Talking to Les Claypool for me is what it must feel like for Star Wars fans when they run into Mark Hamill in the unemployment line. From when I first heard about Primus via the South Park theme Les’s virtuoso bass skills, quirky narrative lyrics and his alien red neck voice have continued to warp my psyche well into adulthood. In short I’m a fanboy… and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Friendly and humble over the phone, outside of Primus Les has rarely left himself much time for rest and relaxation, having started a litany of other bands which include Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, Sausage, Oysterhead and The Holy Mackerel, as well as writing a novel called South Of The Pumphouse and directing a This Is Spinal Tap influenced mocumentary titled Electric Apricot: Quest For Festeroo. All this while raising two children as well as working on solo projects, film scores and video game music. Yeah, he’s nuts.
With his latest album Of Fungi & Foe, an album born out of his work on a score for the film Pig Hunt (where a 3000 pound Wild Boar terrorises the marijuana fields of Northern California), the Nintendo Wii video game Mushroom Men as well as other stimuli such as a night of raucous booze fuelled reveries with 5th Beatle Sir George Martin, Les has pushed himself even further toward the outside of the envelope, and lucky us cos he’s touring it here.
“The one thing I’ve been telling everybody is, the performances we do and the musicians I bring, it’s extraordinarily unique. I mean it’s the one thing I can say, I don’t whether it’s good or bad, that’s all subjective, but it’s incredibly unique, you’ve not ever seen or heard anything like what I’ll be bringing down there. No guitarist, just a bass player and a marimba/vibraphonist/junkyard percussionist, a guy playing a bastardised drum kit and then a mutated cellist, so it’s pretty, pretty abstract,” he confides with a laugh.
‘The album is kind of a bit dark,’ he continues. “It’s a kind of dark creepy record. It’s also very textual, there’s not any real straight drum kit on it, there’s no guitar on it, except when Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello strums away on his acoustic, and it kind of reminds me of Captain Beefheart meets early Peter Gabriel. You know, it’s got some dark, creepy yet still whimsical elements. It’s got a kind of drunken haphazard approach to it; it’s my drunken H.G Wells, General Ulysses S Grant period.”
I ask if the shows are going to mainly feature his solo work and if we might get treated to a few tunes from any of his many musical incarnations. “Anything that’s non-Primus, besides Oysterhead, is all part of my solo career, if you want to call it that. You know people say this is your second solo record, when really it’s like my seventh, it just doesn’t have Frog Brigade or it doesn’t’ say Holy Mackerel after my name, which for the most part is exactly what it is. But with the shows, I’m drawing from all that material, and every now and again we might sneak in a little Primus tune, but most of the set will be off this record and later material.”
At the mention of Primus I decide it’s time to make my move if you will, and ask him the big question; why Primus stopped making music. “Well we used to do it quite a lot, almost too much,” he explains, “and then it just got to the point where it didn’t feel like we were opening new doors anymore.
“Personally we all had different things going on, we all started families at different times and as friends do you know, you sort of go through ten year cycles, we just sort of drifted away and so it wasn’t so much fun to do it anymore.
“People would always ask me, because Primus went on for so long, ‘how long will Primus go for?’ and I always said Primus will go for as long as it’s fun and it just kind of stopped being as much fun in the late 90s. So we stopped and we got back together again on ’03 cos it was fun, and we do it every now and again, and who knows if we feel like it’s a new challenging thing maybe we’ll do another album, but right now I’m not there you know, my head’s in a different place.”
A series of different places it would seem as he explains to me his current load of projects. “I’m trying to get another film project going, but with the economy it’s very difficult, I’m working on an animated series based on the characters from my film and I’m working on another book.”
“I have a concept for another recording project I’ve been kicking around with my friends,” he explains to which I respond with a barrage of questions. “I can’t really talk about” he tells me with a laugh, “I only just started talking about it yesterday, you know I don’t want to spill the beans till I’ve made the burrito you know.”
Sounds tasty. Be sure to catch Les on his national tour, which starts this week. Here are the dates:
Tuesday 1st December
Brisbane, Tivoli Theatre (18+)
Wednesday 2nd December
Sydney, Enmore Theatre (All Ages)
Friday 4th December
Melbourne, Forum Theatre (18+)
Saturday 5th December
Adelaide, Thebarton Theatre (All Ages)
Sunday 6th December
Perth, Capitol (18+)
Tickets available from Ticketek.com.au