Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Some Sung Heroes: Trey Spruance

This one’s been a long time coming. Hell, look back through the posts and you’ll see lots of mention of Trey Spruance and the Secret Chiefs 3. My love for Trey and that band knows no bounds. I’ll say this now and ready myself for attack (though it’ll never come, partially as I don’t think anyone cares): Trey Spruance is the example of a complete musician, one of the few working today who can boast versatility, vision, and execution all on a level above the rest of the foaming herd.

Take a second and consider what it means to be a musician. Okay, you may say it’s the ability to play an instrument. Sure, but I can half-ass my way through some Led Zeppelin songs on the six string, but I am not a musician—not by a long stretch. Was Sid Vicious a musician? Are Tibetan chanters musicians? Were the first cavemen to beat two rocks together rhythmically musicians? Yes to all of these but there’s more to being a complete musician than playing an instrument with a modicum of skill. Composition is equally important, as is arrangement, and, most overlooked, production (and Spruance is one of the most overlooked producers working today). On every one of these levels, Spruance shines. His playing is fantastic (proven by all three Mr. Bungle records alone). More interesting is his statement that he has lost interest in the guitar. To Spruance it is another tool of execution, not the fetishistic instrument elevated to supreme status by classic rockers and aging metal heads. Equally as comfortable on the keys, the trumpet, and any number of “exotic” stringed instruments, Spruance’s vision would be sadly limited were he to solely fixate on the guitar. He is a multi-instrumentalist and, as such, sees a spectrum where others see static.

So yeah, the guy can play, but so what? Yngwie Malmsteen could play like a motherfucker but he couldn’t write a song to save his life. Spruance’s compositions exceed most others’ expectations of what it means to make music. Sure, Mr. Bungle was silly at times, and though they matured over the course of three records, there was always room for their favorite themes, mostly suicide and twisted sex. The personalities of the band contributed to (and competed with) the mix, and as such Patton’s vocal stylings and Dunn’s technical expressions mixed and, sometimes, butted heads with Spruance’s aesthetic. This made for some goddamn great music! Still, the band was a band in the true sense, meaning it was a collective. Without full contribution from the core, and flawless playing from the whole, the band would not be. And yeah, that happened, sadly after only three fucking records. As pissed as I was that my heroes were splitting up, it freed up time for the Secret Chiefs 3, Spruance’s baby. This is the band that, for my money, should take over the world.

Okay, the first thing people notice is the Middle Eastern vibe. That and the surf influence. So the usual description of the increasingly difficult to describe music is “Like Morricone meets Dick Dale in an Indian hookah house!” or some such bullshit. Okay, I get it. We only know how to digest by comparison, but still, if only we could lay off the X meets Y shit for a bit and really dig into what the dude is up to up in those California mountains where he has retreated from the “scene” to focus on making some meticulously crafted music, maybe we might get somewhere far away from Katy Perry and closer to something beautiful. Or maybe let’s just chart the progression of the band from a Bungle side project to their first release full of slapped together improv and otherwise scattershot recordings, to the second CD where the vision became clear, to the third, Book M, where the whole thing really started to ferment, to the soundtrack for an imaginary horror film, to Book of Horizons, the mammoth undertaking that introduced to the world the truth, that this was not a band but seven bands working under the banner “Secret Chiefs 3,” each reflecting a particular mode of Spruance’s muse. On that record one will find more than sitars and reimaginings of Italian movie soundtracks; they will find blistering death metal, quiet, pensive laments, and yes, a surf song rearranged to a massive degree. Oh wait, here I go trying to put the music into words when the music will do. Just check this out.

Okay, so much more I could say, but maybe you ought to look for yourself.