Les Claypool, The Guy That Went Out With The Hot Chick. by Ryan Schreiber.
Les Claypool. The guy with the vision. The brain behind Primus, the King of the Sausage, and now leading The Holy Mackerel on a Rock N' Roll March to the hardboiled abyss that lies just beyond the rotten soil of music trivia obscurity. That is: Fame.
So how about that interview!
Pitchfork: Why did you decide to do a side project away from Primus?
Les: I'm always doing side projects. I don't think the question is 'Why did I decide to do a side project?' as much as 'Why did I decide to do this particular side project?" There's always side stuff goin' on with me.
Pitchfork: Yeah, with Sausage and all that type of thing, but you talked a lot in the press kit about "The Corn Tapes," which are...
Les: Basically, it's just what I've called the tapes that I've accumulated over the years of me when I get a spare moment and I'm inclined to record something on my little Portastudio or ADAT studio or whatever. Some of it's with friends, and some of it's just by myself, and some of the tunes made it onto this record.
Pitchfork: You said there were three of them...
Les: "Precipitation," "The Carolina Rig," and "Delicate Tendrils."
Pitchfork: Speaking of "Delicate Tendrils," how did Henry Rollins end up on that track?
Les: I had become friendly with Henry on the Sausage/Rollins/Helmet tour and at the time, while I was doing these recordings, I was asking friends of mine that I respected in the music world to send me tapes of anything interesting they wanted to put on tape. Henry was one of the only people that actually did it. He sent me these two spoken word pieces and the "Delicate Tendrils" one just really hit home. It fit perfect with this piece of music that I'd recorded.
Pitchfork: Be honest. You just liked him because of his enormous neck.
Les: He has a huge neck.
Pitchfork: It's hard not to like a guy with a neck of that size.
Les: He's not one of those guys who looks at exercise equipment and immediately feel nauseous, like myself.
Pitchfork: So you went to school with Metallica's Kirk Hammett.
Les: He was a very low-key individual. Most of the people that I've talked to from my high school days don't even remember Kirk at all. He was just kind of this burnout stoner guy that sold pot and had big thick, pop bottle-sized glasses and hung out out back. He was least likely to be the big, famous rock star guy that he is. See, I was the popular guy who went out with the hot chick in the school and knew everybody.
Pitchfork: That was you? The popular guy?
Les: Basically, I had the hot chick, so I was popular. Everybody knew me as 'The Guy That Went Out With The Hot Chick."
Pitchfork: What's one of the first records you can really remember getting into?
Les: Well, I had my Disney records as a kid. The Jungle Book was a big favorite with me. My mom had Abbey Road and I used to just play it over and over and over again. The first album I ever bought -- you know, I used to buy 45s, but the first album I ever bought was Led Zeppelin II.
Pitchfork: You can't deny that Led Zeppelin II is a classic for obvious reasons.
Les: After that, I think my next one was Led Zeppelin IV, so I got into the whole Zeppelin thing at first. That was like sixth grade.
Pitchfork: What's one of the first 45s you can remember buying?
Les: "Amos Moses" by Jerry Reed.
Pitchfork: Man, I just picked that album up -- When You're Hot, You're Hot -- at a garage sale, and I've been playing the hell out of it.
Les: That's one of the greatest songs ever written. He's a very underrated guy. He was a great guitar player and a great lyricist. And he was in Smokey and the Bandit.
Pitchfork: What initially made you pick up the bass?
Les: I thought the guitar was a little wimpy. I figured bass would be easier to learn because it was only four strings, and nobody wanted to play the bass. Everybody wanted to be Eddie Van Halen, so I knew I could get a gig playing the bass. It was a rational decision. I either wanted to play the bass or be a drummer. I had no desire to play the guitar.
Pitchfork: At what age was that?
Les: I was 14, but it was very close to my 15th birthday.
Pitchfork: In the "Wynonna's Big Brown Beaver" video, who's idea was it to get dressed up like the Duracell families?
Les: A while ago, Jimmy Iovine, the president of Interscope [Records] came to me and said, "Oh, you know, I saw that Duracell thing and I thought it'd be perfect for Primus!" So I kinda kept it in the back of my head. I didn't really want to rip off the Duracell commercial so I had the idea about us being these toy cowboys and I talked to the guys that actually did the prosthetics for those commercials. They came up with that look -- they call it 'The Mannequin Look' -- for a Foster's commercial years ago that didn't air in the states, but that's where Duracell got ahold of it so they made us up like these toy cowboys.
Pitchfork: There's still a lot of confusion as to whether there was a falling out between the band and your former drummer, Tim "Herb" Alexander.
Les: It was sort of a marriage that was slowly dissolving. It had been coming for a long time. We had a talk a while ago as to whether or not to continue together and we decided to work it out. The couple of years, we've tried to make this thing work and you could tell that he just wasn't that into it anymore. He was becoming frustrated. He's a pretty low-energy guy to begin with and it was bringing us down.
It really came close to the band breaking up, but I went to Larry [LaLonde, Primus guitarist] and said, "I'm not happy here. I've been contemplating leaving the band for a while." And he said, "Hey, I'm not happy either." So we got to talking about it and we decided that we needed a new drummer. I talked to Tim about it and he actually seemed relieved at the time. It was a button that he had contemplated pushing himself, and we just kind of pushed it for him. We're as friendly as we've ever been. It's been an amicable split. And now we've got Brain on drums, and he's just an amazing ball of energy.
Pitchfork: You've had a lot of drummers over the years...
Les: We've had eight. Brain was actually one of our drummers a long time ago for a couple of weeks, but he broke his foot skateboarding and we had to get a replacement. Larry and I hang together a lot, which allows us to create together. Tim was never a part of that circle and I think he was left out on a lot of creative things, whereas Brain is more like Larry and I. He's a high-energy, easy-go-lucky kind of guy. It's always kind of been me and Ler and then Tim would kind of come in and play his drums. It was sort of an energy drain. Now that we have this hypoglycemic ball of energy, Brain, there's an excitement in the band that hasn't been there ever. Of all the drummers we've had, of all the incarnations of the band, there has never been the energy that there is right now. We're very excited to get in the studio this December and start recording.
Pitchfork: What's the status currently with Sausage? Is there anything in the works right now?
Les: No, but it's something I'll pick up again some day. Right now, I gotta make a new Primus record. We're gonna start recording in December and the next one will probably come out in May, so it'll be exactly two years since Tales From The Punchbowl.