An interview with Trey Spruance, founder of Secret Chief 3 and former member of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More. The interview was shot just before Secret Chiefs 3’s second live show in Bucharest (07 November 2013).
3b: We’ll just start with a random question: when will the next Secret Chiefs album be released, The Book of Souls? I read on your website that it should have come out in the fall of 2010.
Trey: Actually it probably should’ve come out in 2006 and I think that was the last time… We might have mentioned it one other time and fans have been mentioning it ever since so we’ve stopped saying anything about it. We recorded yet another record this October.
3b: The EP with Mike Patton?
Trey: No, a whole new record. We’re not finished with that but the plan is to release it with Book of Souls.
3b: Cool! So…2 records?
Trey: It’s been close for a long time. We’ve just been keep going on fucking tour and we can’t finish it. I mean, it comes down to how much time is there in a year. For example, this tour I spent 2 months preparing for the tour, preparing the music, and that’s time that I can’t spend recording.
3b: This is exclusive news for our website?
Trey: Yes, as of now, I guess that’s true. Nobody has specifically asked me about that.
3b: I read about Book of Souls a couple of days ago so, for me, it’s new information.
Trey: Book of Souls has turned into some sort of Chinese Democracy.
3b: When they started promoting your concert here, they said “Secret Chiefs 3, the band of the legendary guitar player from Faith No More, Mr Bungle, etc…” and I browsed the web and found out that you played with Faith No More last year in Chile on a full concert ??? and my question is, as a fan of Faith No More, Secret Chiefs 3 and Mr Bungle, have you ever felt, when you played with Faith No More – in 1995, when the album came out – that you were a full member of the band or just a guest musician?
Trey: Just a guest musician. I wrote the guitar parts that I thought would fit their musical ideas so I guess it’s a little bit more than just being a guest, showing up and improvising or something, but I never really have the status of a full band member. I don’t think you have that until you go on tour with the band.
3b: Was that because of the fact that Mike Patton was in the band?
Trey: It was a factor because if the situation of me being in Faith No More was not a very good one for a musician that actually has other things to do but if it’s a guitar player who doesn’t have anything else to do it would’ve been a fine gig at the terms that they were offering to me but we haven’t really figured out what those terms were. All in good faith I have finished recording the whole album and then it became very clear that what they had to offer – not just money, just the whole thing – was just not happening at all. So, for me it was like “ok, it’s time for me to go but you guys have plenty of time to find a new guy and it’s been a pleasure writing the parts and everything…”
3b: And they were cool with that.
Trey: Not really. At the time I think they took it like: “what the fuck is this guy thinking?”. Mike certainly knew, he told me before I joined: “this isn’t a good situation, you really shouldn’t do it” so I understood what he meant. I think I got out at the right time because I didn’t want anything to mess up things between he and I.
3b: That’s what I read some years ago – that Mike Patton didn’t want you in the band and Billy Gould was the one that convinced you.
Trey: Well, I get along with all of those guys. I was a Faith No More fan but Mike never really was. In the 80s, I really loved the early sound they had, that pre-industrial thing and I didn’t like them that much once they got Mike Patton in the band.
3b: Of course, when Mike came into Faith No More, the old sound changed.
Trey: Yes, it changed. Not that I didn’t hate it or anything, it was cool…
3b: For me, it changed in a better way.
Trey: Most people feel that way, I’m in the small minority.
3b: You were born in the same city as Mike Patton – Eureka, US?
Trey: I wasn’t born there but I grew up there.
3b: Is it true that Eureka is the city with the highest percentage of serial killers in USA?
Trey: No, it doesn’t have serial killers, it has domestic violence and murderers. It usually has about the same crime rate as Richland or the bad parts of Oakland, California. So, in the state of California, it’s one of the most violent places. It’s interesting cause it’s all white people pretty much and usually when you hear these crime statistics they usually say it’s the black people or the black part of town. Eureka is the proof that white people in similar conditions to black people in ghettos act just as bad, if not worse.
3b: We have a full country of white people and we are pretty violent.
Trey: Yes, if people are in bad conditions they don’t react very well.
3b: Speaking about our country, what is your connection to Romanian music? I remember reading on the booklet of California that your music was influenced by Romanian gypsy music.
Trey: My story with that is a little bit different than maybe the Mr Bungle’s story.
3b: You also played Ciorcarlia in live sets and you also put it on the album Path of Most Resistance.
Trey: Yes, now I know what Ciocarlia is and I have a bunch of different recordings from different times. In Western Europe and the US, the first thing anybody hears when they hear Romanian music is “gypsy music” and it’s kinda funny when then you hear Ciocarlia, a song from a songbird in a village in Romania – this song then being used in Serbia as a military song.
3b: In Serbia, in Georgia and in Israel.
Trey: Yes, for the right-wing skinheads. Maybe some people want to have a debate about ethnomusicology but I think that it’s pretty clear – it’s a fucking bird from a village in Romania. So if it’s gypsy music it just means that the gypsies took that song and decontextualized it.
3b: Actually it’s not a folkloric song, it’s a composed one and it’s composed by a guy that, from the name, I think he was a gypsy. He was from a famous family of musicians. Because of Romania’s history, most of musicians in 18th-19th century were gypsies. Romanians were all peasants, they were working all day and the gypsies had all the other activities.
Trey: They are very musically literate people.
3b: In Romania they are called “lautari” from “lauta” instrument – the lute. “Lautar” means “player with the lute”. When he composed Ciocarlia, he composed it for the pan flute.
So you didn’t know much about Romania before you came here?
Trey: It’s a long conversation. […]
3b: On your first Mr Bungle album, all of you had some nicknames. Is it true that Mike Patton was Vlad Drac?
Trey: If I remember right, yes, I think so.
3b: Because Vlad Drac was a Romanian ruler from the 15th century.
Trey: There’s no correlation there.
3b: In my mind it all connects: Ciocarlia, Vlad Drac, Romanian music.
Trey: Unfortunately it’s not that… I can tell you more though, for example I had a girlfriend for 2-3 years in the US who’s from Romania and she’s here now, she returned to Romania and she’s in a monastery, she’s monastic. So I know this side of Romania pretty well too. Actually Cluj was the last part of Romania I’ve never seen – I’ve been everywhere in Romania now.
3b: What do you think about our country?
Trey: I love it. It’s an intense place. First few times that I’ve came here, like anywhere, if you’re away from your home for a while you feel like you don’t belong somewhere. Now, every time I’ve come here, there’s some part of me that feels at home here, which I don’t feel in Western Europe so I love it here a lot.
3b: I remember an old interview of you where you said that you write oriental inspired music but you don’t expect people from the Middle East to like your music, to understand your music.
Trey: We’re not really taking influences from Arab or Persian music directly, but having studied musical theory systems from philosophical stuff that I’m very interested in and I’ve been coming up with music that’s based on those principles. Instead of pretending like we know how to play any kind of oriental music, to me, it sounds that an instrument that can accommodate these different tuning systems, we can understand and internalize a different sense of rhythm than what comes naturally through Western notated music.
3b: Do you feel that the audiences from Eastern Europe are more open to this idea?
Trey: It’s very interesting because when we played in Turkey, everybody knows that it’s not Turkish music but it still feels fine and it’s not really such a novelty as if we played, for example, in Northern Europe – that audience thinks that this is something interesting and new that they haven’t heard – it’s not so new but there is still something mysterious and different about it. Frankly, most of what we play is pretty much Western music when you come down to it. It isn’t even that it’s the combination, it’s that no matter what perspective you look at it from, there’s always something mysterious, something that isn’t quite at home. You can’t ever figure out what that is necessarily and I love that ambiguity.
Do you ever think about feeling like a stranger in the world? Everywhere you go you’re a foreigner, even the place you were born? So we’re at home with this idea, something like that. To me, it’s not about artificially combining different stuff to make some weird hybrid, I feel that, for me, maybe it’s an unease with my own history – how did I get born in California, how did that process come to me where I would end up being born in this place, at the very edge of Western civilization where all these expectations, these Utopian dreams basically came crushing against the wall and everybody looks around and thinks “well, now what?”.
3b: I know exactly this feeling because if you were born here, in Eastern Europe, you’d wish all your life to be born in California.
Trey: That sort of thing is for California – it’s an easy life but it’s also missing something – something big. That’s why it’s never settled anywhere that you go because it isn’t really about where you live. I think it’s really about where you come from, that’s a very deep thing and not necessarily a geographical thing.
3b: Your music is like a way to find out who you really are and where you come from?
Trey: Yes, I think that if music isn’t that then it’s not really worth very much.
3b: Of course, you are influenced by a lot of music but what music do you listen to when you have the time?
Trey: When I get this question I just have to judge on what is in my cd player in my car. It’s an Azeri singer named Alim Qasimov, he’s somewhere between Persian and Turkish systems. Azeri music is really it’s own thing. There’s a lot of western, a lot of Russian influences in Alim’s music also. It actually fits our earlier discussion – Azerbaijan is a really interesting cultural pivot in the world and the music that comes from there, to my ears, is just magic, I can’t believe it when I hear it.
3b: Will Mr Bungle reform?
Trey: Unfortunately it’s a question I can’t answer ’cause I don’t know the answer.
3b: But do you want Mr Bungle to reform?
Trey: I never thought that it shouldn’t but I have understood, also, that there are reasons why it shouldn’t. But sometimes it seems that that’s not really the issue anymore, to be honest it’s more like if we think of it as if nothing has changed. With Mr Bungle, even in 1997, we wouldn’t have made an album unless we were inspired to do it, unless there is a reason to do it. So, the real answer would be that, if we were to do that, it would be because there was an inspiration to do it. We would never do a fucking reunion tour, that would never happen – we all agree that for sure, why the fuck would we do that? But if we had some sort of creative spark, if there was some reason to collaborate again – that’s the only thing that would make it all happen again.
3b: Do you feel like you are a child of Mr Bungle – musically, spiritually speaking? Or Mr Bungle is just a past chapter in your life and you evolved from that point?
Trey: I feel like there were a lot of things in Mr Bungle that were sort of in a nucleus stage that I’m working with now. I would hesitate to think of myself as a child of Mr Bungle spiritually, I would hope that it was the other way around, but when I hear it I think that these things are in their seed form and there’s a lot of different ways that those could go. To me, there are endless possibilities to Mr Bungle’s “future” as a band, if it were a creative entity. There’s no limit – conceptually, musically – with that band.
3b: So is this good news for Mr Bungle fans?
Trey: Probably not, I don’t think so. They can’t really get their hopes up about it. It’s one of the intangible things about creative inspiration – nobody can predict if that would ever happen.
3b: But at least you don’t put aside that idea.
Trey: I don’t and I don’t think Mike does anymore either but not everybody is on the same opinion about it.
3b: I read that Holy Vehm is going to release an album or an EP. Is that still going to happen?
Trey: Yes, there’s a lot left to do with that idea.
3b: I know that the vocals from the Holy Vehm is a member of a Canadian band, Unhuman, which is connected to Cryptosy, Augury and other bands that I really love.
Trey: Yes, it’s that Montreal progressive-crazy-death metal thing. Unhuman is very much his own person, a really interesting musician.
3b: So I really look forward to listen to the next Holy Vehm release.
Trey: Me too! I can’t wait to get some time to work on it. I don’t know when that’s gonna happen but it has to happen soon.
3b: In the world of Secret Chiefs 3, “soon” could be 5 or ten years.
Trey: The time scales don’t really apply to Secret Chiefs 3.
3b: What bands would you recommend from your record label, Web of Mimicry?
Trey: It depends on what music you like to listen. If you like extreme death metal stuff, then Cleric.
3b: I tried to listen to Cleric but it’s not my cup of tea.
Trey: It’s too crazy? Ok, cause the other one would be Fat32 which is even crazier. They played here with us in Bucuresti two years ago.
3b: Speaking about your last passing through here, we know you had some issues with your bus last time, is your new bus better?
Trey: We don’t have a bus, we just have a van and yeah, it’s fine. What happened then was that we were driving to Istanbul directly after the show here. This time it’s just Sofia, it’s not so far so it’ll be easier.
3b: Where are you going next?
Trey: Sofia, then Timisoara, then Belgrade – Serbia, Croatia, Budapest – Hungary, Slovenia.
3b: How does the European public feel versus the American one?
Trey: There are definitely a few different Europes, I can tell you that, just like there are a few different Americas – there’s South America and North America for example.
3b: We meant the US public.
Trey: I understand, but even that – West Coast and East Coast are very different and the South is very different. I would say that in the cities where we traditionally play in the United States is very strong support, we have good strong audiences. That means Portland, Seattle, Washington, Oregon and of course New York City. Montreal in Canada is a very good city for us.
3b: So the liberal states?
Trey: It can be more difficult in the south. But the south has a few places that are really good too though. So, for us, Europe is also like this: Portugal is really good, really solid support, France is our home base in Europe because our booking agent is based there, we play there a lot. But sometimes we play somewhere in France and there is hardly anybody there and other times there’s tones of people – it’s really hard to predict. We make an effort to come to Eastern Europe because, frankly, it’s depressing to only play in the rich countries of Europe as it reminds us of our own country. If you just play in the nice places, you’re missing all the best places to play. I’m not gonna listen to our Western Europeans promoters and say “oh, why play in Romania? Why bother?”. They’re telling you that because it’s their commission, their 50% on the gig so they don’t get as much money… I don’t listen to that crap. So we’re lucky we have a great booking agent who is really committed to helping us. Next year we go to Russia, we’ll finally go to Finland, we’ll be playing in Estonia, Lithuania, Morocco, Turkey, Cyprus.
3b: Cyprus in the Greek part or the Turkish part?
Trey: Probably the Turkish part. Greece is hard. We even tried to play in Macedonia but it got canceled. We’re pretty adventurous, we’ll take chances, but it just hasn’t come together, we just haven’t met the right people yet. We just played in Brazil and that was beautiful. All you ever hear is the ?? and how fucked up everything is and they paid us better than we’ve ever been paid on any gig – in Brazil, on our first show! You just can’t tell… that’s why I think that a lot of times the booking agents and bands are really reluctant to do things, they are reluctant to take a chance and maybe lose money but they’re very stupid and they’re missing everything. Everything that’s good happens when you stick your head out a little bit farther.
3b: It’s very hard to come and play in Romania because the audience is so small every time and you’ll never get the amount of money you’ll get from playing in the Western Europe.
Trey: Ok, and that’s where the problem is: the expectations that a band has. If they’re like “we expect this much money for this and this”… what happens the second time you come? I mean, the first time we came to Romania we didn’t lose money, we broke even, so there’s no problem there. The second time you come there’s more people, that’s how it works everywhere, it’s not unique for Romania. I just think bands are timid and afraid and not very adventurous. For us it’s not like we’re slitting our wrists to drive to Romania because we drive in the US…can you imagine? We start in San Francisco, you drive for two entire fucking days and there’s nothing, there’s nowhere to play and then you’re finally in Utah, you play a show there, then you drive an entire day and then you’re in Denver. You drive for another 2 days and there’s nothing till you get to Chicago. What I’m saying is that we’re used to driving long distance between shows, what’s the problem? Big deal, it’s a day drive, get off your ass and tour!
3b: It would be great if all the bands would think like that!
Trey: I don’t understand why they don’t, I don’t know what their problem is – actually it is because Western Europeans promoters are telling them not to because it’s not worth it. I’m trying to push this because I want them to feel ashamed and start booking bands here.
3b: We were last year in Sofia at Sick Of It All and they told us that their promoter told them not to come to Romania because we have bad roads. And Bulgaria is not better than Romania in this field…
Trey: The United States has much worse roads than Romania! I’ve driven all over Romania and there’s some really fucked up roads when you get off the bigger roads but the big roads are fine, it’s no problem. This is the bullshit stereotype.
3b: Please don’t help our government with this statement. Speaking of politics, what do you think about Obama’s win?
Trey: Who??! Yeah, it’s a fiasco. I guess it’s a little bit better for us that he would win, it’s a little bit easier for the rest of the world – so it seems.
3b: We have a thing against religion so we feel relieved that Romney didn’t got elected.
Trey: In my opinion the problem is that the religion – so called – that ends up achieving all this power and prominence, especially in the United States is a pseudo-religion, is not really a religion. The real religion takes place between a person and God but that doesn’t mean that a church or a gathering is just inherently bullshit because it’s more than just one person there. Actually, if there is such a thing, what matters is continuity through time. If something can hold itself together, last and not change one generation to the next, then there’s something there. If it changes every generation, there’s nothing there. That’s why it’s fair to use the term “pseudo-religion”.