Primus Still Sucks

No formulaic pop: Les Claypool cooks up a new batch of Primus songs.

Les Claypool offers preview to new CD

By Alan Sculley

ASK LES CLAYPOOL, bassist and singer of Primus, about the artists he most and he touches on a long list-from country legend Johnny Cash to filmmaker Stanley Kubrick-blessed with an element of originality. “Seeing somebody who comes up with something and you go, ‘Wow, I would have never thought of that. How did they think of that?,’ that’s what intrigues me,” says Claypool, a west county resident.

Now in his 10th year as the creative sparkplug of the off-beat Primus, Claypool himself continues to intrigue his share of fans and fellow musicians with the utterly original, somewhat skewed sounds he creates with bandmates Larry LaLonde (guitar) and Bryan “Brain” Mantia (drums).

Prior to hitting the concert trail this summer as part of the Ozzfest tour, the band finished most of the recording for their next CD. And based on Claypool’s comments, the as-yet-untitled disc will introduce its share of new wrinkles in the Primus sound- and in doing so, offer at least a measure of the originality Claypool considers important in music. Where recent Primus CDs, such as Pork Soda, (1993) Tales From The Punchbowl (1995) and The Brown Album (1997) were largely self-contained projects, the new CD found Claypool, LaLonde, and Mantia bringing in a host of collaborators.

“Since we’ve been making records there have always been the suggestions that we work with producers,” says Claypool, who contributed to Tom Waits’ recent Mule Variations. “We shied away from that. But last year we worked with a few different producers on various little projects. We worked with the Dust Brothers on a soundtrack thing and Toby Wright (who co-produced and mixed the band’s recent EP of cover tunes, Rhinoplasty), so when it came time to do this record, we wanted to work with a producer, but we couldn’t really figure out who that individual would be. Who is the George Martin or the Brian Eno of-in fact we sent some stuff to Brian Eno-of Primus?

“So then I had this idea of let’s work with some artists that we respect,” Claypool adds. “So we sent some stuff off . . . and we got a pretty amazing response. Stewart Copeland (the former Police Drummer) produced a track. Tom Morello (of Rage Against The Machine) produced and played on a few tracks. Fred Durst (Of Limp Bizkit) produced a track. Tom Waits produced a track. Matt Stone (co-creator of “South Park”) produced a track. And Rob Zombie’s supposed to work on a track for us.

Needless to say the record’s got an interesting twist to it, an interesting element.”

Primus fans will have to wait until the latest disc arrives in record stores to know exactly how the new songs expand on the group’s previous music. But Claypool offers some hints on the overall sound of the new record. “This record is, you know, it’s kind of like nothing we’ve ever done before,” Claypool says. “It’s got very powerful stuff on it. And there are some very sort of spacial elements with some beauty to it, sort of eerie. It has a little bit of an eerie twist to it. It’s almost like old (Peter) Gabriel/Pink Floyd, but with some very aggressive stuff. There’s some stuff that sounds like old Black Sabbath.

“There’s definitely some big, thick, heavy stuff on here, like really aggressive heavy stuff,” he added. “But then there’s also some, we have this one song called ‘The Eclectic Electric,’ which is nine minutes long and it’s got three movements to it. Jim Martin (of Faith No More) and James Hetfield (of Metallica) play on it. It’s like Pink Floyd meets Sabbath or something, this big old spacial thing and then all of a sudden it gets very intense and heavy.”

Given Primus’ track record, it’s a safe bet that regardless of exactly how the songs sound, the new CD will have its share of musical quirks. After all, over the course of six full-legnth CDs (plus two collections of cover tunes-Miscellaneous Debris and Rhinoplasty) Primus have fashioned a unique sound that combines jagged guitar playing with a funky yet thrashy rhythm section. The playing- especially by Claypool on bass- has often been dazzling, while the lyrics have frequently emphasized Claypool’s wicked sense of humor (“Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” and “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” being obvious examples of the lyrical wit). All these elements-naturally enough-have placed Primus well outside of the musical mainstream. Some critics-and probably a few fans-have felt by injecting such quirkiness into the band’s music, Claypool and company have sought to be non-conformists for the sake of being non-conformists.

Claypool, even if he recognizes the less-than-conventional aspects of Primus’s music, doesn’t quite embrace that characterization. “Well I don’t know. I’m definitely not your average joe, but to an extent, I am very much the average joe. I’m just not your average joe rock star guy,” he says. “My friends are carpenters and mechanics and fishermen. That’s who I hang out with. That’s what I like to do. But my tastes in the arts, I’m a big film guy and I tend to like eclectic stuff. In music it’s all the same. I tend to like things that push the envelope. I like seeing things I’ve never seen before. And I like that feeling of ‘How the hell did they think of that?’ That’s what inspires me. That’s what makes me go ‘God dammit, I need to think of something. Look at what the Coen brothers did. They did this amazing thing. How did they think of that?’ That’s what I like.

“I mean, I can respect something that (Steven) Spielberg does, but it’s not necessarily going to always be the most cutting edge, original thing. But then again, sometimes he does do things that are very surprising, even though he is a big mainstream guy. And guys like (Stanley) Kubrick and Terry Gilliam, those are the type of people who I find exciting, my heroes.

“Sure, we’d like to make a record that sells five million copies,” Claypool adds, turning his thoughts to Primus’ place within the music mainstream. “But I don’t watch MTV and I have a hard time listening to most radio stations. It’s just such a bunch of crap. I’ve always been like that. Since I was a kid, stuff that appeals to me is generally fairly rare. It’s not that I dislike a lot of the stuff. It’s more the stuff that captivates me and makes me want to go and buy it, it doesn’t necessarily have to fit in with any genre. If it’s music, or the artist is exciting to me, I’ll go get it, whether it’s Johnny Cash or a Rob Zombie. So it’s not so much wanting to be the non-conformist guys as I’m not going to do things that don’t appeal to me. And most pop music just doesn’t appeal to me. To me it’s lifeless. A lot of it’s very pretentious and I’m not like a fashion guy. I could care less about the latest shoe or clothes or any of that crap.

“It’s just not my world.”

From the July 15-21, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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