A bit off-center

For two decades, Les Claypool has been one of the music industry’s most predictably unpredictable artists. Best known for his singular bass style as the frontman for alternative-funk-freak-rockers Primus, Claypool has remained astonishingly prolific. His list of projects includes performances alongside artists such as Trey Anastasio and Buckethead. He’s written, produced and starred in a film — 2006’s Electric Apricot — and released a critically acclaimed novel, in addition to other creative endeavors (including one of our favorites, the South Park theme song).

Claypool’s “Oddity Faire,” a rotating cast of musicians, sideshow performers and artists, visits the Civic Center next week, so we caught up with him to talk about the tour, what he learned on the jam scene and why he was reluctant to make a new Primus record.

Xpress: When the Oddity Faire opened last year, you said that you never found a festival that comprised the creative types you were accustomed to working with. You’ve played almost every festival imaginable; who were you looking for?
Claypool:
Well, back in 93’ when we first did Lollapalooza and we saw what Perry [Ferrell, of Jane’s Addiction] was doing, I thought, “Man, it sure would be great to have something where the Residents could go play, or Laurie Anderson, or the X from Holland, or some of these bands, and performers in general, that take an obscure approach to things.” So the whole notion of the Oddity Faire is to find people who are a bit off center, who have a unique approach to what they’re doing and aren’t necessarily aiming towards the mainstream, but are perhaps skirting it or completely avoiding it altogether.

Primus is headlining this year’s Oddity Faire and currently at work on its first new album in over a decade. Why the sudden focus on a band that seemed all but over?
To be honest, I wasn’t really that interested in doing a Primus thing. It had gotten to the point with Primus that it was just this nostalgic thing. I didn’t feel any sense of it moving forward or any new creativity. It just was us; we’d get together for a tour once every three years and go out and be the nostalgia boys. And that’s fine, and that scratches an itch for us for a little while, and it scratches an itch for fans that want to hear the old tunes. But it’s not overly conducive to wanting to really put some time into it.

So I got to talking to Larry LaLonde, and he very much wanted to do it. But it just didn’t seem like we were on the same page with [drummer] Tim (Alexander), so we decided to move on. The first person I suggested was [former drummer] Jay Lane, because I have been working with him for many years with my Frog Brigade and with my bands, and he’s been on almost all my recordings at some point or another. He came in and just nailed it. So it’s been a very invigorating thing. It’s really breathed some fresh air into what was a sort of a stalemate situation. We’re all excited. We’re writing and we’re gonna make a record.

You recently released an EP of rehearsals for the new record; can we expect more previews as the process moves forward?
You know, I didn’t even have plans to do that. We just happened to record a rehearsal one day and it sounded amazing. You could feel the fire, and we wanted folks to hear that because I sort of felt that the last couple of times we went out with Primus … I know it was a letdown for me, and perhaps it was a letdown for other people. It was just us kind of playing the old tunes. So whether we’re going to do that with the record, I’m not really sure.

After becoming an icon of alternative music, you spent a good deal of time performing on the jam and festival circuit. How has that affected your approach to performing?
The one thing I’ve learned from being involved in these different projects and festivals over the years is there’s a certain amount of glory in the notion that these guys are going to take some chances, and you might see them stumble a little bit. But in the process, you’re seeing something that you’re not going to see the next night. You’re going to see something completely unique. And it’s much more exciting for the musicians. To go out and play the same set every night and say the same things between songs, it would drive me insane. As a performer and as a guy that has to be away from his family for a month or so at a time, I want to enjoy myself up there playing music. And for me, that’s tromping through a new portion of jungle every night to see what we can find. The difficult thing about that is, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

— Dane Smith can be reached at dsmith@mountainx.com.

who: Primus and Gogol Bordello
what: Oddity Faire tour
where: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
when: Wednesday, Oct. 6 (8 p.m. $47.25. ticketmaster.com)

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