Primus: Nice and Cheesy

by Valerie Potter.

Valerie Potter speaks with resident Primus frontman and weirdo Les Claypool about their new LP, "Sailing On The Seas of Cheese". Taken from Hot Metal #29, July 1991.

In the search for the elusive funk metal scene, Primus has been one name amongst many that has cropped up time and time again. Their buddies Faith No More have extolled their virtues at length (indeed, Mike Patton has been sporting their T-shirt around many a photo session recently) and they live in and around San Francisco, the favoured breeding ground of crossover metal hybrids. But despite this impressive pedigree and people's eagerness to categorise them thus, seeing them live ensures that any preconceptions fly straight out the window. Quirky, droll and very offbeat, with a low key stage performance, they're a band to soak up slowly rather than one which leaves the audience flattened in their wake.

Founder member and bassist/vocalist Les Claypool would probably be the first to agree. Instantly likeable, with a cartoon character face and the kind of nasal voice you would associate with the Muppets, he launches into the band's history with little prompting.

"It all kicked of about six years ago with me and this other guitarist Todd Huth, and we went through millions of drummers. After four years Todd got married and had a couple of kids and I got playing with a heavy metal band called Blind Illusion, with Larry (Lalonde, guitarist). We got together and hooked up with Herb the drummer, 'cos we kinda liked him."

And so Primus was born in its present form. There's little in the band's "Frizzle Fry" album or the new material from their latest, "Sailing On The Seas of Cheese", to belie their metal roots -- there's more to tie them in with the eccentricity of Frank Zappa than Metallica (a band which Les once failed an audition -- but they're still friends!). But there's still that phantom funk edge to take into account.

"We've been lumped in with the funk metal thing just about everywhere. I guess people just have to categorise you, but we're pretty hard to offend," grins Les, refusing to be drawn on the subject. "There's bands we play with a lot round San Francisco, there's a good scene going on there. We play with Victim's Family, Faith No More and Limbo Maniacs who're all good friends of ours as well, so it's fun."

Why is it that so many like-minded bands are coming out of San Francisco, and the Bay Area in particular?

"It's really hard to pin-point, but it's a very liberal area with a lot of different cultures and groups of people, so you can pretty much come up with anything and there'll be an audience for it. There's no real mainstream so it's harder to get rejected. In fact, we just won three Bammy's -- Bay Area Music Awards -- which is pretty funny," laughs Les, warming to the subject. "Back home right now we're selling out about 2,000 seat venues, we're doin' pretty good. It pays the rent, that's the main thing. We just get an audience where we can."

Musically and lyrically Primus are an abstract affair. With titles like "Pudding Time" and "Fish On", it's impossible to be sure where they get their inspiration.

"From everything. I was a TV junkie when I was a kid, so I guess that's affected me somewhere along the line. Lots of different types of music -- I'm a big Tom Waits fan. We actually got him to do some vocals on one of the tracks on the new album, so I got to meet my hero! He's my favourite lyricist, for sure, and he's also a very charismatic character."

Primus aren't short of charisma themselves. They're far from being pin-ups, but just the sheer oddball edge to them and their music should serve to keep the interest flowing for a good while yet. "Sailing on the Seas of Cheese" is well worth checking out, but with caution -- expect the unexpected. Despite all attempts to nail them down, Primus truly are a band that defy categorisation.

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