Primus Primer

Taken from Citi:Zen Magazine Online, October 1997.

Larry "Ler" LaLonde and Brian "Brain" Mantia, the respective guitarist and drummer for Primus, relaxed in the dimly-lit basement of the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium following a soundcheck that began at 3:00 p.m. The clock now reads 5:00.

"It's the first day of the tour, and I had to actually make sure everything works," explained LaLonde, eyes twinkling from under a thatch of curly black hair. The twosome's attention then turned to more pressing issues, like deciding whether they preferred the ultra-creative atmosphere of studio work to the drama of the live performance. "It's about fifty-fifty for me," decided LaLonde.

"We've got a swimming pool next to the studio," pointed out Mantia.

"I've never actually been in that pool," confessed LaLonde. When asked why he waxed wary of the water, he responded, "I don't know. I'm just...scared. I'm scared that people will see me, seminude."

Whether sailing the seas of cheese or journeying to and from the hell that is the DMV (and living to tell about it), Primus has come a long way from its Bay Area origins.

From Lollapalooza '93 and Woodstock '94 to various worldwide tours, the trio of LaLonde, Mantia and frontman Les Claypool have traveled far and wide bearing twisted tales featuring characters as diverse as a man named Mud and another named Krinkle, a young race-car driver, and the unlikely duo of a belle and a big brown beaver. The video for the latter-- which depicted the band roamin' the range as toy cowboys come to life-- was MTV's most frequently-requested clip of 1995, even after the network relegated it to the after-midnight time slot because of its 'suggestive' nature.

"It takes a special kind of insanity to be this good," _Melody Maker_ once wrote of the band. "Primus are purveyors of acrid and idiosyncratic folk tales that are closer to the spirit of Tom Waits than anyone else." This is no less apparent on their sixth release, "The Brown Album" ("named after the color brown," according to Primus Sucks, the band's official website.)

Kicking off their tour (also named after the color brown, not unlike the album) in the Capitol City, Claypool and Co. tore through a set that nearly dislodged the plaster from the ceiling of the newly-renovated auditorium with sheer volume alone, aided by the equally-deafening opening acts Powerman 5000 and Buck-0-Nine.

But LaLonde remained skeptical of the band's success. "The big difference between us and most bands is most bands sell lots of records," he said, ruefully. "They're on MTV, and people like them."

"Well, there's some jerky writers that give us shitass reviews," complained Mantia.

"Yeah, it's so funny," replied LaLonde. "This record, too. It's like, all of a sudden, 'Details' magazine gave us a one. They gave Hanson an EIGHT." (_Addicted to Noise_, however, gave it a four-- out of five.) But LaLonde, albeit disappointed with the verdict of the 'Details' critic, brightened at the prospect of what many speculate the future holds for Taylor, Isaac and Zac: appearances in pornographic films, convenience-store robberies, and mile-long criminal records. "Yeah, the 'Diff'rent Strokes' syndrome," he giggled.

H.O.R.D.E. '97 marked the band's most recent visit to Sacramento prior to The Brown Tour, alongside festmates Beck, the Ben Folds Five, the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Blues Traveler, among others. Asked if he enjoyed playing live, LaLonde responded, "Yeah-- we wouldn't be here, otherwise. We like to tell everybody we're making a bunch of money so we'll sound cool, like the Wu-Tang (Clan) or something."

"Yeah," agreed Mantia. "We're gonna not show up at gigs and stuff."

"When we're onstage in Europe, it's kind of like you could be anywhere," said LaLonde, comparing American audiences to those in foreign lands. "Until you try to talk to them."

"It depends, though," said Mantia. "I've only been on one European tour with them, but it seems like in Italy they went crazy."

"Yeah, they try to kill each other in Italy," concurred LaLonde. "In Japan, it was like this"-- mimicking audience members applauding politely-- "They're all sitting down. At some shows, one guy will get a little crazy and move around a little bit, and everyone's like, 'Whoa, we're going crazy now!'"

Claypool, who attended high school with Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett and even auditioned for the band at one point, entered the room. "We're missing 'E.R. Live,'" he announced to a chorus of disappointed "aww"'s.

"I've never even seen 'E.R.'," said LaLonde. "Or 'The X-Files.'"

"It's 'The Brown Album' so that all the pop critics can wipe their asses on it," said Claypool of the band's latest creation. "We've got a bunch of new gear, new cool mikes. I actually sang on this record a little bit. I played a lot of my six-strings, not so much four-strings. We didn't really use many toys, trinkets and stuff on the bass-- it's all pretty straight air. We had a good time, actually. We snowboarded-- we snowboarded far more on this album than any album I've ever been involved in."

"The Brown Album" marks not only Primus' first recording with Mantia following Tim "Herb" Alexander's amicable departure from the band, but one on which the presence of percussion is increasingly pervasive.

Fans have come to recognize a sonic concept that generally places Claypool's bass work at their music's forefront. "We kind of tried to go for that," said LaLonde. "Instead of a four-piece drum set with a mike on every drum, now there's a couple mikes pointing at the drums. And our sound man had a good point-- he was like, 'Yeah, it's a good idea because when you listen to a drum set, it comes from one listening source.' When you have a mike on every drum, everything's exactly the same. So we tried to go for more of a big, kind of Zeppelin sound, with big, giant drums. Most people hear that sound and they think, 'The drums are all distorted.'"

"Yeah, but we went for that," interjected Mantia. "A lot of people who listened to Primus before just didn't listen to some of the weird stuff that we'd listen to, that sounds like that all the time. So it wasn't really that different for us.

"Larry was into computers, and he wanted to be able to (use them)," he said of the band's decision to use analog equipment instead of digital. "I said, 'No, let's go analog,' 'cause we were using some vintage gear, some vintage drums, so we just decided to do it. On the next album, though, it'll probably be digital."

Every album in Primus' discography is self-produced-- which, according to LaLonde, "gives you twice as much work." On the flip-side, however, "you don't have to pay a producer. Especially in the's hard to find somebody that can come in who doesn't want to change everything. And YOU can understand what you're trying to do."

Caroline Records was home to the band's first two albums-- "Suck On This" and "Frizzle Fry," both released in 1990 -- before they jumped ship to Interscope in time for the release of "Sailing the Seas of Cheese" a year later. "The major was kind of better," said LaLonde, "because when we were on the indie, everywhere we'd go people would be all, 'I can't find your records!' Once we got on Interscope, they could actually find our records. Of course, when we first got on Interscope, it was sort of like an indie because it was only us and Gerardo"-- Mantia guffawed from across the table-- "we were the only two bands."

Film remains an ongoing interest for Claypool; the band's efforts have appeared not only on the soundtracks for "Airheads" and "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America," but on "South Park," Comedy Central's surprise hit about a brood of elementary school-aged miscreants. "I, myself, am going to be the biggest director to ever come from Northern California," he declared. "I'm going to make (Francis Ford) Coppola look like...look like"-- grappling for the identities of nonentities-- "somebody you've never heard of.

"We're going to do as much stuff as we can with 'South Park,' 'cause they're cool. People that are cool-- we don't want to work with any spastic Nazi bastards. Unless they pay us big buckets of money. Actually, Toyota offered us a bunch of money to use one of our songs. They wanted to use 'Here Come the Bastards.'"

The band declined the offer. "We could've been rakin' in the dough!" protested LaLonde.

"We could've gotten a couple of brand-new Forerunners. The Boardwalk wanted to use one of our songs. But they've gotta kick me down a boat," said Claypool, ever the avid outdoorsman.

The Brown Tour, which will canvass the country from coast to coast, will continue throughout the fall and winter. As for Prawnsong, the band's record company/graphic-design studio, LaLonde said, "We pretty much aren't even a record company's just like a graphics company now: web pages, doing all that art stuff when the music is done. It's basically just a studio for when you do a video, or commercials or something. We do other web pages to keep the studio going. We're jacked into the Internet!" he exclaimed with overexaggerated enthusiasm. "We're sooo CYBER!"

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