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I'M ONE OF THOSE PENIUSES - A Chat with Les Claypool by ODB
ODB: Thanks for taking the time to do this.
Les: I don't get to go on the Bull Board as much as I'd like to, mainly because I'm on the road and my computers kinda suck. But I do like to get the feedback as to what everyone is thinking.
ODB: Explain to me what exactly you think the average Primus fan is in general terms.
Les: I don't know if there's such a thing as the average Primus fan, it's such a varied individual and it's evolved over the years. Obviously the crowd has gotten older but I still see wide-eyed youngsters in the audience. The past couple years at Primus shows there's been a lot more women than there's been in the past, we were always quite the dude band. But you know with the Frog Brigade thing there seems to be a lot more different people, more of like a college level audience. But, what I've always thought about Primus fans is that they are like I was when I was younger. I was always the guy looking for something different and felt special because I found something different. I wasn't into the mainstream, not in a rebellious way, but a lot of it really turns me off. That was the way I was with clothes, literature and film and everything and still am to an extent. I think the Primus fan is someone who wants to dig a little deeper and has to dig a little deeper to get into it; thinks it out a little more than say a Stone Temple Pilots fan.
ODB: Why did you agree to do this interview? Do you agree that there is a disgruntled portion of your fan base?
Les: Well it wasn't so much an agreement, I was the one that suggested it. It was a purely spontaneous thing. I don't get to go on the Bull Board as much as I'd like. I've read a few negative comments, not a ton, and yours seemed the most thought out and it seemed like you had valid concerns. I felt like you would be a good person to represent the other disgruntled fans. I realize there's no way you can please everybody all the time. You get to a point in your life, I'm a 37-year-old man with a wife and kids, you have to do what makes you feel good. Every now and then you're going to step on people's toes and I would like to step on as few toes as I possibly can.
ODB: Are you afraid of alienating Primus fans, or is it not important to you to keep the same fan base? Do you think old Primus fans will still be there when Primus does return?
Les: Because Primus fans cover such a wide spectrum of things, I think some of the fans are going to feel alienated. I was afraid of alienating Primus fans when Tim left the band. It was like, well we either get another drummer or we stop doing this, it was at that stage where it was not going to continue on. So sometimes you just have to choose the lesser of two evils. I would love to do Primus, there are times when I listen to things and I get a little misty that I'd like to be doing Primus right now. But then I start thinking about why we aren't doing Primus right now. It's kind of like if you love eating sushi and you eat sushi every day for 10 years, you're not going to like sushi very much. But if you stop eating it for awhile, you'll regain that yearning for it [laughs]. You know what I mean? When I was in high school, Rush was my favorite band, I lived for them, I worshiped Rush. Then I got to a point where I had listened to enough and I stopped listening for a long time. Then 5 or 6 years later I got back into it again right around the time that Tim joined the band, then got away from it again. We toured with Rush and I stopped listening to it again for a long time. And now recently I started listening to them again. I think human nature is to seek variety, to an extent.
ODB: In your Music Today interview, you said the following: "Oysterhead was when my eyes were open to this community where people really wanted to hear music" and "I am playing for people these days that are interested in music and not so much image and style." These could easily be interpreted as saying that Primus fans are 1. Not into the music and 2. Are into image and style. Were these connotations unintentional, or do you feel this way about Primus fans in general?
Les: I wasn't aiming it at Primus fans at all, if anything I was aiming it at what Primus was falling into and what Primus was being marketed as. I think the thing that really crystallized that and brought that statement out in a few interviews I've done is that I was asked to do Gathering of the Vibes last summer. I put together Jeff Chementi and Jay Lane for that one, it was the Rat Brigade. Basically we just learned a few songs and kind of jammed on these tunes at this festival. The day before I was hanging out with some friends of mine, one of them being the president of my record company. He said 'Hey, let's go to this (some big rock fest on the east coast).' It was one of these radio shows and it was Ozzy, STP, Creed, Limp Bizkit, Deftones; just a big old rock thing. I went with some friends and there was just this vibe, and I knew everyone there, I was walking around backstage, I knew all the bands, I knew all the crew guys. But there was just this angst. There was some ego-tripping going on, like Fred wouldn't go on before the sun went down and it was pissing off these people and those people. Ozzy's managers were freaking out and Fred's managers were freaking out. It was just a really tense scene, there were a lot of ego's flaring. All the security guys were freaking out and guy's that I knew, who were my friends, were getting ready to shove me out of the way and then realizing it was me. It was just a really uptight scene and it crystallized to me, 'wait a minute, this has become the scene that we were rebelling against when the band came up in the beginning.' The whole Guns 'n' Roses, Poison, Warrant, that big rock scene that was purely driven by money. A lot of competition, a lot of posturing, whereas when we were coming up it was like the original Lollapalooza, which was all about everyone having a good time and camaraderie. It was a good feeling and that's what I'm sensing from this scene that the Frog Brigade has fallen into. When I first heard about the jam scene, I thought it was a big hippie thing, Phish, Widespread Panic, String Cheese. It's really growing way beyond that, if anything it's more about the approach to the music than the style of the music. It reminds me a lot of what it was like when Primus was first coming up in San Francisco; it was just this vibrant scene. It was people looking for something different, finding something different and being excited by it. It was people who were thinking more about the music as opposed to how fashionable it was and how much it was on MTV. I remember back in the old days, I never thought I'd ever be on MTV and then it got to the point around Antipop where we were bummed if we weren't on MTV. I had to sit back and reevaluate and go ' what the hell has happened? I've turned into something I never really wanted to turn into.' It's not a reflection of the fans or any of that; it's more the way Primus was starting to be marketed.
ODB: You just mentioned Guns and Roses and in your Music Today interview, you said the following: "I think that when Primus was coming up, we were running against the grain. The grain at that time was Guns 'N Roses, etc., all those bands we thought were ridiculous." Additionally, on the board, you mentioned: "Obviously Brain is gone. He is in guns and Roses for christ sake! How much more of a different direction is that? Hell, when we were coming up in the world we were the opposition to bands like that." These seem like shots at Brain for his decision to join Guns 'n' Roses. Are they simply coincidental or are you unhappy with Brain's decision to leave?
Les: No, I told Brain he should do it. Buckethead was calling me and asking me what I thought and what he should do and I was helping him weigh all the options. I think it's more of an issue for Buckethead than it is for Brain. Brain started out as a studio musician, a drummer for hire. That's one of the big reasons that he was able to take over for Tim Alexander, he's the type of guy that can learn things and play them to the T. It's a much better opportunity for someone like Brain, who's not a guy, as far as I know, maybe he wants to, but he's not a guy that's going to go lead a band and write music. He's a support guy. For Buckethead it's a little different, he's more of aÉ well, he's Buckethead [laughs]. But, no, it wasn't so much a stab at Brain, it's just a coincidence. I mean, Guns 'n' Roses represented a faction of the music industry that we were rebelling against when we came up. When they started using the term "alternative" describing bands like us and Nirvana, it was because it was the alternative to what was popular at the time. I don't know Axl, to tell you the truth I've heard some crazy horror stories about the guy but I've never met him so I have no ill feelings. Guns 'n' Roses' music has just never been something I've been attracted to. It's like Billy Squire, when that came out in high school, I thought it was kind of silly, it wasn't my kind of music. It's like Christina Aguilera, I don't dislike it, it just doesn't mean anything to me, has nothing to do with me.
ODB: Do you think that the majority of the people throwing things at you at Primus shows are actually Primus fans? In recent years, you have had several aggressive acts (Limp Bizkit, POD) open, which could potentially bring that kind of fan into the venue.
Les: I've had stuff thrown at me for years and it usually is a Primus fan trying to get my attention. The worst thing I ever got hit with was years ago at Lollapalooza I got thumped in the chest just as I was walking up to the mic and I wasn't wearing a shirt. It felt like a boulder or something. I looked down at my chest and there was this giant red welt. I looked at the ground and it was this pig's arm, like elbow on down to the toenail, it was the gnarliest thing. It was somebody, you know, 'Pork Soda, I'm gonna throw this pig's foot at Les.' It's like people throwing fish on stage because they know I'm into fishing, these slimy old fish come flying up on stage. When people throw stuff on stage, I usually stop and make some comment, make fun of their genitalia. I had to do it at Woodstock and I was amazed that people actually stopped throwing mud when I said something. When I'm on stage, my natural instinct is to keep my eyes peeled for stuff flying up on stage, because if a shoe hits the mic while you're singing it's going to knock your teeth out. I got biffed in the mouth years ago when we played Gilman Street and I thought, sure, my lip was split wide open and there was blood all over the place, so it's just kind of the occupational hazard. What I realized on stage with Oysterhead, I saw something fly up in the air and for a second I thought to turn my head, but then I thought 'wait a minute, these people aren't throwing shit at me.' It's not so much I'm saying I'm tired of people throwing stuff at me, I mean I've been tired of that since the very beginning. A huge faction of the Primus audience is incredible but there's always a dickhead in the crowd. No matter what crowd it is there's going to be someone that isn't going with the flow and is making other people uncomfortable. And that element, I've never liked in any crowd.
ODB: With the recent opening bands, though, it's been a potential that it could be happening MORE because of those crowds.
Les: Like POD and Limp Bizkit? When Limp was first coming up, we listened to their CD and they were on our label and it was being suggested that they open for us. They had this young crowd and it was going to bring this young crowd to the Primus shows. The tours prior to that, we had brought the Meat Puppets, Mike Watt and people that were friends of mine and things that I liked and some of the younger fans didn't understand it. If anything, with Primus, I've always tried to keep it varied as far as who opens for us because just about anybody can. I had Charlie Hunter open one of the New Year's shows, the majority of the audience loved it and there was a lot of them that didn't, it goes back to not being able to please everybody all the time. When we opened for Rush, they told us we went over better with their fans than any band that had ever toured with them. I used to go to Rush shows and those opening bands, they were never really booed off the stage because Rush fans are too polite, but they never got a good response. It's similar with the Primus crowd, most people that come to our shows just want to cut to the chase, hear us do Frizzle Fry or something. It's kind of a tough slot for anybody. I never thought the rock scene would go to where it is. Perhaps some of that wanting to be part of that scene when it was first arriving was us sort of chasing our youth. I got to thinking about it and it wasn't so much an age thing as it was, 'wait a minute, I was never really into this scene.' It's not a reflection of the Primus scene, it's more the scene we were playing in. It's not like I hate that scene, I love going and seeing Ozzy, Sabbath and the Deftones. Shit, Limp Bizkit, they're popular as hell and they've done a couple cheesy things, but they're a monster band and they can play their asses off. I'm just a little tired of it right now, it's kind like the sushi thing, I'm ready to eat a little something different now.
ODB: While you are not obligated by any means to participate on your own bulletin board, it seems that the only times you do show up are when you are releasing some kind of new merchandise item. While this is a fair use of the board, what message do you think it sends to the fans that the only interaction they have with you is "buy my new record"?
Les: That's not what I do. Some of this stuff you're commenting on, you're probably reading a little more into a lot of this stuff than there is. Which is good, because you are a thinking guy and you're thinking and coming up with your end result and there are other people out there doing the same thing. I just want to get my point across as clear as possible and hope that some people can make their judgments beyond that. I don't go on the Bull Board when I just have something to push. The thing is, I always have something to push [laughs]. You know me, I'm a fucking beaver, I'm always working on something, I would never go on the Bull Board if I were to avoid that. I can't think of when I've flat out said 'hey, go by my record.' There's been a couple times where I've gone on and said to call the radio stations or call MTV. Some of that is out of pure frustration. When we make a truly incredible piece of film like the Laquer Head video and MTV refuses to play it, what do I do? Sit there and do nothing or go to the fans and say 'hey, see if you can put some pressure on these people?'
ODB: While I know and appreciate the fact that you are extremely busy, your interaction with the fans is extremely limited. Specifically, why is it that you don't use your "Ask Les" column to provide true and serious answers to fan's questions?
Les: I probably have 800 e-mails on there right now. There's a lot of redundancy to the questions, you'd be surprised at how many people still want to know what string I use and what amp I play through. I try to find the unique questions. It's almost like a lottery, I read all the headlines and look for names of people that don't appear a bazillion times and try to get up the unique stuff. The 'Ask Les' thing is almost like a lottery, I read a lot more than I answer but there's a lot that just don't get read. I usually try to comment on the ones that make me chuckle a little bit or are unique.
ODB: Perhaps it is speculation, but there seems to be a strange air surrounding Ler right now. I believe I remember you saying you haven't spoken to him in a long time and are not really sure what he is up to. Is there any possibility that you would consider replacing Ler if he were unwilling to return? Am I way off on the speculation that he may not return?
Les: We haven't talked in a long time. He's just in a different space than me right now. Larry for a good number of years was my best friend, like we were married almost. The thing that's hard to explain to people that haven't been in a situation like a band is it's a very emotional thing, it's like being married. I used to sit back and wonder when the Beatles said 'we're never getting back together, who wants to get married again?' what the hell that meant. But now that I've been in that situation, I understand it completely. For a long time, I never thought I'd work with Tim again. When he had left, it wasn't like he left on bad terms; it was just like when you break up with a girlfriend you know you're going to break up with. It just draws out and draws out and when it finally happens, you're relieved. That's the way it was with Tim. Now that time has passed and we've grown in different directions, I can look at the work and I miss playing with the guy. We were never social buddies, not that we disliked each other, we just never hung that much. Musically, we just made incredible things together, stuff that he and I could do together that I just couldn't do with anybody else and I haven't been able to do with anyone else, it just doesn't happen. With me and Larry, he's in a different space right now, he's making electronic music. I don't even know if he's playing his guitar that much, but he's doing some stuff that he's really into. I'm happy that he's doing that, because he really needs to. It's like when I went off and did Sausage and it was great and wonderful and some people misinterpreted it as me trying to get away from Primus. It wasn't, it was me wanting to do something with Todd Huth, who started Primus with me and Jay Lane. Almost like a payback to Todd, the guy left a band that went on to become very successful. I'm sure he's lost some sleep over it. He didn't leave on bad terms; he left to go raise his family. Getting back to Sausage, after doing Sausage it made me want to do Primus more. You get certain things out of your system, the more I do Frog Brigade, you ask me down the road and I'm gonna be anxious to do Primus because I'll get a lot of this wanting to play with other musicians out of my system. Larry's never gotten to do that and he needs to go do it. He needs to do this electronic music, he needs to go hang with some different people, he needs to come back to Primus when he wants to, and not come back because he needs the money. That's kind of where we're all at right now. I'm very excited to work with Tim again and that's the thing that's making me most want to go do Primus, I want to work with Tim again. But, me and Larry need more time away from each other right now otherwise it's just not going to be magic. Hopefully it will be good, but it definitely won't be magic. When we give it some time and the 3 of us come back together, it's gonna be... I listened to Seas of Cheese a while ago, I hadn't listened to it in a long time and I almost started crying, that shit is just awesome. It represents a time in my life that was really cool and when we come back together I want to feel that again. There's nothing like that chemistry that makes something magical in the first place. Sometimes you can replace it and it will be better, sometimes it's just totally different. It's just never the same.
ODB: Antipop seemed to be a very mainstream oriented record with its simplified (by Primus standards) basslines and heavy guitar among other things.
Les: Really? See I thought I was starting to do some more fancy bass lines on that record. Like Laquer Head, you ever tried to play that? Some of that stuff is crazy hard. I actually thought that the Brown album was more simplified bass stuff and that Antipop was getting back towards my more aggressive bass lines. A lot of that was Tim Alexander, that guy would force me to go crazy because he was going crazy all the time.
ODB: It seemed like you dropped down to something more straightforward behind the verses, something that could have been more accepted mainstream. The lack of strumming, the fact that there was less slapping and it was in between the more simple parts.
Les: The main thing I've leaned away from on the past couple records was a lot of that 6 string fretless stuff and the tapping. I did Jerry, DMV and these tapping tunes and then it kind of got to be cliche and everyone was tapping all over the place. That usually makes you go in the opposite direction when everybody else starts doing that. I probably shouldn't have thought that way.
ODB: Were you concerned about the irony of naming what was probably your most commercially viable record Antipop? Also, were you concerned with the fact that some of the biggest names in popular music were involved with it?
Les: You need to look at what music has become. There's a lot of mainstream bands right now that were very much influenced by Primus. Back when we were sort of making our Pork Soda's and Seas of Cheese, there wasn't the Korn's or Limp Bizkit's or any of that in the mainstream. The mainstream was completely different. The mainstream has sort of shifted a little more towards what we've been doing. I think what Antipop has less of is the quirky little ditties, the Space Farm's and things like that. I don't know what to attribute that to. I really like Antipop and I think it was a great record, but it was a very difficult record to make. We were all kind of É I don't know what the hell we were doing. We just weren't connecting real well on it, some of it we were, but some of it we weren't. I think it's a record we tried really hard to make something that sounded really good sonically and I think we achieved it, I think it's one of the better records we've done in awhile. But, É I kinda have issues with the record company on this one. I think to an extent, it also represents us needing a break.
ODB: Fred Durst worked on Antipop and you appeared on Limp Bizkit's album. Were these by your choice and if so, why the change of opinion on that scene and Durst specifically?
Les: Fred was sort of the one that was kicking us in the ass to make a more aggressive record, more of a rock record. We could have easily gone the other way. My favorite song on that record, and it's one of my favorite songs I've written, is Eclectic Electric. The record could have easily gone in that direction, more of a spacey, Pink Floyd type of thing. But, it went more rock because I was hanging with Fred, he was touring with us and he was like, 'I love Primus, what I miss about Primus is when you guys used to slam this and that.' As Fred was being involved with our career and the project, he wasn't the big superstar Christiana Aguilera partner kinda guy. It was starting to show, but not quite as much as it did. My and Fred's relationship is more of just I haven't seen the guy in a long time; we just haven't talked to each other. He's in a different space these days, I keep hearing a lot of negative stuff about him and I just don't know what's happened to the guy. Tom Morello, whether he's popular or not, he's a mother fucker of a guitar player. He's one of the most amazing guitar players I've ever played with, that's why he's on the record. The main reason for all these different people was, after years of producing our stuff ourselves, we were getting pressure from the label to work with a producer. I remember having the conversation with Tom Whalley, saying show me the George Martin or Brian Eno of today and I'll work with him and they just couldn't do it. We worked with a bunch of different producers over that year. On the South Park thing, we worked with the Dust Brothers, Rick Rubin, Toby Wright. There was nobody that I felt was really like a Brian Eno or a George Martin. So the concept came up to work with artists that we respect as opposed to producers. So guys like Peter Gabriel and Roger Waters got calls, they were both busy. Obviously Stewart Copeland got the call and agreed to do it, Tom Waits, and Morello. The most popular guy in the bunch was Fred, it was almost like he got popular during the process or after the process. It wasn't based so much on his popularity as much as having Fred there was like having an old fan there, he is a huge Primus fan. If you listen to Laquer Head, it's a mix between Mud and Tweekers, I can totally hear that and that's what he was trying to get us to do and he did. For me, the most gratifying experience of it all was working with Stewart. He was the most like a George Martin or Brian Eno, he really had some interesting, creative sonic suggestions. In the process of this whole thing, which I thought was a great idea, all it did was make me realize how focused we were as far as knowing what we wanted when Tim was in the band. I remember when Fred was trying to get Brain to play this beat and I was just thinking to myself if Tim was still in the band, there's no fucking way he'd be putting up with this. He wouldn't want anyone telling him, he would know in his head exactly what he wanted.
ODB: But, like you were saying, Brain comes from that studio background.
Les: By no means am I dissing Brain. I look at the Antipop time as us being kind of scattered trying to figure out what the hell we were. Here we are watching these bands that were totally influenced by Primus become massively huge and us going what the hell is going on here? It was also a time of us trying to figure out what kind of music we wanted to play and going in all these different directions. I think the end result was a pretty great record. It was kind of an awkward time for us and usually with an awkward time I would get down on the material put out at the time. I think for it's time, the Antipop record is actually great. I love the Brown album for what it is, I mean we got slammed for that record, everybody hated that record. The thing is, that's Tom Wait's favorite Primus record.
ODB: A lot of your fans, that's their favorite Primus record too.
Les: Yeah, see? That's where you get into this gray area, what is success? Is it selling millions of records or making shit that represents a certain period of your life and represents what you're into at that time? The Brown album is what we were into at that time. We wanted to make an ugly, sonically dark, vintage sounding album. We were doing all this crazy experimentation with drum sounds, mic placement and that's why Tom Waits loved it. He told me "yeah, I get that all the time, people go 'don't you ever wash that thing?'" So, even though it was one of our least successful records, it's an amazing piece of Primus history for me. It's kind of like Pink Floyd's Animals.
ODB: You should have packaged it as a concept album.
Les: But it wasn't a concept album.
ODB: No, I know it's not, but people would have bought it if it were sold to them that way.
Les: I think when you start worrying about what people want to buy is when you get screwed up. You kind of have to just go with what you feel and hope you don't lose the people that were initially there in the beginning. The Primus fans have been pretty damn resilient and receptive all these years. Even this thing I'm doing now, you're not into it and there's people out there who aren't into it, but there's a lot of people out there that are freaking out over it.
ODB: I remember reading that during the consolidation of the music industry, Interscope was going to be dropping many of its artists. I specifically remember reading mentions of Primus.
Les: I read that myself [laughs].
ODB: If this was in fact the case, how much of an impact did it have on Antipop, the tour and the marketing of the album?
Les: Well I knew that we weren't being dropped. I called Tom Whalley and told him I read we were being dropped and he said don't worry about it. There's no doubt in my mind that Antipop would have been a more successful record had we put it out at a different time. We put that record out at the worst possible time we could have. Interscope, however many months prior to that, had sucked up all these labels and was getting ready to throw all these bands out to the world. There was no way in hell they were going to be able to give Primus the attention that we needed. That record sold just as well out of the gates as Pork Soda, which sold over a million copies. But, Pork Soda sold over a million copies after 3 years. The reason it took 3 years was because they kept nurturing it, the label that Interscope is now is not a nurturing type label. It's just a different environment there, they throw something out and they give it a push and if it starts to roll, they keep pushing; if it starts to slow down, they stop pushing. In the old days, it wasn't like that; it's just a different place. It is the big machine now whereas when we first got on Interscope, it was like an indy with clout. Really bad timing. I think history will judge the Antipop record a lot better than the charts did [laughs].
ODB: History will judge you a lot better than the charts did. You're one of those geniuses that won't be recognized until you're dead.
Les: I'm one of those peniuses.
ODB: How do the other members of Primus feel about the Frog Brigade, Oysterhead, etc?
Les: I'm sure that they're not really happy with it [laughs]. It was like we decided to stop and I can't stop. Larry's doing his thing, Brain doesn't care, he's gone, he's doing Guns 'n' Roses. He made the conscious decision to leave the band. I think Brain had been wanting to leave the band for a little while, it just took him awhile to get up the nerve to do it. The thing about Brain is that there was a huge amount of pressure on the poor guy. I look back at some of the stuff and I feel kind of sorry for him because he's always going to be in the shadow of Tim Alexander no matter what he did. He was always going to be compared to Tim and it was pretty hard on the guy. For us to sell less records after he joined the band, I think he felt kind of guilty about a lot of that. That ultimately led to him saying this just isn't what I want to do anymore.
ODB: Was Jay Lane not available at the time Tim left, or did you not consider him an option?
Les: That's pretty funny because we talk about this all the time, I play with him now. Jay Lane was just too scattered at the time. He was having some personal problems. He came and auditioned and it was just a mess. Plus, I knew that Brain was someone that we've known a long time and he's a little bit more of a rock guy. He was also a good friend of Larry's and I wanted to make sure we got someone that we were all into, not just me. There were other people too, we were talking to Mike Bordin there for awhile, that would have been very interesting. The timing was wrong because Faith No More was still going on and the Ozzy thing. We definitely talked about him coming down and playing with us though. There was 3 guys: Jay, Brain and Puffy, Mike Bordin. At this point now, I want to do Primus with the guys that people know, with the Seas of Cheese guys. Larry and I are still friends, we're just distant friends. We're taking time off and I really hope we're gonna come back around and be excited about playing and not just doing it for the money. Right now if we did it, it would be because someone offered us a big wad of cash to do it.
ODB: I'll give you $20 man.
Les: [laughs] You got it pal. I'm a musical whore. I'm going to be busy for awhile. There's also this sort of perception that I'm the guy that's shutting down the machine, and I'm not, it's definitely a big mutual thing. I'm very excited to get in there with Tim and start doing stuff, I just think it's premature. We need to have all the pistons firing at once, not just a couple.
ODB: Many of your fans attend several shows per tour and have done so because of the fact that your setlists usually have some variation each night. Can you address the fact that the setlist on the Antipop tour stayed about the same every night? Also, why the lack of Pork Soda/Punchbowl/Brown Album tunes and no upright bass?
Les: The upright bass was more of a logistics thing. That was the reason why I didn't bring a lot of my basses. And, obviously on Oz Fest, they're not going to give a shit if I play any upright. That was one of my big beefs with the band and is one of the reasons I'm doing what I'm doing now. I kept going to those guys and saying look, we've got well over 150 Primus songs, why don't we go out with no opening act and play 2 sets a night playing nothing but Primus songs? I think people would have loved it but we weren't doing that. We were going out and just blasting our heads off for an hour and a half playing the most aggressive stuff we could because we thought that's what everyone wanted. I think it was shortsighted thinking. I, myself, kept wanting to learn more and more tunes but nobody else was into that idea.
ODB: Do you think that contributed to some of the burnout?
Les: Totally. I think that was an element of the burnout, there just wasn't the enthusiasm. When you keep hitting walls, it really pulls your enthusiasm away from you. We put out this record, the timing of everything was off. We'd go do a tour and then the single would come out to go to radio, after the tour was over. It's not supposed to be like that. The single is supposed to go to radio, then you tour. All the timing was off. The straw that broke the camel's back was that we made this incredible video and MTV banned it because they said it was too violent. You hit enough brick walls like that and it just takes everybody's steam away and then everybody gets pissy. Right now, everybody in Frog Brigade is very happy because it's successful; it's doing well and gaining momentum. That really makes people happy, whereas if it wasn't, these guys would be grumbling too. Since I'm sort of the leader of the band, I'm the guy that gets grumbled at the most [laughs].
ODB: I'm sure you get the lion's share of all the enormous piles of cash too, right?
Les: Not really, maybe in the Frog Brigade, if there were piles of cash to be had. Primus has always been a pretty fairly divided thing. I write all the lyrics, so I get a little more for that. But I 'm the main guy and I get a lot of the attention that might draw a little concern from the other guys, but the flipside of that is that I'm the guy that gets blamed for all the mistakes [laughs]. It's like you went online and I'm the guy that's the dick, not Larry or Brain.
ODB: That's because those guys never come on the board.
Les: See what I get for participating?
ODB: In nearly every Frog Brigade interview I've read, you make a point of indicating the musicians you are currently working with are the best musicians you have ever played with. Do you think that infers that Ler and Brain are inferior musicians or could be interpreted that way by fans?
Les: Some of the guys in Frog Brigade are just superior musicians in general. I'm learning stuff from them. I'm playing with Jeff Chementi who, you play a note and he says oh that's an F#. He has perfect pitch; he's just an incredible musician. That doesn't mean he's any more creative than Tim, Larry or Brain. There's a difference between musicianship and creativity. By saying these guys are incredible musicians, that's what they are. I wanted to get guys that could step into any situation and do anything. Not so much Brain, Brain's a kind of chameleon, he can go do anything, but Larry and Tim are very much Larry and Tim. When Tim left the band, he didn't get a bunch of phone calls to go join other bands because he's very specific to what he does. I can't see him going and doing a Guns 'n' Roses gig, he's got his own thing going, he's got his own style. It would be the same with me. That's probably why Metallica isn't calling me, I got my own thing going, my own style. So, these guys are monster musicians in the sense of the word like hired musicians, they're just incredible. A guy like Todd, he's more like a Larry, he's really good at being Todd. He brings that element of Sausage and early Primus to this thing whereas he's not as good at doing other types of material. But he's getting better at it. It's kind of like Skerik, he's the type of guy that plays with a gazillion bands. He goes and sits in with Galactic, we go to clubs afterwards and he's sitting in. He's like a musician's musician and that's what a lot of these guys are, they're just monster players. Larry and Tim, they're monster players but they're more so monster writers of what they do, very specific at what they do.
ODB: Your onstage persona, fan interaction and general attitude at Frog shows seems very much like old Primus shows, far more so than the last few actual Primus shows you played. Can you address the fact that Primus fans may feel cheated that you are saving this for Frog shows? And is this just due to the burnout you have with Primus?
Les: I think to an extent that's true, it's just that with the Frog Brigade thing is just so much more of a loose thing, it's all about being casual. So, I tend to just kind of talk to the people more. There's more of that support from the band too, more of Skerik prompting me to do this or that or the next thing or Jay. That could be a great barometer of us becoming more burnt out is that we weren't having that interaction with the fans because we weren't having that interaction with each other. I don't think it's that drastic, because the very last Primus show we did at the Fillmore, I was going crazy. I was gabbing all over the place and me and Ler were bullshitting back and forth with the audience. I think it just depends on what show you hit.
ODB: I went to 3 shows on the Antipop tour and it just seemed like you kind of came out, did your thing and you were done.
Les: Well, like I said, there wasn't a lot of happiness on the Antipop tour because things weren't going that well. We were all getting pissed off at each other. But I don't want to paint this bleak picture that we were always screaming and yelling at each other because we've never been that kind of band. It's just more of everybody got kind of quiet and solemn. We've been very lucky that we've never been yelling and screaming and throwing shit at each other. That's probably why were able to go for as long as we have without a break. I look at bands like Tool, it's been several years since they put out a damn record or Beastie Boys who waited 5 years to put out a record. I don't think it's because they're all sitting around mowing their lawns, it's because you get enough of people, you get away from them and then you come back refreshed. We just never did that, we were always going and going and going. We never took a break. The last real vacation I had was my honeymoon 5 years ago.
ODB: And you're doing it to yourself again with Frog Brigade, what's the deal?
Les: For me this is fun, this is kind of a vacation. This is definitely not a big money thing [laughs].
ODB: Were you concerned about the message you sent by doing a Frog Out this year? The Freak Out was very exclusively a Primus event, were you concerned how fans would react to essentially replacing the band but continuing the tradition?
Les: I wasn't going to do it at all, I had said last year that this was the last. I wasn't going to do New Year's, I was tired of doing New Year's, mainly because it eats into my holiday. Me being the idiot that I am, as soon as I got the offer, I'm like OK. A lot of that is just me, I can't stand sitting still. This is just me thinking off the cuff, but that could have been what burnt Primus out a little bit, was me pushing it so hard.
ODB: So it is your fault after all.
Les: Well, it's always my fault.
ODB: You mentioned that you would like to hear some of the boots of your shows and I know a few people have those ready to send you. Where can they send them?
Les: Just send it to David Lefkowitz Management, it's on the back of all our records. For a guy who has a computer graphics company, if anything, I try to avoid the computer as much as possible. I'm too lazy to go to Bootleg Boy's Barn and look at all the shit. I've never downloaded an MP3 in my life because I think they sound like shit. If you send it to Dave, I'd love to hear some of that stuff. I've been listening to tapes of these shows, the ones we've been making, just to see what we've been doing, what works and what doesn't. I just see all these crazy mics out there and I'd love to hear some of that stuff.
ODB: Is there anything that you'd like to add or clarify or something that I didn't touch on?
Les: No, I don't think so. I'm actually missing my soundcheck right now. I guess the main thing is that there's been concern about original material. The main reason I haven't busted out with a bunch of original material is that I've kind of been sitting back and waiting and playing with this band seeing what it's going to evolve into. I have a bunch of material. Some of it's going to be on the Oysterhead record which we're going to record in April and some of it will be Frog Brigade stuff and some will eventually be Primus stuff. I'm kind of taking my time with this. I want to make sure that it's really something I want to do before I commit some original material to it. I don't want it to be a little one off thing where I write a bunch of tunes that nobody ever hears because they're on some obscure little Frog record. But, it's getting to the point where this band is becoming pretty solidified.
ODB: Lastly, go ahead and ship me the rainbow bass since you aren't using it anymore.
Les: OK. You never know, you might just see that thing busted out here pretty soon. The main reason I stopped using it was that I had too damn many basses out on the road and I could play the same songs on my fretted one that I could on the fretless, but I couldn't play the same songs on the fretless that I could on the fretted. I just had too many damn basses out, but it'll come back out. You better call Carl, he's going to quit making basses here pretty soon. I just talked to him the other day, I ordered one more. I think my bass might be the last one he makes. That's what he's threatening, he's just making me one more.
ODB: Well, I'll pull together a couple thousand then.
Les: Shit, you'd better pull together more than that [laughs], that shit's expensive. I even pay more than that for them.
ODB: But they're high quality instruments.
Les: They're the best, like Stradivarius. Alright man, I gotta go do sound check.
ODB: Thank you very much Les.
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