Once upon a time, I decided to ask Les Claypool about the meaning of life.
“I’m not sure, but I think hop-scotch has something to do with it all.”
Had I been unfamiliar with my subject, I might have interpreted this response as evasive at best. However, having been well-versed on the man and his music for a very long time, I can assure you that this answer is as intriguing as it is profound.
“Does there really have to be a meaning to life? Can’t we just let our atoms and particles bounce on and about each other until we all end up piles of spent carbon?”
To the ill-informed: Les Claypool has been confounding the music industry with his success since the early ’90s with his own brand of… well, if I knew just how the hell to describe his music, I wouldn’t have to interview him, right?
With Primus, Claypool became part of, yet separate from, the rising tide of West Coast rock (Grunge, if you will) that was exploding during that time period. From the moment “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” hit the airwaves, Claypool and bandmates (guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim Alexander) had critics and fans alike scratching their heads.
Itchy noggins aside, most whole-heartedly agreed that the band was talented… insanely so, in fact, with Claypool himself taking the role of the bass guitar to previously uncharted territory. Arguably, Les has his predecessors (Geddy Lee of Rush, Chris Squire of Yes), but none had stretched the capabilities of the instrument itself to the realms which he was taking it.
I asked the man if there was a fundamental difference in mentality between bassists and guitarists…mainly, what entices one to eschew the guitar in favor of the bass?
“It is a well-known fact that the bass player in the band is the one with the largest penis.”
Large penises must be rare indeed. I can’t tell you how many of my boyhood friends chose to play guitar, unaware of the hidden realities of their testicular fortitude that were being broadcast to the world. I ponder also the women who mistakenly idolized guitar players, unaware of the inevitable disappointment lurking behind strategically placed sock-rolls.
Over the years, Les Claypool would distance himself from Primus with various solo projects, collaborating with such eclectic musicians as Buckethead, Tre Anistasio, Bernie Warrell and Stewart Copeland. Every project was a veritable supergroup — a kaleidoscope of different approaches from men who were just as weird as, or weirder, than the man himself (See Buckethead).
Take, for example, C2B3 (Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains), a teaming of Claypool with Buckethead, Warrell and percussionist Brian “Brain” Manita, described by Les himself as “a traveling, oversized sock-puppet show spawned by the characters of a Tobe Hooper film and scored by Danny Elfman on bad acid.” The group toured in 2004 without having written any material or rehearsed prior to the outing. This experiment resulted in the kind of unpredictable and “fly by the seat of your pants” atmosphere that Les Claypool seems to thrive in.
Hell, the four guys even made sandwiches for the audience at one point.
Perhaps “absurd” would suit the man and his music a bit better, but bring that up with him and you get this:
“It’s all relative. To me, this is all quite natural. Absurdity is in the eye of the beholder.”
In 2006, Claypool made his first official foray into the big and scary world of solo recording and released Of Whales and Woe. Though he may have released solo material under a wide variety of pseudonyms, Of Whales was the first to bear his name and include him manning the guitar and drums for the recordings.
More recently, Les is set to release his second solo effort, adequately titled Of Fungi and Foe. The tall tales of this record stem from two projects Claypool was commissioned to compose themes for.
In one, you have a meteor that falls to Earth, granting intelligence to the local mushroom population. In the other, you have a giant monster pig that runs amok and terrorizes the marijuana fields of Northern California.
Having the stories already in place allowed the music to spring forth from Claypool in a unique form.
“The stories blossomed in a different way. I tend to not work on music unless it is just flowing as to avoid pretense.”
Surely, having Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello around made the flow more interesting too:
“Eugene is a good friend and he happened to be visiting for a couple of days at the Rancho. We drank far too much vodka with some Polish friends of mine, and subsequently ended up in the studio recording lots of nonsense.”
Nonsense to some, maybe… but Les Claypool’s influence on a generation of musicians can be of no doubt. His unapologetic uniqueness and penchant for skewing what we know of society’s ability to digest in popular music continues to ripple across the status quo.
The man can be a bit evasive about his future (including anything about Primus), but one thing can be “certain” about what we can all expect from Les Claypool:
“Much more nudity.”
Les Claypool's 'Of Fungi And Foe' is in stores now.