Music

Interview With Les Claypool of Primus

Fishing, mudslinging and Primus' new path

by

Les Claypool is a man of many faces. Whether it's that of an evil pig, Planet of the Apes style primate or creepy long-nosed warlock, Claypool has been known to switch personas mid-concert, employing a variety of masks and disguises.

The same can be said on a metaphorical level. Claypool is a man of many sounds, of many bands--Holy Mackerel, Oysterhead, Colonel Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains and most importantly, '90s "psychedelic polka" band Primus, who will play the Eagle River Pavilion on Monday, Sept. 20. Through it all, the colorful, zany bassist has developed a distinct style of playing, transmogrifying his instrument with unique slapping techniques, whammy bends, tapping and flamenco-style strumming.

Boise Weekly recently checked in with Claypool to see what a normal day is like for the bassist extraordinaire.

"Today I'm on my way to a meeting with a couple friends to decide how to sell [some] wine we've created. Yesterday I had my son and a couple of his friends out on the pond on my property, trying to teach them how to catch a couple of bass."

Not to confuse "bass" (the fish) with "bass" (the instrument). Claypool went on to talk about his unique way with words, specifically the nicknames he gives people.

"For me, I feel closer to someone if I give them a nickname, and if someone has gotten a nickname it means I'm comfortable with them--a compliment of sorts. Except sometimes it doesn't work out so well. I met this one guy, and I started calling him King Salabeem. He flipped out at me and started yelling."

It's not the first time Claypool has gotten himself in a messy situation. At the infamous mudslinging melee that was Woodstock '94, Claypool and the rest of Primus were pelted with mud during a rendition of "My Name Is Mud."

"I remember Woodstock '94 pretty well," he reminisced. "Primus hadn't even played together for three months so I was backstage before the show, kind of relearning Primus tunes. We were all nervous. It was such a huge audience and this big international thing. But I think with music, sometimes a band just clicks. And it was one of those times where the band clicked. We were clicking, firing on all cylinders. Even when the mud came up I handled it well without being too much of a douche bag."

Even in 2010, roughly 25 years after the formation of Primus, Claypool still feels like the band is clicking with a renewed sense of purpose.

"If you'd asked a handful of months ago, I would have said Primus is about nostalgia, but now, it's Primus 2010, it's a new window. I'm excited to look into this window. Jump in, jump out, whatever the hell," said Claypool. "The band is different now from the late '90s because it's refreshed. At the end of the '90s, Primus was a little stale, so it was time to stop. With Primus right now, there's an incredible energy. Our drummer, Jay Lane, is a genius at what he does. Sometimes we'll be playing and I'll think, 'How the hell does he think to do that?' and it's all very musical. That's inspiring for a guy trying to have his music mind enhanced or something, and it reminds me of the early days of Primus."

Lately, Claypool has taken fondly to the jam band scene, becoming a mainstay at many of the country's largest music festivals and even opening up Primus tunes to further exploration.

"I play for whoever wants to see me play. I've played pretty much every festival except for Lilith Fair. Some are rock related, some are jam related," Claypool said. "Throughout time, nobody's been able to categorize the band. We've been called thrash punk, progressive metal, alternative rock--when we opened for U2 the bill said 'grunge band.' It's more about how you approach the music than the music itself--those boundaries tend to become convoluted over time."

Claypool added that though jamming happens more frequently now, it's more likely to happen with certain songs.

"Some of the songs, we stick to them and hammer them out. Some of the songs have open areas to them that we take and stretch out. For instance, 'American Life,' 'Eleven' 'Groundhogs Day' can all get pretty exploratory. It's cool because for us, a lot of that is fodder for new material."

In addition to making music, Claypool is currently engaged in the wine-making business, a passion he developed after he quit smoking pot.

"It's a sticky thing, but we're plugging along, just making really good wine and selling it to Northern Cali," he said, "I stopped smoking pot several years ago. I was getting to where I couldn't remember things, and I didn't want to not remember my children's childhoods. So instead of smoking pot, I began drinking pinot. It became my next vice, so some of my friends and I decided to make our own. It's fun. Keeps me off the street, keeps me off heroin."

Whether he is making wine, fishing with his son, getting pelted with mud or touring around the country with Primus, Claypool finds plenty to keep himself busy on a normal day. After more than 20 years, he's not surprised that he's still doing the rock star thing.

"Even in the early days, I'd tell people 'Primus will go until it's not fun anymore.' I like to blaze new trails through the jungle, not just the same old path. And now, the path is fresh and exciting and new."