Les Claypool: The Legend of the Pawn Shop Weasel
RR: I was impressed with the effects the band was able to pack into each song; for example, the sound you achieved on the opening track, “Prelude to a Crawl.”
LC: That’s basically me laying in some textures with my bass, and using delays and looping and whatnot.
RR: “Jilly’s On Smack” has a cool ambient sound in the opening, as well.
LC: That’s Larry with all his toys. The main thing is that we really wanted to…I was very conscious when making this record of having portions of songs open for what we call space—the ability to go on stage and just go off into space and make some nice audio textures that were wide open that we can float around in. So there was a conscious effort to put those elements within certain songs or intros.
RR: There are certain characters that are placed throughout—characters on the seedy fringe of society, whether it is the main character in “Hennepin Crawler,” or people who show up on T.V., or characters spelling out pending doom and the tragedies that are forthcoming. Did you notice that the lyrical content was media-driven, or has that always been part of your take on pop culture?
LC: I definitely noticed on “Eyes of the Squirrel” and “Moron T.V.” (laughter). I couldn’t resist the “more on TV” pun, so I just had to build upon it, and it wasn’t very difficult. (laughter)
RR: Right—“The Big Electric Stain.”
LC: (laughs) Yeah. “Eyes of the Squirrel” started off as “Eyes of the World.” But it seemed a little contrived; plus, obviously, there is the Grateful Dead song, so I wanted to twist it a bit. “Eyes of the Squirrel”—the notion of crossing a camera and a vermin seemed to be appealing. Cameras are the eyes of the world, and they are everywhere now. They are like little squirrels. You can’t run a traffic light these days without the old squirrel cam getting you.
RR: Speaking of cameras, at the time, you told me that making your film was the hardest undertaking you have had in your career. Is that still true? Did that discourage you from wanting to make other films?
LC: Oh, it’s totally discouraged me. I’m still trying to get back on the horse. It was incredibly difficult and, then, doing our deal with [National] Lampoon has been a complete disaster. The president of Lampoon is in federal prison for fraud, as is his second in command. We had a film that was winning awards, and we were doing midnight showings, and it had some legs to it, and they just did nothing with it. In fact, the copies that they made, I had never looked at the actual prints that they had made, or the discs that they made, and they looked terrible. I don’t know what they did in the process, but it looks terrible. Right now, we’re trying to get it back. It’s been very frustrating, but I’m always pitching. I’ve got a handful of screenplays and treatments that I am tossing around.
RR: You also worked with a friend on a horror film about a 3,000-pound pig that terrorizes the pot fields of Northern California.
LC: Yeah, I did the music for that and I played a small role in it. It’s on DVD. It came and went. It’s a horror film called Pig Hunt. Robert Mailer Anderson [ Pighunt’s co-screenwriter, along with Zack Anderson] and I became good friends, subsequently, because of that film. He’s an author and a cool guy.
RR: As far as reconnecting with old friends, when you got back with Jay, you had worked with him for over two decades, as you mentioned, but was there any sort of conversation which took place when he returned to Primus?
LC: No, it’s not like that all with me and Jayski. The thing is that I play drums, or at least Lapdog does [Lapland “Lapdog” Miclovich, Claypool’s drumming alter ego in the film, Electric Apricot, and elsewhere], and my inspiration as a drummer 70% comes from Jay Lane. That’s who I think of when I play—guys like him, Stewart Copeland, and [John] Bonham. I’ve always, as a drummer, idolized Jay Lane. When we play together, it’s been commented, and I remember when we were making the first Frog Brigade record, Purple Onion, Jayski came in to lay down some tracks, and if I get Jay Lane for one or two days, I get several songs out of it. He came in and we just started playing. I remember at the time Eenor (guitars, cümbüş with Frog Brigade) said, “Holy shit. You guys have chemistry.” It is very natural for me—playing with Jay—and we have a very intuitive relationship. It’s like stepping into a pair of comfortable shoes. But it’s an exciting pair of comfortable shoes. He’s got big ears, and he listens to every little thing that’s going on and reacts to it, so that’s good.
RR: You brought up Stewart Copeland, and I wanted to ask you about the session you just played with him, Tool’s Danny Carey, and Rush’s Neil Peart.
LC: Well, Stewart and Neil have become friends—actually, I introduced them—over the past handful of years, and I kept saying, “God, the world would love it if you guys did a project.” So Stewart, he’s always up for putting together these little events and he said, “I’m getting Neil coming over and Danny Carey is coming over, and you’ve got to come down.” I live in Northern California, and I said, “Shit, I’ll fly down,” so I flew down and I met him at this sushi restaurant, and they were already hammered. They’re already hammered. They’ve already eaten a shitload of food. So then, we go back to Stewart’s house, and everybody was hammered. He just turned on the machine, and everybody started playing instruments. At one point, I was playing drums, Stewart was playing bass, he had the upright going, and it was just sort of a drunken hang. And then, Stewart looked through it, and found some nuggets and made some interesting stuff out of it.
RR: Speaking of Neil Peart, you played a version of Rush’s “The Spirit of Radio” in Canada last year.
LC: Yeah, in Canada, Rush won induction into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. I went up with my Fungi Band, which was Mike Dillon on vibes and marimba, Paulo
Baldi on drums, and Sam Bass on cello. We did “Spirit of Radio” with no guitar. It was really cool, actually. It was fun. It was good to see those guys again. I hadn’t seen them in a while.