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- Posted on Sep 19th 2011 12:00PM by Marsha Casselman
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Primus just released their seventh studio album, 'Green Naugahyde,' after an eight-year hiatus. Spinner caught up with 47-year-old Claypool to talk about the new tunes, his Tom Waits-inspired politics, his 'South Park' pals, and why so many Primus songs are about junkies.
What do you think older Primus fans will think of 'Green Naugahyde'?
I think folks who were into the earlier stuff, 'Frizzle Fry'-era, will recognize a lot of parallels with [original drummer] Jay Lane being back in the band ... Production-wise it reflects the 'Brown' album; we went for some of those big bombastic, dark drum tones. But I think more than anything old Primus fans will be excited by the notion we're excited to make music again.
Rumour has it, your upcoming theater tour will be more "jammy."
The new record has elements where you just go off into space -- a lot of textures, more so than back in the day, but we've always gone waltzing around the room, musically. This show is going to be incredibly psychedelic. We've done some shows with the Flaming Lips lately and I think they were surprised at how psychedelic we were. In the '90s, we got lumped into these heavy testicle-driven bands and we weren't necessarily very comfortable in that world. Not that I disliked it, it's just ... I like space [laughs].
Speaking of the new album, why did you title it 'Green Naugahyde'? Is that some sort of pleather?
Yes, they [the manufacturer in the 1960s] actually used to advertise it with little creatures called Naugas. Basically, the title is lifted from our song 'Lee Van Cleef': "A yellow Studebaker with a 302/With a seat of Green Naugahyde." That was my father's pickup truck when I was a kid. Years later, I actually ran that pickup truck into the side of a liquor store because the driver's door flew open as I was making a right turn ... The ol' Studebaker is no longer with us, but there were a lot of fond memories in that vehicle. I come from a long line of auto mechanics, and naugahyde was what people had on their couches because they couldn't afford leather. The circles I ran in, we saw a lot of naugahyde, the '70s working-class leather.
I wondered if Naugahyde was a social commentary on America.
Whatever I do, there's always slices of Americana and characters who are voicing their social commentary. I've always exercised my own personal demons via these characters. Sometimes they're based on real people, composites of many people, or straight-up fiction, but there's always some nugget of my experience ... It's like an old Elia Kazan film -- colourful, compelling yet tragic figures. That's one reason I'm so drawn to the Coen brothers. You love watching Steve Buscemi in 'Fargo,' but he's such a catastrophe.
The song 'HOINFODAMAN', about a man who works in advertising, is definitely a compelling character ("Maaan that's a juicy burger").
I remember back in the day -- maybe I'm just becoming old [laughs] -- but the rock 'n' roll guys weren't the ones pitching sodas and tennis shoes. Now it surprises me just how quickly some of these people jump on the advertising bandwagon. To me, you're hauling your credibility out the window. Years ago I was offered this commercial, and it was for a product I actually used and liked ... And I talked to Matt Stone [of 'South Park' for which Primus penned the theme song] and a bunch of friends about it. Matt said, "Yeah, it's a cool idea and you'd probably do a good job at it, but whenever I see someone in one of these commercials I know they have a price." That's the price they'll do something for. We all admire Tom Waits for various things, but I've always admired him for speaking out against doing such things but also he's taken people to court for using his material. It just amazes me how some people will just roll over.
Speaking of politics, I know you love to fish, but what is 'Last Salmon Man' about?
It's about the decline in the salmon fishing industry in Northern California. I have a handful of friends who are commercial fishermen. It has always has been hard for them; it's not like fishermen get rich. But now they're going the way of the lumberjack. When you've got over 125 golf courses down in the desert in Palm Springs and there's water being diverted there from the North, it's going to effect the fish populations. I've always been outspoken about that notion of sacrificing one industry, one legacy, for another that just happens to have a lot of money around it. I mean, I like hanging out on the golf course, too, [laughs] but this seems a little ridiculous.
Do you feel Primus is still an outsider band?
We were always being told, "Hey you guys are the weirdos." And I'd say, "No, haven't you listened to Laurie Anderson, the Residents, or what John Patton was doing all these years, or Zappa or Tom Waits or Captain Beefheart. It's not like we're the first guys to play a flat five ... We never thought we'd make it on the radio or MTV back in the day, so it was kind of a joke to us. It was a wonderful thing, but not something we expected. We always felt like we were on the outer fringe and we still are.
Looking over the past 25 years since Primus formed, what are you surprised by?
I'm surprised by where I am in life. It's an odd time right now. That's why I think there's some darkness on this record, lyrically, [like with] 'Tragedy's a Comin'.' You know, my mother's fading from us, that's an odd place to be in life. My nephew's been fighting leukemia since he was two years old. These things to me are surprises, though not pleasant surprises... But one pleasant surprise to me is just how massive my buddies Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker] have become. When we did that [them] for 'South Park,' we never even thought they'd get on TV. Now they're on top of the world, they just won nine Tonys [for the musical 'Book of Mormon'] -- that's unbelievable!
I do hear dark lyrics on the album, especially with 'Jilly's on Smack.'
We have a friend who's sort of disappeared from us because of the old magic poppy. And I wrote that song almost from the perspective of the family: "Where's Jilly? She was always this wonderful successful person then all the sudden she's just not going to be here this holiday." We've had a lot of friends who we've watched go through various times of turbulence over random chemical dependencies, a few of them on heroin. You know my family on one side has really struggled with substance abuse, and if you look at my songs and Primus over the years, there's a lot dealing with that: 'My Name Is Mud' -- a couple of tweekers hanging out, one flips out and smashes the other's head in with a baseball bat; 'Jerry Was a Race Car Driver' -- Jerry gets drunk, wraps his car around a telephone poll; 'Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers' -- I saw a lot of that mess when I was in the trade of carpentry.
But 'Jilly' actually sounds dark and sad in terms of the melody. Whereas 'Jerry Was a Race Car' sounded...
'Tragedy's a Comin' off the new album sounds the same way; it's a peppy little number that makes you shake your ass. But when I wrote those lyrics I was in a pretty dark spot, bringing up my mom, my nephew, all these things. But that contrast between the music and the lyrics -- that's the essence of the blues.
Thanks for being so honest about your lyrics.
I went through my period of "just let the people interpret how they see it," and I still like hearing other people's interpretation of things, but I'm not so precious anymore. If I'm having a good conversation with someone and we're talking about lyrics -- or jockstraps -- I'm going to talk about it.