The In-Betweeners – Dean Menta

Did you ever see a band tour with a new member only to see that person be replaced before heading back to the studio for a new album? I’ll call these types of musicians ‘in-betweeners’, if only to give their distinction more of a cute title. It’s an occurrence that’s not all that rare. In a genre like jazz, frequent collaborations see musicians playing a small set of shows with a unique lineup with nothing in terms of an official recording (studio or live) coming out of the experience. There isn’t as much of this with rock music, but maintaining a cohesive band unit is nonetheless still a difficult balancing act. Lineup stability is an often appreciated aspect of rock or pop music in terms of being able to maintain a fan base (with exceptions). It may also represent to some a united band with a united vision no matter how democratic the songwriting or other band decisions are handled. It’s an ideal that a small minority of those in the industry can achieve. In the real world, issues naturally arise, relationships break down, and before you know it, you have a vacancy in a group that was thought to be permanently filled months prior.

The first ‘in-betweener’ in this series deals with Faith No More, a band loosely branded as alternative rock/metal but their penchant for genre-blending can make them hard to classify.

 

 

Faith No More’s music is never far from my mind, so I can’t help but think about their guitarist situation in the mid-90s. Even if you owned all of their studio albums, you may not recognize that goateed gentleman behind keyboardist Roddy Bottum in the above photo. On the other hand, you may have seen some live footage with him in it, you may have seen him in the music videos for “Digging The Grave”, “Evidence”, or “Ricochet”, or you may have seen a promotional photo like this and wondered (like me) who the heck this guy was, but Dean Menta’s time in Faith No More coincided with a period of turbulence in the band’s history certainly worthy of your independent exploration. As for Menta in particular, let’s look at what lead to him joining this Los Angeles-based quintet.

I’ll fast-forward through their band’s formative Faith No Man years and begin by pointing to their first stable guitar player after re-branding as Faith No More was Jim Martin (though one of his predecessors, Mark Bowen, made enough of an impression to be immortalized in a song). Jim Martin is the hippy/biker-looking character with the shades that you probably recognize from their breakthrough and peak years of popularity, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did a double-take when noticing his absence in the shared picture. He joined the group in 1985 shortly before beginning work on their debut album We Care A Lot, and his time in the band ran out in late-1993 after being infamously sacked via fax machine. As vocalist Mike Patton’s role in the band expanded, Martin’s contributions were minimizing by the time their 1992 magnum opus Angel Dust. The gist of it seems to be that Martin basically was unfulfilled creatively and lost enthusiasm, so a split was a slow-burning inevitability. He was also dealing with the death of his father around this time.

When entering the studio to record their fifth studio album, it seemed Faith No More had their replacement with Patton’s Mr. Bungle buddy in Trey Spruance (the man in the centre of this rare photo of the short-lived lineup). He recorded the guitar on King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime, but did not commit to join the group due to (according to him) uncertainties he had over contract negotiations with management. The official reason given from the Faith No More camp was due to Spruance’s reluctance to touring. Being a fan of his work with Secret Chiefs 3, I wonder what a second Faith No More album with Trey Spruance would have been like, but life goes on.

That brings us to Dean Menta, who was asked to join the day Trey quit.

 

 

Looking into his pre-Faith No More music career, his first emergence as a recording artist on a studio album was on DUH’s The Unholy Handjob. DUH was conceived to be a one-off studio project with their album Blowhard. Their lineup is drastically different on the follow-up album that Menta played on, but Jello Biafra’s label Alternative Tentacles thought it would be amusing to market this new ensemble as DUH considering that DUH’s former label Boner Records had released an album titled Jello Biafra with Plainfield that did not actually feature the ex-Dead Kennedys vocalist. Outside of DUH, Menta contributed music to the video game Loadstar: The Legend of Tully Bodine. Click here for some gameplay footage featuring the music, and you’ll see him in the credits listed in conjunction with Neuromantic Productions. He apparently did other game scores, but that’s all I have found prior to his time with Faith No More.

He was no stranger to the group prior to joining. Having been a keyboard tech for Roddy Bottum during the Angel Dust era, the band already had great personal chemistry with him. Menta joined the band as guitarist for their KFADsupporting tour. Despite playing to smaller audiences than they had become accustomed to (some North American shows were around half-capacity and a portion of American and UK dates were outright cancelled), Dean Menta seemed to be fitting in nicely from what I can tell and the band appeared in better spirits than they had been a few years earlier. He seemed just as much of a goof-ball as them, not taking himself too seriously, and things appeared to be looking good for his long-term prospects. He was often referred to as the new guy and not simply as a fill-in, and among the previously discussed Faith No More media of the time, I also noticed that Menta appeared in a glowing write-up in my official guitar tabulature book for KFAD, so it seems that his role in the band may have been intended to be permanent.

However, you’ll notice that their following album, Album of the Year, does not feature Menta. There was talk of former Kyuss guitarist and future Queens of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme joining before the role ultimately went to Jon Hudson, once a guitarist with Systems Collapse and a former housemate of bassist Billy Gould. It’s another enjoyable album, I must say, but what happened with Dean?

I can’t go as far as saying he never was heard on any studio tracks with the band. While he missed meaningfully participating in sessions for a full-blown album, you can hear the Menta Faith No More lineup on a typically eclectic string of cover songs that were B-sides to various KFAD singles, The Brothers Four’s “Greenfields”, The Bee Gee’s “I Started A Joke”, GG Allin’s “I Wanna Fuck Myself”, and modern-day standard “Spanish Eyes” (aka “Moon Over Naples”). Why no original material, and why should I even care so much? At first, I didn’t even know that there was a Dean Menta. I assumed that the man in all those music videos and photos was Trey Spruance, whom despite having discovered Mr. Bungle prior to obtaining KFAD, I had never seen before.

When it came time to writing original songs after touring, the band simply felt that something was missing. The following excerpt from Adrian Harte’s book Small Victories: The True Story of Faith No More shed some light on my uncertainty surrounding the guitarist:

In actual fact, the trio were struggling to connect creatively with their latest recruit. In a 2016 interview, Menta explained, ‘Certain members of the band wanted to immediately start writing songs for another record. I think at that point in time we were all burnt out, at least I was.’

Dean was cool, but the writing wasn’t there,’ Gould adds. ‘The worst thing about it was, we had parts and we’d write stuff and we sent it to Dean to work on it. He would just not return my calls.’

In the summer of 1996, Faith No More and Dean Menta parted company. ‘I got pushed off the boat before it totally sank,’ the guitarist added, ‘I was disappointed yet relieved that it was all over. I was mostly baffled and confused by the entire experience. I did have bad feelings afterward, but they’ve faded away a long time ago. I still love and admire those guys a lot.’

That creative chemistry was not lacking with Hudson, who the band would choose to bring back when reuniting in 2009 and eventually creating their comeback album Sol Invictus. I guess that proves they made the right decision. Still, what became of Dean Menta in the 20-plus years since his Faith No More days?

The most consistent of his post-Faith No More music career is his association with Sparks. He has recorded several albums with art-pop duo, beginning with guitar on a re-recording of “Funny Face”, but contributed in a larger capacity on all of their albums from 2002’s Lil’ Beethoven and continuing as recently as 2017’s Hippopotamus. Menta has appeared elsewhere to, including getting back to the gaming industry with contribution to the Jak X: Combat Racing soundtrack (the music composition was lead by A Perfect Circle’s Billy Howerdel), and on experimental project East West Blast Test’s second album Popular Music For Unpopular People (released on Mike Patton and ex-DUH vocalist Greg Werckman’s Ipecac Recordings label). He is also well-established in the television world. Most notably, he worked as music editor for Star Wars – The Clone Wars on The Cartoon Network, making him part of a Daytime Emmy-nominated team for the Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Animation category. I’m not exactly sure what the position entailed, but being attached to such a noteworthy franchise would stand out on anybody’s resume.

 

 

The case of Dean Menta shows that you don’t need to stay in a high-profile band in order to have a successful music career. Many of the gigs he acquired may actually allow for a better work/home life balance, or at the very least eliminate the need to share bunk beds on cramped tour buses into your fifties. That can’t be a bad thing.

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