TAP Exclusive Interview: Primus’s Les Claypool

By Kevin Seaman

Yesterday afternoon, Primus front man Les Claypool took a break from touring to sit down with me to discuss the new album Green Naugahyde, festivals, the fans, and other Colonel Claypool endeavors including his own private wine label. Primus is at the tail end of their North American tour in promotion of Green Naugahyde with dates coming up in Arizona and California.

KS: Just last month you guys released your first studio album in 11 years, Green Naugahyde. I’ve listened to the album a few times now, its awesome. Can you tell me a bit about the recording process, the album, and how it felt to be back in the studio?

LC: Well we recorded it up at my house as we generally do. My house is basically Rancho Relaxo Studio. It’s a couple of out buildings on my property that are full of old vintage gear. I brought the fellas up there, and stuck J-sky in a room, and we stuck Me and Lar in another room, and away we went. Started layin’ it down to some 16-track 2 inch through an old API console, and basically just went all mad scientist on it.

KS: You’re pretty much on the home stretch of the Green Naugahyde tour. How’s it been touring with all this new material, and what type of response has it gotten from your fans?

LC: Well, we’ve been doing 2 sets, so the first set is different every night. It’s a mixture of classic primus tunes, and then the second set is Green Naugahyde in its entirety from start to finish. It’s been great. It’s been going really really well actually.

KS: This tour has been almost exclusively a theater and ballroom tour. Have you had the chance to play the new stuff for the festival crowd yet?

LC: We did some festival stuff this last summer where we played some of the new material. We played a lot of the new material in Europe. We haven’t done the full set in a festival environment yet though.

KS: Do you typically find that your audience varies from theater shows to festivals?

LC: Ya know it sort of depends. It depends on the festival, it depends on the theater and where the theater is. There’s a lot of variables. But for the most part, Primus fans tend to be those people that are turning over rocks, looking over for new and unique things. That being said, some festivals …..we played the All Good Festival this past year, and it was unbelievable. The whole crowd was lit up with glow sticks and these giant glowing jelly fish, and this dragon going through the crowd that was all lit up. It was a very festive environment. So it sort of depends on the environment and the festival.

KS: Do you have a preference when it comes to playing for a theater crowd as opposed to a festival crowd?

LC: I like both. There are pros and cons of each. I tend to- when I’m doing my own stuff, like to be in theaters because theaters are designed for performance, not smacking around a hockey puck or whatever. They tend to feel good and sound good. That’s where my heart generally lies, but I do like a lot of these festivals because it’s a chance to interact with other musicians and artists and what not.

KS: Primus is a perfect weapon for the festival circuit. You guys transform totally average and typical festivals into festivals of a completely different caliber. Do you ever see yourself tiring of the festival circuit, or is this a lifetime commitment for Les Claypool & Primus?

LC: Ya know, I never really thought about it to tell you the truth. A good gig is a good gig no matter what it is. Sometimes you don’t know whether it’s a good gig until after its over. I’ve pretty much played at every festival but Lillith at this point. I enjoy them for the most part. Some of them are hit or miss. For the most part they’re usually very very enjoyable experiences as long as the wind doesn’t blow your stage over or some shit, and we’ve had some of that.

KS: How long before the shows do you typically put together the setlists?

LC: I Usually put the set lists together about an hour or two before the show. The venue does make a difference. If it’s a seated venue, I’ll tend to put spacier songs in there. If its an old theater, I try to get the vibe off the theater. That’s pretty much it. It depends on how we’re feeling that day, and the setlist on the whole definitely reflects our state of mind. Or at least my state of mind.

KS: What was the most enjoyable side project you’ve been a part of over the years?

LC: Well I tend to cringe at the term side project because realistically, for the past 10 years Primus was a side project. When I’m doing a project, that’s my full focus. I look at it like- I have this stove, and there’s all these pots on the stove, and whichever one gets pulled to the front burner, that’s what I’m focused on. Right now I’m focused on Primus. I have no intention of not doing any of my other projects just because Primus is working again.

KS: Did Electric Apricot make it to Burning Man this year?

LC: Very funny…As an entity or a film? They’ve shown Apricot at burning man a bunch of times before, but I’m not sure if they did it again this year.

KS: You don’t HAVE to answer this, but would you say was your most profound hallucinogenic experience in life?

LC: This phone conversation! I feel like I’m on acid man, were both hearing every other word, we should get some smoke signals going or something!

KS: I thought it would be awesome to hear this from you yourself- so what’s your all time favorite Floyd album? What about Zappa?

LC: To be honest I haven’t really listened to a lot of Zappa, so I couldn’t really name a favorite. I don’t really like to play favorites, but as far as Floyd goes, I’d have to say Animals. In fact, Frog Brigade did animals in its entirety back in the day, and we toured it and recorded it, so I have a very big soft spot for animals. And that was also the first Floyd record that I purchased.

KS: Tell me about some of the most incredible moments for you as a musician.

LC: I mean obviously I’ve had some pretty amazing interactions with some really incredible musicians. Being on stage with Bernie Worrell, and being in the studio with Tom Waits were really just surreal experiences.

KS: Over all, how has the experience of making this album with Jay and Larry, and then touring as Primus been? Does it bring up a lot of nostalgia, or is this an entirely new incarnation of Primus?

LC: It’s a little bit of both. I’m used to touring and working with Jay, and its always a pleasant experience because he’s a good friend, and he’s an amazing person to make music with. With Larry, it’s a little more nostalgic, but there is definitely a new element here. It feels fresh and reinvigorated, it feels great!

KS: Primus is in it’s 28th year. Can you see yourself still making records in another 20?

LC: I have no idea! Who knows what the hell they’re doing in 20 years. You never know. For all I know I’ll be making pancakes in 20 years. Claypool’s Waffle Factory or something.

KS: How about your favorite film director and favorite horror movie?

LC: Well I have favorite directors- Frank Capra, Elia Kazan, Stanley Kubrick, Sergio Leoni, The Coen Bros, I like Jared Hess as far as new guys. Favorite horror movie- Evil Dead 2.

KS: Finally, I just wanted to hear a little about Claypool Cellars, your own personal brand of Sonoma County Vino.

LC: Its just a little boutique thing to keep me off the streets, and to keep me from smoking a bunch of weed. It’s something for my family to do. My wife’s very involved, and it’s a great reason for me to throw all these parties around my area. We make great wine too, its Russian River Pino. It’s really top notch. If you haven’t had it, you better get on it cuz it goes quick. We already sold out ’08 and were just now releasing ’09.

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