Bassist Trevor Dunn has been a staple in the alternative rock genre for over two decades now with his main band Mr. Bungle as well as collaborating with artists like John Zorn and Buzz Osborne and playing in the band Fantomas. Most recently, he’s been added to the lineup of experimental rock band Tomahawk along with his Mr. Bungle bandmate Mike Patton, Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison and drummer John Stanier of Battles. Last year Mr. Bungle reunited for The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, an out-of-left-field effort that saw 3/4 of the original band re-recording their 1986 thrash metal demo tape alongside two noteworthy additions – drummer Dave Lombardo and guitarist Scott Ian.
Dunn’s newest band Tomahawk will be releasing new material on March 26 with Tonic Immobility, which comes after an eight-year hiatus for the band. mxdwn recently spoke with Dunn and touched on his vast array of musical projects, the evolution of the industry and connecting with a new generation of metal fans.
mxdwn: So you recently released The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny with Mr. Bungle through Ipecac [Recordings]. Was it any different than recording with Warner Brothers?
Trevor Dunn: When we were with Warner Brothers, they didn’t really pay any attention to us, so we kind of did what we wanted. We made the records we wanted to make, they weren’t doing the typical thing you would hear of labels watching over us and making sure we were spending their money the way they wanted us to. We always made the records we wanted to and that’s exactly what we did. The biggest difference back then with Warner Brothers, we had a big budget, this time around we were essentially spending our own money. Ipecac fronted the money, but we were paying for all that ourselves, so we had to be a little more frugal about it. That’s the only thing really, but creatively not a big difference.
mxdwn: The demo was originally recorded back in the 1980s, was the recording process any different now than it was then?
TD: Yeah, very different. I mean, that tape was recorded on a four-track tape machine with, I think, one microphone. This time, of course, we’re using ProTools, so we essentially have unlimited tracks. The process, in general, is way quicker these days with digital formats cause you can fix things a lot quicker, you don’t have to worry about splicing tape and that sort of thing. It’s kind of amazing how quick it is.
Photo Credit: Marv Watson
mxdwn: So what was the thought process behind deciding to reunite and rerecord after so many years?
TD: Technically it was my idea actually, after being in Fantomas for a while with Dave [Lombardo], I just thought, ‘man it would be fun to record that music with Dave,’ because that music was kind of written with him in mind originally. All due respect to our original drummer [Danny Heifetz], me and Trey [Spruance ] and Mike [Patton] were devouring all the metal that was coming out in the ’80s; we were heavily influenced by Slayer and Dave’s drumming in particular. So then, after being lucky enough to get to play with him, we just thought it’d be cool. Me, Trey and Mike always had a particular reverence for that original tape, and it never really had a proper release. It was just this very limited run of cassettes that ended up being reproduced until you could barely hear it anymore. So I said, ‘Hey, this music is actually good, we should make it sound good.’
mxdwn: Do you have any plans to rerecord any of your other demos with Mr. Bungle?
TD: No, we don’t really feel the same way about the other demos. Actually, that whole style of writing, we filtered it down to what ended up on our first records. Some of the songs on our first record like ‘Egg’ and ‘Carousel’ were on our second or third demo, those were early songs. None of the other stuff we felt was worthy.
mxdwn: You recently had a live-stream show after the release, do you plan on revisiting the material from the original three studio albums at any live shows in the future?
TD: There are no specific plans, that’s all I’m gonna say about that. I mean we do want to do more shows with Raging Wrath, and then see how we feel after that.
mxdwn: Absolutely, so you’ve worked with Mike Patton on a slew of other projects, but was there a dynamic change when you reunited as Mr. Bungle with Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo?
TD: Yeah, maybe, just because we’ve all grown up a little bit and are a little more diplomatic than we use to be. Me and Mike and Trey always felt we worked well together in general, but it had been so long since I’d worked with either of those guys in the studio. We were all having a good time and just really happy to be there, we were constantly deferring to each other and getting second opinions from everyone else. So it felt really positive and fun, there wasn’t any pressure to do anything we were just doing it because we wanted to. That’s kind of why we made all of our records, but I guess the biggest change was that we’re just better at being humans because we’re older.
mxdwn: Earlier this year it was announced that Tomahawk will be releasing Tonic Immobility at the end of March, were there any challenges recording the new album during a pandemic?
TD: Well, funny enough, me and Duane [Denison] and John [Stanier] recorded all of our parts for that record about four years ago actually. Duane had finished the music and I guess Mike was busy at the time, so John and I flew down to Nashville and recorded with Duane. Then over the years, we’ve just been waiting for Mike, and he’s been doing other stuff so it took a while. I think the pandemic kind of helped spur it along because he was stuck at home, so he wrote the vocal melodies and the rest of the lyrics at his studio in San Francisco.
mxdwn: Does it differ sonically from Tomahawk’s previous albums?
TD: I would say, on a technical level it sounds better. It’s very clean, it’s more sparse actually. On previous records, Patton would add a lot of samples and additional orchestrations to Duane’s music; this time, he mostly did vocals which kind of gives it a lot more space. I also feel like it’s more poppy, it still sounds like Tomahawk—the way that Duane writes, it’s very much his style. At the same time, I think it’s gotten a little more accessible. Hopefully, it’s gonna make us huge pop stars. (That was sarcastic).
mxdwn: Do you have any live stream shows planned for the release?
TD: No we don’t, not at the moment. It’s kind of hard because John and I are in New York, Duane’s in Nashville and Mike’s in San Francisco, so it would mean a few flights and no one’s super comfortable with that right now.
mxdwn: Understandable. So to change the subject a bit, have there been any more Fantomas projects in the works since Suspended Animation?
TD: Nope, nothing. Fantomas is totally Mike’s baby, so the progress of that band depends on what he wants to do with it and I don’t really think he’s had it on his mind for a while. I’m holding my breath that it’ll happen again, but you never know.
mxdwn: Was there any particular reason you collaborated with Secret Chiefs 3 on First Grand Constitutions and Bylaws, but not on any of their other albums?
TD: That first record was recorded somewhere between Disco Volante and California records with Mr. Bungle, so Mike was on tour a lot and Trey, Danny and I were getting together a lot either working on Bungle stuff or screwing around and doing our own thing. We had a little rehearsal studio where we could record, and Trey started piecing this record together. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s essentially what ended up being [First Grand Constitutions and Bylaws]. In a way, it was kind of collaborative, but it was really Trey’s whole production and his ideas behind the arrangements. Later, after California, I moved to New York and Trey and I just weren’t as in touch. Then he got more serious about Secret Chiefs and put an actual band together, which has kind of had a revolving lineup over the years. Essentially, he just kind of started using different people, and after 2000 we were all trying to work with new people other than the same guys you grew up with.
mxdwn: So, how has your approach to writing music changed since your first foray into the music industry?
TD: That’s a big question—I’ve really been writing music since, maybe even before I played bass, before I knew much about music in general. I guess something that’s quite a bit different these days is that I use a digital setup, I use that to actually help my writing. I can make demos for myself really quickly to hear if things are working or not. Other than that, I still use pencil and paper when I write, but yeah the biggest change would be having the digital medium at my disposal.
Photo Credit: Marv Watson
mxdwn: Have you been able to connect with a new generation of fans with the rise of social media in the past couple of years?
TD: I think so, yeah. It took me a while to get on the social media train, but I’m kind of addicted to Instagram. But yeah, I’ve had people tell me their parents got them into my music, which again makes me feel old—but staying on top of [social media] definitely helps with exposure. When you’re self-employed like I am and constantly having to promote yourself and sell your own records, all that stuff is important, paying attention to whatever the trend is. I mean, I’m not on TikTok for God’s sakes, but you never know.
mxdwn: So you’ve been a major player in the industry for a while now, how has the music business changed since Mr. Bungle first got signed?
TD: Labels barely exist, that’s kind of the big thing. In fact, I have this duo project called Sperm Church which no one’s really heard of yet. We have a record that’s finished, and I’ve been looking for a label for it. I have access to some labels like Ipecac or John’s Zorn’s Tzadik label, I know some people who have small indie labels, but none of them seem appropriate for this project, so I’ve been having a hard time finding a home for it. I’m considering just putting it out myself because essentially, that’s what labels have become. They’re kind of like these small, I’m going to say elitist for lack of a better term, groups; the kind of material that they decide to put out is very personal, it’s very specific and anyone can do it now. The great thing about that is you don’t have to pay a label, it means you have to do more work, but a lot of stuff I do, it’s kind of small things.
TD: One thing a lot of people maybe didn’t realize about major labels is that they pay for records a lot of the time. They’ll give you a budget to make a record, you spend all that money in the studio, you pay other musicians and then you actually have to pay that money back with record sales. So the label’s really only loaning you the money. The good thing about putting it out yourself is you don’t have to do that. After expenses, you get to keep that money and not have to pay back someone you don’t even know who’s running the label. That’s a huge difference. The individual has more power than they used to.
Photo Credit: Marv Watson
mxdwn: For sure. Over the years you’ve experimented with a lot of different genres and sounds, is there anything out there you’re hoping to experiment with in the future?
TD: This new band Sperm Church that I’m hopefully going to put out this year is definitely out of my comfort zone. Most of the music is written by a Dutch electronic musician, it’s electronics and bass guitar essentially. So that was a step in a different direction and that’s another reason I couldn’t find a label for it, I don’t have any connections in that world of electronic music. Other than that, I’m always pushing my boundaries in terms of what I’m writing instrumentally… I’m writing music now for a seven-piece group which is a large ensemble for me. In terms of genres, there’s plenty of music I listen to that I don’t necessarily feel the need to make my own version of. I don’t know, I’m just going to keep pushing myself musically and see what happens.
mxdwn: On that note, you collaborated with King Buzzo (Buzz Osbourne) on Gifts of Sacrifice, how was the more acoustic approach different from your previous collaborations with Melvins?
TD: Not a ton different actually. I’ve recorded on electric bass with the Melvins, Melvins Lite was an upright bass, what I did with Buzz was upright. Really the only difference was how the instrument was recorded in the studio. For the record with Buzz that we just did, he had already recorded all the guitar parts. I went out to LA, and I was just going to record on a couple of songs. It ended up sounding so good that I just kept going until I’d recorded on pretty much the whole record except one song. It’s not as loud obviously and when I record with an upright bass, I try to get as much of a natural acoustic sound as I can. That’s the biggest difference really.
mxdwn: In previous interviews, you’ve referenced bands like Cheap Trick and Blondie as some of your greatest influences, how does it feel now to become the influence for the new generation?
TD: I have a hard time accepting that I’m doing the same thing that those bands did for me, but I guess it is true because I’ve had people come up to me and tell me a Mr. Bungle record changed their life. It’s a trippy thing to hear, it’s hard to imagine that something you did, the songs you wrote alone in your bedroom had that kind of an influence on someone. I’m totally grateful for it. I don’t feel like I’ve reached the same level as those bands that you mentioned, those bands are legendary. But affirmation is always a positive thing.
Featured Image Press Photo: Marv Watson