Les Claypool: The Legend of the Pawn Shop Weasel
Photo by Rex Thomson
Primus is in the midst of an extended tour, which will find its way into 2012 for a series of dates in America and beyond, while supporting their first studio album in 11 years. The aptly-titled Green Naugahyde captures the vintage quality of the band that is “sort of a 70s working class faux leather coach” according to bandleader/composer/bassist extraordinaire/author/filmmaker/winemaker Les Claypool. Indeed, in this interview with Jambands.com, the musician touches upon all things Primus in the present tense, while always being very careful about not heading down any roads that appear a bit nostalgic.
That precarious cause is certainly helped by the fact that the new album is an inventive, engaging, thoroughly modern and creatively sharp work, finding the trio, including Claypool, longtime guitarist Larry LaLonde, and drummer Jay Lane after an over two-decade absence from the band, in a rather focused peak form. Claypool is a friendly and candid conversationalist while also being down to earth, which is sometimes surprising for a man that neither minds “bizarre, eccentric behavior,” nor discourages trippy imagery. As well he shouldn’t as Primus continues to invent new psychedelic music to view reality as an eye and ear candy factory for the mind.
RR: Seems to be a lot of past, present, and future ideas on the new record. Actually, some of the lyrical content appears to be a bit “end of times” oriented, as well. I was wondering how you viewed those lyrics within the context of these new songs.
LC: I didn’t step into this thing lyrically with any particular concept or the notion of potentially doing that. I find that once you try to follow a storyline, you are putting up parameters and, a lot of times, that constricts the natural flow of things. That being said, I do spot sort of this running blue collar perspective of Americana and elements of media that run through the piece. Hence, that is why we went with the name Green Naugahyde because, for me, I took it from the song “Lee Van Cleef”: a yellow Studebaker with a 302 and a seat of green naugahyde. That was my dad’s pickup truck when I was a kid. Where we grew up—Larry LaLonde and I—in El Sobrante, California, and coming from a long line of auto mechanics, you don’t see too many leather couches. I don’t think I remember seeing any leather couches in those days around the family anywhere—relatives or friends. It was all vinyl or, of course, naugahyde, which is just a fancy name of saying vinyl. So, it seemed to fit what Primus is, or the vibe of the record. It’s sort of a 70s working class faux leather coach.
RR: A belated happy birthday to you. I will reach that same milestone on the anniversary of Lee Van Cleef’s demise, myself, in a few months.
LC: I’m actually 74 years old.
RR: Wow, congratulations. Yes, my dad mentioned seeing you at a few shows in the 1950s in Chicago. How have you managed to manipulate your timeline so well?
LC: Donkey embryos.
RR: (laughs) The last time we spoke, we discussed your film, Electric Apricot, and you mentioned that if you’d think of doing things in terms of strictly business, you’d just do Primus all the time. Over the last four years since the release of that film, how did you come around to the thought that you would get Primus back together?
LC: Well, Larry very much wanted to do Primus. I wasn’t as enthused because Primus had become this nostalgia thing, nothing against the nostalgia of Primus, but when that’s all you do, for me, on a creative level, it just becomes a bit tedious. Going out and doing one tour is fine, and that helps fill everybody’s coffers, and you get your nostalgia on, and see some old fans and friends, and it’s great, but it wasn’t going to propel the band forward. Larry was very insistent. He wanted to do it, he wanted to do another record, he wanted to do a full-blown thing, so we realized that the only way that was going to happen is without Tim [Alexander, former Primus drummer]. He realized that, too.
So, the first person that popped into my mind was Jay Lane. Jay quit the band one month before we made our first record, and was very instrumental on those first couple of records, but, also, obviously he has been working with me a lot over the last 20 years. We called him up, played with him, and we started playing “Pudding Time,” I believe, and within ten seconds of playing the song, me and Larry were looking at each other grinning like bastards because you can just feel it. You can just feel the chemistry.
RR: There is no filler on this thirteen-track album. How many songs did you work up for Green Naugahyde ?
LC: That’s how many songs we worked up. We just did it and went, “There we go; we’ve got enough; we’re done.” (laughter) It’s kind of like constructing…you know…it’s like building a house. Once we got the flow of this thing, it’s like making a film—you have enough scenes to tell the story, to fill the audio landscape, there was no reason to continue on. I’m not a big fan of incredibly long records, for the most part.
RR: I hear ya. 75 minutes and 50 of them are “what the hell were you thinking?”
LC: Well, a lot of people these days I think are filling their records with fluff. In the old days, you couldn’t put so much material on an album because it would sound like shit. [ Green Naugahyde ] just felt like the right length, so we stopped. We had riffs lying around, but no other songs. There are no spare songs laying around anywhere.