LES CLAYPOOL

LES CLAYPOOL

INTERVIEW BY DANNY BARAZ
INTRODUCTION BY DANNY BARAZ
PHOTOS BY DANNY BARAZ

My first interview for ‘Juice’ gave me the jitters. It consisted of two things that I love – Les Claypool and hearing myself speak. I fondly recalled an adolescence where you could see Primus and Fishbone play every month. They were always high energy, quality shows. Going to the Frog Brigade show made me feel a little nostalgic. Les facetiously joked as he spotted a cell phone in use where the pit was supposed to be. After unsuccessfully attempting to coax the owner of the phone to hand over his precious device so he could say ‘hi’ to whoever it was interrupting the show, the Frog Brigade exploded into an amazing interpretation of Bowie’s ”Space Oddity.’ I wanted to find out how Claypool decides what he wanted to ‘jam’ into his busy schedule.

You’ve been a busy man. How do you maintain with so many projects?
Well, I grew up in blue-collar working class world, and I get a little nervous if I don’t have work to do, so I just keep going. I come from a long line of auto mechanics. It seemed like my dad was always in the middle of rebuilding some car, working on some deck, rebuilding a foundation, painting, wallpapering, or building a fence. There was always something going on, so it’s in my blood. It’s just that old ‘…Beaver’ syndrome (laughs)

Oysterhead was amazing. How did you put that band together?
Well, I was asked to put together a group of musicians to do a club show down in New Orleans a couple of years ago for Jazz Fest. So, I called Trey because he’s an old friend. It was just supposed to be an impromptu jam thing. And we just started bullshitting. Trey said, ‘I’ve always wanted to have a band with you and Stuart Copeland.’ I knew Stuart, so I called him up. He was all excited and we just did the show. It turned out to be just nuts. We sold 3,000 tickets in 12 minutes and tickets were on eBay for like $2,200. Francis Ford Coppola, Matt Groening and Matt Stone (‘South Park’) were at the show. It was just this insane night. Every piece of merchandise flew out the door. The show was pretty rough because we went down and wrote seven songs in three days and did some covers for the encore.

“I THINK THE INDUSTRY IS GOING TO MAKE A BIG SHIFT. THE BIG MONEY IS NOT GOING TO BE IN SELLING RECORDS, BUT SELLING TICKETS.”

Are you planning any dates or releases?
No. It’s just one of those things that we get together when we can get together. You know Trey is getting ready to put out an album and get on tour. I’m putting out an album and getting ready to go on tour. Stuart’s working on some Police remixes, so we’re all pretty busy. But we’ll do it again sometime. It’s kind of like going on vacation, doing Oysterhead.

Do people call you all the time to collaborate?
I get approached by a lot of people, but I like playing with people that are good, (laughs). By good, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can play your instrument a thousand miles an hour. I just love originality. In fact, I don’t even care about most of these guys that can play an instrument a thousand miles an hour. I could give a shit. I’m into people that have an unusual perspective. That’s what I love. I’m working on a rag record right now and I just had Norwood and Fish from Fishbone, Lonnie Marshall from Weapon of Choice, and a sitar player up here.

That’s for your solo project?
Yeah, and Warren Hanes was up here. So, it’s like… good.

How did you end up working with Trey Parker and Matt Stone?
Well, Matt and Trey were actually big fans of Primus, but around the time South Park came about is when the Holy Mackerel record was out and those guys were listening to the record quite a bit when they were working on the pilot for South Park. They actually approached me and wanted me to do it. And at the time we had just gotten Brain into the band. We said, ‘Let’s do it as Primus, the first actual Primus recording with Brain on drums.’

Did they give their input on the song?
No. They were a couple of college kids. We didn’t even think they’d get the show on TV. (laughs) It definitely went way beyond what anyone was expecting.

When you’re working on a project like Frog Brigade, how do you decide what material to cover?
Well, I never really played covers when I was a kid; I was always in original bands. In my early 20s, I played in an R and B band doing old Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Booker T and the MGs and stuff like that. After all those years in Primus, all of a sudden we had a keyboardist, and a saxophonist and we could cover these tunes that I’ve always wanted to play. I’ve always wanted to do ”Pigs’ so we started learning that. And then I thought, ‘Let’s just do the whole album.’ And we did all of the Animals. And also with Frog Brigade, coming out of Primus I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I didn’t really want to start writing new material with somebody; I just sort of wanted to play so we started playing covers. I didn’t want to work up a bunch of new material if I wasn’t sure I wanted to play it with those guys. But it’s definitely fun doing odd interpretations of things.

How do you feel about file sharing and the fall of free Napster?
Well I think Mp3s sound like shit. (laughs) It’s unfortunate. It’s like we’re back to AM radio. But I guess because they sound like shit, then people will still buy the record. And it’s also forcing the record industry to step up the quality of releases. Soon we will be beyond even 16bit CDs because now 16 bit CDs are starting to sound like shit to me. Soon we’ll be into 24bit or DVD audio or the Sony Super CD. One of those is going to take over. It’s like VHS versus Betamax. We’ll see who wins. We’ll have higher resolution recordings and everyone will remaster their stuff. You’ll get all the Primus records remastered in surround sound. (laughs) That’s kind of cool. But the file sharing stuff I’m not sure. I think for Primus, had there been Napster back in the day, when we were coming up, we would have had a much harder time busting out. I think it makes it harder for people who are doing something original and different to sort of bust out. I realize that people can get the music and then they’re turned on to the band blah, blah, blah, but to an extent putting your music up on the Internet is kind of like putting your name in the phone book. If you’re not looking for it, it doesn’t really matter. What we did in the early days was record a live show, made a thousand copies and sold it to some record stores. Then we took that money and made another thousand copies, sent them out to the college radio stations. The next thing you know, we had a distributor and we were making five thousand copies and it just escalated from there. Not being able to generate that income, it would have been difficult for us. We didn’t have any money to make thousands of records. Plus our demographic, theoretically, is the same people that are downloading Napster stuff, which is college kids. I see the pros and cons. It doesn’t matter if Metallica loses $75,000, or $300,000 in sales. It’s not going to hurt them a bit. But if a band like Primus lost that kind of income in the early stages, we never would have made it. If a band is trying to do something different, it’s going to be very difficult for them to make changes in the industry. It’s these bands that come out of nowhere and do strange stuff that have the worst times. Even Metallica in the early days, it would have affected them, back when they were cutting edge, hardcore thing, when they were changing the rules. In a way, the pop acts are always going to sell. They’re always going to be able to make money through Pepsi, or whatever. It’s the guys who are coming out and trying to change the rules that are going to have a hard time, unless they have some way of promoting themselves, which takes money. So how do you do it giving your stuff away on the Internet for free? You gotta go out and play. I think the industry is going to make a big shift. The big money’s not going to be in selling records, but selling tickets.

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