From the ashes of the legendary Mr Bungle have arisen many a great band, the best-known of which are Secret Chiefs 3 and Mike Patton’s countless and varied projects. Saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Clinton “Bär” McKinnon has been a little more “under-the-rader” since leaving Secret Chiefs behind and moving to Melbourne, Australia some years back, but he’s returned with a vengeance with his new outfit, Umlaut. Self-professed Bungle fanatic Michael Bowser pries further for details, and is in the process elated to hear that he can eagerly anticipate a Mr Bungle reunion as soon as the year 2020 (assuming the world doesn’t end beforehand in 2012, of course)…
Well let’s see…
*”There’s success in learning.” For instance: Do not aim gigantic road cases at flimsy hire-van windows!
*Sometimes, a bearded sound-man’s trouble-shooting repertoire might extend only to stroking his beard!
*Dancing to John Farnham sing-a-longs at packed Hobart nightclubs can be somewhat hindered by the appallingly sticky floors!
*Always ask for a feedback sheet!
*Always carry a VHS copy of the 1987 film “Crackdown”!
So what’s the origin of your nickname, “Bär”? (Correctly pronounced “Bear”, I understand?)
Well, first of all, I like ponies, although I don’t ride them! It’s a childhood nickname given to me by my older sisters, a shortened version of “Barshen”, which in German means “little bear”.
Who/what would you cite as some of your main influences? What are some of the other Umlaut members’ influences that they bring to the table…any that you may not have otherwise brought into play? How does the song-writing process work within the band?
Animal Collective, Piccioni, Morricone, Ween, Aphex Twin, Jennifer Gentle, Killing Joke, Squarepusher, Blood Brothers, Cleric, Cocteau Twins, Magnetic Fields, Talking Heads, Dillinger Escape Plan, Jean Lizza…
The other guys bring Zappa, any Italian film composer from the 60s and 70s, Les Baxter, Steely Dan, etc…
Song process.,.? I build the house. The dudes are the interior designers.
I’m assuming the name Umlaut came about because you have one in your nickname, haha. (And before anyone mistakens me as “learned”, yeah, I had to look it up!) Was it yourself or someone else who suggested the name?
Dan Toner from Wodonga gave us the idea, based upon my spelling of Bär.
How did Umlaut come about as a band? That is to say, did you deliberately set out to find members for a new outfit, or was it a more “natural” process of meeting people who said they wanted to play with you, or..?
The band was initially organised by Mark Turner, who sought me out in Melbourne and knew these great players for me to utilize. No auditions, just recommendations and trial-and-error.
Apart from yourself being a multi-instrumentalist, you also have a band which plays a wide array of instruments. All up, how many instruments do you guys have to take on tour, and is this a logistical nightmare?!
Five keyboards, guitar, bass, drums. Yes…logistically problematic, but workable finally.
You have a track called “Kitty Puppy”. I may be way off the mark here, but being someone who got into Weekly World News as a kid I have to ask: Is that where the track’s title came from, or..?
No. It’s a misspelling of my kids’ soft toy which is actually named “Kiddy Puppy”. It was not meant to be a reference to anything, or to the show “CatDog”. Just thought it sounded funny.
You’ve played on some Secret Chiefs 3 albums, and Mike Patton contributed vocals to one of the tracks on your 2009 album. I know it’s a question you’re probably sick to death of, but a Mr Bungle reunion…EVER gonna happen? Also, do you keep in touch with/collaborate in any way with Danny Heifetz, now that he lives in Sydney?
Yes. Only after enough time has passed that we have become so senile that the memories of petty resentments and grudges have faded. We’re looking at 2020. Just saw Danny today in Sydney, and hope to somehow include him in future recordings.
A final question, one which we always ask here at Music Vice: Other than music, are there any current vices you would like to share with us?
Caffeine, “V” energy drinks, beans and avocado on toast, and hypodermic applications of marijuana in pathetically moderate amounts.
© Michael Bowser, Music Vice
Umlaut have just completed an Australian tour, and are now set to return to the studio to lay down some new tracks for an EP to be released later in the year.