MR NICE GUY: Trey Spruance speaks with Danny Canak
Trey Spruance, like his Mr Bungle partner Mike Patton, is a man who likes to keep busy. The obsessive composer/producer didnít get a wink of sleep the night before I caught up with him. Apart from doing press for the new Secret Chiefs 3 album, Book Of Horizons, he has just completed a five-day straight production marathon for a death metal band that he is producing up in the mountains of the California coast. Additionally, he is also running his label, Mimicry Records, while obsessively working away on a mammoth trilogy of new albums for the Secret Chiefs 3 Ė this being the ďbandĒ that he formed right after his brief stint as guitarist on Faith No Moreís King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime album.
The first installment, Book of Horizons, has just been unleashed to the public and features a massive production scale that hasnít been attempted since his other band, Mr Bungleís 1999 release, California. The album features an astonishing number of guests, including composer/violinist Eyvind Kang, Danny Heifetz (Dieselhed, Mr Bungle), Shazad Ismaily (Brian Eno, Air, Elysian Fields), William Winant (Xenakis, Sonic Youth, Yo Yo Ma), Phil Franklin (Barbara Manning, Sunburned Hand of the Man), John Merriman (Cephalic Carnage), Ches Smith (Theory of Ruin, Good For Cows), Unhuman, Ursula Knudesen, Estradasphere, and many more. I caught up with Trey Spruance to get all the goss on the new album and to clear up all of those rumours concerning Mr Bungle.
[Danny Canak] The upcoming trilogy of albums from Secret Chiefs 3, including the first installment Book of Horizons, will feature seven different bands under the Secret Chiefs 3 guise with every band having seven tracks each distributed over the three albums. Where did this idea come from?
Trey Spruance I guess the best thing is to say is that it came from Geometry. What Iíve done is I guess Iíve assigned bands to occupy certain positions in just a big crazy sort of cosmological scheme that Iíve been obsessed with for a long time, actually. Whatís happening with this record is that itís the first in the sense that there are seven bands Ė there are two that are associated with the 1st CD more heavily than the others, and two that are associated with the 2nd more heavily than the others, and then three that are associated with the 3rd more heavily than the others. So the ďbandsĒ that are more heavily associated with the first CD have their sort of primary musical statements on this CD, whereas the other bands will have variations of their primary musical statements. Youíll hear their primary musical statements on the subsequent CDs. Thereís a real timelessness to the composition. Itís theme and variation going all over the place and maybe seemingly very scattered and random at first listen but the more you listen to this CD and the other CDs, the more you will just automatically start drawing the connections between all of them.
[Danny Canak] When will parts II and III of the trilogy be released?
Trey Spruance The next one weíre going to try to get out by Spring next year. Iím notoriously bad at guessing when my albums are going to be finished because they always take a really long time to do. It would all have to be pretty well worked out way ahead of time. All of the music is finished and composed and some of it is recorded for all of that Ė thatís like the next two CDs. So really, I just have to put in about six months of solid work per CD to get them out. This one (Book of Horizons), to get it going, took a year and a half just because I was working on all of it at once. It was really about two and a half years.
[Danny Canak] Is it true that the production process for Book of Horizons was even crazier than for Mr Bungleís California?
Trey Spruance It is. The compositional process and the production process are really sort of intertwined. To me at least, as an artist, itís not discernible the difference between the two anymore, which is really something that Iíve always sort of leaned towards and now I guess spending all this time up in the mountains obsessing over this crap Ė I can actually do it. Itís kind of whatís happening now.
[Danny Canak] Trevor Dunn (Mr Bungle, Fantomas, etc) hasnít been involved on the last few releases Ė is he still a part of the Chiefs?
Trey Spruance No, he moved to New York and heís been real busy playing with a lot of people. Heís becoming one of the great bass players in New York. I have very specific sort of needs as far as just recording and stuff like that. When it comes to going out and touring and that kind of thing, itís a different sort of scenario. I guess the quick answer to your question is that there are a lot of musicians who are willing to help me on this thing. I feel unbelievably lucky to be able to work with all of them. So it would be sort of ridiculous, considering that, to try to bother Trevor all the time to have him come out here and play on this shit when Iím surrounded by all of these unbelievable musicians and theyíre all just willing to work on this stuff. Itís great.
[Danny Canak] Is it hard to get everyone together Ė especially with both Danny and Bar (both also from Mr Bungle) living in Australia?
Trey Spruance It sure is, yeah. I just sort of take the opportunity if Danny is in the country. Try to set up some recording, etc., and teaching him his drum parts for all three records last time he was out here. So yeah, scheduling is a big deal. There are a lot of members who are constantly traveling and are all over the world and going all over the place. So if somebodyís going to be gone like to India for six months and I need to get something from them, I have to make sure I get it from them either before they go or figure out how Iím going to get it after. Thereís a lot of logistics Ė in fact you wouldnít believe the amount of logistical crap that goes into trying to pull something this huge off. Itís pretty considerable the amount of planning that goes into it.
[Danny Canak] Is it true that you havenít spoken to Mike Patton since the last Mr Bungle tour in 2000?
Trey Spruance Yeah, itís totally true. At the end of that tour, we didnít really talk anymore after that. I tried calling him and he left me a message and thatís about where itís at.
[Danny Canak] Could it possibly be because of the management situation during the California period because I know you werenít really happy with that situation at the time?
Trey Spruance Wow, yeah! You know about that? Well then, yeah, I can just say yes. From my perspective, thatís what the problem is. I mean Patton and I, we always have like little stuff that we would butt heads about Ė thatís nothing new. But he and I could fight until the end of the universe and this situation wouldnít get resolved because itís not really about Patton and me. Itís a political situation that has not fared very well for Mr Bungle Ė letís just put it that way. Itís just not a good situation for the band, the band members, or the musical direction, or any of it. Itís not good for the band. So yeah, I would say the management situation.
[Danny Canak] Would you say then that there will be no further releases from Mr Bungle?
Trey Spruance I wouldnít say that. But I would say that people shouldnít expect anything until something changed (with the political situation).
[Danny Canak] Is it just a matter of you and Mike Patton getting back in contact?
Trey Spruance It isnít really that, I swear. Maybe Patton and I getting together and having a little fight and then saying ok youíre great, ok I love you again. Maybe that would be good. But it certainly wouldnít solve this problem. That really isnít the issue thatís happening here. Put it this way, we know that he feels most comfortable with our management situation the way it is. I donít know if you know Mike Patton at all, but he certainly is not willing to budge on something like that. Some of the rest of us were able to take that as far as we could. We would exist under those conditions to our absolute limit and then we reached our absolute limit, and now we just sit at our absolute limit and wait. Thatís all we can do.
[Danny Canak] Hopefully it will all be resolved.
Trey Spruance I hope so because that band could take over the f**king world if it wanted to.
[Danny Canak] Absolutely! Itís disappointing that Warner Bros didnít push California as much as they could have.
Trey Spruance Well. I mean now with all of these labels and everything, youíd think that weíd be able to, like I said, take over the f**king world. And we could, but now we have this little problem. The music industry is populated and filled with people who have all kinds of mixed agendas and are very opportunistic to their own benefit and donít give a f**king shit what happens to music or bands or whatever. So, Mr Bungleís just yet another victim of that little problem. But Iím unwilling to think that the band itself is doomed just because of that, because Iím personally not doomed because of that kind of shit. Thatís just going on around me all the time. I donít f**king care man. Iíll go into the gutter - I donít care where I go. Iím going to make some music and itís going to be the way the music is supposed to be. So to the extent that Mr Bungle can acclimate itself back into being that kind of a band, then it would happen again.
[Danny Canak] Has the Mr Bungle contract with Warner Bros officially ended?
Trey Spruance We finally got dropped from Warner Bros, which is the best thing that ever happened, but unfortunately it was kind of too lateÖpending the current situation.
[Danny Canak] Will some of those previously unreleased Mr Bungle tracks such as ĎCold Soreí ever see the light of day?
Trey Spruance There are some of us that would really love to see that happen. In fact, while we were still actively engaged with the band, we were trying to get things like that to happen but thereís others who donít feel that way. So in how it serves their interest or whatever, I would say that isnít going to happen.
[Danny Canak] Do you still plan to write about the recording process for California some day?
Trey Spruance Oh yeah. I really have to do that. Iíve been pretty busy doing a lot of other stuff. I actually had most of that finished. I had actually written most of it up and the device that I was typing all of that into got stolen. So that was a drag. Kind of took the wind out of my sails because it was really lengthy and detailed. But, itís true, thatís got to happen. The more I talk to engineers and people in studios and people who produce records, the more I realize that it was kind of a milestone in some ways, and itís a story that should be common knowledge really rather than just being told. It should be known what went into that record. The answer is, once I get off my f**king lazy ass and carve out some time, and do something other than all of this other shit that Iím doing, goddammit, I will do that.
[Danny Canak] Do you have a career highlight that you can share?
Trey Spruance I would say the highlight for me personally is going to Japan and touring with a band called Faxed Head, and helping them play their shows. That was really great because on that tour I was able to see a lot of the Japanese noise bands that I had really liked. I think this was like 1995. A lot of these bands werenít really playing anymore. Like that whole scene had come and gone, but they kind of came out of the woodwork and I got to see all of them on that trip and everybody was so nice. It was an all around great experience. Thatís my favourite thing as far as fun is concerned. Thatís the most fun Iíve ever had.
[Danny Canak] Are you still a member of Faxed Head?
Trey Spruance Well, I help them get their act together and yeah, theyíre just as great as theyíve always been those guys.
[Danny Canak] Do you own a lot of your own memorabilia?
Trey Spruance I donít even have a copy of any of my own records. I just canít keep it together. Iíve got too much shit going on. You know, I always seem to give people stuff, too. Somebody will ask me, hey do you have that Book Mí Secret Chiefs album and I donít have it. I donít even have one copy. I guess I give them away and then I just donít have them. I have a ski guitar from the Sno Core tour (a mini festival that Mr Bungle were a part of in 2000 that also featured Incubus, System Of A Down, and Puya). I bought a guitar that was made out of a ski. Incredibly stupid guitar. I bought it because I saw it at a pawn shop and I figured it would fit with the theme of Sno Core. It was really hard to play. If you can imagine playing a ski. I have that - I have a couple of things. I think I have a poster. Some of the stuff was sitting in my shed and got messed up a little while ago.
[Danny Canak] Do you ever go onto the Mr Bungle message boards over the internet?
Trey Spruance I used to go on those things towards the end of the 20th century. But then I decided that Iím not going to go onto them anymore. Itís not a good place to look at anything. I mean, Iíll go onto other message boards and read about other people. I guess the deal is this - I like to be in control of the disinformation thatís going on around me. And when thereís nothing but disinformation going on, I feel that I donít really have a place to contribute to it. It just feels weird to even interfere with peopleís perceptions of what I do. Why do it? They would rather believe other things so who am I to interfere?
[Danny Canak] So what do you have on your agenda for the next year?
Trey Spruance Well, Iím putting out an awful lot of records. Thereís a band called Sleepytime Gorilla Museum Ė Iím putting out their record. A band called The Young Ė Iím putting out their record. A band called Brazaville, and a band called The Tuna Helpers. Some more Secret Chiefs 3 stuff - thereís going to be a tour in the USA in the Fall, and then maybe coming over to Australia in January. Thatís what Iím hoping for. Weíre trying to set that up. That would be the coolest. And then to do the 2nd installment of the Secret Chiefs trilogy and have that come out in the Spring and start releasing separate albums from the different ďbandsĒ that make up the Secret Chiefs 3. I sort of have like a commitment on my hands where Iím going to be essentially working on this thing for 10 years or something at least in order to fulfill this ridiculous obsessive vision that Iím pursuing to my own detriment. Hehe.
[Danny Canak] The new Secret Chiefs 3 album, Book of Horizons, is out now.