Les Claypool Talks Duo de Twang, Primus and Jam Cruise
Primus frontman Les Claypool has spearheaded a myriad of diverse projects in his expansive musical career, including The Frog Brigade and the Trey Anastasio/Stewart Copeland supergroup Oysterhead. With his latest endeavor, Duo de Twang – a collaborative acoustic duo with longtime friend Bryan Kehoe – the iconic bassist has stretched his musical reach even further.
In the midst of gearing up for a short spring tour, Claypool took some time to speak with Jambands about Duo de Twang, the return of drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander to Primus, and hanging out and jamming with his son.
So you’re playing with Tim Alexander again this year. How does it feel to have him back in place of Jay [Lane]? Is Primus working on any new material now that Tim’s back?
It’s great having him back. He’s in a happy spot these days so it’s very pleasant having him around. Of course, he’s Tim Alexander; he’s the 90’s uber drum hero of the world. It’s pretty great having him back in the driver’s seat again. We are working on some stuff right now that we’ll probably be coming out with later this year. I mean, right now I’m right in the middle of this whole Duo de Twang thing.
Is Tim a permanent fixture in Primus again? Or are there plans for Jay returning when he finishes his stint with RatDog?
There’s no plans for Jay returning. Jay left; he quit the band. Herb’s back, so as long as things are happy and moving forward creatively, that’ll be the lineup. [Tim]’s a monster; he knows what the hell he’s doing. He has this signature feel that very few people are able to copy.
Do you feel like having him back – and having that early influence and early element back in the band – is going to push the band forward from here on out?
I think any time you have a fresh perspective that always helps move things forward. When he left the first time in the mid-90’s, the perspective and the feel with all of us was not so great. So we brought in Brain [Brian Mantia], and that kind of breathed some fresh wind into the sails. And then that kind of teetered out. And then in the 2000’s we kind of came back and did the Herb thing again; it was more of a nostalgia thing. And when we did it again – bringing Jayski in again – it was phenomenal because he was sort of the early, early guy. And it brought back a certain hop and a certain feel that’s very hard to replicate with Jayski, too. So, now with Jayski bowing out, having Tim in there is another feel. So it’s this sort of continuous progression, I guess. You know, you don’t plan these things; they just happen.
The Duo de Twang album has been received really well by critics and fans alike. How has the crowd reception been at the shows?
Well, the record is actually just a by-product of the shows. We’ve been doing these shows for a while and it just seemed logical, “Hey let’s just record this because it would be so easy. We’ll just go in and do the damn show!” But you know, I keep saying that this is my “fuck-off vacation band” because it’s basically myself and Bryan [Kehoe] and every now and again Wylie Woods comes out with us and a couple friends of ours open – Reformed Whores – and we go out and we’ve got a couple chairs on stage and a campfire and some various alcoholic beverages and we sit there and tell stories and crack jokes and play the occasional song.
So it’s more of a hang than a show, to an extent. Some nights it’s incredible and some nights it’s not as incredible. You know, it’s like anything else. It’s very impromptu; there’s nothing scripted or anything like that. Kehoe is a pretty hilarious guy and we’ve known each other since high school. So we can sit there and riff on each other and riff on things and sometimes it gets pretty good.
Being an impromptu, off-the-cuff show, do you tend to retell stories at all on different nights or do you make up your mind as you go along?
Very rarely. Sometimes there’s certain songs that have a story behind them, but it just depends on the feel of the evening. Sometimes you’ll get more bullshit from us because we just happen to have an edge on us that night. I mean Kehoe was so drunk in Santa Cruz he fell backwards off his chair twice; I saw the bottom of his shoes. It was like Charlie Brown on the pitcher’s mound. So you never know what you’re gonna get. The good thing about it is when the stories are falling flat or the jokes are falling flat we can play our instruments.
On the Duo de Twang album you do a couple Primus tunes. How do you go back to Primus after you’ve twangified a song like “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver”? Do you find yourself thinking a little bit differently about the song? Do you have a new perspective on it? Or do you try to play it a little differently?
No not at all. It’s two different arrangements. The funny thing is, the original “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” was written more like it is on the Twang record than it is on Tales from the Punchbowl. I had this lyric and I was just writing this little filler song – kind of like “De Anza Jig” or “Incredibly Hot” – and it just happened to fit really well with this bass riff that I had so we just kind of stuck them together. We built this song around this bass riff and we stuck them together and that became what most of the world knows as “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver.” And then of course it became the single off the record. But originally it was just supposed to be this kind of hillbilly sidebar song.
You know, there’s not a lot of calculating going on here. I basically just have this resonator bass and I’ve been carrying it around gigs and around the house just playing songs and singing; trying to get my Luther Perkins style down. I was doing some Johnny Cash stuff and then I started doing some Stompin’ Tom stuff and then I tried “Beaver” and all of a sudden I could kind of twangify all these songs and I said, “This is pretty cool.” And we started doing these gigs and it’s all been very, very casual.