Sometimes it seems as if the members of Primus have certain primal fixations that the rest of us lowly residents of humankind will never be able to fully grasp. Yes, bassist/vocalist Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and Drummer Tim Alexander definitely have their own very unique perspectives on the world, and they have no qualms about revealing their often discordant brain strummings in the varied, amusing and always entertaining textures of thier songs. This time around, on the Bay Area trio’s latest sonic offering, Tales from the Punchbowl, that fixation seems to revolve around animals. From Year of the Parrot to Southbound Pachyderm to Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver (yeah, that ditty is about one of those furry little dam-building critters gutter breath) the boys seem to be caught up in a world filled with strange creatures doing strange things. But, hey, this is Primus we’re talking about, and whenever Primus is the main focus of attention, strangeness of one kind or another is almost guaranteed to occur.
“I don’t know if there is anything particularly significant to be read into the songs refering to animals,” Claypool said with a typically bemused grin. “We’re all just residents of the Punchbowl, that all-encompassing zone in which we all dwell. I don’t know, it just seems like a nice set of parameters to be in, the big ol’ Punchbowl.”
In a musical society filled with deep-thinking, self-rightous, self-absorbed Rock Gods, the frothy, light-hearted attitude so often exhibited by Claypool and his bandmates is more than merely refreshing-- it’s downright shocking. Sometimes it seems as if these guys just view the oft-brooding brood of musicians that surround them with total confusion, neither comprehending nor understanding the motivations of anyone who doesn’t fully enjoy all the highly entertaining aspects of the always quirky, utterly strange world that surrounds us.
From the day when Primus’ 1989 debut, Suck on this, was released, it was abundantly apparent to anyone with ears that this was a band with a truly unique perspective on both life and music. With their rich blend of funk, pop and hard rock, Primus knew they always ran the risk of alienating everyone , but somehow their quixotic blend of musical reactants has had the unexpected benefit of attracting a wide-range at an ever-escalating rate. The group’s last release, Pork Soda, is on the verge of attaining platinum certification, and Tales from the Punchbowl seems destined to easily top that prestigious mark. For his part, Claypool remains somewhat amazed by the clamor his little band has created.
“It’s rather amazing to think about the number of people who seem to respond to our music,” he said. “We’re just as surprised as anyone else to sell the number of records that we do. Who knows what’s next, maybe we’ll be asked to do a Pepsi commercial, that seems to be the height of commercial acceptance. It’s all kind of amusing to us-- after all, who seriously can you take all of this?”
The fact is that despite Claypool’s tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek of the world, there are those millions of fans around the world who seem to take Primus’ latest derring-do with the utmost degree of seriousness. Those fans will stand on line for hours to buy tickets to one of the group’s legendary live performances or wait overnight in the rain for the right to be the first person in town to own a copy of the band’s new album. That kind of loyalty doesn’t come cheap, and Claypool’s gang knows it. They may occasionally deride their own talents and question the sanity of those who fanatically attend their performances and lovingly chant “You Suck” as their rallying cry at show’s end. But they know that their special amalgram of musical reactants has hit a responsive nerve within the music masses and despite their often self-depricating stance, they’re damned happy about it.
“You know what keeps us motivated?” Claypool asked with straight-faced sincerity. “Drugs! Seriously though, this all sure beats sittin’ around the house. I’ve given up trying to find out why the people seem to like us. At one time I thought they were all crazy. Now there are getting to be too many of them for that to be the only answer.”
It’s not really that difficult to understand Primus’ appeal after even a cursory audio perusal of their latest musical offerings. From the big beat power of Professor Nutbutter’s House of Treats to the infectious rhythms that propel Space Farm, the songs contained on Tales from the Punchbowl present the full gamet of Primus’ musical tricks and treats. Much like the old joke about the ever-changing weather in the band’s home port of San Francisco, if you don’t like one song on the new disc, just wait a minute-- the next one’s practically guaranteed to grab hold of you and shake you until you dissolve into a quivering pile of petroleum extract. Recorded in Claypool’s Rancho Relaxo home studio over a leisurely five month period, the punchy, powerful baker’s dozen of tracks seem well on their way to establishing Primus as one of the most important and successful bands of the late- ‘90s, even if Claypool still finds such a notion rather preposterous.
“I think if we had gone into the studio right after the Pork Soda tour, we would not have come up with anything we had liked,” he said. “We needed to do some other things and be apart. I went off with a band called Sausage and Herb (Alexander) played another Bay Area band, Laundry. It really refreshed us. Green beans may be your favorite food, but every now and then you’re going to have to eat something else! We had to sow some wild oats. We wanted to come back to Primus with a fresh energy. You don’t want to make things work-- you want them to jell.”
Now with their new album out, Primus stand on the verge of launching the biggest tour of their six year career. Having already toured the world with a suitable eclectic assortment of headliners ranging from U2 and Public Enemy to Rush and Anthrax, the band is ready to step out on their own, take over the spotlight and prove once and for all that beneath their good-time attitude and light-hearted appeal lurks one of the best bands on earth. Of course, the guys would never be presumptuous enough to make such a claim, but one can’t avoid having the sensation that they wouldn’t mind having people acknowledge their musical skills-- as soon as they stop laughing right along with their songs.
“This is all about having a good time,” Claypool said. “We play the music we like in a format that we enjoy. The fact that other’s seem to enjoy it too is rather mind boggling. But we certainly can live with it.”