New Faces: Primus

The Bay Area punk-funk trio is ahead of the pack

Les Claypool of Primus performs at the Pinkpop Festival in the Netherlands.
Paul Bergen/Redferns
Les Claypool of Primus performs at the Pinkpop Festival in the Netherlands.
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Wearing a leather Porkpie and looking like a character from a John Waters film, Les Claypool of Primus is quietly tooling around the San Francisco hills on a lazy Sunday afternoon with guitarist Larry LaLonde.

The two zonked-out musicians are lost en route to a guest-DJ stint at college radio station KUSF. As members of the Bay Area's cartoony punk-funk trio, Claypool and LaLonde are honored guests at the station, whose playlist includes Broiled in Lead, Helen Keller Plaid and Jesus Lizard.

Primus is ahead of that pack, often mentioned in the same reverential breath as fellow California goof rockers Faith No More and Fishbone.

The band, which also includes hulking drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander, earned its loyal following after jamming at teen clubs, where energetic fans turned stage diving into high art. This year, armed with the pull of a new, rich record company and the release of its third album, Sailing the Seas of Cheese, Primus could careen out of its Bay Area stronghold.

After two indie albums, the live Suck on This and the acclaimed Frizzle Fry, Primus signed with fledgling Interscope Records, which is backed by the company responsible for Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. No surprise then that Primus appears in this year's sequel and on the soundtrack album.

Beyond the new album and the movie, Primus is seeking wider exposure through European music festivals and some American concert dates. "We were supposed to play a Greenpeace benefit two nights ago, but when we got there, the place had almost burned down from an electrical fire," says Claypool. "So we went to another club and saw Booker T. and the MG's. It was cool."

This story is from the June 13th, 1991 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 606: June 13, 1991