Interview With Les Claypool: A Casual Affair

Les ClaypoolEven the weird need a leader. Les Claypool, whose work as the frontman and bassist extraordinaire of Primus turned him into a household name (if it’s a household of fringe alternative rock lovers) in the early ‘90s, has a history of bringing together unusual collaborators over the years through various acts like Oysterhead and Colonel Claypool’s Bucket Of Bernie Brains. But this March’s Oddity Faire is his first time organizing a tour dedicated to the weird out there, with Saul Williams, Secret Chief 3 and O’Death rounding out the last leg of the tour which ends in New York this weekend.

First things first, however. Though it may not seem that way, it’s been a few years since a proper release from Claypool. Of course, he wrote music for his 2007 Spinal Tap-esque film Electric Apricot: Quest For Festeroo, as well as wrote a novel, did commissioned work for film and a video game, arranged a Primus greatest hits album and career-spanning retrospective DVD, as well as toured, so it’s virtually impossible to call him lazy. But 2006’s Of Whales And Woe, until last week, was his most recent full-length.

The appropriately-titled-in-more-ways-than-one Of Fungi And Foe is Claypool’s further exploration into his identity as a solo artist, as he finds parallels between his many endeavors (only so many people can say writing a solo album is like writing a novel and are actually speaking from experience) and grows ever more comfortable with his natural musical instincts.

The new album was culled from work on a video game and a film?

A good portion, I’d say about two-thirds of it, the music end was based on some work that I was commissioned to do for a sort of abstract sci-fi interactive game called Mushroom Men, and this thriller called Pig Hunt which is about a three thousand-pound wild boar which terrorizes the pot fields of northern California.

But this isn’t a score; this is an album of songs.

Well, basically what I did was when I was asked for material, whether I was scoring to a scene or just coming up with theme tracks for characters, when they needed for 30 seconds worth of material, I gave them four to five minutes worth of material, partially because I knew I wanted to use the material for an album at some point in time.

There’s no guitar on the record. Was that intentional or did it just happen that way?

Partially intentional, partially it happened that way. The last few years I’ve been out on tour I have not had a guitar player, so I’ve been leaning away from the guitar for a while, whether it was saxophone or violin or cello or some sort of mutated instrument of my own.

Do you prefer working without guitar?

I think a lot of it was finding that my instrument was more defined when it was not competing with the same frequencies as a guitar. There is a little crossover there, whereas some of these other instruments, whether it’s saxophone or marimba or even the cello—which can be a bit competitive—usually there’s a lot more breathing room. And just to be honest I’m a little bored with guitar (laughs).

Well, you did have a little on Of Whales And Woe.

There was a little bit. It was mainly stuff that I played, just textural. I can play a little guitar. Usually when I need a part, it’s either, ‘Well, I gotta call somebody in,’ which is gonna take a day or two or three or five, or I can finish this song right now, by me grabbing this instrument and playing it. And that’s usually what happens. It’s more out of you get on a roll, you want to finish a song, and away you go. And usually when I bring in other musicians, it’s either to jam on some stuff or futz around or someone just happens to be in the neighborhood like when Eugene was up and we just got drunk and just started recording things, or it’s me having bits and pieces of unfinished material, and I call in a Skerik or a Mike Dillon or someone like Sam Bass or some interesting musician to see what they can do with it.