Scott Ian interviews Mike Patton about Mr. Bungle and the power of thrash metal
“Hola Papi!” It’s safe to say that Mike Patton, resplendent in pigtails and glasses, is happy to see Scott Ian. Meanwhile, the broad smile on the face of the legendary Anthrax guitarist suggests that feeling is reciprocated. Given the two men’s wildly different musical outputs over the years, you might have assumed they’d be poles apart, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When Mike was a teenager in the Northern California city of Eureka, he and friends Trey Spruance and Trevor Dunn formed Mr. Bungle, as much from devotion to thrash metal as disillusionment with their hometown. When, in 1986, they made their demo The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny, the speedy riffery on display – albeit muffled by its amateur recording – clearly owed a debt to Anthrax’s influence. And when that demo found its way into the hand’s of the band’s guitarist, Scott, he soon became hooked.
Fast-forwarding to last year, when Mr. Bungle reunited after 19 years apart to perform that infamous demo, they decided to go back to the thrash source to complete their line-up, recruiting Scott and Mike’s Fantômas/Dead Cross bandmate Dave Lombardo (formerly of Slayer). Once the band blew the cobwebs away with incredible comeback shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, they immediately entered the studio to go about recreating The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny, bringing the first songs Mr. Bungle ever wrote crashing into 2020.
Both Mike and Scott have adopted a similar approach to life during the outbreak of COVID-19, taking the opportunity to increase their workloads as much as possible. Mike has beavered away on several albums since the outbreak of a virus that’s affected several people close to him, while Scott has been recording new Anthrax material and is in the midst of a project he can’t discuss yet but is clearly excited about. The two have collaborated remotely during this period, too: in June, Mike – billed as ‘The Lonely Rager’ – guested with Scott and his Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante to perform Speak Spanish Or Die by their old band Stormtroopers Of Death.
Today, however, all focus is on The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny, with Scott reverting back from Mr. Bungle member to Mr. Bungle fan to interview Mike, with Kerrang! sitting in. In practice, proceedings descend into a love-in between legends of monumental proportions. When not trading compliments, however, the two find time to discuss their differing recollections of first meeting (spoiler: Mike has none), their passion for each other’s work, and the challenges of transforming an abrasive 34-year-old demo into a modern juggernaut. What’s more, the duo share some tantalising morsels about their forthcoming ‘virtual live concert experience’ – dubbed The Night They Came Home! – though you might want to take these details with a pinch of salt…
Scott: How has this period been for you?
Mike: “I have some friends who’ve had COVID, so that’s fucked up, but I’ve taken this time as an opportunity to work more. I’ve worked on three different records – two of them are in the can and one is in progress. I’ve always been kind of a homebody, so what else am I going to do?”
Scott: It’s been similar for me, though it took me a little bit longer to get motivated. I definitely spent the first month – maybe two – eating and drinking too much, enjoying the fact I was at home with my wife and my son. I wasn’t happy about shows being cancelled, but I also looked at it as an opportunity to do something that I don’t usually get to do. Then that slowly merged into getting creative and getting back into music. That was back when we did that Speak Spanish Or Die video.
Mike: “That was a real good kick in the ass for me!”
Scott: Do you remember when we first met?
Mike: “My god, do you remember? Because I don’t!”
Mike: “I’d have been in a weird zone! I don’t know about you, but when I’m touring with those bands I’m always really fucking guarded. We felt we were the opening band and were there to piss people off. And we did!”
Scott: And you did! I can’t remember what we talked about that night but I know we met. I’m pretty sure I talked to [Faith No More drummer] Mike [Bordin] that night, too.
Mike: “I’m sure you did, because he’s our ambassador.”
Scott: I knew about Bungle and then you joined Faith No More. I remember thinking, ‘That can’t be the same guy who’s on that Bungle demo! And now he’s on MTV singing Epic.’ How is that the same human? Opening for Metallica, you had a lot of fun with their audience, shouting: ‘Fuck you! Boo me! Come on you pussies – that’s not loud enough!’ Two months later, every single person in that crowd probably went out and bought your album [1989’s The Real Thing]. How weird was that time for you?
Mike: “That’s a crazy story, man. We were in England, about to fly home, and our manager called our bass player [Billy Gould] to say, ‘Hey man, your shit’s blowing up in the States!’ We had played to, like, 50 people the night before in Northampton or some shit, so we couldn’t believe it. We had a shitty van, which we called The Vomit Van because a member of our crew had puked in it and it still smelt bad, so to get that kind of news was weird. Later we were sitting in a bar and they had a TV screen with MTV on, and boom, on comes our stupid video. That was the moment that I said, ‘Oh god! This is happening!’”
Scott: I guess we should talk about how Bungle coming back happened…
Mike: “There’s no script for something like that. A lot of bands reunite and do a certain thing after a certain number of years. Our band is based on old-school friendship. We decided we were going to do something, so the question was: what are we going to do? So we decided – and I think it was Trevor’s idea – that we should play the thrash stuff because that would fuck everybody up. I thought that was a very good idea. Recruiting you and Dave made it more valid. When you were on board it was like: ‘Here we go!’”
Scott: There’s a myth that when I got the text, I thought I was being invited to play a show, rather than to join the band, so we should clear that up. But even if that was the case, that you guys had personally invited me to play a gig, I would have still been very excited about that. You could have told me we’d be making a record of us whistling for 90 minutes and I’d have been in!
Mike: “There’s a reason I called you… and that reason is that you were the best musical fit for that configuration.”
Scott: Why did you think that was?
Mike: “Because you inspired them, especially riffing wise. If you’re talking straight-up metal, there is nobody better than you! We were, and we are, very lucky to have you and Dave in our band, because otherwise we’re just a bunch of jokers from northern California – nobody fucking cares!”
Scott: That is so not true! How was it listening back to the original demo?
Mike: “It was cool! The only thing that sucked was trying to relearn stuff that you can’t hear. The original demo was recorded so poorly, on a four-track, and literally sounded like it was coming through a vacuum cleaner. I understood what we were trying to do back then, but in those days we couldn’t really do what we wanted to do. What’s cool about [the new album] is that we’ve been able to record it in a way people can actually hear, which is a fucking godsend. I never thought that it would happen.”
Scott: Nobody’s truly heard these songs, even if you had the original demos. I’ve been involved in recordings like that, too. I don’t know if you remember [Stormtroopers Of Death demo], Crab Society [North] in 1984? It was making noises and banging on shit, recorded into a Walkman. It was, like, 59 songs and totalled about eight minutes long. Sonically, it’s unlistenable, but it’s fucking ridiculous – in a good way! If The Wrath… had come out in ’86, properly produced like this, then Mr. Bungle would be known as one of the greatest thrash bands of all time.
Mike: “Now you’ve gone too far! Nobody would shake a finger at us in 1986.”
Scott: As a professor of thrash, that’s my opinion.
Mike: “If you tell me that, I guess I have to accept it.”
Scott: I didn’t really think of balancing being a fan and a musician. I had a job to do that I took extremely seriously because the material was not easy. Arrangement wise, it was difficult; riffs wise, it was difficult; stamina wise, it was difficult. It’s still a mind-fuck that I’m talking about playing on an album and have played shows with Mr. Bungle.
Mike: “For us too, believe me!”
Scott: How did you find the experience of recording?
Mike: “It was quick, right? Thank god Trey and Trevor went to your house to rehearse before we got into full band rehearsals. We played those seven shows, and when we finished in San Francisco, we flew to LA the next morning, and the next day we were in the studio to start tracking. That’s the way to do it! If we’d just sat around for several weeks, it wouldn’t have sounded the same. Everybody was dialled in, myself included. Having said that, when I was onstage [at the Mr. Bungle reunion shows] I’d have a music stand with the lyrics. I can’t remember them because I’m old. Having that immediacy in the studio, though, was really important.”
Scott: What track were you most fired up to do? For me it was Sudden Death because it’s the epic, magnum opus and the most daunting to play. When Trey sent me a demo of it he’d made so I could learn it, I counted how many times I had to change what I’m doing in the song, and it was 93 times!
Mike: “Oh no, really? You nailed it, but you know something… I wrote that song when I was 16 years old on a one-string acoustic guitar. All of those riffs were originally from one finger playing one string, and I can’t really play. Some of those parts are counterintuitive for a guitar player. I remember Trey saying, ‘Jesus Christ – this stuff is really good, but how do you do that?’ I didn’t know what I was doing. Sudden Death is definitely the most challenging and weird.”
Scott: And then there’s Spreading The Thighs Of Death…
Mike: “What do you want to know? It’s one of Trevor’s songs, and in that iteration of Bungle he was the writer. Everything he did was scripted, and not like the way I did things or Trey did things. I’m not sure what to tell you about it… basically I think he was making fun of death metal people, bands like Venom or whoever at that time. He was fucking with them, but it still sounds like it’s from that idiom even though we’re making fun of it.”
Scott: So what was your favourite track?
Mike: “My favourite is probably Raping Your Mind. I reconnected with it instantly. I didn’t have to go back into my childhood to re-envision it.”
Scott: I guess we should mention the streamed show, shouldn’t we?
Mike: “Oh yeah! We’re doing a show that will air on Halloween. We’ll have a camera crew following us around as we go trick or treating in some neighbourhoods while wearing Easter bunny costumes. It’s going to be a bunch of 50 year olds getting candy. And there might be a show, too.”
The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny Demo is out now via Ipecac.
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