Multi-talented Desmond Shea started engineering at the age of 16 as a sidebar to playing in bands, and has made a career of it ever since. His recording credits include Mr. Bungle, Fantomas and Imperial Teen. He's been known to call his mainly-analog, Mission-district studio "the National Curiosity Company". Desmond became Faith. No More’s 7th guitarist at the age of 15.
Billy, Mike and Roddy were good friends and a phenomenal influence to me as a young musician, songwriter and engineer. Curiously and hilariously (to me now), you must understand, I was fifteen to seventeen years old at the time of our collaborations. My god, they were antediluvian mortals at twenty one years of age --- they could legally buy beer!
On many occasions, and as a result of a shared rehearsal space with Frightwig, Glorious Din and Trial (my band at the time) and others forgotten now, we would accompany one another, and occasionally perform gigs together. Roddy was an occasional collaborator as keyboardist in Trial, perfectly adept to arrive without rehearsal, Oberheim matrix 12 in hand, ready to provide an ethereal if not oozing and organic addition to our minimalist post punk throb. Mike Bordin was also a frequent member of my other band Rhythm & Noise, providing a most cohesive and coherent "rhythm" to our "noise".
I believe most of the set would have been instrumental at the time. There was discussion of some guy from LA. in the band "Haircuts That Kill" to audition as a vocalist (Chuck Mosley).The ongoing instrumental, somewhat experimental period is what I recall, though I did play one gig with Chuck in the band --- though his approach was not as 'refined' as it would become: there were no real choruses to the songs yet. I think he may have been living in Los Angeles, or perhaps not present at rehearsals much at that time. I played Mark Bowen's Gibson Thunderbird guitar at a rehearsal once... (the nicest guitar I ever played, or so I thought... I have been looking for one ever since! ) --- but I think he was in another band at the time.
My brief time with the band was when Chuck very new, post Courtney. She was certainly out of performing with the band before I came along, though still dating Roddy, so somewhat of a peripheral character. When I say "character" it’s as if she were some kind of brain sick, unhinged victorian princess misfit, transplanted to 80's San Francisco to compete with the most hideous and outrageous drag queens. Courtney was difficult, obsessive and weird even then, I knew her a few years later in NYC and made the unbelievably stupid mistake of subletting my apartment on delancy street to her. I was never paid, and the place got trashed. Surprise!
My enduring memory would be excessively long and unrelenting versions of songs that they would play during rehearsal to allow me to get a "feel" for it. I'm forever grateful for this experience, as it taught me to listen, and to understand the genuine purpose of my role and musicianship as it were to become. I had played in a number of shitty bands before, and certainly after --- I was such a naive juvenile!
Of elemental issue is that they treated me with respect despite our difference in age and maturity, and they tolerated my naive musical experimentation within the context of what they were doing. I was furiously precocious and took myself rather seriously, and exposure to their absurd irreverence, and consummate musicianship was to elucidate me. This was a time of great inspiration and cross pollination musically and culturally in San Francisco.
Mike and Billy as a rhythm section and as composers were in a word: unimaginable. Billy's conceptual reinvention of the role of a bassist: both percussive and harmonic, and rhythmically contrapuntal was fascinating. They were a dynamic machine like system, and I had never heard anything like them. Incorporating minimal, industrial and dub elements into what might be called "new metal" or "rap rock" or "alternative metal" ten plus years later...
I was in an inquisitive awe in rehearsals and in the few performances I did with them as a guitarist. Billy would compose with a cassette 4- track playing all the parts, demonstrating his unique bass and drum stylus, often to the amazement of Mike, who would shake his head in reverence and acknowledgement of Billy's inventive construct, then ultimately provide his own crushing impression of the composition! Early demos done with Matt Wallace demonstrated considerable polish and an obvious commercial potential. I recall the combination of desperate awe and envy... "how did you get those fucking SOUNDS?" Billy was playing all the guitar on these demos, and it was clear: once these ideas had galvanised in the studio, with no shortage of imagination... well, the rest is history... or so it is said.
Of many worthwhile experiences I recall was in rehearsal, finally having the epiphany of coalescing musically to the point of meditation ---an actual zen like experience: where instruments would seemingly mechanise --- their characters shifted. I would attempt to apply this standard or par to experiences later in composition or production.
Stage outfits and gags of the time included dresses for the guys --- and overpowering frankincense at gigs was the regular... I smoked opium for the first time at the Mabuhay Gardens before a show with them, and the details are rather dim, but song titles I remember from the era: "Arabian Disco", "Why Do You Bother" " The Jungle" and of course who could forget "The Gay Song".
My role in both Fantomas, and Mr. Bungle was that of studio engineer. Working with Mike Patton and Danny Hefitetz was always an accelerated if not herculean task. I suppose you could liken the experience to chasing lunatics around a studio with a microphone in hopes of capturing everything! My old studio, Division HI-FI was used for both: Mr. Bungle's "California", and Fantomas "The Directors Cut" though essentially in an over-dub capacity. I recall a distressed and confused french horn player, who happened to be a SF Symphony primary, simply not being able to grasp the concept of his direction. Finally in exasperation, a comically improvised, and mangled measure was performed much to the pleasure of Mr. Patton! Of many outrageous musical achievements, and of note certainly: these records were entirley analog, and did not contain digital edits or the phony baloney so commonplace in todays recording efforts. During this period I also recorded Roddy's band Imperial Teen.
The last time I saw them all together was at a record release and listening party that I organised on the behalf of "The real thing" at the old Rough Trade location on Haight st. in San Francisco, when I worked for the label in '89.
|Trial - Inborn System (1984)||Rhythm & Noise - Scismatic (1985)|