Interview: Les Claypool
Les spoke to ATP about how he got into playing bass, musical influences, going solo, upcoming projects, touring with rap/reggae star, Matisyahu and the return of Primus.
Alter The Press: How does it feel to be back in the UK after such a long period of time?
Les Claypool: It's the first time in ten years that I've played here, but I was here a year and a half ago for a film festival. My film, 'Electric Apricot,' played at The Raindance Festival, in London. I'm itching, it's gonna be a wingding!
ATP: What got you into playing bass?
Les: It was more that I didn't want to play guitar. I was always drawn towards bass because it was more sultry and sexy instrument. The guitar was too twangy for me, and everybody wanted to be Eddie Van Halen, so it was easier to get a gig as a bass player.
ATP: What are your major musical influences?
Les: I have no idea. It's changed so much over the years, like what they were when I was sixteen, to what they are now. When I was sixteen, it was all about Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Rush, but when you get older, you get more into experimental stuff like Old Gabriel. Now, I was listening to Burl Ives the other day; that was pretty sweet.
ATP: Any plans for new musical collaborations in the future?
Les: Nothing planned, but there is always talk. At the moment, there is nothing scheduled.
ATP: Your last solo album, 'From Funghi and Foe,' had no guitar on it, was this planned or did it end up like that?
Les: I was avoiding the guitar, but Eugene Hutz, from Gogol Bordello, played acoustic on one of the tunes but beyond that, I was just shying away. I was doing more strings and percussion.
ATP: How have you found going solo since you broke away from being in a band?
Les: I was doing it back when we were doing Primus, so it means I'm in charge! It's been great because you bring in musicians to fill your vision as opposed to catering to the abilities of the musicians that you are locked in with.
ATP: Are you spending more time being a musician, an author or director nowadays?
Les: I'm spending more time being a musician, but even more time being a father, that's a pretty time consuming thing. It's hard to get an indie film off the ground now, the economy is shit, and you can't get money for indie films, so I haven't directed in a while. Writing is something I just do in my spare time.
ATP: Which do you enjoy most?
Les: Music, but music is what I do, so I enjoy directing. I really feel comfortable in that position.
ATP: Last year you did a few shows with Matisyahu in the US. How was it?
Les: It was great and, to be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I tend to not overly put too much stock into something that isn't indigenous, but I was really impressed with Matis. He has great ears, great taste, good presence and I told him so. I wasn't expecting him and his organization to be as impressive as they were. He used to sit in with us every now and then, and he's a great musician with a great band. One guy in my crew didn't think he'd be into it at all, and by the end, he was a convert.
ATP: Are you currently working on any other large projects?
Les: Not really. I'm just finishing up 'Fungi and Foe' with these guys. I’ve got a couple of things big on the horizon, but I'm looking forward, for the first time in many years, to taking a big portion of the summer off.
ATP: Will we be seeing Primus any time soon?
Les: There's been talk, but there's been talk for a while. Me and Larry (LaLonde - Primus guitarist) have been talking quite a bit lately, so it's a possibility. Nothing’s on the horizon at the moment.
ATP: Can you say if there will be another Primus record at some point?
Les: I would like to hope there would be. We are all pretty busy, especially me, and if we do Primus again, it has to be different; it's got to be a next step. I'm not a big fan of going backward. That's been the glory of my career, getting to play with Buckhead, Tom Waites, Bernie Worrell and all these different people. These were all the steps forward for me being a musician, they might not be as lucrative for me as making a Primus record, but that's not what it's about for me. I'm only here for a certain amount of time; I want to do cool new things that keep opening new doors. Unless Primus wants to do something that opens a new door, I'm not interested in it. I don't want to do it for nostalgia purposes; it has to be something new.
ATP: Any tips for budding bassists?
Les: Play as much as you can and play with as many people as you can. People who just sit in a room and play, are only going to get so good. Playing music is like having a conversation, if you have conversations with the same people over and over again, you're not going to be as loquacious as someone who speaks to different people, from different backgrounds, all the time. Play with as many people as you possibly can, even if they aren't any good.
- Jon Ableson