In the world of rock ’n’ roll, the men of Primus have always forged their own path. Since forming in 1984, the Cali-based funk rockers have gone from obscure alternative act to mainstream sensation and back again, never failing to push the envelope both stylistically and musically along the way. Now, some 26 years, seven albums, three DVDs, and two hiatuses later, the three-piece is back and looking toward the future. In recent months, frontman and bass wizard Les Claypool has led his band of psych-prog merrymakers through a full-scale headlining tour of Europe, Australia, and now the U.S. (They play the Santa Barbara Bowl this Sunday, August 15.) Following that, Primus will head into the studio to record their first full-length album since 1999’s Antipop, with long-lost founding drummer Jay Lane back in the picture. I recently caught up with Claypool to discuss the band, past, present, and future.
What prompted this reunion? I had just finished up a run with my band after this last album, Of Fungi and Foe, and there were many different options on the table as to what to do next. [Guitarist] Larry LaLonde and I had been chatting and sort of rekindling an old friendship and kind of decided, “Let’s fire up the old Primus jalopy and get out there and do it right.” We’re going to do this tour, then we’re touring the Oddity Faire in the fall, then we’re supposed to work on an album, so …
Can you tell me anything about the record at this point? Right now it’s just a pile of noodles that we’re throwing at the wall to see what sticks. There are a lot of tapes of various jams and riffs, and notebooks filled with noodlings and doodlings, but none of it is cohesive yet.
What’s the best part about having a band like this that you can come back to? Well, I think the notion of just being away from it—absence makes the heart grow fonder. Also, I feel like as a musician—as a performer, as a singer, as a writer, as a human—I’ve grown so much over the past 10 years and have opened some new doors and windows, as has Larry. And with Jay Lane back in the band after all these years, there’s this bubbling pot of creativity that’s percolating away. It’s exciting.
I feel like the bass often gets labeled the ugly stepsister of rock instruments. What first drew you to it? I think it’s all subjective. In many circles, the bass is the coolest instrument. It’s the person with the largest genitalia that’s required to play the bass guitar. I was driven to the bass because I just always loved the sultry element of it; it’s got the huevos. I didn’t even know what a bass was. As a kid I was like, “Oh, I like the four-string one better than the six-string one.” Whenever that guy would play, he got the rumbling going. It rumbles the libido. Whether it’s South African music, or reggae, or the soul music of the ’70s, it’s all driven by the bass. It definitely made me a hotter commodity, because nobody wanted to play the bass when I started playing. Everyone wanted to be Eddie Van Halen back then.
What’s the stage setup look like this time out? We have astronauts. [Laughs.] Giant astronauts and giant firemen. That’s all you need to know.
Do you ever feel pressured to keep up the eccentric onstage persona you’ve created for yourself? I don’t think there’s a need for it. It’s hard because I’m in the bubble; I’m in my world looking out, and it all seems fine and normal to me. We’re just doing what things keep us entertained and give us a chuckle, or things that stimulate us visually, or aurally, and those things tend to be pretty abstract. When all is said and done, with all the things we’ve done over the years, it’s all been to make us happy. When we’re happy we put on much better shows; you can see that we’re into it. When we’re doing something that we don’t really want to do, it’s like anybody. When I was coming up, we didn’t have any money. My father always said, “This music thing is great and whatnot, but you really need to learn a trade.” And I learned many trades and had many jobs over the years. … Still, the greatest job I’ve ever had is being a musician. Even making films and all that stuff, it’s kind of a pain in the ass. Being a musician is fun. I’m in a nice hotel right now, I’m going to go play for some people, have a nice glass of wine, play some video games—it’s pretty sweet. But when all is said and done, it is my job, and there are things that do get tedious about it. What I’m trying to say is, doing things that keep things exciting is important. I want to look forward to going onstage, and looking forward to going onstage means trying to do different things that keep it fresh and exciting for us.
Primus play the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 Milpas St.) with openers Wolfmother this Sunday, August 15, at 6:30 p.m. Call 962-7411 or visit sbbowl.com for tickets and details.