by Tom Lanham.
Taken from Musician, August 1997.
Primus on the perils of recording.
Up in the verdent wilderness of nothern California, out where emus and llamas are the pets du jour, sits Les Claypool's sprawling estate, Rancho Relaxo, and its tandem twin-gazebo recording studio, The Corn. But beware!
The premises are guarded by two barel-chested yellow Labradors named Corn and Capone who are strong as the fabled Cerberus. So strong, in fact that they recently forced their way into the main recording room. Their master arrived home to find his dogs happily gnawing on a tangle of thick equipment cords. A minor setback in the completion of Claypool's latest self-produced, bass-blasted sideshow with Primus. The Brown Album, he's titled it. Soundwise, he says,"It's sort of like Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti meets T-Neck period Isley Brothers."
In the corner of this small, windowed room sits several of Claypool's countless basses---acoustic, fretless, electric upright, you name it. All of which play a part in the album's fat, all-analog mix, which sounds--on psychotic new funk-punk stompers like "Bob's Party Time Lounge"--as sludgy and visceral as, say Rush's 2112, maybe Robin Trower's Bridge of Sighs.
"No more of that digital crap!" Claypool declares with a charismatic cackle. Why? Blame it on new Primus drummer and ex-Limbomaniacs mainstay Brain. For this latest home session Claypool was considering "getting [Digidesign] Pro Tools and doing it all on computer. Originally I wanted automation which would have total recall: Which ever mix we did, it would remember where the setting were. I got tired of resetting the board all the time; it was too much work. Then Brain comes along and says, 'Fuck that, dude! We gotta go analog!'"
Brain beems proudly over his accomplishment. "I was always working with people who had Pro Tools," he explains. "and it just sounded so thin. Every time they'd bounce the mix back to ADAT, and then bounce it back to Pro Tools, it's get smaller and smaller, untill it was almost one-dimensional," So Claypool decided to conduct a little experiment: "I had this TASCAM 388, the same machine we did our first record on, and I recorded some drums, bass, and guitar with it, then did the exact same thing with an [Alesis] ADAT. Then I mixed it, put it on cassette, and played both for a bunch of people." Surprise. "Everyone picked the 388 over the ADAT immediately, picked the analog over digital."
Not that all new technology is bad. Claypool and guitarist Larry "Ler" Lalonde have just bought top-of-the-line Macintoshes, which they used to design the Brown Album cover art---basically an elaborate composite of popular chocolate bar wrappers. Get it? "Brown"? Still, the Primus main directive seems to remain "simplify," even down to Claypool's more mature lyrical stance. He swears it "isn't intentional, but i'm finding that my characters are a little more grounded in reality. They're still out there, but it's like the difference between a Coen Brothers film and a Terry Gilliam film. We're going from Baron Munchausen to Fargo."