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Archive for Thursday, January 25, 2001

THE MAG: 7 QUESTIONS WITH LES CLAYPOOL

January 25, 2001

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Primus sucks! With a self-penned motto like that, Primus was never a band that tried hard to make people like it. Led by singer-bassist Les Claypool, Primus was one of the strangest acts ever to hit semi big -- an utterly bizarre mixture of eclectic rhythms, oddball lyrics (anyone remember "Wynonna's Big Brown Beaver?") and quirky time signatures that confused even the keenest rock fans. Though Primus has been on hiatus since 1999's "Anti Pop" album/tour, Claypool has been one busy guy, taking the opportunity to do as much musical moonlighting as possible.

In addition to Sausage (an ongoing version of the original Primus), Claypool has fronted Oysterhead (featuring Phish's Trey Anastasio and former Police drummer Stewart Copeland), Holy Mackerel (including Henry Rollins and jazzman Charlie Hunter), Rat Brigade (a side project of jam band deluxe Rat Dog) and made guest appearances on albums by Tom Waits, Alex Lifeson, Jerry Cantrell, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Charlie Hunter.

Whew! With all those bands being juggled around, it's a wonder that the bassist has time to sleep, let alone start up yet another sonic side project. But he's back this season with Les Claypool's Flying Frog Brigade, which took its name from Mark Twain's famous short story, "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

The Frog Brigade currently is on the road with Galactic and Lake Trout as part of the Sno Core Icicle Ball. The band also is planning to release a two-part live album, recorded at a recent show in San Francisco, featuring a full set of Frog Brigade tunes and Pink Floyd's "Animals" in its entirety.

Claypool spoke with The Mag recently about his crossover into the world of jam bands, his love of four-stringed instruments and his dislike of all things Axl.

What attracted you to the bass?

"I got started kind of late -- I didn't start playing until I was 15. Everyone wanted to be Eddie Van Halen. There were tons of guitar players out there and there weren't very many bass players. So I thought I'd get a bass -- there's only four strings, it'll be easier and I can get a gig. And I did. I bought a bass and I was instantly in a band. I didn't even know how to play. But the true story, or the stronger reason, is that I just thought guitar was wimpy. Bass, to me, just had the sound."

What is Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade?

"Basically, what I wanted to do was put together an assembly of the most monstrous musicians I could possibly find. I didn't really want to have a six-piece band, but they were all so monstrous that it just turned out that way. We haven't really written any material for this band, but we've taken Sausage material, Holy Mackerel material, some Primus material and a lot of other material -- everything from King Crimson to Pink Floyd to The Beatles -- and sort of interpreted it our own way. It's a very free-form thing. We try to take it to the edge as much as we possibly can. It started out with us booking shows and just showing up and playing, just jamming on (expletive). Now, it's sort of evolving into a real band."

What made you decide to re-record "Animals?"

"That was a big album for me when I was a kid. I've always wanted to play 'Pigs' -- it's one of my favorite songs ever. So I said, 'let's learn that.' I had the guys to do it. Then I thought, 'Well (expletive), let's just learn the whole record and make a set out of it. We can do two sets a night and not have an opening act.' I'd been wanting to do that for awhile with Primus. Primus has a load of songs. We could easily go out and do a couple of sets, but I was the only one who wanted to do that."

What's going on with Primus right now?

"We're snoozing, taking a little nap. Of course, I'm sure everyone knows that (former Primus drummer) Brain is in Guns N' Roses right now. I've talked about putting together Primus again, the original Primus, so when that comes about that's what's going to happen. But I've been doing Primus since 1984. It's time for me to take a break. The scene that's going on right now in the rock world just doesn't really interest me. The whole anger, angst-against-nothing scene, I'm just not into it."

Have you heard anything by the new Guns N' Roses?

"I never listened to the old Guns N' Roses. I tended to avoid the old Guns N' Roses. When Primus was coming up there was this whole scene with us and Jane's Addiction, Fishbone and the original Lollapaloozas and stuff like that. There was this whole sense of camaraderie, and it was sort of a counter to what was big at the time, which was the whole Guns N' Roses/Cinderella/Warrant scene which we just thought was the most ridiculous thing ... The world that Primus has sort of been evolving in lately, I don't feel that anymore. I just feel this almost competitiveness. Obviously, you see Eminem up there with Limp Bizkit or whatever, but I've been at those shows and it's a weird scene. There's definitely more of a pissing contest going on. With the jam band scene, I definitely feel more of a sense of camaraderie -- bands playing with each other, jamming with each other. It really reminds me of the early days in San Francisco."

How so?

"There's just this whole scene within the jam band thing -- It's being called the jam band scene, but I think it's just a bunch of bands that are starting to collect toward it like I am, just because it's drawing people that want to see music and aren't necessarily concerned with image and style and any of the superficial stuff. They want to hear the music for the music and, to me, that's very exciting. When I first would stand back from the outside and look at it, I would think Phish, Widespread Panic and whatnot. But there's really a lot of interesting stuff that's starting to fall into that category that you wouldn't have necessarily thought: bands like Disco Biscuits, Galactic, Deep Banana Blackout and now us. The vibe at these shows has been incredible."

Do you hear your influence, or Primus' influence, in younger bands?

"I meet a lot of bands that say they're influenced. And of course there's big bands out there that say they were influenced by Primus, like Limp Bizkit or Korn or whatever. But I've never really seen a flat-out, straight-up Primus clone band. I just don't think there's the monetary incentive."

-- The Mag can be reached at 832-7178.

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