One thing fans can count on with the current Primus tour (with original drummer Jay Lane on board and a new CD on the way) is it won’t be a nostalgia trip.
As bassist/singer Les Claypool put it in a 2007 interview with this writer: “I like to readdress [Primus] when it’s exciting so that we can make sure that what we’re doing is special for those people that it’s dear to. If we just go out because we need to refill the bank accounts, then that’s just kind of lame.”
There certainly doesn’t seem to be anything contrived or rote about the current reunion of Primus. First of all, it marks the return of original drummer Jay Lane (who was in the band only for a year, in 1988), and the group (which also includes longtime guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde) has a new CD, Green Naugahyde, set for a Sept. 13 release.
This reunion is definitely feeding the part of Claypool that demands to stay creative.
“I think for me, if I am scratching that creative itch, that’s a big itch,” Claypool says. “If I’m not being satisfied on a creative level, it’s tough to go out there and really put on that.
“With Jay Lane, he’s really good at shooting from the hip,” Claypool says. “So we do go off into sort of strange territory every night, and that to me is, that’s very enjoyable. I mean, it’s great to play the old tunes and play them the way they should be played, but you also have to have that little bit of stepping off into new territory, that dancing on the edge, so to speak, element.”
The Primus reunion began gathering steam last year and led to a summer/fall tour. Ironically, Claypool was skeptical about the idea at first.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t really that interested in doing it,” he says. “I like turning over new rocks, and it didn’t feel like it was a new rock. But then came the notion of Jay Lane coming back, and we got together and played, and it just felt really good, and we were getting along really great. It just felt good. It felt right. We did the tour, and then we said OK, let’s do the real thing here. Let’s make an album and make a good run of it.”
Last year’s tour and this year’s continued activity (which included a spring tour) mark the latest and — because of Green Naugahyde — perhaps the most substantial Primus reunion.
Originally formed in the mid-1980s, the band, with such albums as Frizzle Fry (1990), Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991) and Tales From the Punchbowl (1995), carved out a singular style built around angular melodies, Claypool’s multi-faceted bass playing and lyrics that frequently had an absurdist’s bent.
The band, with drummer Bryan “Brain” Mantia replacing original drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander in 1996, went on to make three more albums before going on hiatus in 2001.
Along the way, Claypool has done a host of outside projects, as well as three solo CDs; formed Oysterhead (with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and Police drummer Stewart Copeland); and fronted several other groups, including the Frog Brigade, Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains and the Fancy Band.
Primus, meanwhile, reunited for a 2003 EP, Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People, and a tour. They toured again in 2006. Now comes new music to go with a return to touring.
Claypool says Green Naugahyde merges a bit of the early Primus sound with newer stylistic elements that haven’t filtered into the previous albums.
“The comparison to Frizzle Fry is pretty obvious just because that was Jay Lane, a lot of that material was honed in the Jay Lane territory,” he said. “And I also, over the past 10 years, have become way more comfortable with production and my vocals and just different elements that we wouldn’t really have tackled before with Primus. So there are some elements of sort of the Frog Brigade/Claypool world to it.
“But there are also strong elements that Ler has brought in,” Claypool says. “He brought in actual songs, which he never did before. Jay Lane, I encouraged him to bring in beats that we could write off of, and he did. … I’d say a good half of the record is stuff that came in independently [of me].”
A tour that begins Sept. 23 will be an opportunity to give fans a sampling of the new CD, as well as a chance to revisit the Primus back catalog.
“It will be a plethora of classic Primus material, and then we’re going to be sneaking in some new stuff,” Claypool said. “It [the set list] will be different every night, so it kind of goes on what the mood of us personally is and what the crowd is looking like.”