, thrash metal, and hardcore punk. And within a year of formation, the band expanded their sound to include ska. Trevor Dunn noted that, “After about a year we got tired of playing speed metal and wanted to do something a little more creative. So we just stopped and started writing our own style of music, which was influenced by bands like Camper Van Beethoven, Oingo Boingo, Bad Manners and kind of funky, ska-oriented stuff. Then we added a two-piece horn section and a new drummer, so now we don’t really have any kind of limit on the music we play.” Trey Spruance corroborated this. “When I was 15, I was in a death metal group,” Spruance reminisced. “We had this idea that we were going to play a bunch of ska tunes for a bunch of metalheads. We just had this idea, you know: ‘Okay, we’re going to play this ska music, and that’ll be amazing.’ Half of the audience hated us, but there was definitely a joy in confronting that wall between styles.”
Given that the band’s background was exclusively in heavy music at that point, some band members experienced difficulties expanding their sound early on. In particular, Spruance noted that Mike Patton had to teach him to play the ska stroke for a performance at their high school talent show. Spruance later explained, “Oh, what I remember was… this was our first… like, we had only done, uh, death metal up to that point. And so this was our first time trying to ever play ska. And I’d never played… on guitar, like, I’d never played… I didn’t know how to do that skanking guitar shit at all. But Patton could do, like with one finger on the thread mark, he could do the, the rhythmic part of it pretty well. Like, he could… he taught me how to do it. So, I just sort of awkwardly… I would fill in and make the chord and he actually played guitar, but would just kind of use it percussively. And we played these Camper Van Beethoven songs, and I don’t… I dunno if we played The Specials, but that’s what we were listening to.”
Mr. Bungle played their first show during November 1985 at the Bayside Grange Hall. The band’s first demo, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, was recorded during Easter of 1986. It featured a fast, lo-fi death/thrash sound, with touches of ska. Instruments utilized on the album included a train whistle, saxophone, bongos and a kazoo. The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny was followed in 1987 by the Bowel of Chiley demo; it featured a much greater ska presence, as well as the sounds of jazz, swing and funk. Bradley Torreano noted at AllMusic that the recording was “essentially the sound of some very talented teenagers trying to make their love of jazz and ska come together in whatever way they can.” In 1988, Mr. Bungle released their third demo, Goddammit I Love America!, which was musically similar to Bowel of Chiley. Mike Patton described its style as “funkadelic, thrashing, circus, ska.” In 1988, Mike Patton became the lead vocalist for San Francisco’s Faith No More, getting the job after the band heard him on the first two Mr. Bungle demos. Mike Bordin of Faith No More later elaborated,
We played the college with Chuck. It was a small college. But there were only like three people in the audience. And after the show, this guy comes up to us and says, ‘Hey man, I’m really glad you played, thank you for coming. But you understand, school is not in session yet which is why nobody is here.’ So we played up there when school is on vacation. But I’m talking to this guy and he was like, ‘I got this band, here take my tape.’ And that was Trey, and the band was Mr. Bungle, and the album he gave us was The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny. He gives me the tape and we play it later doing whatever we were doing, and Jim loves it, because it sounds like Slayer, it sounds like speed metal with death growls and all this crazy stuff. And I’ll never forget it; Jim turns around and says to us, ‘This guy has got to be this giant fat guy with all the power that he’s got in his voice!’ And time goes by, and then when we were looking for a new singer, Jim was like, ‘Let’s get that big fat guy from Mr. Bungle!’ But the funny thing is, we saw them again when we did a tour of 20 or 30 shows with the Chili Peppers back in the day. It was actually Hillel’s last tour, it was very interesting. So this tour comes to San Francisco and we’re playing The Fillmore, and I see Mike Patton. So I go to him, ‘Hey, Jim really likes you and you should sing in our band.’ But then Mike says to me, ‘Oh we don’t sound like that anymore.’ So he gives me another demo tape, which was Bowel of Chiley, and it was like fucking Madness meets James Bond. It was this secret super spy ska music, and it was awesome. And I was like, ‘Oh dude, I’m so glad you don’t sound like that anymore, because who wants to be one dimensional?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, man.’ That was the one thing that gave him maybe even a second of thinking about joining our band, that we would be available or open to evolution. Because I didn’t say, ‘Oh fuck that, you gotta sound like The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, because that’s what you do!’ I just think in that regard right there, that’s really the thing that happened with Mr. Bungle. They evolved, and we applauded it. Well, three of the four guys in the band applauded it. And by the time we were considering him to replace Chuck, he was already on to something else.
Patton continued to be a member of both bands simultaneously and Mr. Bungle released their final demo tape in 1989. Entitled OU818, this recording was the first to feature tenor sax player Clinton “Bär” McKinnon and drummer Danny Heifetz. OU818 contained songs from the earlier demos, along with some new tracks. At the time of this release, Mike Patton described Mr. Bungle as a “weirdo funk band”.
During 1990, the band members left Eureka for San Francisco, in search of greater musical opportunities. Trey Spruance said the change in location influenced the band’s style, remarking ” Slayer and Mercyful Fate. Later it was The Specials and Fishbone. Then we moved to San Francisco and got all sophisticated. Now we are improv snobs who rule the avant-garde universe by night, and poor, fucked-up hipsters by day.” Having established a following in Northern California, Mr. Bungle was signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1990, with the label releasing all three of their studio albums during the 1990s. It has been speculated that Patton’s success as frontman of Faith No More was the primary reason Warner Bros. signed the band. The Los Angeles Times stated in a 1991 article that “Under normal circumstances, you’d have to describe Mr. Bungle’s chances of landing a major label deal as… a long shot.”
Their debut album, Mr. Bungle, was produced by jazz experimentalist John Zorn and was released on August 13, 1991. The cover featured artwork by Dan Sweetman, originally published in the story, “A Cotton Candy Autopsy” in the DC Comics/Piranha Press imprint title, Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children. The record mixed metal, funk, ska, carnival music and free jazz, but was normally described as funk metal by music critics. It received mostly positive reviews, with journalist Bill Pahnelas calling it “an incredible musical tour de force”. On the style of the album, critic Steve Huey wrote in AllMusic: “Mr. Bungle is a dizzying, disconcerting, schizophrenic tour through just about any rock style the group can think of, hopping from genre to genre without any apparent rhyme or reason, and sometimes doing so several times in the same song.”
The first track was originally titled “Travolta”. At Warner Brothers’ encouragement, it was renamed Quote Unquote in later pressings, due to fears regarding a potential lawsuit. The band created a music video for the song, directed by Kevin Kerslake. However, MTV refused to air the video because of images of bodies dangling on meat hooks. The album sold well despite MTV refusing to air their video and a lack of radio airplay. Almost all the members went by obscure aliases in the album credits. To promote the album in some stores, a Mr. Bungle bubble bath was given away with copies of the record sold. Following the release of the album the band toured North America.
Due to artwork delays and the band members’ many side-projects, it was four years before Disco Volante was released, in October 1995. The new album displayed musical development and a shift in tone from their earlier recordings. While the self-titled album was described as “funk metal”, with Disco Volante this label was replaced with “avant-garde” or “experimental”.
The music was complex and unpredictable, with the band continuing with their shifts of musical style. Some of the tracks were in foreign languages and would radically change genres mid-song. Featuring lyrics about death, suicide and child abuse, along with children’s songs and a Middle Eastern techno number, music critic Greg Prato described the album as having “a totally original and new musical style that sounds like nothing that currently exists”. Not all critics were impressed with the album, with The Washington Post describing it as “an album of cheesy synthesizers, mangled disco beats, virtuosic playing and juvenile noises”, calling it “self-indulgent” and adding that “Mr. Bungle’s musicians like to show off their classical, jazz and world-beat influences in fast, difficult passages which are technically impressive but never seem to go anywhere”. Additionally, writer Scott McGaughey described it as “difficult”, and was critical of its “lack of actual songs”. Disco Volante included influences from contemporary classical music, avant-garde jazz, electronic music pioneer Pierre Henry, Edgar Allan Poe, John Zorn, Krzysztof Penderecki and European film music of the 1960s and 1970s, such as those composed by Ennio Morricone and Peter Thomas. The album notes also contained an invitation to participate in an “unusual scam” – if $2 was sent to the band’s address, participants would receive additional artwork, lyrics to the songs “Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz” and “Chemical Marriage” and some stickers. The vinyl release of this album shipped with a 7″ by the then-unknown Secret Chiefs 3. In 1996, Theo Lengyel retired as Bungle’s original sax player and keyboardist due to creative differences.
Mr. Bungle supported this record with their first world tour, performing across North America, Europe and Australia during 1995 and 1996. In early 1997, the band began work on a covers album, however it was put on indefinite hold due to Patton’s touring commitments with Faith No More. Later in 1997, the Seattle-based Rastacore Records started distributing CDs of Bowel of Chiley (incorrectly labelled Bowl of Chiley on the Rastacore release). This was done without official authorization from Mr. Bungle or Warner Bros., and as such production was halted, with only a limited number of CDs surviving.
After a two-year break which saw Faith No More split, Mr. Bungle reconvened in 1998 to record new material. The band’s third album, California, was released on July 13, 1999. Ground and Sky reviews have described California as Mr. Bungle’s most accessible and, while the genre shifts are still present, they are less frequent, with succinct song formats resulting in an album that The Associated Press called “surprisingly linear”. AllMusic described the record as “their most concise album to date; and while the song structures are far from traditional, they’re edging more in that direction, and that greatly helps the listener in making sense of the often random-sounding juxtapositions of musical genres”. On the different style of this album, Mike Patton explained that to the band “the record is pop-y”, before adding “but to some fucking No Doubt fan in Ohio, they’re not going to swallow that.” The album was generally well received, with music critic Robert Everett-Green stating, “The band’s newest and greatest album does not reveal itself quickly, but once the bug bites, there is no cure. The best disc of the year, by a length.”
The recording process for California was more complex than for the band’s previous records. They chose to record the disc to analog tape rather than digitally and some songs required several 24-track machines, utilizing over 50 tracks. As a result, each song contains layers of original samples, keyboards, percussion and melodies. The album displays influences from Burt Bacharach and The Beach Boys, while blending lounge, pop, jazz, funk, thrash metal, Hawaiian, Middle Eastern, kecak and avant-garde music. The band toured North America, Australia and Europe to support the record. They also notably appeared on the 2000 edition of the SnoCore Tour, performing alongside alternative metal acts whom they had influenced, such as Incubus and System of a Down. According to Trevor Dunn, Mr. Bungle were “completely out of place” on the SnoCore Tour. He stated, “We were sort of the grandpas of the tour, so we started really messing with the audiences. We dressed up like the Village People and acted super gay which really pissed off the metal kids.”
In 1989 and 1990, Mike Patton had been involved in a public controversy with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ frontman Anthony Kiedis. Kiedis accused Patton of stealing his style in the video for Faith No More’s hit song “Epic”, off 1989’s The Real Thing. He made a controversial comment to Kerrang! about kidnapping Patton and cutting off his feet “just so he’ll be forced to find a style of his own.” In the same interview, he remarked, “I thought what a drag if people get the idea that I’m actually ripping him off. Especially in the UK where FNM are much better known than us. In America, it’s a different story, people are aware of the profound influence we had on them. But after it stewed in my stomach for a while, I just decided to accept it. He is just a kid. Besides, without his left foot he’s going to have to change.” Later on, Kiedis also said, “I liked his vocals on that record . I mean, When I heard the record I noticed subtle similarities, but when I saw that video it was like, ‘Wait a second here, what the fuck?”. Patton responded to Kiedis in 1990 by saying to the media, “if he’s gonna talk about me in interviews, that’s fine – it’s free press! Either he’s feeling inadequate or old or I don’t know, but I have no reason to talk shit about him.”
The feud between Patton and Kiedis appeared to have been mended during 1991–1998. Shortly after getting signed to Warner Bros. Records, the members of Mr. Bungle had a friendly encounter at WB headquarters with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who themselves had just signed to the label. Patton and Kiedis crossed paths several more times during the 1990s.
California was scheduled to be released on June 8, 1999, but Warner Bros. pushed it back so as not to coincide with the Red Hot Chili Peppers similarly titled album, Californication, which was to be released on the same day. Following the album release date clash, Kiedis had Mr. Bungle removed from a series of summer festivals in Europe; as the headlining act at the festivals, The Red Hot Chili Peppers had final word on the bands that would appear. According to the band members themselves, Kiedis didn’t know anyone involved with Mr. Bungle, aside from Mike Patton. Patton explained to The A.V. Club, “Our agent was in the process of booking these festivals, and it was becoming apparent that we’d landed some pretty good ones—one in France, another one in Holland, some big-name festivals. Turns out someone’s holding a grudge! We were booted off several bills, specifically because Anthony Kiedis did not want us on the bill. He threatened to pull the Chili Peppers if Mr. Bungle was on the bill.” In a separate interview, he also clarified that “the rest of the band doesn’t care. It’s something to do with Anthony.” Trey Spruance added, “We were booked, months in advance, to do eleven festival dates in Europe. Come Summer, we get a call from the three biggest of those festivals, all of them the same day, saying that we can’t play, because the headlining band retains the right to hire and fire whomever they wish. We found out it was the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so our manager called their manager to find out what the hell was going on, and their manager was very apologetic, and said, ‘We’re really sorry, we want you to know this doesn’t reflect the management’s position, or the band’s for that matter, it’s Anthony Kiedis who wants this.'”
In retaliation, Mr. Bungle parodied the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Pontiac, Michigan on Halloween of 1999. Patton introduced each Mr. Bungle band member with the name of one of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, before covering the songs “Give It Away”, “Around the World”, “Under the Bridge” and “Scar Tissue”, with Patton deliberately using incorrect lyrics, such as “Sometimes I feel like I’m on heroin” and “Sometimes I feel like a fucking junkie” on “Under the Bridge”. Patton impersonated Kiedis by wearing a blonde wig and speaking with a lisp. While pretending to be Kiedis, he mockingly said to the crowd: “Don’t you call me Mike, my name is Anthony. How dare you make that mistake. Mike has been ripping me off for many years.” The other members of Mr. Bungle also satirized many of the mannerisms of the band, mocking heroin injections, deceased guitarist Hillel Slovak, deceased friend River Phoenix and their on-stage antics. In between one of the songs, Trevor Dunn (dressed as Flea) walked up to Spruance (dressed as the ghost of Hilel Slovak) and simulated injecting him with heroin. Patton interrupted this by shouting “You can’t shoot up a ghost”. Dunn subsequently said, “We had a member of the tour crew buy the most recent album of them (Californication) and then we proceeded to learn it in the back of the stage before the show. It wasn’t hard. The hardest part was copying his tattoos with a permanent marker. I remember it was very funny to ridicule them without thinking about whether they would be aware or not. We were pretty pissed off for all the financial and personal damage that they caused to us.”
Despite mocking the drug addictions of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Clinton McKinnon has since admitted that he himself had developed a drug addiction in the late 1990s, which contributed to him eventually leaving the United States for Australia. Likewise, Patton and Spruance’s former Faith No More bandmate Roddy Bottum had also battled a heroin addiction while he was working with them on King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime.
Kiedis responded to the Halloween retaliation concert by having them removed from the 2000 Big Day Out festival in Australia and New Zealand. He said of the festival shows “I would not have given two fucks if they played there with us. But after I heard about Halloween show where they mocked us, fuck him and fuck the whole band.” Patton went on to claim that Kiedis’ actions had “ruined” Mr. Bungle’s career, Dunn mentioned that his band should have taken legal action, remarking “It screwed up my life in a personal way.” When asked if he had exchanged any words with Kiedis over the course of the dispute, Patton commented, “I have not had words. I don’t think his, you know, minders, his gorillas, would let me have words with him.”
The animosity continued into the 2000s. In a 2001 German television interview, Patton and his new band Fantômas ruthlessly mocked the Red Hot Chili Peppers, calling Kiedis a “noodle dick” and an “insecure junkie.” Dunn also criticized the Chili Peppers on his personal webpage, specifically their bass player Flea, stating, “Look, Flea, in all seriousness, really isn’t that good. I mean c’mon Red Hot Chili Peppers were vaguely interesting in the late 80s, but Christ they fucking suck, they suck. Don’t talk about it anymore”. Patton was asked in 2010 about the festivals and his relationship with Kiedis. Patton said “It’s not worth talking about. I’ve no idea what it was about then and I don’t know now. But I bet we’d have a warm embrace if we saw each other now.” In 2016, Trey Spruance reflected on the feud, claiming that it was a “weird and unprofessional jealous vendetta from a huge successful band towards an industry pip-squeak.” He also said that early in their career, the band were fans of the first two Red Hot Chili Peppers albums. In spite of his bad relationship with Kiedis, Mike Patton corroborated this, even going so far as to cite the Chili Peppers as an influence on their early demo tapes. However, Trevor Dunn disputes this, and wrote, “I was way more into Fishbone and Bad Manners back in the day.”
The band played what would turn out to be their last concert in nearly 20 years on September 9, 2000 in Nottingham, England. Following the California tour, the members again went their separate ways to pursue their various side projects. During the early 2000s, Patton was primarily touring and recording with his metal project Fantômas and the newly formed supergroup Tomahawk. Mr. Bungle were assumed to be in another period of self-described “hibernation”, with Patton optimistically stating in October 2001 to Kerrang! that “it’s gotta take a rest. There’s a few of us that aren’t even ready to face it again for a while. We’ll put it on the shelf for now and see what happens to it and hopefully revisit it again.”
The band had multiple ideas for the direction of their next album. One, according to Spruance, was to do an album of very short songs combining straight-ahead rock on the part of the band with orchestral backing, though no demo recordings ended up coming out of these early discussions.
Patton first alluded to the fact that Mr. Bungle would probably not record any more albums in 2003, stating in an interview, “I think it is over. The guys are spread all over the world and we don’t talk to each other. I have not spoken to a couple of the guys since the last tour, years ago.” Patton reiterated this sentiment in another 2003 interview with Australian newspaper The Age. While no official break-up announcement ever materialized, a 2004 Rolling Stone interview confirmed Mr. Bungle had disbanded with Patton revealing, “We could have probably squeezed out a couple more records but the collective personality of this group became so dysfunctional, this band was poisoned by one person’s petty jealousy and insecurity, and it led us to a slow, unnatural death. And I’m at peace with that, because I know I tried all I could.” When asked about a possible reunion, Mike Patton said, “It could happen, but I won’t be singing. Some bridges have definitely been burned. It was a fun time and sometimes you just have to move on. I’ve got a lot on my plate now.” Trevor Dunn added on his website, “Bungle is dead and I’m happy about it” and that “the members of Mr. Bungle will never work together as such again”. Prior to reforming, Spruance, Heifetz, and McKinnon were more optimistic regarding a possible reunion.
After the dissolution of Mr. Bungle, the members went on to numerous different projects. Mike Patton co-founded the record label Ipecac Recordings and is involved with several other ventures, including various works with composer John Zorn, and most notably the bands Fantômas, Tomahawk, and Peeping Tom. In 2004, he was called upon by Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk to provide vocal work on her album Medúlla. He acted in the motion picture Firecracker, narrated the film Bunraku, and did voice work in the movie I Am Legend, performing the infected creatures screams and howls. He also did zombie and other character voices in the game Left 4 Dead (as well as the growls for the anger core in the game Portal). Additionally, in 2009 and 2010 Patton embarked on a world tour with Faith No More after they reunited. Trey Spruance is involved with various bands, including Secret Chiefs 3 and Faxed Head. Trevor Dunn joined Patton in Fantômas and Tomahawk as well as forming his own jazz band, Trevor Dunn’s Trio Convulsant; he also occasionally played bass with Secret Chiefs 3. Danny Heifetz’s projects included playing with Secret Chiefs 3 and in a country/punk band called Dieselhed; he now resides in Sydney, and plays in outfits such as The Exiles, The Tango Saloon and The Fantastic Terrific Munkle. Clinton McKinnon also played with Secret Chiefs 3. In 2002, he moved to Melbourne, Australia, after getting into a relationship with an Australian woman he met at a 2000 Mr. Bungle concert in Sydney. Following his move to Melbourne, he went on to play with The Ribbon Device and Umläut.
Spruance joined Patton and Faith No More onstage for the first time to perform the King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime album in its entirety in Santiago in November 2011. Mike Patton sang on the Secret Chiefs 3 song “La Chanson de Jacky” in 2012 giving further speculation by fans on the chance of a reunion. Despite this, Trevor Dunn stated in a February 2013 interview with SF Weekly that there will be no Mr. Bungle reunion, saying, “I’ve heard the faintest murmurings about it, but honestly I don’t think anyone is interested. It’s nothing personal, either. We all feel like that band said what it needed to say. It would feel weird and awkward to play that music again. It would take a pant-load of money to make it happen, and honestly, I don’t want to do it for that reason. I would prefer to let go of it, respectfully.” When asked about Mr. Bungle reuniting in an interview published in February 2014, Patton responded by saying, “Who knows? It certainly doesn’t seem like it’s on the tip of anyone’s lips, but I could have said the same thing – and in fact, I did say the same thing – about Faith No More, and that happened. And I think it happened for the better.”
On August 13, 2019, it was announced that Mr. Bungle would reunite in February 2020 for three shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Brooklyn. The reunion was promoted as featuring Patton, Spruance and Dunn, as well as guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Dave Lombardo, performing the 1986 demo album The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny in its entirety. On August 15, after a strong demand for tickets for all three shows, the band added an additional show to each city. A third L.A. show was added on August 21, bringing the total number of reunion shows to seven. The band stated on their Facebook page that they were not going to perform any songs from their Warner Bros. albums.
During the reunion shows, Mr. Bungle covered songs of various metal and hardcore punk bands such as Slayer, Corrosion of Conformity, Circle Jerks, Crumbsuckers and Cro-Mags in addition to performing three previously unreleased songs which were written during the era of The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny demo: “Glutton For Punishment”, “Methamatics”, and “Eracist”. Although the entire recording was promoted as being performed, non-metal songs from the demo (such as “Grizzly Adams” and “Evil Satan”) were absent from the performances. The only exception was “Hypocrites”, albeit with the ska sections eliminated. When asked about the absence of these portions by noted ska fan Byron Dunbar, Dunn remarked,
“The main impetus behind replaying/recording The Raging Wrath was to play metal and to give that music it’s due. Grizzly Adams wasn’t possible for us to pull off live, with limited rehearsal time and production, not to mention it works better as an overly long intro to a metal record. Evil Satan and Hypocrites were sort of reactionary jokes that were hinting towards our amateurish/experimental Bowel of Chiley period. There is an overt goofiness there that doesn’t belong with the rest of the vibe that we were interested in presenting. It was a deliberate choice to exclude those songs from this particular presentation. The “ska” portions of Hypocrites you refer to should not be granted such a revered quality. We were by no means ever a ska band, though we appreciated the masters. Those sections of that song are also extremely unoriginal. I would call them kitsch and for that they would clog the gears of the machine that we consciously and intentionally presented.”
The choice of songs received a mixed reaction from certain portions of the band’s fanbase. In their review of the Los Angeles gig, Revolver wrote “One of the most quietly influential bands in metal reunited last night in Los Angeles … to play zero of the songs that made them influential.”
Mr. Bungle collaborated with several guests during the shows including the comedian Eric Andre, who introduced the band at the beginning of their show at February 7, and Jed Watts, the original drummer of Mr. Bungle.
In the weeks following the February 2020 shows, Mr. Bungle posted without comment on their Twitter account pictures taken in a recording studio, hinting at an upcoming record. On March 23 and 24, Revolver magazine published a two-part press release and interview with Spruance formally announcing that the band, joined by Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo, were currently re-recording The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny in addition to the previously unreleased songs and covers performed during the reunion shows, with an expected release on Patton’s label Ipecac Recordings in the fall of 2020. On June 5, Mr. Bungle released a cover of “U.S.A.” by The Exploited, featuring a hardcore punk sound. “Doesn’t matter what part of the political spectrum you are on, everyone at some point has said, ‘Fuck the USA,'” Spruance commented. “The closest thing we have to a universal sentiment.”
On August 13, the band officially announced the album’s release date, now titled The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, scheduled for October 30. Alongside the announcement, they released an animated music video for the single “Raping Your Mind” directed by Eric Livingston. Dunn described re-recording their earliest material with Lombardo and Ian like “we were finally utilizing our Ph.Ds in Thrash Metal. All we had to do was go back to our original professors for some additional guidance and talk them into joining us. Turns out we were A+ students… We were haunted for 35 years by the fact that this music wasn’t given it’s due respect. Now we can die.”
Prior to the release of their first album in 1991, the Los Angeles Times stated that the band “performs oddball music one critic has described as Bugs Bunny-type jazz.” Variety referred to the band as “Zappa-esque Bay Area pranksters” in 2000. Allmusic’s Greg Prato described Mr. Bungle’s music as a “unique mix of the experimental, the abstract, and the absurd”, while Patrick Macdonald of The Seattle Times characterized their music as “harsh, grating, unstructured, blasting, squeaky, speedy, slow, eerie and strangely compelling”. Distinctive features of the music were the use of numerous different instruments, unusual vocals, and the use of unpredictable song formats along with a number of different musical genres. Greg Prato stated they “may be the most talented rock instrumentalists today, as they skip musical genres effortlessly, while Mike Patton illustrates why many consider him to be the best singer in rock”. Not all have agreed, with one reviewer calling the band the “most ridiculously terrible piece of festering offal ever scraped off the floor of a slaughterhouse”. Journalist Geoffrey Himes criticized the band by stating “the vocals are so deeply buried in the music that the words are virtually indecipherable” and described the music as “aural montages rather than songs, for short sections erupt and suddenly disappear, replaced by another passage with little connection to what preceded it”.
Mr. Bungle frequently incorporated unconventional instruments into their music including tenor sax, jaw harp, cimbalom, xylophone, glockenspiel, clarinet, ocarina, piano, organ, bongos, and woodblocks. Journalist John Serba commented that the instrumentation “sounded kind of like drunken jazz punctuated with Italian accordions and the occasional Bavarian march, giant power chord, or feedback noise thrown in”. Overlaying this was Mike Patton’s vocals, who often used death metal growls, crooning, rapping, screeching, gurgling, or whispering. The arrangement of their songs was also idiosyncratic, often lacking a structured song format and rotating through different genres ranging from slow melodies to thrash metal. New York Times journalist Jon Pareles described it as music that “leaps from tempo to tempo, key to key, style to style, all without warning”. Similarly critic Patrick Macdonald commented, “In the middle of hard-to-follow, indecipherable noise, a relatively normal, funky jazz organ solo will suddenly drift in”. Some of the genres they utilized include gothic rock, funk, ska punk, free jazz, ska, surf rock, punk, heavy metal, klezmer, kecak, avant-jazz, folk, noise rock, alternative metal/funk metal, pop, doo-wop, electronica, swing, space age pop and exotica, death metal, rockabilly, bossa nova, progressive rock, country and western, circus music, video game and cartoon music. However, this sound is best described as Experimental rock, experimental, alternative metal, avant-garde metal, ska punk, funk metal, death metal, and thrash metal.
The majority of the band’s music and lyrics were written by Patton, Dunn, and Spruance, with McKinnon and Heifetz occasionally contributing. Regarding their creative process, McKinnon stated in a 2000 interview that “This band is kind of like a cruel boys club in a way. You bring some ideas and if you’re not 100 percent firm about bringing a certain idea to this group, you can watch it get kicked aside and die really quickly.”
It has been noted that the band were given an unusual amount of artistic freedom during their tenure with the major label Warner Bros. Records. In a 2016 interview, Trevor Dunn reflected —
I seem to remember that they always left us alone. Patton was a big asset to them financially and in that regard it gave us some power because they had to appease him. That, for one, meant giving him the freedom to work with us as he always had. I don’t believe any of our records ever recouped which isn’t that big of a deal for a major label who have much larger fish to fry. For them it is just another tax write-off. And I have a sneaking suspicion that they possibly believed we would ‘grow up’ musically some day and make them some money.
Trey Spruance claimed that Warner Bros. cared so little about the band that they at one point were considering delivering an entire album of blank static noise, knowing that the label wouldn’t listen to it in the first place. He said, “We could’ve delivered them static, literally. We thought about it. We almost did it, we were thinking about doing that. Then we realized – actually it doesn’t matter to them; that would seem like a big statement but they would just shrug. They don’t care about that shit.”
Mr. Bungle’s style has influenced many acts from the alternative metal genre, most notably Korn, who have utilized what they have dubbed the “Mr. Bungle chord” (A flat fifth chord or “Tritone”). James “Munky” Shaffer, one of Korn’s guitarists, stated in a 2015 interview that Mr. Bungle’s self-titled debut “set the tone for us and what we went on to do creatively”. Brandon Boyd of Incubus similarly cites early Mr. Bungle as an influence, with Incubus’s 1995 debut album Fungus Amongus mentioning them in the liner notes. Other prominent artists Mr. Bungle have inspired include Avenged Sevenfold, Big Dumb Face, Bloodhound Gang, Brann Dailor of Mastodon, Chino Moreno, Deftones, Dog Fashion Disco, Doug Robb of Hoobastank, Glassjaw, Limp Bizkit, Snot, System of a Down, Super Junky Monkey, Tub Ring, Twelve Foot Ninja, Uncle Kracker and Diego Tejeida of Haken. Groups with similar live visuals – such as Mushroomhead and Slipknot — have also admitted that Mr. Bungle were a major influence. In 2016, former Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison said that “Mr. Bungle is one of my favourite bands of all time.”
Mr. Bungle were known for their characteristically unconventional stage shows, where the band members would dress up in costumes and masks. In the early stages of their career they would often wear a uniform of mechanic’s jumpsuits along with masks such as Madonna, Richard Nixon, Darth Vader, an executioner’s hood or plastic clown or gimp masks. Bassist Trevor Dunn claimed that initially the reason for the dressing up was to assure anonymity. Regarding their heavy usage of clown and carnival themes, Trey Spruance explained “The thing is, every now and then while driving around aimlessly as teenagers blasting Sodom’s Obsessed by Cruelty album at 3 am, Patton and I would run across these redneck carnivals popping-up overnight on the periphery of town, in the middle of nowhere. We called them “Satanic Carnivals” due to their unexplained phantasmic arrival, and their pointless neon lights no one was around to appreciate as they sparkled up against the dreary fog. The next night, when they’d be open, we’d actually go to these god-damned things. There was certainly a malice to the toothless meth-heads running the barely-functioning rides, and the fights that would break out among drunken loggers, but it was all pretty standard fare – no evil clowns.”
The band simply wore stockings to cover their faces during at least portions of the “Disco Volante” tour. The 1999–2000 shows in support of the California album usually featured Dunn dressed as a blonde girl resembling Goldilocks or The St. Pauli Girl, although for the other members this period was largely devoid of masks and outfits due to the increased demands of the music. Mike Patton explained, “This stuff is much harder to play, I was trying to do piano lines and I’m completely fumbling them because the leather bondage mask is stretching my face so tight that my eyes weren’t lining up with the eye holes.” Often the theme was related to California, with palm tree props and the band members wearing beach party outfits, including Hawaiian shirts and khaki pants. Occasionally, the band would simply appear in black suits with white dress shirts or dress up in chef costumes, cowboy suits or as the Village People.
Throughout their career, Mr. Bungle also performed numerous covers in their live shows, ranging from tiny snippets to whole songs. The covers drew from a wide variety of artists and genres encompassing hardcore punk and heavy metal songs by the Dead Kennedys, Van Halen and Slayer, movie scores by Ennio Morricone, Henry Mancini and John Williams, ska tunes by Camper Van Beethoven, pop songs by Elton John and Jennifer Lopez, as well as hip hop by Public Enemy and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. They frequently covered Billy Squier’s “The Stroke”.
All of the members of the ‘classic’ lineup of Mr. Bungle are multi-instrumentalists. The timeline below reflects only their main roles. Members of the band were known to switch instruments mid-performance.
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