Under normal circumstances, you'd have to describe Mr. Bungle's chances of landing a major label deal as . . . a long shot.
The obscure band from Northern California opens its shows with the theme to "Welcome Back, Kotter" (they do it twice--first in English, then in Spanish), has a horn player dressed as a carrot and performs oddball music one critic has described as "Bugs Bunny-type jazz."
But Mr. Bungle has a secret weapon. The band's lead singer is Mike Patton.
Yes, the same Mike Patton who's the lead singer of Faith No More, perhaps rock's hottest young group. Their recent Warner/Slash album has sold more than 1.5 million copies.
Now Patton has a double shot at success. With Mr. Bungle about to sign a deal with Warner/Reprise Records, he has the rare distinction of being the lead singer of two completely separate bands--which both plan to make albums and tour with him as their front man.
"When I first heard about all this, I thought, 'Geez, this is really crazy,' " says Bob Biggs, head of Slash Records, a Warner subsidiary label. "I mean, Mike is going to be one really tired guy. But the two bands are very different, so I think it could be a healthy outlet for him in the long run."
As it turns out, Patton has played alongside members of Mr. Bungle since his high school days near Eureka. Even when he joined Faith No More nearly two years ago, replacing the band's original singer, he had an understanding with the group that he would continue his association with Mr. Bungle, which fuses funk, parodies and performance art.
"We felt--why stifle his passion for that band, because if you try to stifle things, they just explode," explains Warren Entner, who manages Faith No More and serves as a consultant for Mr. Bungle. "It is an unusual situation--and Mike is biting off a lot by doing two separate projects at the same time. But he's totally committed to Faith No More."
Still, you have to wonder how his Faith No More bandmates feel about their lead singer moonlighting with a second group. "Some of the guys--and myself--wonder how Mike could do it all," Entner says. "But Mike has agreed to work with Mr. Bungle around the holes in Faith No More's schedule."
As you can imagine, Warner Bros. and Slash Records are justifiably concerned. Would Patton's involvement with Mr. Bungle expend time and energy otherwise devoted to Faith No More? Would a Mr. Bungle album confuse Faith No More fans--or siphon sales away from the band's next album at a time when the budding superstars are just getting mainstream recognition?
Early reports stated that Slash was so displeased with Patton's moonlighting that a lawsuit was pending. Not so, says Slash's Biggs. "No one ever told Mike not to do this. We only tried to slow down the process until we got over the hump with the Faith No More album."
While there was considerable interest in Mr. Bungle by rival record companies (a ton of A&R; execs were on hand for the band's recent Club Lingerie date), Biggs insists that the group could not have signed with a label outside the Warners family. At least, not with Patton on board. "Mike's deal (as a member of Faith No More) is very clear," says Biggs. "He couldn't make a record elsewhere without our permission."
Still, Warners and Slash will have their hands full coordinating the two groups' schedules. They call for a Mr. Bungle album release in April or May, with Faith No More entering the studio in mid-April to record an album which could be out early this fall. Mr. Bungle may plan dates this summer scheduled between Faith No More recording sessions.
"I think everyone wanted Mike to realize that this is an unusual juncture in a band's career--just when Faith No More is establishing its overall identity--for the lead singer to commit himself to another group," Entner says. "But if Mr. Bungle can establish its identity while Mike stays committed to Faith No More, we're hopeful it will all work out."