INTERVIEW: Les Claypool of Primus
Primus have been entertaining the masses with their off-beat, colourful, twisted, highly virtuosic and even more highly listenable brand of funky avant garde rock (back in the day it was just called ‘alternative’) for over two decades now. The band went into hiatus a while ago, but the individual members never slacked off – oh lordy no. With Primus or solo,Les Claypool is perhaps best known for his incredibly original and technically mind-exploding bass playing within Primus and without, but did you know he’s also a vintner? A keen fisherman? No? Well maybe you can ask him about those things when the reactivated Primus play the Soundwave festival in Australia during February and March.
Hello there, how are you?
So, first question is more of a statement looking for a comment: you’re coming back to Australia, this time with Primus…
[Puts on robot voice] It is very exciting. I always very much enjoy coming to Australia. [chuckles] Any excuse to come to Australia is a good excuse for me.
I know you were down here recently solo, but when was Primus last down here?
Oh it’s been many moons. It’s been at least ten years.
Are you a fan of many of the other bands on Soundwave?
I have no idea who’s playing Soundwave. What happens is, people tell me where to go and what to do, and that’s what I do. My job, when I’m at home, is to tell my children where to go and what to do. When I get back into travelling mode I become a teenage child.
Drummer Jay Lane is back in the band, so now you have like a Primus/Sausage combination. How’d that come about?
Well, ah, it became apparent that the band was not going to be performing much, if ever, any more the way it was and Jay Lane was eager and available and it just seemed like the perfect time to bring him back on board. He’s a very creative individual as well as, hey, a very enjoyable person to be around.
Do you have new album plans at the moment?
We’re in the studio at this time – well right now we’re in Argentina, but we’ve been in the studio for the past few weeks.
How’s it shaping up?
Oh it’s shaping up well. Sounds are being bounced off the walls. Sounds are bouncing and sticking.
What’s it like out there for Primus at the moment?
I have no idea. Do people even put out CDs any more? I don’t know. It’s a digital download world. The only thing I can assure is that whatever release we do put together will be available on vinyl. Something that I find is a mandatory requirement with our releases.
It’s got to the point for me with mp3s where not only am I nostalgic for vinyl, I’m also starting to miss even the detestable act of unwrapping the plastic from a CD cover.
I will never miss the unwrapping of plastic on CD covers. Whoever invented that notion of shrink wrapping CD covers… whoever the bastard is that invented that hard plastic vacuum wrapping that comes on nearly item you get from headphones to steak knives, there should be a global civil suit against that individual because I guarantee there have been many instances of blood loss, if not even loss of digits, in the attempt of trying to open these damn packages.
I actually have a cut on my hand right now from that very malady, so I hear you, very much.
It’s a wretched thing. It just makes it so it’s more difficult to take back to the store if you don’t like it. I’m not talking about CDs, I’m talking about whichever product you’ve purchased in that wretched, horrible shrink wrap. I’m sure it’s really great for the environment too.
I shudder to think what it’s doing to the dolphins.
Yeah, can you imagine how hard it is for a dolphin to open one of those things?
Haha. Okay, my buddy Rohan, who plays bass in my band, is a huge fan and he has a few questions for you. The first is, is the whamola going to make an appearance in Australia?
You never do know. The whamola is like the Sasquach. It’s this ever-elusive thing where when it pops up it’s always exciting. But it’s an elusive beast.
What’s the deal with the whamola anyway? Is it like the bass player’s version of a diddley bow?
The old blues guys used to make them. It’s like a plank of wood with a couple nails in it and a string stretched across. You play slide on it with a bottle or something. It’s this rickety, homespun kind of instrument.
I’m not sure! Maybe I need to get one of these diddley-boos, or whatever you call it, so I can do some comparative performing.
And what envelope filter do you use?
I’m not even sure what it is. Just some old Korg multi-effects thing they don’t make any more… I think it’s a… no, I can’t remember. It’s nothing special though, it’s just an envelope of some sort.
Yeah! So are you much of a gear guy?
I’m not a big gear guy, but from doing this for such a long time, I’m like a couch. All the lint and all the various things accumulate around and underneath me, in my cushions. I have a lot of various pieces of equipment and instrumentation but I don’t actively seek the stuff out. They just sort of end up in my world.
One thing your playing has always proven is that no matter what you’re playing, it always sounds like you.
It’s in the hands and the genitalia.
Well yeah, especially with the bass. It’s a very low, ballsy instrument.
A very sultry instrument.
So what basses are you playing these days? Still rocking the Carl Thompsons?
I have a handful of Carl Thompsons. I have an old Dobro bass – I think it’s a Michael Kay or something, this very inexpensive thing [Actually it's a Michael Kelly Bayou 4 resonator bass]. http://www.michaelkellyguitars.com/bayou4.html But I’m actually in the process of designing and having built my own Claypool-designed bass guitar, so we’ll see how that comes out.
Will it be just for you or will it be available for the general public too?
It’ll be for me at first. If it works out we might peddle off a few of them. I just for many years wanted something specifically designed for my particular comfort and playability. I’m working on it right now with a good friend of mine. I should have it by the time we got to Australia.
Without knowing it you must have sold so many six string basses and six string fretless basses to the bass players of the world.
I avoid six string basses and six string fretlesses. I have one of each and I tend to avoid them. I love the four-string. That’s what I’m most comfortable with and that’s what I play the most.
Yeah, John Paul Jones didn’t need more than four strings, goddammit!
Yeah! Nor did Mark Sandman [Morphine].
PRIMUS – Australia: Soundwave Festival 2011
2/26 Brisbane, AU RNA Showgrounds Gregory Terrace
2/27 Sydney, AU Eastern Creek Raceway Brabham Drive/Ferrers Rd
2/28 Sydney, AU Enmore Theatre With The Melvins
3/3 Melbourne, AU Palais Theatre With The Melvins
3/4 Melbourne, AU Melbourne Showgrounds Epsom Rd
3/5 Adelaide, AU Bonython Park Port Rd
3/7 Perth, AU Steel Blue Oval Corner Guildford Rd & West Rd
This is an alternate edit of an interview originally published in Mixdown magazine.