TREVOR DUNN talks about his new project ‘Nocturnes’
I love talking with Trevor Dunn, as a person who's life was dramatically changed by Mr. Bungle's music it is a real pleasure to discuss their history with the bass player. After interviewing him for the 25th anniversary of their debut album in 2016 I couldn’t help but pester the man for further stories relating to their following records and each time Trevor enthusiastically replied.However for this conversation we had something exciting and new to discuss.
For a long time Trevor has in his own words been ‘a side-man’ writing and playing with other equally unique and talented musicians which has unfortunately left his own compositions to ‘stagnate on the back burner’. Yet he tells us that reaching 50 years of age helped give him a push to record and release this personal music some of which he wrote 30 years ago.
Trevor has 5 new projects coming out in a short space of time, the first Nocturnes features 5 pieces of classical chamber music.
The Secret Quartet, Carla Kihlstedt and Vicky Chow feature with Trevor on the CD which record label Tzadik promises will be a moody and brooding sound.
Hey Trevor on your instagram you exclaimed that turning 50 last year had urged you to put out some of your own music. Was this you messing with us or did hitting half a century actually have a profound effect on you?
I don’t know if I’d use a word as strong as “profound” but ageing, in general, at this point in my trajectory continues be a memento mori. Ageing is a strange phenomenon in regards to how old one feels vs. how one’s literal age sits in societal expectations. I’m surprised by my age when I see it written down, but there is no contending with the grim reaper regardless of age. So the big 5-0 was basically a tap on the should saying, how long are you going to put this music on the back burner? How long are you going to put yourself 2nd? How long are you going to prioritize other people’s creative visions over your own?
So no less than 5 new releases we have to look forward to! ‘Nocturnes’ is the first and features compositions you’ve been performing live for some time now. Do you think directing chamber music is more satisfying than being in a ‘rock band’?
No, I don’t. And I don’t think being in a rock band is more more satisfying than writing chamber music. I have the privilege of being able to do both and that is what is most satisfying. That said — and this is sort of part II of my answer to your first question — the older I get the less joy I find in travelling and the more joy I find in sitting behind a desk with a pencil for days on end. I’ve been playing in rock bands pretty consistently for as long as I’ve played bass which is approaching 40 years. Writing chamber music has been much more sporadic and I feel deserves more attention.
You’ve mentioned your love for Chopin’s Nocturnes, is this your homage to those?
To a degree, yes. In many ways I am a traditionalist and I love the idea of classical forms which have mostly been superseded by the through-composed approach. There isn’t necessarily a form associated with a nocturne, but my piano pieces certainly reference Chopin, humbly. Naming this particular release “Nocturnes”, however, is more about the general mood where these pieces converge, which has to do with the night. That is explained a bit more in the liner notes.
Was the included piece from 1989 something you considered for Mr. Bungle at any point?
Absolutely not. The piece from 1989, “Melody for Contrabass with String Quartet” was written for that particular ensemble—originally conceived as the first movement of a sonata and informed by much of the music I was studying in college at that time such as Persichetti’s “Parable for Contrabass” which I performed in my senior recital. I was, of course, concurrently writing for Mr. Bungle at the same time, but not in this style.
Have you produced this recording yourself?
Yes. It was recorded in a couple different studios at different times but rehearsed and directed solely by myself.
You are heading out for a short European tour with Dan Weiss’ Starebaby. Plus you’ve been performing with Endangered Blood amongst others recently. Is playing with so many varied musicians and styles how it keeps music fresh for you?
Performing is one thing that keeps music interesting for me, but also an innate curiosity. I still go see performers I know nothing about. I still buy records, look for challenges, attempt to grow, question “credibility”, push my own limits, etc. I get something from every single musician I play with and I’m lucky to be able to cross many genres & personality lines. I can also extend that idea to the point of view of an audience member which I continue to be.
Can you tell us anything about your next release, or what you have planned over the next four? Can we expect the return of Trio Convulsant?
Trio-Convulsant with the addition of a chamber ensemble is in the works, as well as a duo called SpermChurch with my colleague Sannety, a Dutch electronic musician. I finished music for an independent film which I hope to release in the near future and I’m about halfway through a “singer/songwriter” album that I’ve been sporadically recording at home for a good 10 years.
I’m digging your instagram art too, future album covers?
Thank you, but no. I consider that somewhat of a farce. My idea of a good time.
I’m guilty of always referring to Mr. Bungle when talking to you, but how do you feel when you get comments like ‘just get Bungle back together’?
I’m pretty bored with those kind of comments. Firstly, I appreciate the sentiment but an opinion isn’t what is going to make that happen. I also find it dismissive of my own work and that can be disheartening. If Bungle has a future my independence remains either way. There is much to be said about the value of collaborating but the same is true for the insular, solitary approach. Everyone has a right to their preference but that doesn’t necessarily affect me. We gave a good 15 years to Bungle. Currently I’m finding value in focusing on a much neglected independent voice. As someone on the “inside” it is difficult to get people to understand this. If I told a stranger, who is single, that they should “just get back together with your ex from 20 years ago because I really liked that person” they might have a similar response. Maybe not.
But I also want to say that I’m not against talking about Mr. Bungle. I truly appreciate hearing that that band is still relevant to many people. There are still lots of stories to tell. So the references and compliments are always taken to heart.
So.......for fans it’s hard to believe that California was released 20 years ago! It’s timeless and the very last music we had from you guys. Do you ever put that album on?
I certainly don’t put that album on. I rarely listen to my own music unless I have a practical reason to do so. When I do listen to something I had a part in creating I often find it cringe-worthy. Most of my attention goes to thinking how much better it could be done now; the mistakes that were made; the compromises. And to anyone who is not the 5 members of Mr. Bungle, it is impossible to explain the additional emotional weight that goes with hearing even a part of that music. A single riff can conjure a slew of memories. One’s own music is loaded compared to what the audience hears.
1. String Quartet Nr 1
2. Six Nocturnes
3. Melody for Contrabass with String Quartet