Another San Francisco Tremor

by Todd Avery Shanker.

Taken from Alternative Press, Volume IV, Issues 25 and 26, December-January 1989-1990.

There's a rumbling, primordial sound echoing in the streets of San Francisco. It's got more character than Karl Malden's nose and it shifts and shatterings of the sonic landscape are a crunching and true as the legendary World Series Earthquake of 1989. Like that quake, Frisco's Primus thrashes madly, twisting together shards of metal, with the distinct odor of fleshy funk. In contrast, how ever, Primus' seaside spasm is harmless to everyone except myopic music geeks. And their aptly titled live debut, Suck On This (Prawn Song), is aural stimulation at its best.

After originally evolving as King Crimsonesque rhythmic Darwinists in 1984, Primus has since under-gone some major musical and personnel changes. The current line-up included bassist and vocalist Les Claypool, former Blind Illusion guitarist Larry LaLonde and former Freak Executives drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander.

Across the street from a Comfort Inn somewhere in southern California, Claypool gives me a call and immediately starts babbling about the roots of his musical madness. "When I was a little kid I remember watching this band play at our junior high variety show. The guitarist was playing through this cheesy Fender Champ and suddenly he did this 'Ramblin Man' solo. I just remember thinking', 'That is not the electric instrument I want to play.'"

The first concert he attended was a Rush stadium stomper. Yet Claypool says the show that most influenced him was a Larry Graham/S.O.S. Band/Isley Brothers triple feature. "There are very few people who can really rip the funk bass. Larry Graham is one of 'em. I remember seeing him mesmerize the entire Oakland Coliseum. It was before they had the head-set microphone things, the wireless head-phones. The whole stage was white and red like his album cover, and he comes out wearing this white satin suit and a big wide-brim. And get this: he's lugging this massive white jazz bass with a microphone ! He walked around and rapped with the audience, and I'll never forget the way he thumped that bass. It was amazing!"

As you may have inferred from the above, Claypool has emerged as a Bootsy-booming mondo-slap bassist known for Red Hot Chili-ng flashes of thrash. Mix in LaLonde's Zappa-esque textured riff-mosh and Alexander's funk/punk fusion/contusion versatility on drums, and you've got a band unafraid to reflect images of Foghat, Funkadelic and Faith No More in the same song.

But despite Primus' massive talents, putting out their first album has been a challenge, to say the least. "We made this album live because we didn't have no corn, dig? We had been talking with major labels like Geffen, CBS and Enigma for a while, but nothing was really poppin' so we decided to do it ourselves. We had like no money, and at one point we were even going to do a giant benefit show to try to raise corn forour record. We ended up taping it on a quarter-inch 8-track machine, not your most glitzy recording gear. But Matt Winegar (from Frisco's Monkey Rhythm) did an absolutely amazing job with the production and brought out some real cool tones, as well.

"I mean we're definitely a live band," he ccontinues, "Our stage show is energetic-wired-fun; but to put it truthfully I can't wait to get into the studio. We're gonna do a coast to coast tour and then start recording in December. Hopefully our new record'll be out in February. I can only imagine the wild shit me and Winegar will come up with when we go back into the studio. I'm looking forward to it."

Lyrically, Claypool's colorful 3-D animations unfold like a Ralph Bakshi cartoon, as he ramble-scats like Hunter S. Thompson on helium about stoned, wake-and-bake breakfasts, horny and hip tom-cats, hecklers from hell and even pudding. (Rumor has it "Pudding Time" has made Primus the long shot replacement for Bill Cosby as spokesmen for Jello Pudding's 1990 ad campaign.)

"'The Heckler' is based on an incident that I witnessed a few years ago," says Claypool. "I went and saw this local comic named Daryl Enriquez at the Berkeley Square, where we recorde our album. There was like ten people there, it was leaking water everywhere. But this guy was trying really hard to be funny, and I thought he was great. But there was this one lady who continuously heckled him. She was a bitch from hell, and I decided to write a song about her."

The result, included on Suck On This is musical mayhem with an angry tenacity that makes you wonder if this event actually happened to Claypool himself. As Arsenio Hall would say, "Hmmmmmm."

Other fun facts about San Francisco's finest include: 1. They don't like glam-metal ("I don't use mousse," Claypool proudly proclaims. "But I did recently cut my hair after it reached Black Oak Arkansas-length.") 2. They don't have a video on MTV (although Claypool says "an instructional fishing video on how to catch black bass" is his favorite maiden idea); 3. Claypool's old high school buddy is Metallica's Kirk Hammet; and 4. Their current favorite albums are Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Mother's Milk Faith No More's The Real Thing and Pink Floyd's Umma Gumma.

Will Primus become leading psycho-seismologist of the Metalli-funk movement? As Claypool sarcastically shrieks on "The Heckler," "It's just a matter of opinion!" So trust mine.

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