Unless you've been living in a tiny box with no electricity, you are more than familiar with Primus, the trio of California Bay Area musicians who have blown the mold off musicianship, turning it into a rockin' phenomenon. But before Primus bassist Les Claypool hooked up with percussion octopus Tim Alexander, and Larry LaLonde, there was... Sausage.
No, we're not talking about the confused pig on the cover of Pork Soda, we're talking about the new old group featuring Claypool, drummer Jay Lane, and guitarist Todd Huth. The three perfunctory pals were the original line-up of Primus and Sausage (in italics, y'see) was the name of the classic demo tape that initially gained the band strong notoriety on a local basis. Now Interscope joins forces with Claypool's Prawn Song Label to present Riddles are Abound Tonight, marking the fifth anniversary since these three have been in the same room with picks and sticks.
"We had all these tunes that we thought were great, so we revamped 'em," explains Les. "A lot of these songs on this record are old Primus songs that nobody has heard. Folks who are already `in the know' are going to figure that out, but I don't want to harp on the Primus connection."
Huth shared co-writing credits on some of the tracks from Primus' first two releases, Suck on This and Frizzle Fry. When Primus' notoriety began to spread outside of the Bay Area, Huth left the band in order to raise a family, as opposed to traipsing all over America in a van eating bad road food. Lane was active in lots of projects, playing in and composing for The Freaky Executives, whose signing at that time to Warner Bros. Records pulled him away from Primus. These days, Lane is still in a plethora of groups including the Charlie Hunter Trio, whose Claypool-produced debut is already out on Prawn Song, as well as the hip-hope/jazz band Alphabet Soup whose Prawn Song release is forthcoming. Huth is a member of Porch, who released a single on the Alternative Tentacles label. The Sausage record commenced last fall in Claypool's home studio between Primus tours.
OK, OK, OK... but let us not harp on lineage and who did what, when, or who ate corn or peanuts and all that stuff. All you need to do is listen to Riddles and it'll sizzle in yer gourd griddle just fine. Granted, Claypool's bass slappin' and thwappin' is as familar as that toothless old guy in your neighbourhood that keeps beating you at checkers. But you don't need a photo to prove that Mr. Lane's drum kit is slightly smaller than the one yer to used to hearing behind ol' Les, yet the man's economical punch presence makes the thing rock hard. (His secret: "I like to slam the shit out of 'em. And you can quote me on that.") And Mr. Huth's playing is bluesier, linear, enen (gasp) melodic! One listen to "Toyz 1988", an earlier arrangement of Frizzle Fry's "The Toys are Winding Down" will prove that Huth's approach to the guitar is alist close to the Earth's gravitational pull. "Here's to the Man" is some of the finest wielded blunt instrument rock not (entirely) on an indie label. The intrepid trio are joined by the ghost of sound composer John Cage on instruments "shop class" and "traffic jam" during the spirited "Caution Should be Used When Driving a Motor Vehicle or Operating Machinery," where Primus often sounds like the musical equivalent of a thousand superballs thrown at 200 mph in an enclosed room, Sausage has reigned control of "the groove".
"Sausage is definitely more groove-oriented," agrees Les. "Plus Todd is singing as well, because well.. he has a better voice! These guys are some of my favourite people to play with, and I think it's obvious."
"My playing is much more melodic", offers Todd. "When I'm playing with Porch, it's a lot more thrashy and heavy. when I'm jamming with Sausage, my attitude towards playing changes into a completely different focus. I'm playing with old friends, but there's always something new happening."
"The other stuff I do is kind of smooth", admits Lane. "Sausage gives me the opportunity to just slam the shit out of my drums. When Les is layin' down the sixteenth note foundation, it's best that the drums be right there with them, doing the same accents. The songs don't have a lot of changes, and working the grooves is the important thing."
The three muso musketeers played their first live show in a long while at the recent Gavin Convention (Les: "It was sloppy as hell, but nobody noticed because the record wasn't out yet!"). There are plans for a summer voyage of gin joints and other places where leeches attach themselves to the club wall when the building gets sweaty. Claypool will assure you that it won't be another five years until the next reunion.
"We've gotten to be better players and we take more time to listen than we used to. It flows real nice. But you know, I think there should be a bit of mystery to Sausage. The people that don't Primus are going to think one thing. the people who know Primus will see a huge difference." He lapses into an evil mustached villain persona: "We shall see!"