That Was Then/This Is Yesterday

Interview: Trey Spruance (April 2002), Pt. 2

Posted in Interviews, San Francisco by wwyork on October 23, 2014

“Thank you for giving us that advance that you used to not ever pay us another dime afterwards, because by doing that, I learned how to use the studio.”

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Left: With an all-star cast following the Zip Code Rapists’ 10th anniversary show at the Hemlock, San Francisco, 2005; Right: With *Major Entertainer* Mike H, from the same night.

In Part Two of this interview, Trey talks about SC3’s relative lack of visibility in the music press, touring with Mr. Bungle, and the differences between being on a major label with that band and running his own operation with SC3 and Web of Mimicry. (For Part One, go here.)


I remember from the interview we did before, two and a half years ago, you said something about the “Faith No More specter.”

For Mr. Bungle, yeah.

Or even the first Mr. Bungle album. People still say “funk metal” when they hear Mr. Bungle’s name comes up.

I know, man.

It’s like, once you’ve done that, then everything you touch is “contaminated.” People who have never heard anything by Mr. Bungle besides the first album—or even if they haven’t heard anything—they think “funk metal.”

[Laughs.] But then the worst thing starts happening—then they start saying, “The always unclassifiable, turn-the-corner-when-you-least-expect-it Mr. Bungle.” Like, yeah, that’s all we’re doin’ man, we’re just tryin’ to defy expectations here. And maybe there’s some truth to that after a while. At first it wasn’t—that’s not what we were doing with Disco Volante—but you hear that enough, and after a while…maybe I have a little bit of a complex now, where I’m like, “Yeah, man, I do wanna turn the fuckin’ corner. Fuck this Middle Eastern music thing. Why don’t I make a new wave album?” That’s just the spite in me talking. I won’t do it. But it’s this thing where, I’m not trying to be evasive, I’m just trying to be true to what’s comin’ out of me. The more shit you hear back—the more things you get reflected back in this distorted mirror—the worse it is for you, for your creative spirit. If I was just being defiant, this shit would go downhill. It would suck. We’re really getting into my internal warfare here. This is the first time I’ve really talked about it. This is the shit I fight myself on all the time. I don’t wanna react to the outside world. I have to shield myself from it all the time.

It’s weird how some musicians are like, “I don’t get any coverage, nobody ever talks about me, it’d be nice to get some more press.” I don’t know, I’ve never really talked to a musician who didn’t care. But look at this! [I was referring to fact that we were doing an interview.]

[Laughs.] I mean, this is all such bullshit, really. It’s so hypocritical to be sitting here talking about this. But my thing is … I got a couple of bands. Do you know Danubius? They play down at Bistro E Europa down on Mission Street. [I wound up going there based on Trey’s recommendation and went back several times. It was an amazing place but seems to have closed.—WY] They’re a Hungarian/Romanian sort of Gypsy band—like village music. The first time I saw them was up here at the Hungarian Sausage Factory—six years, five years ago? They did a record and I’m putting it out. This is a the thing, like what I was saying, I’m gonna start promoting the label. This is one of these things [Danubius] that’s a treasure here in San Francisco, and I cannot, I cannot believe…. Like, ever since Latcho Drom, everybody’s really into this Gypsy music thing. This group is world-class; they’re fuckin’ good. And they’re tryin’ to figure out, “How are we gonna pay for our record?” They’ve got this Moldavian cimbalom player—man, he’s better than anyone I’ve ever seen, with the exception of the guy from Taraf de Haidouks. He’s almost there, though, believe me. These people are just unbelievably good musicians, and they’re just sitting down here, in “sophisticated” San Francisco, where everybody’s really “up on everything.” They’ve been fuckin’ at it for 10 years! And nobody notices. So if anything, I do sort of wanna get in contact with the press—not that you’re really “the press”—but I am receptive to speaking out because I wanna get some of this stuff going. There’s all these musicians out there doing amazing things and they’re being totally ignored. I’m not being ignored, you know?

Yeah.

I’m being ignored by the press in some places, like the local press. But [getting back to Danubius], you know how there are these amazing, amazing things where you get so excited about knowing about them, and then all of a sudden it explodes and everybody knows about it? I am aghast that that hasn’t happened to this group. I’m just aghast, I can’t believe it. And they could use it, too. They could fuckin’ use some attention. There’s other things like that. Have you ever been to Pasha? Uh, no. Go to Pasha—it’s on Broadway—on a Sunday or Saturday night. [Note: I was going to warn you not to go to Pasha on your birthday unless you wanted to be pulled onstage and asked to bellydance while wearing a fez and feeling absolutely mortified, but alas, this restaurant also appears to have closed.—WY] This fuckin’ guy Jalaleddin—he put out six records that I own; I tracked them down to the end of the fuckin’ earth. I found his second record down at Samiramis Imports, the Arabic store down there on Mission Street , and I asked the guy there, “Where are the rest of these?” He said, “They did eight of ’em, but we only have this one, and that’s it.” [Note: I took this recommendation and went to Samiramis, where they still had one Jalaleddin LP,  Jalaleddin Presents Belly Dance Music, Vol. II.  Someone else has uploaded a less-than-pristine vinyl rip of side one of Vol. I to YouTube.—WY] He didn’t tell me that he was still around. I found the rest of his records, a huge stockpile of ’em, in New Mexico of all places. I freaked out, I went to the restaurant [Pasha], and there he was. He’s the owner! And he plays, every weekend. And he’s an amazing kanoon player!

What is that instrument?

Kanoon. It’s a Turkish thing, like a lute; they put little picks on their fingers. Man, he’s so fucking good. The best musicians in this whole city, I’m tellin’ you man, are playing at that Bistro E Europa and at Pasha … and nobody fuckin’ knows about them! It’s unbelievable! So I’m trying to—I don’t really have an aversion to the press thing as far as getting their thing going, cause I really wanna get them in the loop on what’s goin’ on. These people wanna play, period. Bottom line. They wanna play. They don’t know anybody! People should be coming to them and kissing their ass and inviting them to play all the time. They’re real musicians; they’re so good.

So who are you playing with these days? Do you just have people you bring in on different songs?

Well, that Book M record, yeah, those were like—as far as the Secret Chiefs goes … what am I gonna say?

There is none?

There never was one. It doesn’t exist. So, therefore it’s always expanding. The more people I meet, the more people I can potentially involved in the thing. The coolest thing about it, like for live shows, is you have people like Danny [Heifetz] and Eyvind [Kang] who can do anything. So even if I have 30 people involved on a record, I know we’re gonna be able to render it in a really interesting way in a live setting. So it’s two different things, between the recording and the live thing. You know, Eyvind is a person who can bring the moment to life. So in a live setting, we try to create arrangements that’ll be a little more in the moment, rather than trying to recreate the record.

Did that kind of bum you out about the Mr. Bungle shows?

That we recreate the record?

Trying to?

I mean, I wouldn’t say if it “bummed me out,” [but] it puts an awful lot of work on my shoulders. I’m the one who’s in charge of all the programming of the samplers and all that shit. California was so huge of an undertaking. I mean, at one point, there were 106 channels in the patch bay. The patch bay was going like this [makes sagging motion with hands] under the weight of these fucking cables, and I’m thinking, “This is fucking gratuitous and disgusting. But you know, it’s analogue’s last hurrah [referring to California]. We have three 24-track machines all hooked together here doing this thing, and now, oh yeah, we’re gonna play live? And we’ve got one person who plays keyboard at any given time?” So we had to get an outside keyboard player. And it took me and, actually, Tim [Smolens] from Estradasphere a month and a half to program the samplers. You have to go into the studio and isolate all these tracks, and then figure out how the fuck you’re gonna do it—is there a way to even do it? Oh my god, it’s traumatic for me to even think about what went into that. Yeah, it’s fuckin’ hard, man. But for me, you know, that’s what it was about. Mr. Bungle’s a technical challenge. It’s not a place to explore your fuckin’ soul or anything like that. It’s the fuckin’ “post-modern band,” so because of that it’s got this incredible responsibility of technological gizmo-gadgetry shit to contend with. Unfortunately, that’s my job.

It seems like you guys had about four legs on that tour. Did you get burned out on the band?

No, Mr. Bungle’s always the same. If anything, we toured too much of the United States. It’s fine to do a bunch of tours, as long as you’re in Europe, Australia, do the U.S. once, go somewhere else, you know. You keep goin’ around in circles in the United States, and the first time it’s like, “Okay, it’s cool.” And the second time you’re just thinking, “Well, this is sort of a good idea, ’cause the club promoters didn’t believe that we would pack the house the first time, so the second time we go through we can get treated better and have everything go better.” Third time, it’s like, “Okay, now we’re opening up for some fucking band. Why? What is this? Wait a minute, what happened?”

What was the Sno-Core situation? [On this early 2000 tour, Mr. Bungle had the honor of opening up for System of a Down and Incubus.]

Should I even talk about it?

It seemed like a really odd thing. I was really surprised that you guys did that at that point.

Let’s just say that some of us were going, “Well … I guess … this’ll be an … adventure?” And that was the whole spirit we went into it with. You know, there’s this thing of, “Yeah, man, we’ll reach all these other people! We can expand the audience!” I didn’t fucking believe that for a second. That kind of logic—it doesn’t get you anywhere; it doesn’t work. It’s a recipe for failure and disaster. Ok, fine, if you’re right out of the gate and you’re some new band walking by with your ass in the air just waitin’ to get fucked? Ok, go for it. Do it that way, fine. If you’re a band like us that’s been around for … 17 years? Okay, now you’re gonna say, “Oh, look, here’s all these kids who are into this sort of progressive band, System of a Down, and they’re gonna be receptive to this thing.” No they’re not! They’re not! Who are you fuckin’ kidding? So, of course, the beautiful thing about Mr. Bungle is this spirit of combativeness. So even though the forces that put us into this kind of screwed, stupid situation in the first place, uh, had their agenda, these things ended up being betrayed in the end, and by the end of that tour, we were havin’ a lot of fun with it actually.

Were there just hostile audiences every night?

There were only a few hostile audiences, but those can be just magic moments. That’s definitely when Mike is at his best. People who hate Mike, whatever they think about him, I wish they would see him…. We played this one show in South Carolina—it was so fuckin’ funny, man. I mean, they hated us, they were booing—and that’s just the beginning. I can’t even say what really happened. It was sick and horrible and frightening and all of the above. Traumatic for everyone involved.

You can’t say that and then not tell me what happened!

Well, let’s just give little tidbits. They were screaming “faggot” at us, and uh, we were dressing up like the Village People at this point, so Mike gave a demonstration on how to give a blowjob using the microphone. This thing went on for like five minutes. Mr. Bungle as a live group is best in front of a fuckin’ horribly hostile audience, absolutely. We learned that on our first tour. Even though the music maybe wasn’t as good back then, our best shows were definitely on the first tour.

Who were you opening for, Primus or something?

No, we were out by ourselves. But, you know, people thought we were Faith No More, you know what I mean? That was fun. [Sno-Core] kinda brought that energy back. These rednecks [in South Carolina] got violent. You know how I was talking about the Sun City Girls and magic and coincidences and that sort of thing? There was some shit like that, there was this guy who threw some shit at me and it was getting water all over my $6,000 keyboard, you know, so I was pissed. Finally I saw who it was, it was this big fuckin’ guy with prison tattoos, you know, the whole Confederate flag headband. He started yelling that he was gonna kill me and all this shit. And I was, like, doing something, pointing at him, and this drumstick comes from behind me, flying. We’re at the House of Blues, it was huge, and he’s like in the 15th row back. It hits him right in the face, out of what, 3000 people? And I look over at Danny, and he didn’t know whether he hit him—he couldn’t even see the guy. I asked him later, and he said, “Yeah, I just saw you pointing at something and it looked pretty bad.” That guy went down to the floor, I saw him. It was amazing. That was great. You know, things like that don’t happen every day, but Sno-Core had its values. But not from a management perspective.

Another thing about Sno-Core, there are all these people who say you’ve influenced these sorts of bands.

Let’s hope not, right?

I don’t hear it.

Yeah, I don’t hear it either. It’s weird—I can’t put myself in their shoes. Incubus, they’ll say that they were influenced by us, and I got to know some of those guys when we were on that tour. This is a hard thing, ’cause going into it you’re thinking, “What the fuck … ?” Then you meet these guys and you realize, they’re just nice kids; they’re good guys. Am I gonna sit here and get embarrassed because they say they say they’re influenced by us? What kind of fuckin’ asshole am I if that’s the case? I learned a lot from Sno-Core; I learned basically that [lesson]. Like, well, if they wanna claim us as an influence, take it as a fuckin’ compliment, don’t be so insulted by it, you know? They’re nice kids. And I would rather have them goin’ around on the tour bus than … [he pauses before mentioning any specific bands]. You know what I’m sayin’? They’re alright. Whatever—I’m not gonna buy their record, but … at least it’s not Fred Durst. And he says that he’s influenced by us so, fuck, you know—you can draw the line somewhere.

It’s kinda like, there’s the avant-garde world and then there’s the pop world, and whichever one you’re more fed up with is gonna be whichever one you’re more exposed to at the time.

Yeah, that’s a really, really good point. Here’s the two things. The avant-garde, the only reason I’m fed up with it is, I expect more. There’s so many unbelievably genius, talented people who are just getting caught up in this fuckin’ tailspinning. I just want more. The pop world, that’s the arena of pure evil. And sometimes something pokes through. I always have to go back to, like, the film Magnolia, for instance. Did you see that movie?

I didn’t see that.

You should see that movie. [Note: I did. In fact, I think I followed every recommendation in this interview! When someone knows their stuff, I pay attention.—WY] Okay, this is a Hollywood movie, right? I don’t know, the achievement that that director pulled off—of making a film that long work, with all of those fucking stars, doing the kind of roles that they were doing—I can’t discount that. I can’t say that because it’s part of popular culture it’s bullshit. That is an unbelievable achievement that that guy pulled off, not just on an artistic level, but on a logistics/distribution level, all that shit. How the fuck did he do that? Why can’t there be some people in music doing this stuff? There can be.

I don’t know, every now and then—like, Burt Bacharach did pretty some crazy stuff musically and made it popular. The same with the Beach Boys.

Absolutely. Or just good stuff—true to themselves. You know, play your own music, do something beautiful, and if you can find a way to fuckin’ sell it, fine, if you can’t, so what. Do it; do something real.

So what’s you whole take on running your own label versus being on Warner Brothers?

Well, I mean, Steve Albini is 100 percent correct in his assessment of the music industry, if you’ve read that thing he wrote. I’m no fan of Steve Albini, necessarily, but it’s all true. Yeah, you’re getting fucked—if you deal with any aspect of the music industry, you’re getting fucked, period. And that goes for the A&R people, it goes for everybody—everybody’s getting fucked. It’s terrible. It’s really, literally hell. I’m sure it’s no different, really, than any other business thing. But, let me put it to you this way: Revolver, who I’m sort of affiliated with through my label—that’s different. I sort of put them in the same category as the guy who directed the Magnolia film: They’ve staked out their fuckin’ territory, and as much as the market might be volatile, they’ve survived through all these different things because they’re smart and they’re committed to what they do. And then they offer, like a hand coming out of the fuckin’ sky, this place for me. I mean, I’ve had offers from some pretty good labels that are, you know, “high profile” and could maybe get me touring and all these other things, but I wouldn’t even think about it for a second. It’s not even a matter of artistic freedom; they’re just fair.

Do you think you would have been able to record Disco Volante or California without major label backing?

It’s a complete fluke. And if there’s one thing I have to be thankful for, it’s, yeah: “Thank you for giving us that advance that you used to not ever pay us another dime afterwards, because by doing that, I learned how to use the studio.”

I was gonna ask that: when did you get all into recording? Was that before Disco Volante or during it?

It was before—I mean, I was always sort of dabbling in it, like any guitarist, and then I just kinda got more and more into it. it was really sort of from the improvisational things. When you’re recording these improv things, you start realizing that how the tape sounds can be affected quite drastically by the things you do with the microphone. So I started experimenting more with the studios stuff. Even when we were doing Mr. Bungle improvs, I would be just at the mixing board, you know, fuckin’ around. And that brought more life to the posterity of that moment. We can actually capture these really amazing things that took place—that actually didn’t take place, you know what I’m saying? So I started studying mic positioning and just basic amateur shit: how to use a compressor, how to use a mic preempt, routing. I started doing my own recording: I did a whole, huge, long-ass thing of a whole bunch of techno music, actually, that never will see the light of day. But I learned so much from all this shit, and by the time we did Disco Volante I was watching very carefully what was going on. Our engineer, Billy Anderson…

Oh yeah, he’s good.

Man. I just learned so much from him. And then when I did the Faith No More thing I watched Andy Wallace; I mean, he’s no slouch.

What was the chronology like with that and Disco Volante?

Disco Volante came before that—I think. Oh, we had started recording Disco Volante before that … and we finished it after. Is that right? I don’t know, I could be wrong about that. But yeah, they were right around the same time.

Was that a strain?

Put it this way: Mike [Patton] and I have always had—what would it be, a typical relationship that a guitarist and a singer have, right? It’s always like that. We don’t really “fight”; there are some power struggles that go on, but it’s more like … [long pause]. Hmmm, there’s no way to even say some things. The way he was in Faith No More and the way he was in Mr. Bungle were totally different up to that point. I was sort of trying to keep Mr. Bungle from being too affected by that [situation with Faith No More], you know? And it was a source of some trouble. But, you know, that’s natural, and it sort of gave some of the…. ‘Cause one thing I’ll tell you, Mike has an amazing ear, and he does come up with some really interesting stuff. He’s not academically trained; [Mr. Bungle bassist] Trevor [Dunn] and I sort of taught him how to do more harmonic things a way-long time ago, and he’s been developing in his own spasmodic direction ever since, which is cool—I like it. And he just has an amazing ear for sonorities. So when he and I work together, on his stuff I work in the capacity of a “renderer”—sort of “rendering” his ideas a little bit—and that works nicely, because I like the things that he comes up with generally. But outside of the creative thing, we’re very different people, very different. And we know how to be diplomatic enough to keep this thing alive [laughs all of a sudden].

Is it still alive?

Yeah, yeah. I mean, this is the same as it’s always been.

‘Cause it seems like you guys are in totally different places now.

That’s always served to be good for Mr. Bungle: the farther we get away from each other, the more interesting concoctions we end up coming up with. And the other weird thing is, this goes back a long time, this band. And we do tend to think on parallel lines even when we don’t talk to each other for a long-ass time. And there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re doing that now, and that when we come together we’re gonna be really surprised. It’s always happened this way; we’re always totally in agreement on creative stuff.

Do you think you guys can pull it all off without the big budget now that you’re off Warner Bros.?

Okay, maybe I am guilty of waiting my own flag here. Yes. Now that I’ve learned how to do everything for cheap, absolutely, yes.

It’s not like the Secret Chiefs album is low-budget sounding. It’s not as elaborate as California, but it’s pretty close.

The difference in dollars is about $200,000. There were zero dollars put into the production of Book M. Well, the drums were recorded in a studio. It was like a $700 production budget for that record.

You were doing some thing that you were gonna put out on Birdman?

Yeah, fuck, man. I definitely owe Dave [Katznelson] a record.

Is it just a huge project?

It’s huge, it’s fucking huge. Somehow this thing got started about me doing it at Mills [College]—that’s not true.

Yes, I saw it on a Secret Chiefs fan website.

Was it? It’s not really an “opera,” either. I don’t know how that got started.

What is it, like electro-acoustic kind of stuff?

Yeah. The difficulty with it is getting the thematic part to line up with the sound part of it. And I can’t really do it until I get basically an orchestra at my disposal. I mean, I could do it as a recording project, but it really—passages of it, at least—should be performed and recorded as a group, not like overdubs.

So the main thing you’re working on now, are you like holed up—do you just record all day?

I’ll tell you what’s going on with the new Secret Chiefs. It’s officially gonna be—it’ll be clear that it’s not a band. How can I say that? It’s gonna be—here, how ’bout this [gesturing at tape recorder]: Turn that off again….

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  1. […] Due to the length of this interview, I've divided it into two parts. Part Two can be found here. Part One begins somewhat abruptly with Trey talking, as I started the tape about 20 minutes into […]


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