Prime Freakiness: Les Claypool is short on details, long on projects.
More of Les
Primus head honcho speaks out (sort of)
By Greg Cahill
Les Claypool couldn't give a rat's ass about publicizing his career. Then again, the bass virtuoso and irreverent songwriter did hire Shorefire Media--one of the best and biggest PR firms in the music biz and the guys that represent Bruce Springsteen, among others--to pay a publicist to bug me to bug Claypool (actually, it was a low pressure kinda deal).
So why is Claypool so tightlipped about his affairs? Maybe because he can afford to be. Speaking over the phone from his sprawling Sonoma County ranch, Claypool offers little insight into his upcoming solo album (no title, no label, no release date) or additional tour dates with Frog Brigade (after a two-week tour that ended at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival with a four-hour jam at Tipitina's) or the fate of Primus, the groundbreaking punk-funk band he formed in the mid '80s and put on hiatus three years ago. These days, Claypool is talking about the first two Primus albums--1989's Suck on This, recorded live at the Berkeley Square punk emporium, and 1990's Frizzle Fry, which includes studio versions of several tracks from Suck on This.
Both albums, out of print for a couple of years after a licensing deal with Caroline Records lapsed, were digitally remastered (Suck on This was pretty lo-fi) and reissued last month on Claypool's own Prawn Song label. For hardcore Primus fans looking for a reason to buy the CDs a second time, Frizzle Fry contains a live medley of avant-popsters the Residents' "Hello Skinny/Constantinople."
"We decided to make 'em sound a little better," explains Claypool. "When they first were released, we were young guys and didn't have a lot of money, so they didn't sound quite as full-spectrum as they could. Now, I've turned [remastering expert] Stephen Marcussen on them, and he's made them sound huge and fat and full and punchy. It's all good."
Good, indeed. Together, Suck on This and Frizzle Fry have sold 750,000 copies--major sales figures for a couple of indie records.
Claypool, 37--born in Richmond and a boyhood friend of Metallica's Kirk Hammett--is the driving force behind Primus and a seemingly endless string of spinoff projects that have blazed a path for a thousand copycat punk-funk bands. In 1991, Primus made their major label debut with the eccentric Sailing the Seas of Cheese (Interscope), which went gold a year after its release. The trio--Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander--went on that year to open for such varied acts as Public Enemy, Anthrax, U2, Fishbone, and Rush. Two years later, Primus scored a surprise Top 10 hit with "Pork Soda" and landed the coveted headlining spot on that year's Lollapalooza festival tour, a move that the All Music Guide notes solidified "the band's status as quirk rock's undisputed kings."
Several strong releases followed, culminating in 1999's Antipop, which featured such guests as Tom Waits, Stewart Copeland of the Police, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, to name a few.
But Claypool shelved Primus after the album's release, choosing to stretch out in projects that ranged from the jam band Oysterhead (with Copeland and Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio) to Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel, and from Sausage (a reunion with the original Primus band members) to penning the theme song to TV's South Park.
For the time being, Claypool says he has "zero plans for any Primus activity." Meanwhile, Claypool is mixing his upcoming solo album, his first solo work since 1996's Highball with the Devil (Interscope). Due for release "sometime in the fall," the new solo album will have "a lot of different musicians, a lot of different types of musicians," including Jay Layne of Sausage, Warren Haynes of Gov't Mule, and Perry Farrell collaborator Lonnie Marshall. In addition, Claypool says, instrumentation will range from his patented funk-infused bass to tablas to vibes.
"It's going to be a pretty eclectic record," he says, declining to elaborate. "I'm having fun."
As for live dates, Primus, er, Claypool fans can catch the Frog Brigade on Saturday, May 25, at the two-day Mountain Aire music festival at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds at Angels Camp.
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From the May 16-22, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.