Hail to the Chiefs

Written by Saby Reyes-Kulkarni on . Posted in Posts.


Known primarily as one of the main creative forces in experimental metal group Mr. Bungle, guitarist Trey Spruance is certainly no stranger to creating genre hybrids. Along with Bungle’s other principal songwriters, Mike Patton and Trevor Dunn, Spruance took glee in mashing up rock, experimental noise, avant-garde jazz, modern classical, obscure film scores and death metal into a twisted, heaving mass. Looking back, Spruance freely admits that Bungle’s aesthetic lacked compassion.

“Mr. Bungle lacked that big-time,” he deadpans. “We were deficient, dehumanized, sub-human, wounded, fucked-up psychological terrorists, frankly. I’ve met a lot of people who were in that phase with us and came out of it on the better side. But I would be bending things to say that we were a good force in the world, though. Because I really don’t think so. Just speaking from the broader cultural context, I don’t think we had a good impact on anything.”

Considering that Spruance’s current band, Secret Chiefs 3, originally included former Bungle members Dunn and Danny Heifetz, it might be tempting for Spruance’s fans to view SC3 as just the main vehicle by which he continues to indulge his genrebending urges. Like Bungle, SC3 makes bedfellows out of various musical styles that rub against one another in a way that initially causes a kind of sonic rug burn. SC3 incorporates various Eastern musical systems—traditional Persian as well as Arabian,Turkish and Indian influences—and grafts them to surf rock, electronic music, jazz and, of course, death metal. But, as irreverent as SC3 may initially come across at times, the idea of creating art with some form of conscience has clearly become important to him.

To better gauge where Spruance is coming from these days, it helps to get his take on Bungle’s motives or lack thereof.

“There was no ideological objective,” he points out. “We hated punks. Revolutionbased political music? We just laughed at that stuff.We were seriously promoting deconstructionist insanity.We grew out of it a little bit, but for our first four demos and our first album, we were coming out of the pit of a severe form of ill-will anarchism.”

SC3, on the other hand, wouldn’t exist without ideology. Spruance explains that he views American society as gutted, ruined and bereft of spiritual mooring.To him, the subversive music he once celebrated represents little more than a hollow shriek in a void of cold, empty space. In essence, SC3 was born when Spruance discovered ancient Persian philosophy in the mid-’90s as an offshoot of his interest in Nietzsche. Reading through archaic texts, Spruance was struck by the way the various writers connected music with philosophy. As his interest grew, he immersed himself more completely. Within this homemade scholarship, he had finally discovered a framework that gave him a sense that there was something worth, if not fighting for, then at least playing for.

“I would hate to be part of something that was trying to tear apart Islamic society through [music],” he says. “It’s already a done deal here and we’re wallowing in it. We’ve reached the end of the line as far as tearing down what was, and are now just trying to content ourselves with atomic dust.”

Spruance stresses that SC3 is based in philosophy and cosmology—it is, for him, not an academic or even purely musical endeavor. And, where irony was such a huge component of Mr. Bungle’s aesthetic, he insists that SC3 contains zero irony. On the other hand, he is adamant that SC3 is not an attempt at “authentic” Persian music either. The band, he offers, would sound more foreign to someone from Iran than it already does to American listeners. He admits that he might come off as an academic or a dabbler in the exotic. And he’s fine with that. He’s also fine if his audience (and band mates) don’t fully grasp his intentions.

“I do like having these challenges,” he says, “because eventually they’re overcome. When we started, we were getting a lot of that: ‘It’s a cheap, Mr. Bungle-improv band.’ Then there’s the other side, which is more tedious about culture, that says, ‘This is bullshit; if I want to hear real Turkish music, I don’t need to listen to you assholes.’ I see those two poles as a mirror image. Even people close to me have had these reactions. It’s not like I don’t know Persian people. I was married to a Persian woman for five years and am still very close with her family. I actually incorporate the whole theme of culturevulturism into what we do, because I’ve been on a few different sides now.The misconceptions have never deterred me, but I am going to try to heal them just by being consistent.”

> Secret Chiefs 3

Mar. 28, Terminal 5, 610 W 56th St. (at 11th Ave.), 212-260-4700; 6:30, $31