Matt Archer, Getty Images A breakup will make you do some crazy shit. Mickey…
- Posted on Dec 28th 2011 4:00PM by Benjy Eisen
More to the point, in his home, nestled in a secluded spot under redwood trees and not far from the Pacific Ocean, Claypool operates his hidden Rancho Relaxo studio, where he records and produces almost all of his music. So when Primus regrouped with original drummer Jay Lane back on the drum kit and, as always, Larry LaLonde on guitar, the storied trio hunkered down in their isolated surroundings and emerged with 'Green Naugahyde,' the first Primus album of all-new material in more than a decade.
Speaking to Spinner recently from another local landmark, the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Claypool opened up about Primus' long journey to the present, comparing the band's subject matter to an entire catalog of dark and disturbing cinema.
It's been 11 years since the last Primus album. During that time you put together a lot of other bands, but it always seemed like Primus was sort of just on hiatus.
No, Primus stopped for sure.
How long would you say Primus had definitely broken up for?
For about three years. Then we came back and did the nostalgia thing, in '03, with a pretty big tour. And then in 2006 we did another round. But those tours, they were just -- they were what they were. They were nostalgic tours; we weren't writing anything, we weren't talking about writing anything.
There are bands that have spent most of their careers doing cycles like that.
Yeah, but for us, because we were a band that would put out a record and tour, then put out a record and tour ... You know, Tool wait like five years between records and what-not, which is probably not a bad idea. But we're kind of under-the-radar guys. We've got to go out and work. So for us to stop like we did -- we weren't even talking. We definitely broke up. We broke up but we didn't want to tell everybody, so we said "Well, we're on hiatus."
You've formed a lot of bands, both during and after Primus: Holy Mackerel, Oysterhead, the Frog Brigade, the Fancy Band and so on. But when you reform a band such as Primus, you might want to retain a certain identity and return to a certain form -- the band's signature sound. So do you allow Primus, as a band, to have new influences or to go in new directions?
Well, the thing about the Claypool projects: It's funny because I've been doing Claypool projects for as long as I've been doing Primus, so I don't think of them as side projects. If I'm doing a project, it's my project at the time. But even when I did Holy Mackerel back in the mid-'90s, I always said, "These are the songs that I wouldn't inflict upon the guys in Primus, because they just didn't fit with the personality." What I was hearing in my head wasn't going to fit with Tim Alexander's playing, or Lars' guitar playing. And so with the Claypool stuff, whether it was the Frog Brigade or Fancy Band or whatever incarnation, it was like making a film and bringing in actors to fulfill the specific roles that I had written. Whereas with Primus, it's an ensemble. And you make different variations of the film with the same cast. And the color and the textures that each musician brings, and the personalities -- it's what makes Oysterhead, Oysterhead and what makes Primus, Primus.
A lot of the new material is actually very reminiscent of the 'Frizzle Fry' days and a lot of that is because Jay Lane's back, and he quit the band one month before we made our first record. And so those first few records are very, very heavily ... more than "influenced," he wrote a lot of those drum parts. It has that hearkening to it. But also, because we've been on the planet for so many more years and have much more dirt and salt under our fingernails.
We were about to interject and suggest "wisdom," but dirt and salt is a lot better.
Yeah, dirt and salt is a lot more accurate [laughs]. There are certain songs on the new record, like, say, 'Jilly's on Smack,' that we just wouldn't have written in 1990 because it's an experience we just hadn't had yet. Or 'Last Salmon Man,' which is about the salmon fisheries here [in Northern California] -- it's an extension of the Fisherman's Chronicles. Or 'Lee Van Cleef,' which for me is a reflection -- it's sort of looking back to elements of my youth, which I just wasn't doing in the '90s.
As you get older, do you find some of the eccentricities and playfulness of your youth morph into something more serious, like the introspection of 'Lee Van Cleef,' for example?
I'm sure there's an element to that, but still when Larry LaLonde and I get together there are a lot of inside jokes that have been throughout all of our music that just pops up.
I always talk about [Frank] Capra films and Coen brothers films and Elia Kazan, just these colorful characters throughout my music, but they're all very tragic, you know? Not all of them, but most of them are very tragic because I'm sort of exorcising my demons and my experiences through the eyes of these colorful characters, similar to what Capra used to do and what the Coen brothers do. You know, there're these compelling characters but they're so f---ed up. But you're with them.
And I've had those elements in my family. I lost my uncle when he was 50 because he was on speed for 30 years. And he was a criminal. But you meet him and he's a real nice guy; he's a funny guy. He was like the Steve Buscemi character in 'Fargo.' And I've known a lot of these people in my life. And those characters have been throughout Primus forever. 'Jerry Was a Race Car Driver' -- you listen to the song, you think, "Oh, Jerry was a race car driver ... funny song." But the guy crashes his car into a telephone pole because he's drunk. Theoretically, he's dead. 'My Name is Mud' -- it's about a guy who kills some other guy. He's spun out and he kills his best friend because the guy stepped on his shoes, so he hit him with a baseball bat. But unless you really pay attention to what's going on, it's a funny little song.
I guess my point is that these elements of darkness have been there for a long time but it's, I just always use the film analogy because that's very dear to me.
Once you finished recording 'Green Naugahyde' were you surprised by anything, in hindsight?
There were not necessarily surprises, but I was very insistent that everyone brought in material. Because, in the past with Primus, either I brought in material or it was stuff that we jammed on together in rehearsal or soundcheck or whatever. There's a lot of that on the record but there are also two full-on compositions by Larry LaLonde, which we've never seen on any Primus record before. That's his music and I put lyrics to it.
And there are a handful of songs that are based on Jay Lane's drum beats, and we haven't seen that in Primus before. He did some of that on the old Claypool stuff, but my point being is, to me, that gives the record contrast. It's like you listen to a Police record -- if it was all Sting pop tunes, I think it would be kind of boring. It would be a Sting record, which is fine for a lot of people, but I like that Andy Summers has 'Behind My Camel' on there or you know, "The telephone is ringing/Is that my mother on the phone?" It's a departure. Same with Beatles records. Why is 'Abbey Road' so amazing? Is it because of all the pop songs that McCartney wrote? No, it's because McCartney and Lennon, but also Ringo singing 'Octopus' Garden' all the sudden in the middle of it. Or 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer.' Those little departure songs are like a different scene in the movie.