When Primus release their seventh studio album, Green Naugahyde, on September 13th, it will not only be their first new, full-length studio effort in 12 years, but it will also feature the return of one of the group’s early drummers, Jay Lane.
Singer/bassist Les Claypool told Rolling Stone about the band’s long hiatus, tour plans and his ill-fated Metallica tryout.
Why did it take so long for Primus to issue a new studio album?
The end of the Nineties was an unhappy Primus camp. I hit a creative stagnation that wasn’t helping us forward, and the personal elements, it just was time to stop. And I had been asked for many years, “How long can Primus go on?” And I always said, “I’ll do it until it’s not fun anymore.” And it just wasn’t fun anymore on many different levels. So for the past 10 years I’ve been off doing all sorts of things, and it’s been a great period of growth. When we did readdress Primus in ’03 and ’06, it was more of a nostalgic thing. It was great at the time, but it just didn’t have that creative spark as far as moving forward. So after my last album, Of Fungi and Foe, we were sitting around, [saying] “What are we going to do next?”
Larry LaLonde was very passionate about doing Primus again. Unfortunately, Tim Alexander wasn’t as passionate. It was still the element of this creative stagnation . . . so the notion of Jay Lane coming in and playing with us again [was a welcome idea] – someone I’ve collaborated with over the past 20 years on Sausage, Frog Brigade and whatnot. And he was in Primus – he quit the band one month before we made our first record, so the early material, like Frizzle Fry, is very reflective of his style. And him coming back has just breathed life back into the project. We did some touring, and we decided, “Let’s go make a record,” because we were creating things on the road.
Would you say the material on Green Naugahyde is reminiscent of Frizzle Fry?
From a sonic perspective, it definitely is in many ways, because of Jay coming back into the fold. The rhythmic feel of it is very similar. But it’s also got 20 years of life experience on it – from many different angles. A song like “Jilly’s on Smack” just wouldn’t have been written in the early Nineties, because we hadn’t lost a friend to heroin addiction. A song like “Lee Van Cleef” which is reflective of my youth just wouldn’t have been written back then. So there’s a lot of salt to it, yet there is this vigor of Jay’s very rhythmic playing.
Well, we’re out beating the pavement right now, sort of a pre-tour before some of these [summer] festivals. We’re supposed to go out in the fall. We’re going to Europe in a couple of weeks.
What can fans expect from the fall tour?
I do see this new album as something we can easily play in its entirety. It has that flow to it, just like Frizzle Fry was. To me, it’s like a film. I have a feeling that whether it’s some small venues or pre-tour shows, we’ll probably end up playing the album in its entirety. If it works out well, we’ll probably go out and do that.
Any plans with Oysterhead?
There’s always talk. There’s been talk for 10 years now! Stewart’s one of my best friends, so we’re always doing things together – either musically or just mischief. It’s something that makes me smile when I think about it.
What do you remember about your Metallica tryout in ’86?
I remember it being extraordinarily loud. I didn’t realize Metallica was as big as they were. I just thought it was my buddy Kirk’s band – we went to high school together. I wasn’t really following metal. For me, at the time, metal was like the old Judas Priest and Scorpions records we used to listen to in high school. And Sabbath. I wasn’t into metal – I was into a whole other space, like, experimental music. So when I went in and there was this kind of “air of royalty” to these guys from their caretakers, it was a little strange. It wasn’t off-putting; it just made me realize, “Maybe this is a bigger thing than I thought.” But it was loud. I remember being told by Kirk to turn down.
Remember which songs you played?
“Master of Puppets” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” I didn’t know that the intro of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was the bass! [Laughs] So they’re waiting for me to start it, and I’m just looking at them. I think that’s when James knew…well, they knew I wasn’t the guy when I walked in the door. I had two different colored tennis shoes on, skater pants, and a blonde Mohawk. I didn’t fit – they were all in black. There’s a reason why I didn’t get the gig.