Ep. 34 – Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Trio Convulsant) Interview + New Album “S​è​ances”

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In this episode, Carl King welcomes Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Trio Convulsant) to talk about Trevor’s new album “S​è​ances.” Other topics: how he writes music, his use of dissonance, and music theory examples from Mr. Bungle and MadLove. 

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Trevor Dunn Interview


Trio Convulsant – OCTOBER 27, 2022 at
Ars Nova / Solar Myth (Philadelphia)

Trio Convulsant – OCTOBER 28, 2022 at
National Sawdust (Brooklyn)

Get Séances

Trevor Dunn Website


I’m Carl King, and this is The Carl King Podcast, where we learn about music, filmmaking, and the other creative arts. To support this podcast, head over to Patreon.com/carlking, and join for just $1 or $5 per month. Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom. Special thank you to my Illusionist $51 level patrons, both Hank Howard III and Chewbode. 

Quick shout-out to my music endorsements: Vienna Symphonic Library, Fractal Audio, Ernie Ball Strings, Toontrack, and Millennia Media.

Now let’s start to prepare to start getting started! To get this episode Beginned. 


I have a just one item of Carl King news, and THEN we will officially get the episode beginned. 

I just released a new Patreon-Only song for October. It is a remake of a song I wrote in 1995, the year I was between high school and college. Coincidentally, that was just a couple of months after Mr. Bungle’s Disco Volante was released. Nearly 30 years later, I’ve gone back and warped it with all the good stuff: odd-meters, drum solos, shifting pentooplets. AND some dissonant chromatic melodies and harmonies DIRECTLY inspired by today’s interview.  

If you wanna hear that song, head over to patreon.com/carlking to join me. 

And now, let’s get into our feature presentation. 


Today, I have a special episode with Trevor Dunn of Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, and his own Trio Convulsant. We talk about how he writes his music, the difference between modern jazz and modern classical, and we even get into some musical theory specifics on his old Mr. Bungle material.  

AND we talk about his new album. 

That’s right: Just in time for Halloween, Trio Convulsant has a NEW album coming out this week called Seances. Mr. Dunn describes as “Chamber-Jazz-Metal inspired by bizarre tales of an 18th-century French religious sect.”

If you are in the North Eastern US, Trevor and his 7-piece TRIO are playing TWO shows:

OCTOBER 27, 2022 at
Ars Nova / Solar Myth (Philadelphia)

OCTOBER 28, 2022 at
National Sawdust (Brooklyn)

I will put links to those shows in the show notes. 

So here we go. 

CK: I am here with Trevor Dunn. Thanks for being here. 

TD: Yeah. My pleasure. 

CK: What can you tell us about the ensemble that you’ve put together for this new record? 

TD: It’s based around my Trio-Convulsant which is a trio with myself, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Ches Smith on drums. We did a record all the way back in 2004, I guess, and then I decided to expand it with a chamber quartet. So yeah, I added four people. I still kind of consider it a trio-based record, but even though the music is … it’s integrated as a septet. So yeah, I added a bass clarinet, alto flute, viola and cello. 

CK: I don’t speak French but I noticed in the little liner notes or something, it said, “folie à quatre” and I think it translates to “madness at four.” Is that right? 

TD: Yeah. I don’t speak French either, just so you know, but it’s actually pronounced … I believe it’s “folie à quatre.” Yeah, madness of four, essentially. It’s a play on … there’s a psychological phenomena called folie à deux, which is like a shared madness with someone, essentially. And so I just related that to this quartet. 

The origins of the name Trio-Convulsant come from surrealism and this concept of convulsive beauty, which is the whole reason I went back to this whole religious hysteria revolves around convulsions. But yeah, that’s just adding that madness of the quarter, just kind of adds to that theme. 

CK: Kind of fits with the mass cult following that some people have these days in politics. 

TD: Yeah. 

CK: The shared madness. 

TD: Yeah, it’s the power of suggestion and mob mentality, that kind of thing, I find fascinating. It’s kind of crazy how this is like a 300-year-old concept that I’m … or more than that, going on 400 years I guess. Yet it’s still relative to modern times. It was funny, during quarantine, during the pandemic, I decided to reread Camus’s The Plague. I found it amazing how much was relevant to modern times. 

CK: Somewhere you mentioned that your previous attempt at Trio-Convulsant was an added string quartet, and I’m curious what you thought wasn’t working and why you decided to change the additional ensemble to a mixed string and wind quartet. 

TD: I wrote this whole book of music and we performed it in New York, rehearsed and performed it, and I just think once I was able to step back and look at it objectively, I just realized it wasn’t what I was going for. I think I got too microscopic about the music or something, or I just felt the approach wasn’t right. Normally if something like that, I might … Well, I’ve discarded music before, but this was like I put a lot of work into that and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the music I wrote, essentially. And then it took me a long time to figure out … I knew I wanted to write this for some kind of an expanded version of the Trio-Convulsant but it took me quite a while to figure out what that ensemble was. And then I had the idea to replace two of the strings with winds just to give myself more of a color palette. 

The initial musical inspiration for this was this Paul Desmond record called Desmond Blue, which is a record with him and Jim Hall playing guitar and a small orchestra, and there’s winds and harp and all kinds of stuff in that, and so it’s coming from that mentality, really, and I thought, “Well, I might as well treat it more that way. Instead of just string quartet, have these different colors.” 

CK: In listening to it, I got a bit lost in the soundscape each time I was going through Seànces, but did you only play upright bass on this record or was there any electric in there? 

TD: No, it’s all upright. Yeah, yeah. Aside from electric guitar, it’s all acoustic instruments. Mary’s playing several pedals. A couple people have asked me if there’s electronics on this record. Technically there is if you include her pedals. But yeah, I’m playing upright on the whole thing. That’s really my concept of Trio-Convulsant is it’s always upright bass guitar and drums. 

CK: This record is inspired by, quote, “bizarre tails of an 18th century French religious sect.” 

TD: Right. 

CK: So, what is the process of representing a non-musical concept through music? How did you start this on day one? 

TD: There’s not necessarily a direct correlation. There’s sort of a story going on in my mind about it and I’m reading several books about it, which I’ve been kind of fascinated in the subject for a while, making notes, picking out phrases and titles that I maybe could use, or concepts, and then writing the music separate from that. And then when I’m starting to look for titles and to put together a concept or put together a narrative, I guess, then I start going back to those notes of mine. But what songs end up on the record and what titles end up is kind of haphazard in a way. So there’s not really necessarily an actual narrative, but it’s just playing on concepts of this larger narrative that exists. 

CK: Did you find yourself studying some things from the books and then you would be writing music and then you would realize later, “Oh, this actually fits with this other thing” organically without realizing it? 

TD: Yeah, yeah. That would happen sometimes, or I needed a title for something. I had this list of titles that I’d acquired and I had to find the right match, and then once I found the right match, I would maybe retroactively discover, “Oh, actually musically it does make sense with this.” I’ve mentioned that before, the song Saint-Médard, which is the first single, that’s the name of the church where a lot of the stuff happened and I just felt like that song represented this French Renaissance church somehow. I mean, I can’t really explain it other than that. It’s really just a feeling. 

CK: Would it be easy for you to throw out some of the names of the books that you were studying to find this stuff? 

TD: Oh yeah. The main book is called Miracles, Convulsions, and Ecclesiastical Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century Paris, which is a mouthful. And then there’s another one that I discovered more recently called Women and Medicine in the French Enlightenment. I don’t know, I found this kind of stuff fascinating, and so I got a lot out of those two books in particular. I think there was a couple others too, but yeah, those are the main ones. 

CK: What is the musical language that is happening on this record? Do you have a creative system you’re using or do you just hear it in your head and try to capture it? 

TD: I usually start with just, yeah, hearing … Well, not necessarily hearing it in my head, but sitting down with an instrument. Sometimes if I’m supposed to be practicing bass, trying to work on technique or learn someone else’s music, a lot of times I’ll just get distracted just by improvising or I’ll come up with something and then I’ll write it down, like, “Oh, I like that, I have to remember it.” Or, I do that on guitar also and I write a lot on guitar. I’m not a great guitar player, but I do like to write for it, especially guitar parts. 

I just start messing around until I find things that I like and then I start to analyze them and pick them apart and create these cells and create my harmonic language that way. I’ll come up with something just by ear or by feel and then analyze it and formalize it, like maybe I’ll come up with a bass line that has six notes in it, then those six notes will be my core for other material, just as an example. 

CK: In one of your Q&As on your site, you mention the term “pantonal,” and I’m wondering if that applies here. Could you talk about what that concept is or what it means to you? 

TD: To me, it’s similar to jazz harmony in a way, where there are tonal centers, it’s not necessarily atonal, although sometimes I intentionally might write something that has no tonal center, like almost in a Schoenberg way, uses all 12 tones. But I definitely also like to settle on a key or create tension and release in a very traditional way, really. But then it’s also harmonically … it’s not strict in any key, so it can move around, move to different keys. So when I say pantonal, I just mean all keys are up for grabs and sometimes in the same piece. 

CK: So it sounds like you’ll pick maybe one note as your root and then you’ll just go all around that, but you’ll still give a little bit of importance to that core note that you selected, kind of thing? 

TD: Yeah, I guess so. That’s a kind of thing I don’t really overanalyze too much. If I feel like I want something to go in a different direction harmonically, I’ll just do it. A lot of these tunes on this record, actually, there’s several, at least three of them that end on these vamps, on these repeated sections, and even if they’re somewhat abstract harmony, you still have a sense of this foundation of this resting point. 

CK: The music on this record moves seamlessly between very tricky coordinated parts and other parts that sound open and chaotic. So, what would you say is the percentage of this music that was composed and notated versus improvised in the madness of the studio? 

TD: There’s a lot of written music. Basically all of the improvisations are totally open. Well, I shouldn’t say totally open. Some of them are absolutely open. The tune 1733, in fact, is the only tune where all seven of us are improvising, and that’s kind of a big pit in the middle of the piece, and that I gave very little instructions on that. I just knew I wanted a section where we were all involved, but then there’s other parts where there’s a set riff that someone is soloing over, and the improvisation itself is free but it is in a form. 

Percentage-wise, I’m not sure but I would say most of it is written, in the same way that a jazz musician might write a tune and then have soloists over it or something like that, but there are countermelodies and the forms are a little more complex than a standard jazz tune. 

CK: Do you give out any visual cues when you’re in the studio working with that many people to direct these types of things or conduct where these sections are starting, or a nod? 

TD: Yeah, there’s a little bit of visual cuing, yeah. Sometimes a section might be open for a soloist and I leave it up to them how long they want to go. So there might be a cue like, “Hey, I’m finished and this is the last go round, then we’re moving onto the next section.” Other times I might dictate it, like, “Hey, this section’s only going to be six times at this repeat and then we move on.” But sometimes I ask someone else to cue because it’s easier, like if I’m in the middle of playing or just like visually where they are physically in the room might make sense for someone else to cue it. 

CK: So how much of this was recorded together in the room with everybody? Did you have the trio and then bring in the others or was it all seven people? 

TD: It was all seven of us live, essentially, in the studio. The drums, bass and guitar were all isolated and then the quarter, the chamber quarter, was in one room together. We rehearsed a couple days and then performed all the pieces, took a few takes of each tune and then I did a little bit of editing there sometimes when I thought, “Well, the outro for this take was better the second time,” or maybe it was better the first time and so we’re going to splice those together. There was a little bit of that going on, but essentially they’re kind of live recordings. With this kind of improvisation, you kind of have to do it that way. 

CK: Did you say that you were only in the studio the few days? 

TD: Yeah. We rehearsed, I think … I sent parts out to everyone. We rehearsed a couple times, and then, yeah, we were in the studio. I think we recorded three days, seven tunes. We actually recorded another tune that I discarded. Fortunately I had a budget for this. I got a grant for this recording, so I was able to pay everyone and pay for the studio, but still, it’s limited. I would have loved to pay everyone for another day and pay for the studio another day, but I had to save some of that money for mixing and artwork and all that stuff. 

CK: I didn’t realize there was a grant involved. You don’t need to say where from specifically, but is it a government, local government, or how does that work? 

TD: No, it’s a nonprofit patron essentially, and they’re mentioned in small print on the CD itself. But they don’t really advertise their … They kind of scout you out and then … And a lot of musicians that I’ve worked with have received this grant, which is great. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to pay your band and pay for lunches during the rehearsal and all that kind of stuff. And it definitely is its motivational factor, for sure. 

CK: That’s amazing. Do you have any plans to perform this material live? 

TD: Yeah, we’re actually playing this month, next week, in fact. We’re playing in Philadelphia at the new Ars Nova venue. The record release is actually the 28th and we’re doing a show at National Sawdust in Brooklyn. The Philly show is our first … is going to be the first time playing this live, so we have a day of rehearsal. We have like a three-hour rehearsal next week and then the next day drive to Philly for the show.

CK: That’s unbelievable that you would only rehearse for three hours and be able to pull off all that material. 

TD Yeah. I mean, these are all amazing musicians and they have the music and they have the recording, so we’re all kind of doing our homework. I mean, I have to relearn my parts too and listen to the recording, make sure I know what’s going on, make sure I know how long sections go. I’ll probably do things a little different live too. I’m definitely going to open things up, let solos go on longer. That kind of makes for a more exciting live show. 

CK: I’m assuming this is going to be recorded somehow so you … or, I don’t know how it will be released, but would that stuff be captured in video or anything? 

TD: Yeah. The show at National Sawdust, the record release show, I’m also doing with my colleague, Lim Yang, who’s also a bass player, and it’s also record release for her trio, and we’re actually going to … National Sawdust has the means to capture video, so we’re going to do that. I’m not sure what my plan is with that, but I may just edit it for promotional purposes or something, but I guess we’ll see how it comes out. 

CK: That’s awesome. I want to shift gears and I want to try to understand how your musical brain works. If I were in your brain, what would it be like from the inside? What are you experiencing when you sit down to write music? 

TD: What am I experiencing? Sometimes stuff just comes out. Sometimes I’ll just be screwing around and something will come out. Other times I have to sort of book myself to sit down and write, especially being as busy as I am as a side man, sometimes I have to book myself in order to get things done and not put my own projects on the back burner. So yeah, sometimes I have to check in at the office essentially and be like, “Okay, I’m going to work on this tune today.” 

Sometimes if something’s going well, I’ll be real excited to get up in the morning and work on it. I’ll be like, “Oh man, yeah.” I got real excited to work on this piece. I had some ideas that were going somewhere. Other times it’s totally frustrating. I’m beating my head against the wall trying to decide what to do about one note. 

CK: I’m curious about your ability to audiate, like hear the music in your head. Like if you’re riding the subway or something and you get an idea for some music, are you able to audiate and pick out chord progressions in your head that are like jazz chords or do you mostly hear single melodies in your head? 

TD: It depends. I don’t necessarily hear things. Sometimes, especially if I go see live music a lot of times, and I have a feeling a lot of musicians have this experience, like if I’m going to see a live band or something, while I’m watching that band, the gears star spinning. I’m like, “Oh man.” Then you can really hear this instrumentation and be like … I start having ideas about what I would do with that ensemble or a similar ensemble or something. 

But then it’s not like I suddenly have a melody in my head. I guess sometimes that happens but a lot of times I have to sit down with an instrument to figure that out. And yeah, like I was saying, if I’m practicing bass and all of a sudden I just start noodling around, I’m like, “Oh, I like this sequence of things,” and I’ll kind of develop it, and it just starts to grow at that point. You take one little cell of an idea and just, “Where do I want it to go?” It’s not necessarily that I’m hearing it go there but it’s like I know that I want it to do something or … kind of difficult to explain, I guess. But it’s not like all the sudden I hear this septet instrumentation and all the parts together. My brain doesn’t work that way. 

CK: But are you able to hear complex harmonies, like jazz chords, in your head? Or do you mostly hear more simple ideas and single lines and riffs? 

TD: I would say it starts pretty simple, really. I might hear something that’s in a minor key or a major key or something, but as I work on it, I start to embellish it more. I don’t know that I actually … that I’m just, out of the blue, I hear stuff. Like I said, I have to be working on it in order for that to happen. One thing I like to do as a hobby is I do a lot of … I make collages. Like papercut collage with scissors and glue and all that, and sometimes I’ll cut out all the … I go through these old encyclopedias and I cut out old pictures and I find these little elements that I think will work eventually and then I’ll start putting them together, but as I’m doing that, I’m realizing, “Oh, I thought this was going to work here and it doesn’t,” but then I’ll accidentally put two other images together. Like, “Oh wow, I never thought of that. That’s amazing. I like that. That’s going to be my theme here,” or something like that. And it’s really similar with music, I think. 

CK: Yeah, and a lot of what you’ve done throughout your career is juxtaposing two things that might not … you might not have expected them to go together and it creates this new, very interesting context. 

TD: I mean, I think that I just like a lot of different kinds of music. Sometimes I listen to music that away. I’ll put on a record of French Renaissance organ music and then later feel like listening to some John Spencer Blues Explosion or, I don’t know, just random, whatever. Whatever I’m in the mood for. All that, everything I listen to is inspiring in some way and I feel like a … It’s not like I’m trying to mix and match, it’s just, I just like all that stuff. And with Trio-Convulsant, it initiated out of the concept of having a jazz trio but using rock language and using power chords and being kind of heavy with it, but also composing for it as if it’s classical music or something, like sitting down and writing forms and lines and counterlines, but then being able to also use the rock language in that setting. 

CK: Is there something that you would hope other people experience when they listen to your stuff? Is there an emotion you want to get across? You could say, “Well, it’s open to interpretation,” and things like that, but is there an intention that you set out that “I hope people feel this way when they hear it”? 

TD: I don’t know if it’s anything specific like that. I hope that people enjoy it the same way that I enjoy music. The whole reason I started playing music was because when I started hearing music for the first time, it gave me this feeling, and I think musicians, you just want to do that. You just want to create that for other people and be part of that world, that family of music makers. So, yeah, ideally yeah, I hope that people enjoy it or are confused by it or intrigued enough to give it another listen, essentially. 

CK: I wonder if that … if it’s actually possible to define what that music feeling is that you were talking about. You hear something and then you want to do it too and you want other people to feel it. What is it? 

TD: Yeah, what is that? I still have it. Sometimes when I’ve seen music that blows my mind, if I’m out at a live show and a band or a concert or whatever and something blows my mind, I’ll actually laugh out loud because it’s so amazing. Not because I think it’s funny or anything but because it’s incredible that humans are achieving this. I guess in a way it’s an … Even though I consider myself a misanthrope in a lot of ways, it’s kind of an appreciation for the good creative things that humans can do. You know, same as any art. If you go to a museum and you stare at a painting and you have this positive feeling about it, or whatever feeling, it could be disturbed or whatever emotion, yeah, it’s just humans expressing themselves and then that expression being absorbed by someone else. 

CK: In general do you feel precious about your music or are you the kind of guy that says the most important piece of music you’ve written is the next one you’re working on? 

TD: Yeah, I would probably go with the latter statement. Music kind of is omnipresent in my life. It’s what I do for a living. It’s what I do for fun. It’s one of the things I do for fun. Sometimes I listen to music in the background. Sometimes I study it. It’s there for education. It’s there for just pure pleasure. And obviously it’s in my core, and I love sitting down at a desk by myself and writing music hours on end, and so I guess maybe in that way you could … I don’t know if precious is the right word, but I definitely feel like I’m constantly learning, and there’s always more to learn and I always have appreciation for other musicians and composers. So, I don’t have any arrogance about it. I mean, I do write things that I like. As I get older, that’s kind of the art of composing, in a way, is actually liking what you like, because it’s pretty easy to write stuff that you don’t like. 

CK: Didn’t you used to have some sort of quote … Was that you that had the “the more I learn, the less I know,” something like that? 

TD: Oh, yeah, that was something on my website. It’s not original, it’s just something I read somewhere, the more you know, the less you think you know. Basically the more educated you become, the more you realize how vast everything is and how you’re never going to get it all. 

CK: It’s exactly how I felt when I got back into composition of modern classical. It was just like, “Oh man, I am in deep water. This is bottomless.” 

TD: Yeah, when I was in … I was taking composition lessons when I was in college and I remember talking to my professor about it and just being like, “Man, I’m overwhelmed,” because I was learning about Xenakis and Harry Partch and … I felt just like everything had been done. “How can I … I can’t think of one thing that hasn’t been done.” But that was in the … When I had that conversation with him, that was in the late ’80s and a lot has happened since then. And his response was, “Yeah, we have the weight of … basically the weight of the world of our shoulders and every day it’s added to.” I think the remedy for that is really just being yourself, because you can’t really duplicate that, and as long as you’re true to yourself, it’s going to be unique. 

CK: I’m curious about your thoughts on notoriety. How does it feel to be … You’re this normal guy composing jazz music in Brooklyn, and then you go on tour with one of your more known metal bands. So, how do you go about dealing with that when you go on tour? Is it a different mode you have to switch into or do you actually feel like you can just be yourself? 

TD: I can mostly be myself. I’m lucky that I chose the right instrument for my personality. Being a bass player, I’m not the front man. I’m not the lead guitarist. Fortunately the amount of notoriety I get is plenty. I don’t feel like I need more. Of course it’s always great and confirming to be appreciated and for people to compliment you and stuff like that, but I think that’s just a human need. But I’ve been around people who get a lot more notoriety and it actually doesn’t look that fun. 

CK: Right. 

TD: There’s plenty of stalkers out there. 

CK: Oh yeah, and it just makes me wonder, you can kind of be you walking down the street and then if you’re on tour somewhere and someone knows you’re playing there, you kind of can’t really be out front in the place without being mobbed, maybe. 

TD: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, there’s a degree of that. So sometimes you just have to sneak out of the venue or something, or a lot of times, it’s funny, when Fantômas was touring a lot, I would … I mean, Buzz Osborne gets recognized quite a bit too because obviously, for obvious reasons he’s unmistakable, but we used to wait until … We’d leave the venue behind Patton so that he would walk out and he’d get mobbed and then we’d just jump on the bus and we’d be free of being mobbed. 

CK: There you go. 

TD: And we’d throw him under the bus essentially as we were getting on the bus. 

CK: Nice. At this point in your life and career, how much do you seek out musical collaboration, or do you have enough of your own ideas to keep you busy forever? 

TD: I probably have enough of my own ideas but I also, just in the past year or so, I’ve been involved in two projects that are more collaborative, and I still … it’s fun to do that. It pushes you and forces you to act or compose or whatever in ways that you wouldn’t by yourself. Like if I’m sitting down here with a piece of paper and no one’s … I’m getting zero feedback from anyone about … it’s all up to me whether this is good or not, but if I’m working with someone, they might have a suggestion or they might do something that I wouldn’t have thought of, and that’s great because then you’re like, “Oh wow, now I have to problem solve a different way than I’m used to by myself.” And I think that’s really important. Sometimes the best stuff comes out of collaboration. 

CK: Do you ever see yourself being in a fully democratic, openly creative band situation again with several people? 

TD: I’m not sure. It’s not something I’ve really thought about that much. 

CK: I was going to add that when we’re younger, we form bands and we do that sort of thing, and it seems like as we get older, we start to find our own voice and then we have our own focus and do what we want to do. 

TD: Yeah, that’s exactly what happened with Mr. Bungle. We started out as kids who got together and jammed and would say, “Hey, look at this riff,” and someone else would be like, “Oh, I can do this with it,” and collaborate. And then as we got older and started forming our own ideas about how we wanted things done, individually we’d have, like, “This is how I want this to sound.” Yeah, it’s exactly what you’re saying. So that’s very true, I think, and also just composing, being a composer yourself, you know that, yeah, it’s a very isolated, lonely world, in a way, but that’s part of what’s great about it. So, I think they’re both important, but I tend to … the older I get, the more I like just writing on my own. 

CK: Was there an initial earliest inspiration for you that you can remember for making super dissonant music, like intentionally selecting notes that are outside the key? Like, “Oh, this sounds bad but it’s somehow good.” Do you have a memory of where you realized that can actually be a technique? 

TD: I don’t think I do. That’s a good … I’ve never really thought about that. Well, I guess one thing that comes to mind is I remember watching old horror movies or film noir or something like that, I’ve always been a fan of that stuff, and hearing these, what I later realize is almost like a Shostakovian kind of approach to harmony and these brooding low basslines. And so that stuff always appealed to me. To this day Shostakovich is one of my favorite composers and he writes what I would call wrong note jazz in a way. It’s like these sort of … if you analyze it, okay, you can see this harmonic movement, but then there’s these other notes that, like, “Wow, what the hell is going on there?” Yeah, I don’t know, that always just appealed to me and I like that sound. I kind of feel like if you have a minor triad in the left hand, why play one of those three notes in the right hand? Why not play something that’s not in that chord? They can work together or against each other, and I just like that sound. 

I do have formal training in music to a degree but also some of the first stuff I started … when I started messing around on a piano, I had no idea what I was doing, or when I first started learning about jazz harmony and just experimenting with doing things, instead of trying to recreate something that already existed, just, “Hey, what if this happens? I’ve never heard this before. What if I do that?” 

CK: I definitely have questions to ask you about this wrong note jazz stuff. When I hear your music, I tend to think of 20th century classical or modern classical because that’s what I’m more familiar with, but you tend to work under the label of jazz or maybe modern jazz, and in your mind, are those two things distinct in any way? Like modern classical versus modern jazz? 

TD: I think they’re less distinct than they used to be. It’s funny, I got asked … I did an interview recently where one of the questions was, “Are we okay with the terms jazz and metal?” And they’re kind of outdated terms, really. There are so many subgenres and there’s so many variations on those very general terms, so sometimes I use the terms jazz and rock just as a blanket term because it’s easier to talk about. I don’t know what my music’s called. It’s not jazz but part of it is coming from there and part of it’s coming from 20th century contemporary music and part of it’s coming from rock, and all that is stuff that I listen to that gets filtered through me. 

CK: So you don’t think that there are any sort of idiomatic things that you might do to make a piece sound more modern jazz versus modern classical or anything like that? Like if you were scoring a film and the director was like, “Hey, can you make it more modern jazz?” is that something that exists in your head? 

TD: I guess so. There’s sometimes when I might feel like I want to write something that is a swing feel or a walking bassline or something, so if that’s what I feel like the music calls for. Other times I might come up with a bassline that’s super angular and based on intervals and then I might try doing a retrograde or flipping it around or all kinds of variations on it, but it really just depends on … I feel like everything is at my disposal as a composer. Everything is at everyone’s disposal all the time, really. I’m not special in that regard, but … 

CK: Yeah, you didn’t mean to seem like you’re bragging or something, I think is what you mean, but yeah, there are so many tools. Once you go up through music school, you learn all of these different things. You’re like, “Oh, I can do this, I can do that.” It kind of blows your mind open. 

TD: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. If I have students, I’ll be like, “Pick out something that you like and analyze it and figure out what it is you like about that,” and you can do that with anything, and mix those concepts together. I remember in high school I was playing in the stage band or whatever and we would play these pieces by Vincent Persichetti who wrote a lot for … He was a 20th century composer but wrote stuff, like band music for high school and college level musicians and that was one of the first things I heard. That might have been one of my first memories being like, “Wow, this is really cool, the way he’s using harmony.” 

I remember there was this four-note bass riff, for lack of a better term, and I totally stole it and used it in Mr. Bungle. I’m like, “That would be cool with power chords.” It’s like, “Why not? Why can’t those cross genres?” It’s all music, it’s all notes and rhythms. 

CK: This leads into my next question perfectly. You mention in an interview with Conan Neutron that you and Trey Spruance were studying Stravinsky together in a high school music class. Is that right? 

TD: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I met Trey in a music theory class in high school, which is hard to believe that even existed, but yeah, we were lucky. 

CK: Yeah, so you said in that interview that you guys were thinking, “Well, how can we incorporate these ideas into metal?” And I was wondering, what were the sorts of ideas and specifics? Was it rhythmic or harmonic that you were taking away from that class? And I think it was related to Stravinsky, you were talking about that. Was there something specific you learned from studying Stravinsky? 

TD: I think it was … Trey was the first person who turned me on to The Rite of Spring and we’d listen to metal and we’d also listen to that, and also his father was into classical music, and I remember we really got into Poulenc’s Organ Concerto and we used to listen to that a lot. I think it was … yeah, it was everything. It was just learning these ideas that sounded cool, and how can we incorporate this into the instruments that we were playing? Into electric bass and electric guitar and while we’re in a band, what can we do? 

CK: So it sounds like maybe it was more harmonic? 

TD: Yeah, yeah, I guess so, yeah, yeah. There were rhythmic ideas too. Mr. Bungle was always … I always felt like, especially with me and Trey, it was always … it was a compositional tool, that band. It wasn’t just like, “Hey, let’s play a rock tune,” to be like, “Hey, here’s this guitar part and now I’m going to vary it and twist it around and try and get as much mileage out of these notes.” We both did that quite a bit. 

CK: I wanted to ask you about two older songs that you composed, and if you could pretend I’m your composition or music theory student, if you could tell me how you might explain parts of them. 

TD: Okay. 

CK: The first of them is Rats with Wings. The chorus melody, I’ve got a bunch of notes written down here about this, so let me just spew them out and you can tell me if I’ve got this right or what you think. The chorus melody fits perfectly over a 1-6-4-5 Earth Angel in E flat major, and so the melody would be like a super consonant and tonal and pretty, but instead, it seems like maybe you reharmonized it with these four chords, E flat major, C major 7, and then this mystery tritone stack with A and an open E string and then a B flat Lydian type of chord. And you ended up with this clashing, dissonant thing, and the melody over the C major 7 ends up making this 11th. So, I know that’s a bunch of data, but how do you arrive at something like that? Did you write the nice consonant melody first and then reharmonize it? Or how would you explain it to a student? 

TD: I believe that most of that record and I’m sure that song was … it started with a guitar part. I was writing a lot on the guitar so I probably would have … I don’t know if I can totally recall how I wrote that, but I’m pretty sure I wrote the guitar part and then … and I wrote all these melodies to be sung, and so sometimes I would compose a melody. I’d sit down and figure out what I was doing. Other times I might just try to sing something over it and see what comes out of there or maybe do a combination of both. Like maybe I’d sing something and be like, “That’s too consonant. What if I go up a note or something?” But I’m pretty sure that that melody was written after the chord progression. 

CK: Total opposite of what I thought. 

TD: Yeah, and I guess the fact that the melody comes out being this consonant thing is … I mean, I’m trying to … I want it to be singable and kind of catchy but I’m still messing around with weird harmonies. That’s my favorite stuff, really. 

CK: Oh yeah. 

TD: Catchy and weird. 

CK: Oh yeah. That MadLove record is full of that stuff, and you’ve got vocal melodies that are so strongly rubbing against a half step off from where the chord tone would be, and it’s like, “Oh man, how did you ever think to do that?” And I hear some of that stuff in Mr. Bungle as well. So, was there a genesis of doing that sort of thing for you? Did you like, “Oh, I heard this other composer do that specific thing,” and you started doing it? Because it seems to be one of your trademarks. 

TD: Yeah. I’m not sure where that specifically came from. It came from learning about jazz harmony and analyzing … I mean, jazz chords are weird. There’s all kinds of dissonance going on, but it’s also been formalized in a way that … and even, I think, there’s still a lot of modern jazz that’s adventurous. It’s rhythmically adventurous and it’s harmonically adventurous, but also, I feel like people in general still … not everyone, but, I don’t know, I feel like I still hear a lot of music where they could go further with that rub, and, I don’t know, I like that kind of friction. 

I remember one of the first compositions I wrote on piano had a … It’s actually a song that’s on the very first Trio-Convulsant record. There’s an augmented triad in the melody is the natural 5th, and I just love the sound of those four notes together. Honestly, I don’t know if I can trace that language back other than just liking it and hearing … listening to jazz and then studying traditional harmony and then 20th century harmony and just learning about all that stuff. And I guess just liking it, really. 

CK: There may have been an exact example of that chord you were talking about also maybe in Retrovertigo where Patton songs the words “time machine,” I think, and it lands on this note that is just clashing totally with the chord underneath it. I think it’s an augmented chord, like an E or a C augmented, and he lands on just a non-chord tone. Was that written out specifically by you? Was that like, “That’s the note”? 

TD: Yeah, yeah, it was. Yeah, that melody was totally composed. You know, it’s funny, I remember once, speaking of Patton, I remember we were working on the song Platypus and I remember having this harmonic progression or something and sometimes I would give him lyrics and a chord progression and be like, “Hey, you come up with a melody on this,” and I remember him singing this note and I said, “Oh, you can’t sing that note, it’s not in the chord,” and then he’s like, “Why not?” And just him saying that was like, “Oh, you’re right.” That’s right when I was getting into learning about harmony and it’s like trying to do traditional things but then his question was just like, “Yeah, you’re right, why not? Who are we answering to here?” 

CK: That’s really good. The other example I wanted to ask about is the super quiet, six-bar bridge section with the glockenspiel, I think, in Retrovertigo, that quiet breakdown. I think you’ve got a D minor and I think you could consider it an E augmented, but the glockenspiel, if that is a glockenspiel, I think it is-

TD: Yeah, I think so, yeah. 

CK: … it’s playing these parallel major 7 leaps, and I worked out what the notes are to see if they fit over the chords, and some of them do. It makes perfect sense, but then the top notes don’t, but the bottom notes somewhat fit over it. Do you remember coming up with that part or what were you thinking there? 

TD: I kind of do. It was written on guitar and that range, it’s a very easy interval to play on guitar. 

CK: Yes. 

TD: And I think I just was screwing around with that chord progression and I just stuck with that shape on guitar. I wasn’t even thinking about what the interval was but I just liked the way it sounded moving this parallel interval around. And then later I think I … like afterwards I thought, “Oh wow, those are all major 7s.” I just wrote it by ear. I don’t think I was conscious of what the harmony was or how it was fitting. I just liked the way it sounded. And also having this kind of … not only was it parallel intervals but it’s almost like two separate entities. You’ve got this pretty easy two-chord progression and then this other thing on top that’s kind of moving around in another dimension, in a way. 

Yeah, again, that’s just something that I just liked the way it sounded. It’s possible if I would have noticed right away that, “Oh, these are all parallel major 7s and it doesn’t really fit,” I might have tried to rewrite it or something, but I didn’t do that. I guess it was pretty intuitive. 

CK: Was it pretty quickly that you just threw that down? Like here’s what it’s going to be and then you just moved on, you thought, “Oh, it sounds nice”? 

TD: Yeah, I think so, yeah, yeah, yeah. That whole song, actually, for some reason came out really fast, and I just found that it’s really good sometimes to not overthink and overanalyze, because sometimes the initial idea you just write it, move on, keep going and then go back and you can make adjustments if you need to, but sometimes it’s good to just get all that stuff out really fast. 

CK: I don’t know how to pronounce this song but is it Phlegmatics? 

TD: Yeah, I believe the correct pronunciation is Phlegmatics, yeah. 

CK: That vocal and lead guitar melody seem to use all of the chromatic notes. I don’t think it’s serialism because it repeats several notes, but was there a predetermined order to that melody or how did you come up with that? 

TD: Yeah, it’s actually a 12-tone row and it does it twice. So it does it once and then it … I forget what it does. I think there’s some octave displacement or something the second time around, but my goal with that tune was to write a rock song based on a 12-tone row. And it’s not super strict, but even the initial chord … like the organ and guitar chords and the last section of the song with the distorted bass and clarinets, that’s all based on the same row, actually. 

CK: Oh, okay, because I was looking at it and I do notice some things repeat and then it seems like some parts change. You’ve got G sharp, F, E, G. So, I don’t know. I was just curious. So that’s interesting that it actually is intentionally a tone row. I never knew that. 

TD: Yeah, and like I said, it’s not super strict. I’m sure I break the rules here and there. 

CK: I’ll throw in this question from one of my podcast listeners named Brad Hebert, and he asks, “Could Trevor share any info regarding his contribution to the new Ahleuchatistas album?” 

TD: Ahleuchatistas, yeah, yeah. It’s funny, I just … right before our conversation, I was packaging up the CD to mail off. I started my own little DIY label during the pandemic and Shane Parish is this guitar player … he’s currently living in Athens, Georgia but he’s … I’m not exactly sure where he’s originally from. He used to live in Asheville, but anyway, great guitar player. He’s had this band, Ahleuchatistas, for quite some time. I think this is actually the ninth Ahleuchatistas record. He wrote all this music and called me up and said, “Hey, do you want to come up with some bass stuff for this?” And I said sure. 

He sent me all these written guitar tracks that he’d recorded and I just recorded at home. That was another thing that I … He sent some scores, some notation to help me along because it’s pretty complicated stuff, and some of it I looked at the page and tried to figure out what to do. Other stuff I just kind of did by ear. Some of it he sent me with the drummer, Danny Piechocki is playing on it, and some of the tracks he sent had drums on it, some were just guitar and then he had the drummer record to the bass and guitar part, so there’s a couple … we’d go both ways on the record. 

But yeah, that’s a pretty collaborative thing. That’s one of the things I was talking about earlier when I said I’ve been doing a few collaborative things recently. That’s one of them. Shane decided that we should all share the writing credits for that because we all wrote our own parts. 

CK: Can I throw two more questions at you and then we’ll wrap up? 

TD: Sure, sure. 

CK: Back on Retrovertigo, your hit, can you tell me in general about the subject of that song and what it means to you? 

TD: I guess when I wrote that song I was living in San Francisco in the late ’90s and there was this kind of … a lot of people were … it became this fad to be into ’40s big band music and dance, this kind of … what do you call it? There were also a lot of vintage shops and I just remember being annoyed that vintage t-shirts cost so much, and then also being a little bit I guess disgusted, maybe, is the right word, by this sort of … what’s the word? Like retrogression, really. So the vertigo part was kind of my own nausea about this trend, and that was the initial spark for it, I’d say. 

But then also the other thing about that is that I talk about famine a little bit in those lyrics, and the idea is like, man, if you want to be retro, famine’s been around for a long time. Why isn’t that a trend? Pretty sardonic. Basically while you’re being fashionable and looking back at this golden era, people are actually still starving to death, so there’s definitely the subject matter of this disparity between economic groups essentially. 

CK: Awesome, and then last question is, can you give us an update on your singer-songwriter album, which I am super looking forward to someday? 

TD: Yeah. Cool, yeah. I’m working on it. It’s been slow going. It’s been years actually but I’m trying to get it finished. I thought I was maybe going to finish it this year. It’s probably going to be next year, but I just work on it when I can. I’m starting to hire some other people to add stuff to it. I use the term singer-songwriter loosely. It’s not just me and acoustic guitar, although I may end up having one song that is just that. But yeah, I’m singing on everything, I’m harmonizing, playing a lot of different instruments. Every song is different instrumentation. It’s definitely sort of in the MadLove vein of writing but more … not like a rock band, it’s more a little bit orchestral, I guess, and simpler in a way, but still it’s got those wrong notes in it, for sure. 

CK: Oh, thank you. Yes. What stage is it in? Do you have tracks recorded for it or are you demoing it? 

TD: No, I’m kind of writing and recording as I go along. I work in Logic and I would say I’ve probably got five or six songs that are pretty close to being totally finished. I’ve probably got another 10 minutes of music to write before I feel like it’s complete, and then I want to get together with some people and have them help me mix it just so I can get another set of ears in there, another perspective, because I’m not an engineer, but I do feel like I learned how to get better with recording over the years and am pretty happy with it so far, but I do feel like I definitely want to have someone help me make sure that I’m not making horrible mistakes mix-wise, essentially. But also, performance-wise, I’ve been getting some feedback about it. It’s a big step for me. I mean, I sang lead on one song on the MadLove record, but this is like I’m singing everything, so I feel pretty vulnerable. 

CK: Well that is awesome and I’m really looking forward to that. 

TD: Cool. 

CK: I want to thank you for taking the time to talk some shop and get into the theory stuff. I love that stuff. And I wish you the best on the release of this album and I look forward to hearing what you do next. 

TD: Thank you. Thanks so much. Really appreciate the support. 


OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Podcast. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple Music, or anywhere else you listen to these dang podcasts. And support the creation of more episodes by joining my Patreon for $1 or $5 a month. That’s Patreon Dot Com Slash Carl King. Or send a tip through PayPal or Venmo to username CarlKingdom.

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