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By Phil Bonyata
Les Claypool - |
From the bizarre to the brink of normalcy
Jan. 2, 2009
Les Claypool is a modern Renaissance man. His creative flourishs have touched and guided his seminal band Primus to Oysterhead, Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade and Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains. Claypool doesn't play by the rules. His innovative bass playing and deliciously creative music writing has garnered him a devoted fan base. Film maker, novelist and fly fisherman - Claypool takes his art seriously, but knows how to wink back with a sly smile. He's collaborated with greats such as Tom Waits and Stewart Copeland and even tried out for the open bass position in Metallica many moons ago.
Livewire's Phil Bonyata recently sat down with the endearingly bizarre, but ultimately down-to-earth Claypool.
Livewire: You directed the film "Electric Apricot," do you have other films in the works?
Claypool: We just finished rewriting a screenplay based on my novel South of the Pumphouse. We're taking it around and we've had some interest. Hopefully, that will be the next project.
Livewire: Any actors lined up yet?
Claypool: There's people being talked about, but I don't want to speak prematurely.
Livewire: What do you think of Rob Zombie's films?
Claypool: I think they're great - he's a very talented fellow. I mean I'm not a big horror film guy, but he's a talented artist in general.
Livewire: What is your creative muse, be it behind the bass or behind the camera?
Claypool: I think it depends on on my mental state at the time. People have always asked me "do I prefer being in the studio or on stage?" And if I've been in the studio for three months, I'm ready to be on stage. By the end of the making of the "Apricot" film I was very much ready to hit the stage and not make another movie ever again. (laughs) It was a pain in the ass! You know making a film is tough - I've used a few different metaphors like climbing Everest in Speedos while loosing appendages along the way until you reach the top.
Livewire: You have been called by many as one of music's more creative bass players. Are they right?
Claypool: I'm one of those guys - I hold my little niche. You know there are guys that are more the Michael Jordan's of their instruments and Tiger Woods of their instruments. I'm more of the Evel Knievel of my instrument. I just go for it and when I make it - it's glorious and when I don't I crash into the fountain in front of Caeser's.
Livewire: If you could name a bass player who might've sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads because they're that good - who would it be?
Claypool: Umm...probably Larry Graham, but if he heard me say that he'd probably shit a tomato because he is a very religious man. He nurtured his soul for the people he thinks it should be nurtured for. There is a certain amount of gift that you get - your genealogy or past lives or what you believe in or the Lord and then a lot of it is devotion and the love of what you're doing and where it becomes second nature.
Livewire: You auditioned to play bass for Metallica a long time ago. James Hatfield said you didn't get the job because you were too good. Had you gotten the job how do you think Metallica's music would sound today?
Claypool: It would sound exactly the same because they would have fired me after about a month. James was being very kind when he said that on VH1. What he really thought is that I was a total freak! (laughs)
Livewire: Your family has a history of auto mechanics - what made you turn to music?
Claypool: Umm...my dad didn't want me to be an auto mechanic. You always want something more for your kids. I was the guy in our family that was supposed to go to college. I had good grades and stuff. I didn't, because we didn't have any money and I needed to work. I either had to work and got to college or work and play music. I couldn't do all three, so I choose to work and play music. I'm sure at the time it was distressing to my parents.
Livewire: In your band Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains you seem to take the Dadaist theory of anti-art by not preparing any material or rehearsing before performing. Are you willing to push the envelope even further?
Claypool: Like everybody trading instruments? That project was more about the personnel involved. It was all about seeing what kind of spontaneous chemistry we're going to have. It basically just kind of came together for a Bonnaroo show. A band cancelled and I was already going to be there and I met with the guys and asked them if they wanted to play. I mean let's go jam and we did and it really came off well. We all really enjoyed ourselves and we made a record. It was a lot of fun. You know, with those guys it was all pretty much never a dull moment. The first show at Bonnaroo, I even say on the mic, "this is our first note together" in front of several thousand people. I mean, this is the first note I'd ever played together with the great Bernie Worrell. We played it and we didn't talk about keys or anything. I mean, right before we were going on stage the guys said "Ok, what are we doing?" I said, "we're just going to play." They looked at me and I said, "I don't know let's just go." We said alright and laughed and away we went! It was really fun and basically we made the record from that show. We took the tape from that show and picked out different riffs we had stumbled across and made songs out of those riffs. The majority of that record, the birth of it happened in front of several thousand people.
Livewire: If you could take two albums - one Primus album and any other record you want - with you to a desert isle - which albums would it be and why?
Claypool: I'd take Frizzle Fry and I would probably take Rain Dogs by Tom Waits. Frizzle Fry is my favorite Primus record. It represents a very positive time. We were playing material for a long time and when you do that the chips start to fall away and the nuggets come out. When you're compelled to make a record every year the editing process is not that refined. We were all young and full of beans...it represented an amazing time. Everything was very sparkly - we hadn't seen the wizard behind the curtain yet. (laughs)
Livewire: Speaking of Tom Waits - what was it like working with him?
Claypool: I've worked with him quite a bit and we've become good friends. For me it's one of the greatest things of my career. I would say the greatest thing of my career are the heroes I've befriended and have worked with. I mean I'm in a band with Stewart Copeland and that's one of the greatest things to me! I've worked with Tom many, many times. I've worked on his projects and he's worked on my projects. An incredible, incredible thing. Bernie Worrell, Adrian Belew I mean these are amazing people. I mean Adrian is really a funny and personable guy.
Livewire: I understand that you're an avid fly fisherman - is it as spiritual as the movies make it out to be?
Claypool: I do a lot of fishing in general and I've taught my son to fly fish. Maybe there is some spirituality there, but I don't think of it that way. Like we said, I grew up with a long line of auto mechanics and what we did on the weekends - we'd go fishing. I got into fly fishing when I got older. But fishing was always a big thing, even when I talk to my dad now. We can be on the phone and we don't really have much to talk about but old times and what the kids are doing...what not, but as soon as we talk about fishing it becomes alive. It's a great thing to bond over and we can rattle for quite awhile about fishing. I think it's important, especially as we move through life with our kids, especially 20 years from now, I'm doing my thing and they're off doing their thing and we can get on the phone and have something to connect about.
Livewire: You've already written a book South of the Pumphouse - what book are you reading now?
Claypool: Right now? I tend to keep books os short stories lying around. I'm so busy, unless I'm on the road, it's so hard for me to delve into a full blown novel. I've been reading this big, thick book of Hemingway shorts. Which I tend to reread. Been on Bukowski, lately as well. I love this guy...but dammit his name eludes me right now. He's done Walk In the Woods and Thunderbolt Kid. I'm looking right now...here it is - Bill Bryson. He's from your neck of the woods in Iowa. You have to read his book Thunderbolt Kid - it's about him growing up in Iowa. I think you would really dig it living out there.
Livewire: What does it mean for America and the world now that Obama won the Presidential election?
Claypool: Well, I think for the world we get a huge chunk of respect back. I think it's very obvious when Obama went over to Europe and thousands and thousands of people came to see him. I think it's a immediate bolster of our credibility around the planet. It definitely makes it better for guys like me who travel in other countries. You couldn't go anywhere without people asking "What's up with this President of yours?"
Livewire: Well after the first Bush election - the majority of the world hated our government and after the second Bush election most of the world hated the American people as well.
Claypool: Oh yeah, they questioned our senility. (laughs) Or our intelligence.
Livewire: At Woodstock '94 you were pelted with mud by fans while playing "My Name Is Mud." Give me one of your most bizarre stage experiences.
Claypool: Actually, it happened in Ames, Iowa in '93. I actually got hit with a pig's, like forearm. You know people thought Pork Soda that this would be funny. I mean I've had fish come up on stage and all kinds of crap. Not so much anymore though. People know that it really annoys me and I tend to stop shows if that shit comes up on stage. But yeah, it was back in the day when I could actually go on stage without my shirt on. I was running around in the heat and all of a sudden - BAM! - it felt like somebody punched me in the chest. I looked down and there was this huge welt on my nipple and I looked down and there was this pig's, you know elbow with this big toenail just laying on the ground - I was like "Holy Shit"!
Livewire: How did you react?
Claypool: Umm... I don't remember. (laughs) I'm sure I made some wise ass comment. I chastised who ever through it and questioned...
Livewire: Their sanity?
Claypool: No, I tend to question the size of their genitalia. (laughs)
Livewire: Any plans on coming out to the Chicago area soon?
Claypool: I believe in March I'm putting together a little mini festival called The Oddity Fair with some really eclectic music acts and performers and I've got a new record coming out then as well. I did the soundtrack for a video game that's becoming very popular called Mushroom Men. And I've done the scoring for this horror film called "Pig Hunt." The film hasn't been sold yet. It's about a 3000 pound wild boar that terrorizes the pot fields of Northern California.
Livewire: How do you and your family celebrate the holidays?
Claypool: Well my in-laws are out from Iowa. On Christmas day we're going over to some friend's house who are Polish, so they'll be making all of this traditional Polish food. Lots of sauerkraut.
Livewire: You're sitting on the electric chair about to be executed - what would your last words be?
Claypool: Hmm...I don't know what I would say, I'm stumped. I don't know what the hell I would say. I keep thinking of that movie "The Green Mile" where the one guy didn't wet the sponge and that guy got fried. I guess I would say "make sure that those sponges are wet." (laughs)