Primus Time

A Power Trio’s cartoonish ways pay off.

Being huge Primus fans, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone figured the band’s eclectic virtuosity and freaky, cartoonish humor would yield the perfect theme song for their animated seroes. To start, Parker and Stone sent Primus a copy of the show’s debut, “The Spirit of Christmas.” The five minute short introduces the shows pottymouthed lead brats and features an altercation between Jesus and Santa Claus, who, while duking it out, accidentaly kill Kenny (the first of many deaths the little hooded geek would face in the series), who is then devoured by mice.

“We thought it was pretty hilarious, so we decided to do it,” says Les Claypool, bassist, singer, and lyricist. “They’re definitely pushing all the parameters.”

“We were like, ‘oh man, this is amazing,’” adds Primus guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde. Discussing South Park’s bizarre nature, he refers to Sparky, the gay dog, whose barks --just barks-- are unleased by actor George Clooney. “How you do call somebody up and ask them to play that part?”

In the show’s theme tune, LaLonde’s guitar craftily snakes through Claypool’s rolling bass lines. “Usually we’ll come up with a rhythm and lay it down and then Ler will put something on top,” Calypool says. “But this time he put the guitar part down [first] and we were like, ‘whoa, that’s perfect.’”  Adds LaLonde, humbly, “Gosh, the whole thing was pretty easy.”

The quirky and perverted ditty was the first official recording Primus cut with new drummer Brian “Brain” Mantia. But South Park’s theme wasn’t this trio’s first project together. Before Brain joined Primus, he and his future bandmates, calling themselves Festus Clamrod and the El Sobrante Twangers (El Sobrante being the town Claypool is from), performed Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil went Down to Georgia” for a short animated work of the same name.

Mantia and LaLonde have also played in a Frank Zappa cover band called Caca, as in shit. “We walked into a bathroom and some people asked one of the guys in MIRV what the name of our cover band was, but there was no name,” LaLonde says. “And some guy who wasn’t even listening, who was drunk or something, started yelling Caca.”

For years, Primus has been facinated with animation, experimenting with it in Prawn Song Designs, their computer graphics company and in-limbo record label. Their videos for Tales from the Punchbowl song “Southbound Pachyderm” and Sailing the Seas of Cheese’s “Jerry was a Race Car Driver” boasted claymation, and the vids for Sailing’s “Tommy the Cat” and Punchbowl’s “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” presented cell animation. For the latter of these, Claypool did the drawings and LaLonde made it all move. The enhanced CD-ROM version of Punchbowl also showcases some rad animation.

This very busy band also performs a song for Parker and Stone’s upcoming live-action porn industry lampoon Orgazmo, due out in the summer. But Primus hasn’t lost sight of its own album work, as they recently cut a new record that includes cover tunes like Peter Gabriel’s “The Family and the Fishing Net” (Claypool’s favorite Gabriel tune), Stanley Clark’s “Silly Putty,” and Metallica’s The Thing that Should Not Be,” as well as live material. Finishing touches on the upcoming release, which didn’t have a title at press time, were made just before the band began headlining the Sno-Core ‘98 tour.

The new record marks the first time Primus is working with an outside producer. The job was performed by Toby Wright (of Alice in Chains fame), who Claypool had worked with while unleashing his steller bass on Jerry Cantrell’s solo record Boggy Depot. For LaLonde, having a producer makes it easier to try different gear. “I probably used more guitars than on any other record: a PRS McCarty, a Strat, a Les Paul, for instance,” he says. “I had never played a Telecaster before this, and it was a great guitar.”

Production-wise, this new Primus slab differs from the Brown Album, their 1997 work of funky, booming bravado. Says Claypool, “The Brown Album has sort of this big, ugly, dark feel to it, while Toby’s approach is a lot crisper and tighter.”