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Interviews   

Trevor Dunn (Tomahawk) is one of these weird guy whom we call an artist


Are bass player Trevor Dunn and the great Mike Patton inseparable? Both met in high school, when they were kids, and discovered that they had in common a kind of intellectual marginality. Since, they’ve been involved in different projects, in the first place the sorely missed Mr. Bungle, but also Fantômas or with the whacky sax player John Zorn. As Dunn replaced Kevin Rutmanis in Tomahawk, this duo is currently working again together. Both share a complete “I do what I want” attitude to give free rein to their extravagances. And when we asked Dunn if he thinks he has already gone too far, he simply answers : « It’s just music, you know! »

After six long years, Tomahawk have released Oddfellows, their new record and follow-up to Anonymous. Oddfellows may not be the craziest record in which Dunn and Patton are involved, but we do find again this creative freedom that we love in them and that Duane Denison, the band’s conductor, has always managed to inject into his work in Tomahawk.

It was therefore the opportunity to do a little interview on the phone with Dunn, so that we could know more about the record, but also about his artistic self and about his relationship with Mike Patton…

« While we do anything, and this because we’re all mortals, in the end we realize there’s no meaning to any of it. We might as well continue doing it. »

Radio Metal: This is your first album with the band. How did you join the band and what was your motivation?

Trevor Dunn: Well, I’ve known these musicians for a long time and they needed a bass player, so they called me up. I can play any type of music, anytime, anywhere! (laughs)

Did you know a lot about Tomahawk before joining them?

I listened to all their records, and Mike and I have been friends for 30 years actually. I keep on top of what he’s up to and likewise he with I. Tomahawk has probably been my favourite project for a while. I think that Mike and Duane have a really good musical relationship going on, and this in a very interesting way.

What was your involvement in the writing of the record?

I did no writing at whatsoever! (laughs) Duane writes everything and gives the music to Mike who writes the melodies and the lyrics. John, the drummer, and I pretty much play the role of the classic rock rhythm section. We don’t write any stuff.

Did your kind of fresh perspective actually have an impact on the way the album turned out?

Well, I don’t know, it’s hard to say. The music on this record is a bit more poppy than the previous stuff they’ve done, so it’s difficult to say if I’ve had any impact on it other than just being a professional musician giving the best he can.

Oddfellows is the title of the new album. Are you guys these odd fellows?

Oh, certainly, yes! We’re musicians first and foremost which makes us odd fellows! (laughs) This kind of lifestyle is certainly odd. I think that the music on the album is pretty much straight ahead rock music, but there’s stuff that you’re not going to hear on the radio. We keep a certain distance from it and this is what makes us odd, apparently.

The reason given by the band for the 6 years separating Oddfellows from its predecessor was that the band “took a break to discover the many truths of the universe”. So what did the band actually discover? (laughs)

Basically, we discovered that we’re all going to die eventually so we’ll keep doing what we’re doing and continue to enjoy it! (laughs)

Could Oddfellows be a result of these discoveries?

Yes, absolutely. It’s pretty much this: while we do anything, and this because we’re all mortals, in the end we realize there’s no meaning to any of it. We might as well continue doing it.

Duane Denison said that he thought Oddfellows was more of a Mit Gas follow up rather than an Anonymous follow up. Is this also your feeling?

I think that the new album has a lot in common with the first two Tomahawk records. Anonymous was very specific as it was a concept album. For our live shows, we’re playing music from every album. All records fit very well together on stage.

Could you tell us more about the artwork of the album? What’s the idea behind these naive animal representations?

The artist is called Brunetti. He’s a cartoonist, with whom we’ve been familiar with. He’s got a crass, very crude sense of humour and we just asked him to do it. He took the idea of secret societies and odd fellows: we let him do his thing. We loved it when he came up with the artwork.

Fifteen tracks were recorded for the album, thirteen of which were included on its release. Why didn’t you release the two remaining tracks? What will you do with them?

It’s typical that when a band is making a record, if it has too much material, it just records all of it and then decide what songs will appear on it. You don’t want to make a record that is too long: personally, I hate these type of albums. It’s not that we don’t like these songs but we just feel that they don’t fit with the rest of the album. Maybe they will be saved for the next record or released for something. They’re good songs: they just were put aside for a better use.

You worked with Mike Patton in bands like Mr Bungle and Fantômas. Is working with him in Tomahawk different from those previous experiences?

Again, Tomahawk is a sort of “Duane band” or depending how you look at it, it could be Duane and Mike’s band, like two co-leaders if you want. They make the majority of the decisions concerning the music although we’re at the same time a collective group when we decide to do certain shows or how we are going to travel, for instance. You know, we all kind of refer to Duane. My job’s easy and my role’s specific: I’m here to play the bass. Mike’s role is specific too: there’s no ambiguity about what we’re supposed to be doing. Mike and I trust each other. It’s always a good working relationship.

Do you think that Mike Patton and you both share a common artistic vision?

Sure. I mean, we certainly have our differences, in terms of taste for instance, but what brought us together when we were teenagers was music, the same sense of humour, the fact to go against our peers, you know! (laughs) Yes, musically, we have a lot in common actually.

What are these differences between you and him?

Just any differences that any people would normally have. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of tastes, similar to food: some people like the taste of one thing, others don’t. Nothing major that can cause a huge conflict. It’s the same with musicians: some will want a note to be held a little bit longer or more distortion, that’s all. I’m a bass player and he’s a singer, so we’re different and it’s natural to have some differences.

« We were kids and metalheads with long hair. We pretty much hated everyone we were going to school with so we sort of discovered each other [with Mike Patton] that way. »

Do you remember your first meeting with him? What did you think of him?

Oh, yes: we were kids and metalheads with long hair. We pretty much hated everyone we were going to school with so we sort of discovered each other that way. We started trading records and that’s how we met. I was actually playing in a band and we needed a singer, so I asked him and he joined us: that was the beginning of the end.

What’s the best moment you’ve experienced with him?

Oh, man, there’s a lot of them! When we were kids, we used to jump on the freight train in the small town we grew up in, ride it until the next town and hitch-hike home. Those are great moments, great memories as kids. Mike and I have a lot of history: I could write a book about it! (laughs)

You have generally played in bands that have in common their artistic freedom, or even their craziness. It sounds like you just can’t play in a « normal » band!

I think that Tomahawk is probably one of the straightest band I’ve ever played in. When the guys first asked me to join the band, they were worried that I might become bored! (laughs) They knew I could do it but they wanted to make sure that I would be happy doing it, which of course I am. I love playing straight ahead and I do it: it’s not something I do as much as everything else, but I play straight ahead jazz. I grew up playing straight ahead rock: in college, I played Rolling Stones or Beatles’ songs in bars with my band. It’s not about whether I’m able to play it or not, but more about I believe in terms of progression of music. As a writer myself, I always try to push myself forward and do something interesting and modern. I don’t want to repeat something that’s already been done: there’s no point in doing this although I don’t have anything against that. I want to keep myself interested, stay curious and I want to learn: that’s where I get my real enjoyment in life.

Have you ever thought, while participating in a musical project like with Fantômas or with John Zorn: « Well, we’re going too far this time! » (laughs)

No, never. It’s just music, you know! (laughs) I find it interesting when people get upset about musical things, because it’s just notes and sounds: they’ll have to listen to it, that’s all. It’s the same with every art form or event: you don’t have to be involved as much as you want to. No one’s forcing anything on anyone. Musically speaking, I will continue to push myself as far as I possibly can.

You declared on an interview that, while writing music, you like to listen to music that is on the complete opposite on what you’re working on, just to clean your head out. Do you think that this « completely different music » subconsciously inspires you?

Sure, yes. Absolutely. Sometimes, I don’t really know what’s inspiring me or where it’s coming from. I’m also inspired by things that I don’t like or that I like a little bit but not enough. For example, I would see a band that is OK and it gives me ideas of ways to make it sound better, in my humble opinion. Sometimes, for inspiration, I like to sit on a bench, in a park, watching people and reflecting on myself and my position in life. All this becomes inspirational to the music that I write.

Since you play in a lot of different bands, how do you know, while writing, that a song will fit one project and not another one? Do you have a specific way of writing music for each project?

Well, yes and no, actually! I like doing a certain amount of research before I really sit down to write. But faithfully, when I know that I’m going to write music, I stay home and focus on it. Sometimes, I’ll write on guitar, on keyboards or on bass and switch back and forth between all three instruments. I try to look at it as a job: I wake up every morning and start working after breakfast. I take some breaks and do things to distract myself: I try to get my head out of it and be objective at it.

Can you give us some news on your other projects like Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant and MadLove?

Unfortunately, MadLove’s on hold right now because I’ve been so busy playing other people’s music, but eventually I do want to write more stuff for that. In the meantime, I am going to premiere some music for my trio: I’ll be performing at The Stone in December in New-York, probably three nights; that’s the next project for me.

You did some tour dates with Melvins Lite: are you now a fulltime member of the band?

Yes, I am their bass player. The Melvins, as a quartet with Cody and Jared continues to exist so there are two versions of this band. But there’s always been multiple versions of this band, but in terms of The Melvins Lite, we’re actually coming to Europe in April at least. We’re going to tour for a couple of weeks and after I’m going to leave because Cody and Jared are going to join and the Melvins will continue the tour.

« I want to keep myself interested, stay curious and I want to learn : that’s where I get my real enjoyment in life. »

Mr. Bungle is a band that is greatly missed. Would you see the band reforming in the future?

No, sorry! (laughs) We said what we needed to say in the 90’s and then went our separate ways. I personally wouldn’t want to go back and play that kind of music anymore. I’m happy with the way it was, with what we said so there’s no point in reforming it.

Why don’t you want to play that kind of music anymore?

People can listen to Mr. Bungle as long as they want, hopefully forever, but in terms of meaning, any project has a beginning and an end. Once it’s done, it’s time to move on, like any sort of relationship, you know. All of us are still in touch but musically, we want to progress.

People say that you’re usualy quite reluctant to talk about the end of Mr. Bungle and generally about the band itself, how can you explain that?

I’m not sure why people think I’m reluctant to talk about Mr. Bungle. Maybe I was first, but I’m happy to talk about it now. There wasn’t really an official break: Mr. Bungle died of a natural death. We never made any sort of announcement about it. After the last tour, any of us felt the natural desire to continue. People expect some big event happened to explain the end of the band, but things end, you know, that’s all I can say! (laughs) You know, we kind of grew up together and a lot of the first record was actually written while we were in high school. It was a natural ending.

Have you thought at some point that joining Tomahawk and playing again with Mike Patton could give you a feeling of going backwards, since you already played a lot with Mike in the past?

No, absolutely not. I feel that both of us are going forward. All the bands I’ve played in were very dynamic. For instance, Fantomas was Mike’s specific band and he made all the decisions about it: it was his vision. I would play for any of those guys anytime, because I have no problems with them. It’s a continual progression so it’s very different from playing old Mr. Bungle music again: that will never happen because I have no interest in playing that music. If we wanted to, we could write a new record but again, there’s a certain dynamic in a band like that. It’s more complicated and intense. I would say that’s it’s like an old girlfriend: I would like to have a cup of coffee with her, have a conversation and ask her about her parents. If we work together, it would be great because she’s a musician, but to get back with her, no way. That’s too weird.

You said that you thought about writing a book about Mr. Bungle: can you tell us more about it?

Yes, I’ve thought about it. There’s a lot of photographs that no one has ever seen, and some video footage. I think it would be an interesting read but it’s not my top priority right now.

We also heard that there could be some unreleased Mr. Bungle songs…

Every record had a couple of unreleased songs. It would be nice to clean these songs up and get them out them, but again it’s a complicated process. Maybe one of these days I’ll put some energy into it.

Do you think the next Tomahawk album will be quicker to come out?

It’s hard to say because Oddfellows is just out and we’re just in the middle of touring. I’m sure that next year, we’ll start writing some more music. No band I’ve played in has ever been the kind of group that puts out an album and tours every year. It’s up to Duane, really. In terms of shows, we’re going to tour in Europe, in the United States, Australia: we’re pretty busy this year!

Interview conducted by phone March, 19th 2013
Transcription: Jean Martinez – Traduction(s) Net

Tomahawk on Facebook : www.facebook.com/Tomahawkband

Album Oddfellows, out since January 29th 2013 via Ipecac Recordings



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