Les Claypool

Gone Fishin’

Sportin’ Life:
Les Claypool
debuts his
solo project
Aug. 23 in

Photo by Gemm LaMana

Primus’ Les Claypool goes solo

By Greg Cahill

LITTLE DITTIES. That’s what bassist Les Claypool–head honcho for the Grammy-nominated thrash-funk group Primus–calls the songs on his new solo album. “I’ve always had some sort of a porta-studio in my house and have accumulated quite a few tapes filled with jams, ramblings, and whatnot,” explains Claypool, who recorded most of the tracks at Rancho Relaxo, his home near the Sonoma County coast. “Our manager has been on my case for a while to compile them into some sort of a record.

“I still have barely scratched the surface, even though there are 15 songs on it.”

The result is Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel’s Highball with the Devil (Interscope), a surrealistic set of “pure self-indulgences”–lyrically cartoony, sonically hallucinogenic song sketches laced with smatterings of twangy surf guitar, early Pink Floyd psychedelia, herky-jerky rhythms, and abstract jazz stylings.

For the new solo project, set for an Aug. 27 release, Claypool invited friends to send material and used a revolving lineup of players. Former Black Flag front- man Henry Rollins came through with a biting spoken-word piece, “Delicate Tendrils.” Drummer Jay Lane of Sausage lends “fat-ass beats” to several tracks, including “The Awakening,” a little-known bass and drum rave-up by late soul singer Otis Redding’s son Dexter. Guitarists include Bay Area jazzman Charlie Hunter, Joe Gore of the Tom Waits band, and Mark Haggard of M.I.R.V., who plays a bowed electrified hand saw on “Cohibas Esplenditos.”

Claypool plans only a handful of solo concerts, citing a desire to stay close to his newborn son, Cage Oliver. But he will perform Aug. 23 at the Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma. Over the years, that punk/ska emporium has been a favorite of his. In 1993, Primus previewed their headlining Lollapalooza show there and later filmed the John the Fisherman video at the Petaluma venue.

“We have a pretty strong history with the Phoenix,” Claypool says. “I thought it would be a good place to go back to again.”

Two years ago, Claypool–an avid fisherman–and his wife moved from Berkeley to Bodega. “It just kind of happened,” he says of his decision to settle into a rural setting–a move that seems appropriate when you consider that Claypool often stalks the stage wearing a straw hat, cackling like a crazed hillbilly, and evoking a sort of farm-boy-on-acid persona. “I didn’t know much about the area until I moved up here. We all knew that Bodega is the place where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds. But I never really spent much time up here, though Primus used to do shows at the River Theater in Guerneville and then the Phoenix.

“That was back in the good old days,” he notes, adding with the mischievous chuckle that often punctuates his conversation. “As long as you’re smiling, it’s a good old day.”

THESE DAYS, Claypool is busily auditioning drummers, following the recent announcement that Tim “Herb” Alexander has quit Primus. “It was something we had talked about for a long time because it seemed like [the relationship] was drifting farther and farther apart and Herb wanted to take the band in a different direction,” says Claypool, noting that he maintains a close relationship with Primus guitarist Larry LaLonde. “He was unhappy and that was making the rest of us unhappy, so it was a long time coming.

“It was like a marriage that just went bad.”

Alexander’s departure means that Primus will be moving in a different musical direction. “Well, it’s not something that you can put your finger on,” Claypool says about the change. “I’ve always felt that the band had become a little more progressive than I ever wanted; I never wanted to be in a progressive rock band, but Primus was leaning in that direction. So I’ll be happy to see it not go in that direction on the next record.”

Those “little ditties” that dominate the Holy Mackerel project and occasionally surface on Primus records may serve as a signpost for Primus’ new direction. All Claypool can say for sure is that he wants to feel good about collaborating with the new drummer. “It’s always an amazing thing when you sit down with somebody that you can click with,” he says. “When you sit down with a musician–no matter how good they are–and don’t click, it’s just not fun. But when you can do that consistently it’s great.

“That’s what I’m always striving for, just to enjoy myself when I play.”

Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel perform Friday, Aug. 23, at the Phoenix Theatre, 201 Washington St., Petaluma. M.I.R.V. and Saturn’s Flea Collar open the show. $12. 762-3566 or 762-3565.

From the August 15-21, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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