The band was formed in 1984 while the members were still in high school, and was named after a 1950s children's educational film regarding bad habits which was later featured in a 1981 Pee-wee Herman HBO special.
Mr. Bungle released four demo tapes in the mid to late 1980s before being signed to Warner Bros. Records and releasing three full-length studio albums between 1991 and 1999. They toured in 1999 and 2000 to support their last album before going on hiatus; ultimately revealing that they had dissolved in 2004.
Although Mr. Bungle went through several line-up changes early in their career, the longest-serving members were vocalist Mike Patton, guitarist Trey Spruance, bassist Trevor Dunn, saxophonists Clinton "Bär" McKinnon and Theo Lengyel, and drummer Danny Heifetz. Members were based in San Francisco during the band's tenure with Warner Bros.
Mr. Bungle was known for its highly eclectic style, often cycling through several musical genres within the course of a single song. Many of its songs had an unconventional structure and utilized a wide array of instruments and samples. Live shows often featured members dressing up (usually in masks earlier in the band's career) and an array of cover songs.
Early days (1984–1989)
The band initially consisted of Trevor Dunn, Mike Patton, Trey Spruance, Theo Lengyel, and Jed Watts. Watts was subsequently replaced by Hans Wagner, and then by Danny Heifetz, while Clinton "Bär" McKinnon joined in 1989.
The band's name was taken from Lunchroom Manners, a 1960s children's educational film which was featured in a Pee-wee Herman Show HBO special in the early 1980s.
In it, an elementary school class with a young boy named Phil watch a puppet show about an ill-mannered boy named Mr. Bungle. The short film was a very straight-laced attempt to teach children good deportment. The version shown on The Pee-wee Herman Show had a laugh track added, which gently ridiculed the strict code of conduct promoted in the film.
Mr. Bungle played their first show during November 1984 at the Bayside Grange Hall.
The band's first demo, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny, was recorded during Easter of 1986. It featured a fast, low-fi Death Metal / Thrash Metal sound, with touches of Ska. Instruments utilized on the album included a train whistle, saxophone, bongos and a kazoo.
Bradley Torreano noted at AllMusic that the recording was "essentially the sound of some very talented teenagers trying to make their love of Jazz and Ska come together in whatever way they can". In 1988, Mr. Bungle released their third demo, Goddammit I Love America!, which was musically similar to Bowl of Chiley.
Their final demo tape was OU818, released in 1989; this recording was the first to feature tenor sax player Clinton "Bär" McKinnon and drummer Danny Heifetz. OU818 combined songs from the earlier demos, along with some new tracks, having an overall heavier sound than the three releases following The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny.
In 1988, Mike Patton became the lead vocalist for San Francisco's Faith No More, getting the job after Jim Martin of Faith No More heard him on a Mr. Bungle demo. Patton continued to be a member of both bands simultaneously.
Self-Titled Debut Album
During 1990, Spruance and other members left Humboldt County (where Eureka is located) for San Francisco, in search of greater musical opportunities. He believes the change in location influenced the band's style, remarking "we were interested in Slayer and Mercyful Fate. Later it was The Specials and Fishbone. Then we moved to San Francisco and got all sophisticated. Now we are improv snobs who rule the Avant-Garde universe by night, and poor, fucked-up hipsters by day"
Having established a following in Northern California, Mr. Bungle was signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1990, with the label releasing all three of their studio albums during the 1990s. It has been claimed that Patton's success as frontman of Faith No More was the primary reason Warner Bros. signed the band. The Los Angeles Times stated in an 1991 article that "Under normal circumstances, you'd have to describe Mr. Bungle's chances of landing a major label deal as... a long shot".
Their debut album, Mr. Bungle, was produced by Jazz experimentalist John Zorn and was released on August 13, 1991. The cover featured artwork by Dan Sweetman, originally published in the story, "A Cotton Candy Autopsy" in the DC Comics/Piranha Press imprint title, Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children. The record mixed Heavy Metal, Funk, Ska, carnival music and Free Jazz, but was normally described as "Funk Metal" by music critics. It received mostly positive reviews, with journalist Bill Pahnelas calling it "an incredible musical tour de force". On the style of the album, critic Steve Huey wrote in AllMusic: "Mr. Bungle is a dizzying, disconcerting, schizophrenic tour through just about any rock style the group can think of, hopping from genre to genre without any apparent rhyme or reason, and sometimes doing so several times in the same song".
The first track was originally titled "Travolta". At Warner Brothers' encouragement, it was renamed Quote Unquote in later pressings, due to fears regarding a potential lawsuit.
The band created a music video for the song, directed by Kevin Kerslake. However, MTV refused to air the video because of images of bodies dangling on meat hooks. The album sold well despite MTV refusing to air their video and a lack of radio airplay. Almost all the members went by obscure aliases in the album credits. To promote the album in some stores, a Mr. Bungle bubble bath was given away with copies of the record sold. Following the release of the album the band toured North America.
Disco Volante (1994–1997)
Due to artwork delays and the band members' many side-projects, it was four years before Disco Volante was released, in October 1995. The new album displayed musical development and a shift in tone from their earlier recordings. While the self-titled album was described as "Funk Metal", with Disco Volante this label was replaced with " Avant-Garde" or "Experimental".
The music was complex and unpredictable, with the band continuing with their shifts of musical style. Some of the tracks were in foreign languages and would radically change genres mid-song. Featuring lyrics about death, suicide and child abuse, along with children's songs and a Middle Eastern Techno number, music critic Greg Prato described the album as having "a totally original and new musical style that sounds like nothing that currently exists". Not all critics were impressed with the album, with The Washington Post describing it as "an album of cheesy synthesizers, mangled disco beats, virtuosic playing and juvenile noises", calling it "self-indulgent" and adding that "Mr. Bungle's musicians like to show off their Classical, Jazz and World Music influences in fast, difficult passages which are technically impressive but never seem to go anywhere". Additionally, writer Scott McGaughey described it as "difficult", and was critical of its "lack of actual songs". Disco Volante included influences from contemporary Classical music, Avant-Garde Jazz, electronic music pioneer Pierre Henry, Edgar Allan Poe, John Zorn, Krzysztof Penderecki and European film music of the 1960s and 1970s, such as those composed by Ennio Morricone and Peter Thomas. The album notes also contained an invitation to participate in an "unusual scam" – if $2 was sent to the band's address, participants would receive additional artwork, lyrics to the songs "Ma Meeshka Mow Skwoz" and "Chemical Marriage" and some stickers. The vinyl release of this album shipped with a 7" by the then-unknown Secret Chiefs 3. Mr. Bungle supported this record with tours through the United States, Europe and Australia during 1995 and 1996. In 1996, Theo Lengyel retired as Bungle's original sax player and keyboardist due to creative differences.
From 1995 to 1996, they embarked on their first world tour, performing across North America, Europe and Australia. In 1997, Rastacore Records started distributing CDs of the band's rare independent demo Bowel of Chiley (incorrectly labelled Bowl of Chiley on the Rastacore release). This was done without official authorization from Mr. Bungle or Warner Bros., and as such production was halted, with only a limited number of CDs surviving.
After a two-year break which saw Mike Patton's main project Faith No More split, Mr. Bungle reconvened in 1998 to record new material. The band's third album, California, was released on July 13, 1999. Ground and Sky reviews have described California as Mr. Bungle's most accessible and, while the genre shifts are still present, they are less frequent, with succinct song formats resulting in an album that The Associated Press called "surprisingly linear". AllMusic described the record as "their most concise album to date; and while the song structures are far from traditional, they're edging more in that direction, and that greatly helps the listener in making sense of the often random-sounding juxtapositions of musical genres". On the different style of this album, Mike Patton explained that to the band "the record is pop-y", before adding "but to some fucking No Doubt fan in Ohio, they're not going to swallow that". The album was generally well received, with music critic Robert Everett-Green stating, "The band's newest and greatest album does not reveal itself quickly, but once the bug bites, there is no cure. The best disc of the year, by a length"
The recording process for California was more complex than for the band's previous records. They chose to record the disc to analog tape rather than digitally and some songs required several 24-track machines, utilizing over 50 tracks. As a result, each song contains layers of original samples, keyboards, percussion and melodies. The album displays influences from Burt Bacharach and The Beach Boys, while blending Lounge, Pop, Jazz, Funk, Thrash Metal, Hawaiian, Middle Eastern, kecak and Avant-Garde music. The band toured North America, Australia and Europe to support the record. They also notably appeared on the 2000 edition of the SnoCore Tour, performing alongside alternative metal acts whom they had influenced, such as Incubus and System of a Down. According to Trevor Dunn, Mr. Bungle were "completely out of place" on the SnoCore Tour. He stated "We were sort of the grandpas of the tour, so we started really messing with the audiences. We dressed up like the Village People and acted super gay which really pissed off the metal kids".
Feud with Red Hot Chili Peppers
Singer Mike Patton was known to have had a bad relationship with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' frontman Anthony Kiedis, beginning when Kiedis saw Patton performing with Faith No More and accused him of imitating his style. California was scheduled to be released on June 8, 1999, but Warner Bros. Records pushed it back so as not to coincide with the Red Hot Chili Peppers similarly titled album, Californication, which was to be released on the same day. Following the album release date clash, Kiedis had Mr. Bungle removed from a series of summer festivals in Europe; as the headlining act at the festivals, The Red Hot Chili Peppers had final word on the bands that would appear. According to Mr. Bungle themselves, Kiedis had never met or spoken to anyone involved with the band aside from Mike Patton. Patton stated to The A.V. Club, "Our agent was in the process of booking these festivals, and it was becoming apparent that we'd landed some pretty good ones—one in France, another one in Holland, some big-name festivals. Turns out someone's holding a grudge! We were booted off several bills, specifically because Anthony Kiedis did not want us on the bill. He threatened to pull the Chili Peppers if Mr. Bungle was on the bill". In a separate interview, he also clarified that "the rest of the band doesn't care. It's something to do with Anthony". Trey Spruance added, "We were booked, months in advance, to do eleven festival dates in Europe. Come Summer, we get a call from the three biggest of those festivals, all of them the same day, saying that we can't play, because the headlining band retains the right to hire and fire whomever they wish. We found out it was the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so our manager called their manager to find out what the hell was going on, and their manager was very apologetic, and said, 'We're really sorry, we want you to know this doesn't reflect the management's position, or the band's for that matter, it's Anthony Kiedis who wants this".
As a result, Mr. Bungle parodied the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Pontiac, Michigan on Halloween of 1999. Patton introduced each Mr. Bungle band member with the name of one of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, before covering the songs "Give It Away", "Around the World", "Under the Bridge" and "Scar Tissue", with Patton deliberately using incorrect lyrics. Mr. Bungle also satirized many of the mannerisms of the band, mocking heroin injections, deceased guitarist Hillel Slovak and on-stage antics. Kiedis responded by having them removed from the 2000 Big Day Out festival in Australia and New Zealand. He said of the festival shows “I would not have given two fucks if they played there with us. But after I heard about [the] Halloween show where they mocked us, fuck him and fuck the whole band”. Patton went on to claim that Kiedis' actions had "ruined" Mr. Bungle's career, while Trevor Dunn remarked "It really screwed us up. It screwed up my life in a personal way".
The animosity between the two bands continued with Dunn later criticizing the Chili Peppers on his personal webpage, specifically their bass player Flea, stating, "Look, Flea, in all seriousness, really isn't that good. I mean c'mon Red Hot Chili Peppers were vaguely interesting in the late 80s, but Christ they fucking suck, they suck. Don't talk about it anymore". Patton was asked in 2010 about the festivals and his relationship with Kiedis. Patton said "It’s not worth talking about. I’ve no idea what it was about then and I don’t know now. But I bet we’d have a warm embrace if we saw each other now". In 2016, Trey Spruance reflected on the feud, claiming that it was a "weird and unprofessional jealous vendetta from a huge successful band towards an industry pip-squeak". He also stated that the band were fans of the first two Red Hot Chili Peppers albums.
The band is believed to have played their final concert on September 9, 2000 in Nottingham, England.
Following the California tour the band again went on hiatus. During the early 2000s, Patton was primarily touring and recording with his metal project Fantômas and the newly formed supergroup Tomahawk. Patton alluded to the fact that Mr. Bungle would probably not record any more albums in 2003, stating in an interview, "I think it is over. The guys are spread all over the world and we don't talk to each other. I have not spoken to a couple of the guys since the last tour, years ago". Mike Patton reiterated this sentiment in another 2003 interview with Australian newspaper The Age. While no official break-up announcement ever materialized, a 2004 Rolling Stone interview confirmed Mr. Bungle had disbanded with Patton revealing, “We could have probably squeezed out a couple more records but the collective personality of this group became so dysfunctional, this band was poisoned by one person's petty jealousy and insecurity, and it led us to a slow, unnatural death. And I'm at peace with that, because I know I tried all I could” When asked about a possible reunion, Mike Patton said, "It could happen, but I won’t be singing. Some bridges have definitely been burned. It was a fun time and sometimes you just have to move on. I’ve got a lot on my plate now". Trevor Dunn added on his website, "Bungle is dead and I'm happy about it" and that "the members of Mr. Bungle will never work together as such again". Spruance, Heifetz, and McKinnon have been more optimistic regarding a possible reunion.
After the dissolution of Mr. Bungle, the members have gone on to numerous different projects. Mike Patton co-founded the record label Ipecac Recordings and is involved with several other ventures, including various works with composer John Zorn, and most notably the bands Fantômas, Tomahawk, and Peeping Tom. In 2004, he was called upon by Icelandic singer/songwriter Björk to provide vocal work on her album Medúlla. He acted in the motion picture Firecracker, narrated the film Bunraku, and did voice work in the movie I Am Legend, performing the infected creatures screams and howls. He also did zombie and other character voices in the game Left 4 Dead (as well as the growls for the anger core in the game Portal).
Additionally, in 2009 and 2010 Patton embarked on a world tour with Faith No More after they reunited.
Trey Spruance is involved with various bands, including Secret Chiefs 3 and Faxed Head. Trevor Dunn joined Patton in Fantômas and recently in Tomahawk as well as forming his own Jazz band, Trevor Dunn's Trio Convulsant; he also occasionally played bass with Secret Chiefs 3.
Danny Heifetz's projects included playing with Secret Chiefs 3 and in a Country/Punk band called Dieselhed; he now resides in Sydney, Australia, and plays in outfits such as The Exiles, The Tango Saloon and The Fantastic Terrific Munkle.
Clinton McKinnon also played with Secret Chiefs 3; he now lives in Melbourne, Australia, and plays with The Ribbon Device and Umläut.
Trey Spruance joined former Mr. Bungle bandmate Mike Patton and the band Faith No More onstage for the first time to perform the King for a Day... Fool for a Lifetime album in its entirety in Santiago in November 2011.
Mike Patton recently sung on the Secret Chiefs 3 song "La Chanson de Jacky" in 2012 giving further speculation by fans on the chance of a reunion. Despite this, Trevor Dunn stated in a February 2013 interview with SF Weekly that there will be no Mr. Bungle reunion, saying, "I've heard the faintest murmurings about it, but honestly I don't think anyone is interested. It's nothing personal, either. We all feel like that band said what it needed to say. It would feel weird and awkward to play that music again. It would take a pant-load of money to make it happen, and honestly, I don't want to do it for that reason. I would prefer to let go of it, respectfully" When asked about Mr. Bungle reuniting in an interview published in February 2014, Mike Patton responded by saying, "Who knows? It certainly doesn't seem like it's on the tip of anyone's lips, but I could have said the same thing - and in fact, I did say the same thing - about Faith No More, and that happened. And I think it happened for the better".
1) 1991 Mr. Bungle (Released: August 13, 1991, Label: Warner Bros)
2) 1995 Disco Volante (Released: October 10, 1995, Label: Warner Bros)
3) 1999 California (Released: July 13, 1999, Label: Warner Bros)
1) 1991 "Quote Unquote" (from Mr. Bungle)
2) 1992 "Mi Stoke Il Cigaretto" (Live)
3) 1995 "Platypus" (Disco Volante)
Members Name Check
- Mike Patton – vocals, keyboards, samples, guitar (1984-2000)
- Trey Spruance – guitar, keyboards, piano, backing vocals (1984-2000)
- Trevor Dunn – bass, backing vocals (1984-2000)
- Danny Heifetz – drums, tambourine (1989-2000)
- Clinton "Bär" McKinnon – tenor sax, clarinet, keyboards, piano, backing vocals (1989-2000)
- Theo Lengyel – saxophone, keyboards (1984-1996)
- Jed Watts – drums (1984-1987)
- Luke Miller – tenor sax, trumpet (1987-1989)
- Scott Fritz - tenor sax, trumpet (1987)
- Hans Wagner – drums (1987-1989)