Mike Patton + Scott Ian: People Think Mr. Bungle is Tongue-in-Cheek, Ironic Bulls–t… They’re Wrong
Living in the moment is how Mr. Bungle bandmates Mike Patton and Scott Ian have been getting through the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this exclusive interview with the two legends, the guys talk about collaborating together for Mr. Bungle's The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, how their creativity has been impacted by the hellscape of 2020, the public's misconceptions of the band, how the musicians may never take their masks off even when a vaccine is released and more.
Scott, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but one of my favorite interviews ever is with Mike and it was back during the Angel Dust sessions. He’s doing this interview in the recording studio while he’s eating what looks like the best sandwich I’ve ever seen in my life.
MP: [Laughs loudly]
SI: I believe that.
MP: During that period, I was just so not interested in doing interviews -- I’m still not [Laughs]. To me it was just like, ‘If I’m gonna do this, I’ve gotta eat.’ So the whole time I’m talking with my mouth full. It was a bad interview, let’s be honest.
It’s still one of my favorites ever. You have to tell me what was in that sandwich.
MP: Dude, like I can fuckin’ remember? Do you know how old I am?
[Laughs] So I’ve got a lot of friends who are creative people — as you guys do — and I know a lot of my creative friends, especially those who are writers, feel like they’ve been creatively stifled by the pandemic, the protests and the elections. They’ve had such problems just trying to start to create stuff. With you guys, what has your creative process been like during this very weird time?
SI: It hasn’t really been a problem for me. I’m pretty good at rolling with the punches. ‘Okay, so this is the world we live in now? What do I do?’ I do what I do, right? I really haven’t had a problem whether it’s writing or having ideas or having things to do.
I will say, the first two months, I didn’t do much. I really just enjoyed the idea that I don’t have to go anywhere and I can just be with my wife and son and not do anything except drink and eat too much. Then that kind of gets boring and you start thinking about what you can do again.
I’ve been seemingly busier since June that I would have been if we were out playing festivals and stuff this summer. I’ve just been amazingly busy between all the things I’ve been involved with musically and, because we live in a different world now, other opportunities that came my way.
MP: That’s cool, man. I totally agree. I think that for the first three months of it, I was like ‘Fuck yeah! This is great.’ To not see anybody and really bear down on stuff? I always feel like I’m behind on work. I always feel like I’m three records behind. I saw it as an opportunity. Yeah, it sucks and everything and I’m spending way too much getting Postmates getting delivered to my ass, but I went into a really intense mode of ‘finish this, finish that.’
I’m in the middle, right now, of my third record during the pandemic. That’s great, right? However, it changed for me about three months into it. Now it’s gettin’ old, I’m over it. I found myself really struggling not to finish projects, but to start them. You mentioned that before, Graham. Starting something became harder for me, I’ll be honest.
One of the good things about this project is the whole album was already written in the ‘80s. So you get to put your sensibilities you’ve picked up over the decades into this classic material. Mike, were you surprised how well that something you helped write, at 17 years old, held up?
MP: Difficult to say. It holds up to me, I don’t know if it holds up to everybody.
MP: [Laughs] But that’s pretty much every record that I do. More importantly, when me and Trey and Trevor spoke about doing Bungle again, it was like, ‘What are we gonna do?’ There were a lot of difference choices. The obvious one would be to put the latest configuration of the band together and play whatever people wanted to hear more. That just kinda rang hollow.
I think it was Trevor’s suggestion — ‘Let’s play our early stuff. People don’t know that part of us.’ It’s something we recorded when we were 16 and 17, but it’s still in us, so it’s important. We thought, ‘Oh god, what if we actually recorded it so you could hear what was going on?’ Instead of a cassette tape that like, five people have and sounded like it was recorded through a fuckin’ vacuum cleaner. That became the focus. Reaching out to Dave [Lombardo] and Scott made it real, otherwise it was just a crazy idea.
Scott, were you familiar with the Easter Bunny demo? What was your impression when you first heard it?
SI: Yes. I’ve had a bit of time to think about this whole process from when Mike first asked me to be a part of it to playing shows and making a record, and now, sitting here doing interviews talking about Mr. Bungle. It’s still a fuckin’ mindfuck for me.
One of the craziest things to me, and I try to explain this to people during interviews or my friends, that this is material they wrote when they were 16 or 17, right? Like Mike said, it came out on a cassette that didn’t sound very good. I remember getting a copy of that tape at some point back then, because I did do a lot of tape trading. I remember it sounding fucking crazy. I was listening to a lot of crazy hardcore back then. This sounded even crazier than that and it was fucking brutal, but it was also kind of unlistenable, especially the copy that I had.
So the guys put together actual demos of the songs so we can actually learn them and I learned these arrangements and played these songs. The thing that blew my mind was how far advanced, musically, these guys were at that age, in ’85, ’86, when they were doing this. Comparatively to what I was doing and what Dave and his band [Slayer] were doing and what Metallica were doing and Megadeth and Exodus, this shit was so far ahead of where we were, and I was already 22 at that time. These guys were doing this at 16 and 17.
If this record would have come out back then, let’s say they went in and made a record and it had an equal level of production, it would have been a better debut album than all the bands I mentioned. It would have been the Rush of thrash metal, it would have been the Tool or the Frank Zappa of thrash metal. I’m not just saying this because Mike is on the phone. I’d say it all the time.
MP: [Laughs] I’m sorry, all I can do is laugh.
SI: [Laughs] But it’s true! What you guys were doing musically and arrangement-wise, in a hardcore context, was so different than what everybody else was doing.
Mr. Bungle, "Raping Your Mind"
Mike, when you were going through this record again, I imagine there are two avenues your brain would take. It could be, ‘Wow, I’m a bit embarrassed by this and this,’ or ‘Wow, I was really on to something with my bandmates.’ What kind of road did you go on?
MP: I don’t even think there was a road. I just listened to it and… I laugh a lot, because that’s what I do when I listen to my own music. ‘How the hell did we do that?’ or ‘Why did we do that?’ That goes for every band I’ve ever been in. [Laughs] You listen back to stuff and go, ‘What?!’ But what it is is a snapshot in time. I was a fuckin’ greasy teenager who loved Venom and Possessed and that’s sort of what I was trying to do — sound like them. In your mind, that’s what you think, but when you listen back you’re like, ‘Wait, this is a little bit weird.’ Like Scott said, maybe a little crazier than that kind of stuff, but sometimes when your intensions are down one path, you can’t help but be yourself.
We were hearing Anthrax or Slayer or Judas Priest and a lot of hardcore stuff, but it didn’t come out that way because we’re incapable of doing it. [Laughs] We’re incapable of doing it straight because we’re just us. I don’t think the stuff is that special, but it definitely is different.
When it comes to finding the right players for this incarnation of Mr. Bungle, I imagine, Mike, you just wanted to have the strongest thrash rhythm section humanly possible.
MP: Oh yeah, of course. I think it really started when Trevor suggested Dave and it’s just like, ‘Oh god, that’s a no-brainer.’ I was listening back to it, and it wasn’t even the demo because I don’t have the god damn cassette. I can’t find it. I was listening on YouTube and realized this was a guitar oriented record. The whole thing is about guitars. At that time, it was Trey, shitloads of overdubs and crazy video game solos, we call them, because they sound like 8-bit Nintendo on hyperspeed.
I was thinking to myself, ‘We need to get another guitarist to hold down the rhythm.’ I thought of a couple of people and Scott was one of them. I think he was the best choice imaginable, because Scott and Dave made this music happen for us. That’s the stuff we were listening to at the time and even afterwards. We’re real fans, so to have them be able to contribute made it really valid and solid and not a joke. A lot of stuff that Mr. Bungle does, people think, ‘They’re just kidding. It’s tongue-in-cheek, ironic bullshit.’ This is not. This is what we should have sounded like at that time, so it’s an honor to play with these dudes and to have them make it real.
When I think about both of your guys’ careers, I think ‘variety is the spice of life.’ You guys are always working on something new and interesting…
MP: Or the spice of death. [Laughs]
SI: That was the original name of S.O.D., by the way — Spice of Death.
MP: Are you kidding?!
SI: Yes, I’m kidding. [Laughs]
But both of you guys are not willing to rest on your prior achievements. Can you tell me about the importance of staying busy, staying creative and keeping up that forward movement?
SI: I just like making music, you know? I’ve been lucky and I’ve also worked really, really hard since 1981 to be able to do this with my life. Anthrax is obviously my thing for decades and decades and it enables us to make playing music our lives and support our families. It’s work, but it’s not work. It’s all I ever wanted to do, and it’s opened so many other doors for me because I don’t only just love metal and thrash metal,
I learned how to play guitar by playing rock music, playing along to AC/DC records. I’m in a world where I’m constantly surrounded by this and my attitude is I just wanna make as much music as I can with as many people I like. As long as I’m having fun doing it and it’s putting a smile on my face, to stand in a room and be an idiot, then fuck, why not do that? I love doing that, it’s what I’ve been doing since I was fuckin’ 14 years old. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, is stand in a room with a bunch of people and be an idiot and make music. I still get to do that at 56.
MP: I would ditto everything that Scott said. The only thing I can really add is I felt like I had no choice. Like, when I made my first record with Faith No More, the fuckin’ thing went platinum, which was ridiculous. I didn’t know what I was doing, I had no clue. Once that happened, I just started looking at things differently and looking at my voice differently. How can I get better? How can I really stretch this muscle out? That led me to make some funny decisions with my career, but they felt natural to me.
Like Scott said, it’s just something you have to do. There’s a little bit of a hustling element too, just having a mentality like one band’s not enough. At some point, I did realize I can’t just be in one band. I have to do other things, because music’s fucking exciting. Even at my age, 52, when a lot of people would burn out or get jaded, I still walk into a record store and I still have the same feeling. ‘What’s going to change my life today?’
Mike, you recently said you learned how to live in the moment through playing concerts. I want to know more about, from both of you, the beauty you’ve been able to find off the stage through that mentality. Also, are you guys able to enjoy a vacation?
SI: [Laughs] I learned a long time ago how to live in the moment. Man, for a long long time, I learned how to shut down everything around me and focus on what’s important and what makes me happy. Certainly, 20 years ago when I met my wife, that was a big moment in my life that put me on a path, personally, where I was able to do that more and more. That hasn’t been an issue for me in forever. In the ‘80s, it didn’t matter. When we first started making records and touring and all that, I was always in the moment because that’s all we did. I didn’t have a personal life, everything was the band. The last thing I ever would have wanted to happen is to resent playing in a band or playing music because it’s taking too much time away from doing this or doing that.
To the point of your question, it’s a really important thing for me to be able to do that over the last decade and a half, to really enjoy myself, and yes, I fucking love vacations. I shut everything the fuck off, I get off the grid. I live in the fucking woods, it’s not hard for me to turn off and to go away.
Don’t get me wrong, I hate the pandemic and wish it never happened, but I’ve spent seven months, every single day, with my wife and my son. That never happens, because I’d be off touring and playing shows somewhere. I’ve been living in the moment of this pandemic since it started and really making the best of it. It’s gonna be hard to eventually go back to work in the way that we’re accustomed to as musicians. The thought of taking off on a bus for a month… buses were disgusting before COVID. Now, I’m always gonna wear a mask. [Laughs] I’m never taking the mask off, after this.
MP: Ditto, Scott. Sorry to keep dittoing Scott, but yeah, if I could sing through a fuckin’ mask, I’d wear one the rest of my life. Being present, being in the moment, is hard. Based on a few things that have gone on in my life, it’s made it easier to do that. One of which is the pandemic. Wait a second, do I want to numb out? Do I want to be drunk during all of this? This is history, man! We’ve never seen anything like this and hopefully we never will again, but I wanna be here for this, I wanna experience it. As much as it sucks, living it is the most important thing. I think about that all the time.
A couple of weeks ago, it was like Blade Runner in San Francisco, insane with all the fires that are going on. I remember waking up, man. It was like eight in the morning and I thought it was eight at night. It was completely black with this insane burning red sun over the blackness. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing.’ As fucked up as it is, I wanna be here for this. Same thing, musically. This is not only what we love to do, we’re born to do it, we must. It’s a bodily function to make music. We need to channel that opportunity and that energy to make music. Being at home for me is like a vacation. I want my house to be like Disneyland. I think about it like that.
Haunted Mansion, right?
MP: Oh yeah, totally, or Space Mountain. I want my house to be like Space Mountain.
The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo will be unleashed Oct. 30. To grab a copy of the record, click here.
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