Classic Primus Lineup Reunites for Wild Willy Wonka Album, Tour, Candy - Rolling Stone
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Classic Primus Lineup Reunites for Wild Willy Wonka Album, Tour, Candy

Leader Les Claypool spills the jellybeans about classic lineup’s first album together in 19 years. Listen to the band’s take on “Pure Imagination”

Primus Willy WonkaPrimus Willy Wonka

Primus, 'Willy Wonka'

Courtesy of Primus

Prepare to enter a world of pure imagination this October, as veteran thrash-funk eccentrics Primus release their eighth studio album, a wall to (lickable) wall tribute to the 1971 musical Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The clanging, ill-angled LP, titled Primus and the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble, will be released on October 21st on ATO, but a pre-order is currently available. It will be the first album-length release from the classic, multi-platinum lineup — leader Les Claypool, guitarist Larry Lalonde and drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander — since 1995.

“I don’t think it was until Jaws came along that I was more obsessed with a film,” Claypool tells Rolling Stone, “when I started drawing sharks all over my binders and notebooks. Prior to that it was everything Wonka.” This tribute — fleshed out with help from Critters Buggin percussionist Mike Dillon and Frog Brigade cellist Sam Bass — is a logical extension of Primus’ Wonka-themed performance in Oakland last New Year’s Eve. 

Top 10 Bassists of All Time: Les Claypool

“As we started putting it together, especially with the expanded soundscape of having string and vibraphone and marimba, it started sounding to me like one of the early Peter Gabriel records meets Dark Side of the Moon meets the Residents,” says Claypool. “That’s what I get out of it. Obviously that’s some big-ass horn-tooting to be doing.”

The album clatters and spurts unlike any Primus record thanks to Alexander’s percussion set-up — instead of a drumkit, he’s in the center of what Claypool describes as “a giant circle, or a pile of things to bang on.”

“He’s so musical at what he does, and he can be very orchestral when he wants to be, and taking him off a traditional kit just brought forth these sounds that we’ve just never gotten from him before,” says Claypool. “If you saw this kit, you’d laugh your ass off. He couldn’t get in and out of it. We’d open up a portion of it and shove him in there and then lock him in with other pieces of things.”

Alexander rejoins Primus after last touring with them in 2008. He started a family in Northern Washington and, as Claypool heard, had quit playing drums altogether. A long phone call spurred a studio reunion nearly two decades in the making, but was recently sidelined after Alexander suffered a heart attack. He’s currently working on what should be a speedy recovery before Primus launches a Chocolate Factory tour in October. “He was very adamant, before he went under the knife, that we not change anything that has to do with scheduling of Wonka,” says Claypool. “So he’s all about it.”

Claypool suspects the tour will mirror the New Year Eve performance, a “stripped down, old school, nightclub Primus set” before opening the curtain to reveal the chocolate room for a full run-through of the Wonka material. “We’re also talking about doing a matinee stage production of it, for kids,” he says. “We’re gonna do an early show that’s only the Wonka thing — and it’ll be a short show ’cause kids have a short attention span.”

In addition, fans may be able to looks forward to the return of the Primus candy bars made by Pennslyvania’s Asher’s Chocolates — a hot sell at the Oakland show — including Mr. Krinkle (crisped rice), Professor Nutbutter (peanuts) and Bastard Bar (dark chocolate).

“The tour and the album are solely a marketing tool just so we can sell candy bars,” jokes Claypool. “That’s the whole impetus of this entire project. Because the fucking recording industry rolled over and let this Internet shit all over us. So we had to come up with another income stream, so we’re making chocolate bars because you can’t digitize a chocolate bar — yet.”

The album will also be available on chocolate-colored vinyl and feature, naturally, five golden ones appropriately scattered about at random. “We need to make sure that kids in the future watch the original Willy Wonka and not the horrendous, horrible remake that came along and left the taste of feces in our mouths,” says Claypool. “There are a lot of very talented people on the planet. And Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are two of those very talented people. But like all human beings, every now and then, we crap in our pants.”

Primus Tour Dates:

October 22 – Upper Darby, PA @ Tower Theatre  
October 24 – Albany, NY @ Palace Theatre 
October 25 – Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre 
October 26 – Burlington, VT @ Flynn Center for Performing Arts 
October 28 – Waterbury, CT @ Palace Theater 
October 29 – Baltimore, MD @ Hippodrome 
October 31 – New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre  
November 1 – New Brunswick, NJ @ State Theatre 
November 2 – Rochester, NY @ Main Street Armory  
November 3 – Detroit, MI @ The Fillmore Detroit  
November 5 – St. Louis, MO @ Peabody Opera House 
November 7 – Cincinnati, OH @ Taft Theatre 
November 8 – Atlanta, GA @ Tabernacle 
November 9 – Orlando, FL @ Hard Rock Live 
November 11 – Miami Beach, FL @ The Fillmore Miami Beach at The Jackie Gleason Theater 
November 12 – Clearwater, FL @ Ruth Eckerd Hall 
November 14 – Biloxi, MS @ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino 
November 15 – Austin, TX @ ACL live at the Moody Theater
November 16 – Dallas, TX @ The Majestic Theatre  
November 17 – San Antonio, TX @ Majestic Theatre  
November 19 – Phoenix, AZ @ Orpheum Theatre Phoenix 
November 21 – Los Angeles, CA @ Orpheum Theatre LA 

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