Primus: A Hallucino-Genetic Evolution

Dean Budnick on September 15, 2010

Primus kicked off the 2010 Oddity Faire Tour last night in Sacramento. To mark the occasion, we’re presenting this interview with Les Claypool, drawn from the pages of the September/October issue of Relix.

On July 18, a brand, spanking new Primus debuted at a sold-out “Über Secret Warm Up Show” at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. While this version of the group had yet to perform together live, the faces certainly were familiar. Joining the band’s founder Les Claypool were longtime Primus guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde and (initial) regular drummer Jay Lane. The show was the public debut of the trio because Lane had left the group before LaLonde signed on in 1989. This version of Primus has big plans, with international gigs and a new studio record in the works. Just days before leaving on an extensive summer tour, Claypool shared some Tales from the Punchbowl.

Rebooting Primus

To be honest, I wasn’t really interested in doing Primus. Primus had become one of these things since the break-up in ‘99 that we would do once every few years for a tour, five weeks or so and then put it to bed again because of this nostalgia thing. There really wasn’t a lot of excitement about trying to do something new and there wasn’t a lot of flow toward new material.

The Primus notion came up again at the end of this cycle with my band on the Fungi and Foe record. I had become tight again with Larry LaLonde – we had started rekindling our friendship – and he really wanted to do this thing and really wanted to make another record. But when we talked to Tim [Alexander] about how to approach this, he really wasn’t on the same page. So we all came to the conclusion that while we tried to make it work again, let’s move on and Jay Lane was the first guy I thought of, so here he is.

The return of Jayski

Jay Lane is – for me – one of the most amazing drummers. Beyond say Stewart Copeland, he is the most creative drummer I’ve ever played with. I play drums and whenever I go see a band, the first thing I look at is the drummer – generally not the bass player. As a drummer, I steal all my licks from Jay because I just love his playing.

Jay was the Primus guy when we were playing the clubs around San Francisco and he quit literally a month before we released our first Primus album because he had a major label record deal with another band that he had been playing with for many years (The Freaky Executives). He weighed one against the other and took the other and unfortunately it didn’t pan out for him. Those first couple of [Primus] records, a lot of those drum parts were Tim’s interpretations of Jay’s parts.

The thing that’s phenomenal about “Jayski,” and the reason I keep yanking him back into the studio, is that a lot of players play very well but they don’t necessarily listen to how they interact within the mix of the other instruments. They concentrate on their parts but they rely on whoever’s at the helm, at the console, to mix it within the music. But Jay doesn’t do that. In fact, he’s one of the best that I’ve seen at mixing himself within the music as far as how he attacks each drum within the given dynamic of a tune at that particular time.

A Freak Abides

Larry’s a freak. That’s why when Todd Huth left the band he was the first guy I thought of. We had toured together in this metal band [Blind Illusion]. He was only 19 at the time and he had this metal background but his favorite guitarists in the world were Frank Zappa and Jerry Garcia. So here’s this guy who had been playing in one of the earliest and groundbreaking death metal bands, Possessed, and he was a total Deadhead/Zappahead. Laughs_.] He’d sit there and play these Robert Fripp licks all the time and when Todd left I said, “I’m going to go get Larry.”
Ler, he’s always been a freak and he’s still a freak. He’s been working on a lot of video game scoring the past handful of years, so his skills in the studio are pretty damn good as far as being a guy at the helm.
*_Suck On This
and That*

I haven’t rehearsed this much with a band ever in my life. We could have got away with not rehearsing so much but we really want to do this right and make sure that the parts that were written by Tim and Brain really get the respect that they deserve and the approach that the people are familiar with these songs are going to want to hear. There’s a huge catalog that Jay has been learning and he’s been working his ass off. He’s been in the studio five days a week, four or five hours a day, just playing drums and then we rehearse on top of that.

Jay’s been working really hard because there are the parts that he’s familiar with from the old songs and then there’s the repertoire of material that Tim Alexander had a big hand in and those are some difficult drum parts. So he’s been learning these things and then there’s the whole Brain [Mantia] era stuff [Primus drummer 1996-2000] which none of us have played for ten years. So we’re going out this summer and fall, playing a lot of material, some of it has never been played before in front of people and lot of it hasn’t been heard in many years.

Circling The Seas of Cheese

“Too Many Puppies” was one of the first songs, if not the first song, I wrote for Primus in 1984. And then, for a while, I looked at that song and it kind of seemed cheesy, this young idealistic kid writing an antiwar song and using the metaphor of puppies instead of soldiers. But then it comes back around like your old high school haircut.

An Anti-Antipop Album

We’re just assembling sounds right now. We’re rehearsing our asses off to get ready for these tours. As we get together, there are these little nuggets that start appearing in the intervals between rehearsing songs. I’ve been recording these things and assembling what theoretically will be the foundation for the music for the next record. And as we move through this tour, we’ll be assembling more stuff. And then I have books of lyrics and I have a bunch of songs that potentially would have been the next Claypool record and we’ll look at them and some of them will become Primus songs I’m sure. Right now, it’s almost like we’re at Costco and we’re just assembling the pieces for the barbeque.

It seems like every other week the idea of how we’re going to approach [the new Primus album] on a creative level changes. Is it going to have a running theme? Is it going to be collection of this, is it going to be about that? It changes all the time. That’s the thing about Larry LaLonde and I. We were very good friends for a long time and in the later part of the ‘90s we fell apart and I think the music really suffered from that, mainly the Antipop record because we were always the guys who were big on British comedy – we have the same sensibility as far as humor and whatnot. And that’s how “Pork Soda” and “Hamburger Train” and these different things that are inside jokes to us became these odds things for other people to interpret. Laughs. And that relationship is now back. We’re tight again, we’re becoming tighter and our families are friends and that relationship has rekindled. So a lot of the Ler and Les-isms are starting to pop again and we laugh about them: “Ahh that should be a song… Ahh that should be an album title.”