There is probably no stranger rock trio on the planet than Primus
. The brainchild of bassist/vocalist Les Claypool
, the band have been together since 1984 and have paraded out a variety of styles borrowing heavily from Frank Zappa, Capt. Beefheart, the Police, avant garde rap and experimental funk. Larry Ler LaLonde
has been with the band since just after their inceptionLaLonde replaced guitarist Todd Huth
before ever recording with the groupand over the course of eight albums including the threesome's live debut, Suck On This
, has demonstrated a versatility that combines funky rhythm chops with a herky-jerky solo approach that sets him apart for all others.
On Green Naugahyde
, the band's most recent album, Primus
are joined by Jay Lane
who has not played with the band since 1988and the result is deeper funk grooves and quirkier rhythms that harken back to the trio's Frizzle Fry
period. LaLonde races up and down the guitar necks of his Fender Stratocaster
like some demented squirrel on acid, blasting out little riffs of staccato rhythms and mutant-like solo sections on songs like Extinction Burst
and Eternal Consumption Engine
UG: You came from the death metal band Possessedhow did you get from there to a band like Primus, which seems like it's on the other side of the world musically speaking.
Yeah, for the most part. I think I was 15 when we made Seven Churches so I didn't have a lot to draw on. Up to that point, I was into Van Halen, Ozzy, Iron Maiden and then Priest and all that kind of stuff.
Legend has it that Seven Churches was one of the first if not the first death metal record.
We made Seven Churches and there wasn't a lot of death metal then. There was Slayer and Venom so we were still trying to invent some kind of new music. What I remember about that time is that it was really about trying to come up with something new. You know now there's been so much death metal and everything has been pushed so far and it's kind of hard to imagine that there was a time when people were inventing this stuff. But even when I listen back to that record, even for death metal it was kind of weird music.
It was interesting that you were consciously trying to create a different style.
Yeah, it was the beginning for me at least of trying to push it. We were trying to take it and everybody kind of right around that time was trying to take whatever everybody else was doing like Slayer and Venom and up it a notch.
Back in the day, you were one of Joe Satriani's students. What did he teach you?
I think for the most part I probably learned everything. I'd been taking lessons before from a great guitar teacher, George Cole [taught Billie Joe Armstrong] who was an awesome teacher and then I just happened to stumble into the place where Joe was giving lessons one day. It said Guitar Lessons and I signed up and it turned out to be Joe Satriani. I'd heard of Joe from around town because basically around the Bay Area, every kid who had a guitar teacher all their guitar teachers were taking lessons from Joe. So I just kind of heard of this guy but I was too young to have ever gone to a club and see him play.
Joe taught you stuff that carries over to this day?
When I started taking lessons from him, I sort of didn't really know much as far as theory or a lot of technique or anything like that. There's so many things I learned from Joe that everyday if I think about it, it would be like, Oh, yeah, I learned that from Joe. Different techniques, scales and how everything fits together. It kind of paid off in the long run because we did a lot of kind of making up scales or playing in keys that didn't really exist. That really paid off when I was in Primus when it came time to, OK, how do I play over something that has all these bizarre notes and don't traditionally go together?
You first played with Les Claypool in Blind Illusion.
It was crazy. Blind Illusion was a Bay Area band and had been around when I was 12 and 13 and remember seeing the flyers around town. So it was kind of a band that had, I think, almost everybody in the Bay Area had been in it at one point or another. So I just happened to be in it at the same time that Les was. And he was kind of in and out; there was different bass players going in and out. But we became really good friends during that time. Blind Illusion ended up going out and touring in a band at that point. And making the record at that point. It was a pretty short-lived thing the times that I was in that band.
What was it like recording the Blind Illusion album, The Sane Asylum?
Recording that album? I was still pretty young then too so the idea of being in a studio was kind of crazy. Just seeing a mixing console in person was like, Whoa, this is awesome. That's kind of what I remember the most just being in awe of the idea of recording.
Kirk Hammett produced The Sane Asylum?
Uh, yeah, he probably executive-produced at some point. I don't know how much he was involved in the actual recording part of it.
So you didn't spend much time with Kirk or hang out with him?
"We were kind of trying to just make crazy music."
Not as far as on that recording but in general, yeah, I spent a ton of time hangin' out with Kirk. We used to hang almost everyday at one point; we'd go bike riding and just kind of hang around. It's funny because the other day there was some Metallica thing on TV, maybe the video for One and he's playing this white '62 Strat and I had that guitar under my bed for like four years when I lived at my mom's house. He had loaned it to me at one point and I recorded Tommy the Cat with it and then I just kind of never gave it back. It's so weird to think that guitar was under my bed and now there it is in a Metallica video. That guitar was probably worth more than my house.
Yours and mine. You then left Blind Illusion to join Les Claypool's band, Primate?
The way it went was he already had Primate at the same time he was in Blind Illusion. He was kind of like just filling in with Blind Illusion. And he had Primate, which became Primus because some other band had Primate and obviously they didn't go on to be huge; I've never really heard of Primate. So he had Primus and Primus was going and it was actually kind of the sort of sound it is now [Claypool has stated that Frizzle Fry, Primus' first studio album and new Green Naugahyde record have shared elements].
You actually replaced another guitarist.
Right before we made Suck On This, the guitar player Todd Huth was starting a family and he didn't have an idea of what it takes to be in a band. You gotta kind of really not have a lot going on so he had to bow out to do what he had to do. Basically I ended up in the band because me and Les were such good friends.
Les must have dug your guitar playing.
Luckily there wasn't an audition cause I probably wouldn't have made it. He just said, Hey, you wanna be in the band? and I said, Sure. He said, You wanna think about it? and I'm like, What is there to think about? I've got nothing else to do.
What were those first sessions like for Frizzle Fry?
I'm trying to remember exactly where we wereI think we did that one at this place, Different Fur [studio in San Francisco]. It was kinda like just go in and try to get it done. We'd taken the money we made from Suck On This, which wasn't a lot, to go in and record that album. It was kinda just go in and I think we had a week so we just went in and played it and that was about it for the most part.
What did you think of your guitar playing on Frizzle Fry?
Then I didn't know how to get tones and most of my gear back then was stuff from pawn shops because that's the only place you could really find used gear. So a lot of it was just trying to get things to work.
Was playing in Primus as a trio a learning curve for you?
It was to some extent but luckily I didn't think about it too much then. We just kind of went for it and we were kind of trying to just make crazy music. I don't think we thought about it too much; we just kind of went for it and did it. Probably for the most part it freed me up a lot and I didn't have to worry about clashing with another guitar. Sonically there wasn't another instrument to really worry about clashing with or trying to make a part around. It was just two other guys so it was actually pretty free.
Jumping ahead to 1999, you recorded the Antipop record and invited different players like Tom Morello, James Hetfield and Stewart Copeland to perform on various tracks.
Us getting Stewart was awesome and now we're all really good friends. But at the time it was pretty crazy. A lot of it we didn't even know what was gonna happen. The way that came about was since we had first signed with a record label, every album was like, Hey, you guys need to get a producer in there and have someone mix your albums and this and that. We had kind of fought it at the time because we thought, Well, it's not really how we work. With the three of us you only have three guys figuring out what's going on and we didn't really want someone to come in and kind of try to make it how it's supposed to go. We wanted to sort of have something new. So we kind of fought against a producer forever and every album we'd make the record company would say, Well, you should get a producer and we'd kind of kick the can down the road until the album was done and not get one.
And on Antipop you brought in these various musicians to sort of produce one-off tracks?
"Every album we've done has sort of felt like a totally different period of time with the band and different goals."
Antipop was kinda like the one we were like, Alright, everyone's been tellin' us we need a producer. So the way we went about it was the idea was let's get somebody to produce one song each and pick all the people we'd want to work with if we could get em in there. That way if someone didn't work out, it's only one song. For the most part it was interesting and it didn't turn out to be exactly like producers. Everybody for the most part were musicians and it was like havin' another guy in the band to jam with.
In 2001, Primus took an extended hiatus. What were your thoughts at that time?
It was exactly at the same time that I moved to L.A. and I was kind of like hanging out surfin'. So my whole thing was I didn't really know what I was gonna do so it was more like experimenting. I was hanging out a lot with a bunch of turntable guys like Invisible Scratch Pickles who were not necessarily like DJ's where they were mixing songs together but guys who were actually making all the sounds from the records and almost using it as an instrument. I was kind of open to anything and started making crazy records [No Forcefield] and trying to find people who would actually put em out [laughs]. From a record company's point of view it's probably not the kind of record you want to put out. You know, I just kind of flowed and I was like, Let's see what happens. I didn't really try to think about it too much.
They Can't All Be Zingers came out in 2006 and that was like a greatest hits album of all the best songs from Frizzle Fry, Sailing the Seas of Cheese, Pork Soda and various other records. How did that collection of songs strike you?
Every album we've done has sort of felt like a totally different period of time with the band and different goals. Like Frizzle Fry was kind of the first studio album. We had Stuck On This, which was recorded live, but any of the songs on Frizzle Fry was just us goin' in as a band and playing the songs a million times and recording them.
Sailing the Seas of Cheese?
Seas of Cheese was we had some songs already but there was a lot of writing that went along with it. Frizzle Fry there wasn't hardly any writing that went along because we sort of had the songs already sorta like any band making their first record. Cheese was sort of our first where we had a budget. We signed with Interscope, we had a budget and we could go in and record and try to take more time.
We'd had success with Sailing the Seas of Cheese and we used that as a way to go in and sort of do what we wanted to do, which was we set up in our rehearsal space with the live console that we used and we recorded to ADAT [laughs].
Very high tech.
Yeah, at the time it was like, Wow, ADAT. This is total crazy technology. It was like another experiment. It seems like every time we go along it was an experiment. Especially songs like My Name Is Mud and things from Pork Soda, which is when I switched to the Paul Reed Smith and used the Big Muff. Yeah, when I think back, I think of the gear and stuff and how much we changed every time.
Changing to the PRS on Pork Soda was a significant evolution for you? Could you hear your playing growing at that point?
It was a huge one for me because up to that point I was playing Strats, which I had taken apart and rebuilt myself over the years and I didn't know what I was doing. So using a Strat and a Floyd Rose, it was completely out of intonation. I just remember Kirk Hammett and Alex Lifeson picking it up and going, Oh, my godyou play this guitar? I was like, Yeah, what do you mean? When I got my hands on the Paul Reed Smith it was like, Oh, my god. It was like someone handing you a Ferrari after driving a Volkswagen bug.
Can you hear the change in your playing after getting the PRS on albums like Tales From the Punchbowl and the Brown Album?
Yeah, I definitely do and it's funny now because I've gone back to playing Strats and Telecasters. But I definitely remember that's when things started getting a little more precise and actuallythis sounds crazyusing more of the guitar because it was so much easier to play and everything was intonated when you got up high. That's kind of what I remember from that is being able to come up with parts that were all over the place.
But on Green Naugahyde you've returned to the Fender?
Yeah, when we did this album it was kinda like we went in and the PRS guitars were kind of sounding a little too middle-of-the-road and that's their strong points too is they're such a versatile guitar and you can get so many different sounds out of em. But there was a little bit of funkiness that goes along with the Fenders for me. The Fenders are a little bit more offyou know what I mean? It's not quite as perfect sounding so that just worked out. I brought every guitar I had in, all the guitars I love to play. I have like Pat Martino guitars I love playing. But when it came together with the band basically every time I picked up my Telecaster or my Strat, it would just sort of sound cooler.
Green Naugahyde is the first album Primus have made since the Antipop record back in 1999. During this 12-year span, have you changed as a guitar player?
Yeah and for some reason making this record was the easiest one for me. A lot of times on the other albums it did take me a while to figure out parts that I felt worked well enough and I had to work a lot harder to actually come up with things that worked with the songs.
Drummer Jay Lane has rejoined the band and this is the first time you've ever worked with him. What was that like?
Having Jay in the band, it seemed like I had an idea in my head and I'd be able to get it out real easily. He really listens and sort of plays along with what you're playing and things gel really fast.
Recording gear has changed a lot in the past 12 years as well.
The craziest thing was also on this record technology has moved so far ahead that getting a tone or a sound that I was hearing was so much easier and happened so much faster. Even with pedals and things like before, any vintage tremelos or anything like that you had to actually find the old ones, which may or may not have worked and would buzz or find the power supplies. Now you can get really cool sounding pedals that have tap tempos and things just happen so much faster.
Does Les encourage you in terms of looking for different guitar sounds and trying different pedals and stuff?
Well, definitely as far as effects it's funny because if I use an effect, I usually crank everything up so it's not subtle at all [laughs]. And a lot of times Les would encourage me, Hey, put some more sauce on there. There were times I'd look down and every pedal would be lit up and I'd be, Alright, cool. It's cool with me. I usually find myself trying to be like, Ah, I can't go this deep with the pedals but Les was kind of the other way with it. He was like, Yeah, turn more stuff on.
Primus aren't exactly a shredder's band and there really aren't many straight up solo on Green Naugahyde. Can you still get off as a soloist in the band?
"There was a little bit of funkiness that goes along with the Fenders for me."
As far as the albums, sometimes they'll happen so fast and things will go by that the idea of soloing doesn't even really get into my brain. When we're making the records I'm so focused on parts and making things sound musical and making them sound like something that when you're listening you're gonna wanna hear again. I don't take a lot of time with the solos.
Primus are always involved in jam festivals and things like that. Do the songs expand on the live stage?
When we play live, we open things up and they change a lot. It's funny now that we've been getting ready to tour, I'm listening back to learn the parts again and there are songs we've been playing on tour that I'm like, Oh, my god, that solo is completely different than I kind of remembered it. So things change and they morph but definitely live there's plenty of chances to go as crazy as you want as far as playing and opening things up.
Is it difficult playing guitar in a band with a bassist who will sometimes put multiple bass parts on records?
It can be sometimes because sometimes there's not a lot of space left so you find yourself just trying to be more textural and try not to take away from what the bass is doing. A lot of times there will be a song where the bass part is kind of the song so the first thing you think of is you kinda wanna just play that same part as him. But if that starts to sound funny and kind of Navy band-ish where you're just kind of playing the same part, it becomes difficult sometimes to figure out a way to have a guitar part that doesn't take away from what the melody of the song is. So there are tons of songs where I'm just playing sort of a backbeat, sort of a gank [guitar talk for a kind of simple rhythm strum] part even like sort of a Police part. Because that way it still keeps the energy of the song but doesn't take away from it. Because you can definitely overdo the parts very easily with the way our instrumentation is.
Eternal Consumption Engine on Green Naugahyde is your music. When you present this to Les are you thinking ahead of what type of bass line he'll put down?
When I wrote that one, I didn't really have any other parts in mind. It was just sort of like this circusy guitar crazy thing and I didn't know what he would do with it. But that's a good example of how he took something and made it way cooler than it started out to be.
You'll be going out in support of the album?
Yeah, our goal right now is we're planning on playing the whole album. We're playing two sets and it's just us and one of the sets will probably be the new album and then the rest will be whatever we throw together in the set every night.
Photo credit: Michael J Fajardo
Interview by Steven Rosen