Primus Ribbing: Claypool on how to be a goofball--- er, satireball
In the early and mid '90s, Les Claypool quickly became a major influence on an entire generation of bassists when his band hit it big on mainstream alt-rock radio. This was fairly unreasonable, actually, since Primus struck an unsettlingly bizarre balance between dark humor and scratchy fits of borderline-atonal funk-metal, seemingly fit for a deranged Tim Burton film. The band's breakthrough releases were called, respectively, Sailing the Seas of Cheese and Pork Soda, and both were remarkable hits when one factors in the considerable weirdo factor. Their best-known piece turned up in 1997, when they handed the producers of South Park a new lopsidedly jangling theme song–- still in use today. Given that Claypool prefers his humor both subversive and demented, that one makes a bit more sense.
The Hook: Do you ever feel like your humor gets in the way?
Les Claypool: It's a huge part of my life–- to laugh in the face of disaster. And if you look at Primus lyrics, there's a lot of demons in there from my past, different elements of my family and how they dealt with addiction and whatnot. I think one of the most powerful motivating elements throughout history in society has been satire.
The Hook: I said "humor," and you came back with "satire"–- an interesting distinction.
Les Claypool: I somewhat cringe when I hear the term "silly" or "wacky," because that's never been our intention. The first song I ever wrote for Primus is called "Too Many Puppies," and it's all about puppies as a metaphor for young soldiers fighting for our oil fields in the Middle East. There's an image in my head, there's a character I see, there's something that inspired me, a friend of mine that hung himself in his apartment many years ago for no apparent reason, or my uncle dying in the bathroom from doing speed his whole life. I would be uncomfortable in the Bob Dylan role, sitting there with an acoustic guitar spewing my philosophy on social and political elements in society.
The Hook: Should this band have been as successful as it was, or does Primus work better as an underground thing?
Les Claypool: We never expected to be on the radio, let alone MTV.
The Hook: And "South Park" reached many more people than proper Primus material.
Les Claypool: We did it because we thought it was clever and funny.
The Hook: So is Primus the South Park of the rock world, or is South Park the Primus of the cartoon world?
Les Claypool: We're more the Dudley Do-Rights of the rock world.
Primus performs at the Charlottesville Pavilion with Gogol Bordello on 8/1. $39, 7pm.