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Published: 2011/10/14
by Randy Ray

Les Claypool: The Legend of the Pawn Shop Weasel

RR: The new album deals with materialism to a degree. How do you view that concept, and how do you reconcile that with being a father who has to be there for your children, but hope that they find their own way at some point? Is your art taking place in some sort of alternate universe that is parallel to your home life?

LC: That is a big ole thick sticky broad stroke question. (laughter) Jesus Christ.

RR: Sorry. Sometimes, I just go and see where the riff takes me.

LC: The thing about materialism is that I am like the collector of just crap. I’m a Craig’s List junkie. We used to have this amazing flea market in Marin that Larry and I and my wife and his ex would go to all the time and we’d buy crap fishing poles and lunch boxes and car parts—you know, whatever, (laughs) knick knacks. And I love that shit. I remember Tom Waits once called me a Pawn Shop Weasel. I have all this pawn shop shit. I even gave him an old Fender Rhodes bass keyboard that I found at a pawn shop. So I have a lot of crap. I definitely don’t have the Buddhist approach to possessions. I don’t know where that puts me in the materialism department. (laughs) I’m kind of a hoarder of crap and old cars—and not necessarily nice old cars. (laughs) I’m always baffling my in-laws with the amount of machinery and whatnot I have around my place.

It’s funny that you brought up the materialism thing. I’m not the guy that shops…I shop…my wife makes fun of me because I love buying my clothes at Sears. I love it. I don’t go buy Gucci this or Gucci that. She does, but she buys all this old vintage stuff on eBay, and she buys things really cheap. She was on eBay when nobody knew what the hell it was. She’d go to this thing called the Dig, and she’d find a Pucci dress, and I didn’t know what the hell it was. She’d find it and pay two bucks for it, and turn around and sell it for 800 dollars. It’s sort of Sanford and Son mentality.

Even that little critter on the cover of the album—I found that thing in my favorite knick knack shop out where I live. I stumbled across it and thought, “This thing’s amazing.” There is a sadness to it, you know? I call him Nurmol. It’s this really cool old toy. I did some research on it and it’s actually very valuable. It was in the original box, had the original manual, and the original string, and it doesn’t look like it’s been played with. There is something very sad about that—a toy that’s almost 100 years old that has never really been played with. I found that compelling, just the notion that it’s just sad—little Nurmol never really got played with.

RR: I like that vibe about your music, too. I can’t quite pin down where something came from, or whether or not I have even heard these types of sounds before, specifically on something like “Jilly’s On Smack”—hard rock interlude with a Middle Eastern tinge segueing into rockabilly in some Claypool alternate world.

LC: I was very insistent on this record that everybody bring in material, that we don’t just start with jams, but we will also have material that everybody brings in. And we never really did that before. Ler [LaLonde] was always hesitant. I don’t know if it was a confidence issue or what. Like the riff for “Eternal Consumption Engine”—Ler has been playing that riff for fifteen years or something I’ve been hearing that: “When are we going to put that on a record? I love that.” And he finally did it.

He came in with that lick for “Jilly’s On Smack” [Claypool scats the guitar riff], and I was like, “Man, that’s just so cool. What are we going to do with it? What are we going to do with it?” Then I started looking through my notes, found the “Jilly’s On Smack” lyrics, or partial lyrics, and fleshed them out a little more, and I wrote that mid-section, that sort of jungle-y, tribal-y section.

But it’s funny because that song…people are really gravitating towards that song. The interesting thing about iTunes now is that people are now not just downloading records, but they are downloading individual songs, and that song, by far, is the most downloaded song off the record by double. It’s funny because it’s not like it is getting any radio airplay. People are drawn towards that tune, and it’s one whenever we play it at shows, people get all fired up, it feels good to play it.

It’s…an interesting piece.

RR: I heard a little bit of a Minutemen riff in “Extinction Burst.”

LC: I didn’t do it on purpose. I’m more versed in [Mike] Watt’s solo stuff than the Minutemen.

RR: “Eyes of the Squirrel” has a great outro jam.

LC: The original “Eyes of the Squirrel” was a little shorter. We added that little space section, but it was quite a bit shorter, and I said, “You know what? This is super cool. Let’s make it longer.” So we went in and added to it, and made that whole end section much more… tactile, I guess. (laughter)

RR: End sections. You will be in Hawaii at the end of this year sharing a stage with Jane’s Addiction. You had brought up making damn sure that you are not just revisiting the past, but, on the contrary, you are pushing things forward with Primus. When Primus plays a gig with Jane’s Addiction, is it a new mixture, or, let’s face it, you get to be in Hawaii at the end of the year?

LC: A little bit of being in Hawaii at the end of the year and Jane’s guys are old friends of ours. Actually, I’m a little torn on this one—not about the gig itself, but I had my 20th anniversary of playing New Year’s in the Bay Area last year. It was sort of decided that “Well, you’ve done 20, let’s take a year off.” But I’m kind of like “Wow, you know, I did 20, I could…” because every year it’s a pain in the ass. It messes up the holidays, I’ve got to rehearse, I have to get all these musicians together, and it’s a lot of work. We always have to do some special things, so I’m always kind of stressed during the holidays because of this event. So, the notion was “Let’s take a year off from doing that. You’ve done twenty in a row. You don’t need to do another one in the Bay Area. Let’s go do this Hawaii thing.” And, you know, easy peasy. But, I’m a little sad that I’m not doing it, that I’m not continuing on with the legacy in the Bay Area.

RR: Because of the memories of those twenty years, or because all the hard work is worth it once you get up on stage?

LC: Mainly because it’s been tradition and I’m stopping now and I’m kind of “Hmmm…” Even though I’m Mr. Defy the Laws of Tradition and all that shit, I’m not sure I’m excited about taking a year off. I’m excited about going to Hawaii and seeing Perry [Farrell] and those guys, but I am a little torn that I am not doing the Bay Area this year. I wonder how long I could have gone. 20 years in a row—that’s pretty good.

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Scott October 15, 2011, 06:29:27

Excellent stuff, top notch. Really nice read.

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