Mr. Bungle was an experimental rock/avant-garde metal group from Northern California. The band was formed in 1985 while the members were still in high school and was named after a children's educational film. Mr. Bungle released four demo tapes in the mid to late 1980s before being signed to Warner Bros. Records and releasing three full-length studio albums between 1991 and 1999. The band toured in 2000 to support their last album but as of 2004 is considered disbanded. Although Mr. Bungle went through several line up changes early in their career, the longest serving members were vocalist Mike Patton, guitarist Trey Spruance, bassist Trevor Dunn, drummer Danny Heifetz, and Clinton "B?r" McKinnon on saxophone and woodwinds.
Mr. Bungle was known for its distinctive musical traits, often cycling through several musical genres within the course of a single song. Many of its songs had an unconventional structure and utilized a wide array of instruments and samples. Live shows often featured members dressing up and an array of cover songs. An ongoing feud with Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis escalated in the late 1990s, with Kiedis removing Mr. Bungle from a number of large music festivals in Europe and Australasia.
Despite the fact that it was signed to a major record label, the band never experienced significant commercial success during its lifetime and only released one music video. Nevertheless, Mr. Bungle was critically acclaimed with Greg Prato of Allmusic referring to them as "among the most talented rock instrumentalists". They achieved a degree of worldwide popularity due to a large cult following.
Early days (1985?1990)
Mr. Bungle formed in 1985 in Eureka, California while the members were still in high school. The band initially consisted of Trevor Dunn, Mike Patton, Trey Spruance, Theo Lengyel, and Jed Watts. Watts was subsequently replaced by Hans Wagner, and he by Danny Heifetz, while Clinton "B?r" McKinnon joined in 1989. The band's name was taken from Lunchroom Manners, a 1960s children's educational film which was featured in a Pee Wee Herman HBO special in the early 1980s. A puppet named Mr. Bungle was the main character and was used to teach children good manners and hygiene.
Soon after forming, the band's first demo, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, was recorded during Easter of 1986. It featured a fast, low-fi, death metal style, though it also utilized a trainwhistle, a saxophone, bongos, and a kazoo. The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny was followed by the demo Bowel of Chiley in 1987; this recording featured a different style incorporating the sounds of ska, swing, and funk. Bradley Torreano noted in 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. Their final demo tape was OU818, released in 1989; this recording was the first to feature tenor sax player Clinton "B?r" McKinnon and drummer Danny Heifetz. OU818 combined songs from the earlier demos along with some new tracks having a heavier overall sound than the previous releases. In 1989 Mike Patton became the lead vocalist for San Francisco's Faith No More, getting the job after Jim Martin of Faith No More heard him on a Mr. Bungle demo. Patton continued to be a member of both bands simultaneously. Having established a following in Northern California, Mr. Bungle was signed to Warner Bros., who released their self-titled debut album in 1991.
Self titled debut (1991?1994)
Their debut album, Mr. Bungle, was produced by jazz experimentalist John Zorn and was released on , 1991. 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, and hands down the best alternative rock record of the year so far". 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." His criticism of the album included commenting that it was "unfocused" and "a difficult, not very accessible record".
The first track was originally called "Travolta"(·)); however, the actor John Travolta took issue with this title and threatened legal action. The song name was changed and on later pressings of the album was called "Quote Unquote". The band created a music video for "Quote Unquote". 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.
Disco Volante (1995?1998)
"Desert Search For Techno Allah" (1995)
Sample from Mr. Bungle's "Desert Search For Techno Allah" from the album Disco Volante. This track displays a blend of Middle Eastern music and Techno with the parts of the lyrics being taken from an old Arabic phrase.
Due to artwork delays and the band members' many side-projects, it was 4 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 death metal, 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, Frank Zappa, 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. Mr. Bungle supported this record with tours through the United States, Europe, and Australia during 1995 and 1996. In 1996 Theo Lengyel retired as Bungle's original sax player and keyboardist due to creative differences.
"Vanity Fair" (1999)
Sample from Mr. Bungle's "Vanity Fair" from the album California. This clip illustrates one of Mr. Bungles Doo-wop inspired songs.
After a 4 year break, the band's third album, California, was released on , 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."
Trevor Dunn in concert supporting California
Additionally, the recording process for California became more complex. The group chose to record the disc on analog rather than digitally and some songs required several 24-track machines while utilizing more than 50 analog 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.
Feud with Red Hot Chili Peppers
Singer Mike Patton was known to have had a bad relationship with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' frontman Anthony Kiedis, beginning when Kiedis saw Patton performing with Faith No More and accused him of imitating his style. California was scheduled to be released on , but Warner Bros. Records 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. Patton stated ?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. Now, rationalize that one! That's so fucking pathetic! I mean, this guy's selling a million records! We are not even a speck of dust on this guy's ass! What's the fucking problem?" 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.'"
As a result, Mr. Bungle parodied the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Detroit, 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. Mr. Bungle also satirized many of the mannerisms of the band, mocking heroin injections and on-stage antics. Kiedis responded by having them removed from the 2000 Big Day Out festival in Australia and New Zealand, stating ?I would not have given two fucks if they played with us there, but after I heard about some Halloween show where they mocked us and read another interview where Patton talked shit about us, and I was like, you know what, fuck him and fuck the whole band." The feud continued with Dunn criticizing the Chili Peppers on his personal webpage, specifically their bass player Flea, stating "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".
Mr. Bungle's end
Following the California tour the band again went on hiatus. In 2003 Patton alluded to the fact that the band would probably not record any more albums 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." 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 adds, 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". Spruance, Heifetz, and McKinnon have been more optimistic regarding a possible reunion.
After the dissolution of Mr. Bungle the members have gone 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 Fant?mas, Tomahawk, and Peeping Tom. He acted in the motion picture Firecracker and did voice work in the movie I Am Legend, performing the infected creatures screams and howls. Trey Spruance is involved with various bands, including Secret Chiefs 3 and Faxed Head. Trevor Dunn joined Patton in Fant?mas 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, Australia, and plays in outfits such as The Tango Saloon and The Fantastic Terrific Munkle. Clinton McKinnon also played with Secret Chiefs 3; he now lives in Melbourne, Australia, and plays with The Ribbon Device and UML?UT.
Style and influence
All Music'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 utilization of numerous different instruments, unusual vocals, and the use of unpredictable song formats along with a number of different musical genres. The majority of the music and lyrics were written by Patton, Dunn, and Spruance, with McKinnon and Heifetz occasionally contributing. 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". While 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, Jew's 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, 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 heavy metal, funk, free jazz, surf rock, punk, klezmer music, ska, kecak, avant-jazz, folk music, noise rock,pop, doo-wop, funk metal, electronica, swing music, space age pop and exotica, death metal, rockabilly, bossa nova, progressive rock, country and western, Circus Music and even video game and cartoon music.
Mr. Bungle?s style has influenced many funk rock and metal bands, most notably Korn, whose guitarists utilize what they have dubbed the "Mr. Bungle chord". Brandon Boyd of Incubus also cited Mr. Bungle as an influence. The band has been less than enthusiastic about being linked to these acts, however, with frontman Mike Patton stating that he considers it an insult when people cite him as a forefather of Korn and Limp Bizkit. During interviews he has said: "I feel no responsibility for that, it's their mothers' fault, not mine."
Mike Patton in costume live in 1991
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 explained that initially the reason for the dressing up was to assure anonymity. The shows later in their career for the California tours, while still involving various members in costumes, were largely devoid of the 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 were by a wide variety of artists and genres encompassing movie scores by Ennio Morricone, Henry Mancini, and John Williams, pop songs by Elton John and Jennifer Lopez, hip hop by Public Enemy and Ol' Dirty Bastard, to punk and metal songs by Dead Kennedys, Metallica, and Slayer.