Mike Patton sounds disarmingly chipper. “Heeeellloooooo!” he drawls in his distinctive baritone, before introducing himself and warmly enquiring about what sort of a day we’ve been having. It’s not what we were expecting from a man who has something of a reputation as a difficult interviewee. We thought we were getting metal’s most notorious subversive, but instead we spend almost an hour in the company of a charming, warm, chortling gentleman.
But maybe we should have expected to be surprised by Mike Patton. After all, he’s spent his 35-year career doing the opposite of what fans expect, or even want in many cases, with gleeful regularity. Evidence that he still delights in making unusual and unpredictable career choices was last year’s decision to resurrect his first band, uncategorisable noise terrorists Mr. Bungle, solely to perform and re-record their debut 1986 demo, The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny. A demo that most people have never even heard or knew existed. As if that wasn’t bizarre enough, they’ve added thrash metal royalty to their ranks, in the shape of former Slayer sticksman Dave Lombardo and Anthrax riff lord Scott Ian. Who saw that coming?
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“We wanted it to be the most fucked-up reunion thing ever, and I think that’s how it panned out,” Mike cackles, when we ask where the hell this idea came from. “Because we’re not playing the hits, we’re not playing anything that people know. First it was a joke, and all of a sudden… it was happening!”
You can tell Mike is delighted to have reunited with his old pals, once again confusing the entire music scene. He happily regales us with tales of the band’s early days, growing up with Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn and guitarist Trey Spruance in the small town of Eureka, California, where they consumed music and longed to escape their confines.
“We were just freaks!” he yelps. “I think it’s hard to explain to people who didn’t grow up in that environment, how desperate it makes you to get away. Music was everything to us. I used to work in the local record shop and I’d just order all of these weird and wonderful records. The shop would have to foot the bill for it. I’d open one up and make myself a tape copy, and then seal it back up to sell. Like, ‘Oh, that band Minor Threat sound cool… let’s order that!’ It didn’t matter if it was Slayer or Stravinsky, we just lapped it all up!”
These malleable young men formed Mr. Bungle in 1985, and released a handful of demos that hopped and skipped from thrash, to salsa, to ska, with scant regard for genre conventions, before Mike was headhunted by Faith No More and became a superstar. Despite this, he continued to front Bungle. Almost certainly due to his success in FNM, the band signed with Warner Bros in 1990, and spent the decade releasing three brilliantly bizarre, distinctly unique albums that confused some and angered others but, crucially, inspired an entire generation of future musicians.
In subsequent years, the legend of Mr. Bungle grew, with bands including Korn, System Of A Down, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Mastodon citing them as a crucial influence. Such is Avenged Sevenfold’s admiration, they covered the song Retrovertigo on the deluxe edition of their 2016 album, The Stage. We ask Mike why he think his band have achieved such cult status. “How the hell would I know?!” he half giggles, half spits. “I guess there is this mystery surrounding this thing that isn’t there anymore and people get seduced by that… and we haven’t been around for a long time!”
It was the end of the year 2000, only a year after the release of their career-best California album, that Mr. Bungle vanished. There was no statement, no dedicated final show, no press back and forth – they were just gone. As the years progressed, the less likely it looked that they’d ever return.
“Oh, I remember why we split,” Mike explains. “We weren’t getting on at all. That was all. But you get older, and you bump into each other, and you reconnect, and slowly all those old problems don’t seem to matter so much.”
The world may not have seen the reunion coming, but Mike says that, having reconnected with Trevor and Trey over the last decade, the three of them have spent much of that time toying with the idea of reviving Mr. Bungle. “It has been years that we’ve been talking about this,” he says. “For the longest time, it was just some silly little parlour joke that we would say to each other, like, ‘Wouldn’t it be weird if we got back together? No one would expect that!’ Then one day Trevor had this crazy idea: ‘Why don’t we just get Lombardo in to play our old stuff?’ And I thought, ‘That’s a really good idea.’ Because if we were going to reunite, then it wasn’t going to be in the usual way.”
Bungle used to air-drum to Slayer in the van back in the day, and Mike and Trevor have since worked with Dave in hardcore punk supergroup Dead Cross, so they knew he’d nail the material. Then Mike realised they needed a rhythm guitarist, and Scott Ian came to mind. They weren’t well acquainted, but Mike knew he was a fan, as he’d been to their shows. “I reached out and… I think he was really freaked out!” exclaims Mike. “I think he thought I was going to send him the new Bungle thing, and I had to explain, ‘No, I want you to be in the fucking band!’ and that’s how it went.”
Finally, after years of looking for the weirdest of reasons to reunite, Mr. Bungle had the one they needed: to return to the earliest, thrashiest, most outwardly metal incarnation of the band. “All of us re-listened to the old songs and thought, ‘Holy shit! This sounds like it’s recorded through a vacuum cleaner!” Mike squeals. “But we did our best at the time; we were all 16 back then. All of us realised that, actually, this music was pretty good. So it was like, ‘Let’s do it and not mess with it, and make a real document of what we sounded like at the time.’ A lot of people think that Mr. Bungle is a different kind of band, they don’t understand that [thrash metal] part of us, but it’s in our blood. And [let’s] not just document it; do it with two dudes who fucking inspired us to make that music in the first place, Scott Ian and fucking Lombardo! I mean, if someone puts that on your plate, you’re kinda like, ‘Yeah, I’m eating that!’”
The album is beautifully evocative of the glory days of thrash metal, with that unmistakable Scott Ian guitar tone and the rhythmical wild abandon of Dave Lombardo perfectly complementing the more idiosyncratic nature of the original Bungle members. “Is it 80s thrash metal? Yes, it is,” Mike says. “It’s a timepiece, it’s mark-your-watch kinda music. But that’s where we came from.”
That might be where Mr. Bungle came from, but where do they go from here? There’s a pause. “I have no idea,” Mike blurts out, before letting out another healthy guffaw. “Who knows. We’re kinda making this up as we go along!”
Well, what were you expecting him to say?