This article appears in Volume 3 – Issue 6 of SKUNK Magazine.
I REMEMBER the very first time I ever played Primus for my father. He hesitantly looked at the tape deck in his broken-down Honda Prelude, slowly looked back at me with this queer sort of quizzical look upon his trouble brow, and promptly asked, “What the fuck is this?”
So goes the story of Les Claypool. This bass virtuoso has never been mainstream-friendly, nor has his music hovered close to anything that anyone could categorize as pop or commercial. After putting in close to 20 years of bass, sweat and tears into the music industry, Les has managed to achieve widespread success in every genre he’s attempted. Then, having conquered the musical realm, he recently used his Midas touch to triumph over literary and cinematic fields. With the recent live DVD release of Fancy, and a feature-length National Lampoon film slated for fall release, clearly Claypool isn’t ready to spend his days looking back, contented with what he’s already done. In fact, it seems he’s just gettin’ started…
So what compelled you to write a novel in the first place?
My novel was more of an extension of a screenplay that I had written quite a while ago. Going through the frustrations of trying to get a film made. And there were too may compromises that I was beginning to endure, I decided to write it into novel form. That way at least the story will exist…somewhere in its true form in case it actually does get “proliferized” into a film. I’m told, since I’m a published author now, I actually am encouraged to make up words.
Is that a fact?
That’s true, I was told that by my publisher.
I think I might try to make up new words in the magazine, but they would just all look at me like I’m really under-qualified to do what I’m doing.
Yeah, see you would have to write a novel and then they give you a little wider…girth.
So what’s it about?
It’s about two brothers sort of rediscovering each other after the death of their father and they both have very, very different lives socially and politically. And they come together for a fishing trip where they go after this elusive sturgeon. It’s sort of a Deliverance meets Old Man In The Sea.
Now what about Electric Apricot (Electric Apricot: Quest For Festaroo)? It’s played in a few festivals, but it hasn’t been officially released in theatres or on DVD yet.
National Lampoon has picked up the film, so it’ll have a fall release.
It’s been a year since Primus has played together. Is this a permanent thing now or are you all just in the midst of experimenting with new projects?
Primus is one of those things that we do on occasion when we’re compelled to do it. You know, back in the day, Primus was my main focus, not just in my musical world but also in my life and it’s just not anymore. We like to do it when it’s enjoyable, as opposed to when we’re just doing it for the money.
Aside from the successful Primus, Les has been a part of numerous sidebands and musical projects. Here’s a list of some of the more well known, along with a couple of the not-so-well-known:
Sausage – Created in 94 with the original Primus line-up (there were several changes within Primus over the years), this band consisted of Les, guitarist Todd Huth and drummer Jay Lane.
Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel – Not really a sideband as most of the drums, base, guitar and vocals were done by Les himself. Released an album in ’96 called Highball with the Devil.
Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains – The name may sound like a Wes Craven flick, but it actually represents all of the members of the band; Les, Buckethead, keyboardist Bernie Worrell and drummer Brian Mantia a.k.a. Brain.
Frog Brigade – Originally concocted by Les for the Mountain Aire Festival in California in 2000, FB released a couple of live albums and a studio one called Purple Onion (2002). Included a guitarist by the name of Eenor, who won a mail-order competition to become the last member of the band.
Oysterhead – Perhaps the side project with the most star power. Aside from Les, the group consists of Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and Police drummer Stuart Copeland.
So you’ve done a ton of side projects in different musical forms. Is this just a matter of wanting to work with different musicians, or wanting to take different directions with different line-ups?
Well I think variety is sort of the spice of life. And I get these opportunities to play with these incredible musicians both known as well as not so known. I mean with my band [Fancy] it’s sort of this perpetually evolving thing. Oysterhead is Oysterhead, Primus is Primus, you know Sausage is Sausage; [Fancy] is my band where I can indulge myself, and I can play with whoever is available and whomever I want. At this point I don’t have a guitar player out with me. I have someone who plays Sitar, Ukulele and Theremin, you know, as well as a marimbist/vibraphonist. It’s what’s floating my boat at this particular time.
SF: So does the writing process differ in each group?
It differs greatly. Making music is like having a conversation. The different perspectives you get from different people you’re socializing with; the different conversations you’re going to have. Some conversations are compelling, some are not so compelling.
What was the creative energy like when writing something like [Oysterhead’s] Grand Pecking Order?
It was amazing. [Copeland and Anastasio] have both become very good friends of mine and both being very outspoken monster musicians, it was interesting being in the studio with people you could really toss the ball around with and could run with it and carry it. It was a great experience.
You’re fast becoming the new king of all media. You’ve done books, DVD, movies, live albums, studio albums…what’s next?
We’ve got a couple of other film projects we’re trying to get off the ground, I’m going out this fall to tour behind the Electric Apricot film with the Electric Apricots. But beyond that, I’m not really sure what’s next. I haven’t really defined it. A lot of irons in the fire.
So you’re just pretty much just taking it day by day right now.
Yeah, I mean once this tour is over I gotta start making some decisions, so…
So when you’re not touring, writing, recording, etc…what do you do?
Well I have kids and so I’m a father, so that’s what I spend most of my time doing. Kids are the ultimate toys.
9 and 11.
Do they understand what they’re father does or are they branching out on their own?
They do their own thing. They know my music; I don’t know if they necessarily listen to it all the time.
When you were a younger, did you ever envision yourself doing what you’re doing?
When I was their age, I wanted to be a ventriloquist.
When did you realize you wanted to be involved in music?
Well I know I wanted to play some instrument; I always wanted to play an instrument. It wasn’t encouraged in my family. And then, right around my 15th birthday, I got a bass and joined a band. Since there weren’t any bass players around, if you owned a bass, you could get a gig pretty easily.
25 years from now, what do you see yourself doing?
Probably more of the same [laughs]. I don’t see myself stopping. I’ll either be writing or directing or playing or all three. Or I might have a hotdog stand somewhere.
Speaking of your projects, what’s going on with Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains? Was that just a one-off thing?
I think that’s gonna be one of those one-off things. I haven’t really talked to any of those guys in a while. I don’t even know where they’re up to.
You can create your dream band, go…
I would have loved to have played with John Bonham. That probably would have been the ultimate. Instead, I was able to play with the John Bonham of the 80’s, which is Stuart Copeland. It would have been fun to play with Hendrix. Hendrix and Bonham, I’ll go with that [laughs]. You gotta admit that if I was in a band with Bonham and Hendrix, that would be pretty sweet.
I think that would be an understatement.
Fats Waller would have been fun to play with too.
You’ve pretty much gone from punk and metal to jazz and jams. Is there any style you still wouldn’t mind experimenting with?
I sort of incorporate all of the things I like into what I do. A lot of old style country and folk and obviously the funk stuff.
So how have your musical perspectives just in general changed since you started playing in Primus all those years ago, until now?
Well, when Primus broke up in 1999, it was a very scary time for me cuz I was like, ‘Holy shit! I guess this is it. This is the end of the game for me.’ But I just went out and bought an old Airstream motor home and filled it full of guys and went and toured around the west coast and started making music again, and just had a blast. So, for me that period, from after doing Oysterhead and what not, was a very enlightening time; going out and going beyond Primus and other things I had done prior, and playing more experimental music and playing with a wide variety of musicians.
What drives you to go out and still do what you do?
Trying new things. I don’t like looking back, I like moving forward.
How’s the tour going so far?
It’s going great, I got a broken pinkie…
How’d ya do that?
…Since my Electric Apricot Oscar-worthy performance, I’ve been getting offered bit parts in film. And so, being the selective fellow that I am, I took the roll of a sort of inbred, redneck preacher in this film called Pig Hunt, which is about this 3,000-pound pig that terrorizes the pot fields of Northern California. That would be a good one for your magazine [laughs]. So in one of the scenes, I was wrestling with this guy and I happened to break my finger.
You don’t smoke, do you?
I was pretty much stoned for about 15 years straight. And then I realized it was fragmenting my hard drive and I was beginning to forget a lot of the things that I had done that were pretty fun; people had to remind me. And I didn’t want to forget my children’s childhood so I don’t smoke very often, every now and again I do. One of my good friends is actually the founder and owner of General Hydroponics. So I know that world pretty well.
So I guess you’re all for the decriminalization of it?
Yeah, in fact, he just got the worldwide patent for the transdermal cannabis patch, so he keeps me well informed with what’s happening with legislation and whatnot.
Is that really gonna work?
Yeah, he’s got the patent for it. He is a scientist, so…