Les Claypool has carved out a giant-sized name for himself with his fluid and inventive bass playing. He helped make Primus a household word amongst prog-rock aficionados and has been a much-in-demand session player for a plethora of artists over the last decade or so. His latest solo record Of Whales and Woe is something bass players around the world can salivate over. His funky bass lines are the backbone of the 12 songs which seem to leap out of the speakers with an earnest mandate of polishing your ears. I spoke to Les by phone recently to get the low-down on recording this record and more. Here's what he had to say:
antiMUSIC: Hi and thanks for doing this Les. How are you doing?
Les Claypool: I'm well. Fantastic. No worries.
antiMUSIC: Your record is fantastic. I liken your bass sound to a coffee percolator on the stove. I find it quite helpful to get my mind going first thing in the morning.
Les Claypool: I like that. It's kinda like a scratch pad of doodles. Every now and again we'd head out to the studio and fiddle about and lay down some things and eventually it became songs. So it's been kicking around for a couple of years.
antiMUSIC: What is the lyrical idea behind the title track and why did you chose it to be the main track?
Les Claypool: I liked the imagery of that line. And I like the entire line "…and the tales Of Whales and Woe off his liquored tongue will flow", I really like that. I don't know what mental picture it paints for you, but I get this old salty, and by salty I mean high mileage, weathered individual whose been around the block, or round the horn, or however you want to look at it, you know, spewing their jaded tales on the world and whatnot. So it just got shortened down to Of Whales and Woe. (laughs) But I think it's an accurate title for the record because there are a lot of those characters. To me it's a very lyrically folksy collection. And there are those Casey Jones type characters and the stories of Tom Joad going over the pass with old Model T, losing its brakes half way across. You know what I mean? I just get a lot of those images from it. Obviously there's the rumble of the diesel. A fella chasing tuna. The guy losing his wife to melanoma and having to carry on, and turning to the sea, and it's seems to be…I mean my steps musically are very rarely calculated. It just tends to be more a collection of random moments that gets captured at various points during the recording period, which, like I said, could be spotted over a two year period. So, this just seemed to be sort of a Saturday Evening post of Claypool records. (laughs) You know what I mean? Very Norman Rockwell.
antiMUSIC: What were some of the first tracks that you laid down?
Les Claypool: I have no idea. I can't remember what came first, the chicken or the egg.
antiMUSIC: You have several different guest musicians on this record. How and why did you decide to have who on what track?
Les Claypool: You know it was, I didn't have as many on this record as I normally have. I had sort of my usual cast of characters, Skerik, Mike and Gabby. My kids slid in there on a tune because they sort of just happened to be in the studio, banging on something one day and it sounded kinda cool, but what I like to do is, I have these skeletons of songs, laying around and I'll bring in…Mike will be touring through town and I'll say "Come up to the house for a day or so" and he'll come up and we'll just hang out in the studio and I'll put something up and say "I bet this might sound good with a little marimba on this song…ah it might sound good with a little vibes on this song." Or you know, and he'll bang something out and it either works or it doesn't. Most of the time it does. Same with Gabby. I brought Gabby over, I could use a little sitar on this song. Skerik, he played on almost the entire record, it's hard to keep him off of the stuff. He adds a lot of flavour. He's like the Tabasco, you know, and I tend to put Tabasco on a lot of things.
antiMUSIC: What was the song that had either trickiest bass lines for you to come up with or to fit into the song or else your favorite ones?
Les Claypool: There are ones that are tricky, for me it's more about, okay I've finished the record, the record's done. Now it's time to learn the songs to play them live. That's the tricky part. Because I listen to them and I say "What the hell was I doing?" because I don't remember. And I actually have to re-learn the base parts, because usually they're somewhat, ah, retarded. But you know, one of the trickiest ones to pull off initially live was Of Whales and Woe. I never thought I would get that one. That's a tough one cuz you know, I don't even want to say the singing because there's no singing, the dialogue is counter what the bass is doing. So it's really right brain, left brain collision. (laughs) It's kinda like "Tommy the Cat". "Tommy the Cat" years ago was a very difficult one to get off the ground. But once it gets flying, I can fly it, you know? Same with this one.
Everything evolves. All songs evolve as you play them, no matter what record it's from. But were playing a lot of it live. I don't think I've ever, since the early days of Primus, when we had a lack of material, I don't think I ever played as much of a new album live, as I have with this tour. It's really been going well. People are warming up to this record in general, moreso than I think any record I've ever done on my own. I can only speculate it's because it's a little more in your face, little more raw and aggressive. I don't know. I have no idea. But people have been surprisingly receptive. A lot of time you play new material and people don't want to hear that stuff. (laughs) I'm one of those people!
antiMUSIC: How was writing for Primus different from writing your solo stuff? Do you approach it differently?
Les Claypool: Primus, we all write together. The majority of the stuff is written with all of us in one room writing. Whereas this is the megalomania record. You know what I mean?
antiMUSIC: Filtered only by you..
Les Claypool: Yes. I am the boss man. I am the only man…I'm the only one in the room! I've done a lot of stuff over the years, without Primus. Every situation is different...whether it's Oysterhead or Mackerel, Frog Brigade or whatever. It's always different.
antiMUSIC: What can you tell us about your film "Quest For Festeroo"?
Les Claypool: It's a mockumentary about a group of aging musicians that have been playing around Northern California in the jam band, hippie world. It's about a student filmmaker that documents these guys catching a couple of breaks…catching a couple of big breaks. It's very dry, sorta Ricky Gervais, BBC Office=kinda dry. I appear in it, yes. It's been in a few film festivals. And we've won some awards. Premiered it at Bonnaroo last week. And we're just trying to get distribution for it right now. We've had some offers for straight to DVD distribution but we really want to get some sort of art house theatrical release. Holding off.
antiMUSIC: What can you tell us about your novel, "South of the Pumphouse"?
Les Claypool: It's not out yet, it'll be out in a couple of weeks. It's available at my shows right now, but that's about it. It started as a screen play, a 60 page screen play that I wrote about 10 years ago, and it eventually evolved into a 129 page screen play. We tried to make the film. I had started a production company and had raised money and lost money and had producers come on and come off. And finally I just said, I'm going to write it in novel form, so at least exists somewhere before it's convoluted by a bunch of producers and film makers. So. There it is.
antiMUSIC: I imagine you have been working on all three of these projects simultaneously. How do you divide up your time to work on each?
Les Claypool: It's not really simultaneously. It's like anything else. You kinda work on this at a certain point in time. And you work on that at a certain point in time. They just happen to be all come out at the same time. The book process is years in the making. The film I worked on last summer. The record I finished up end of last year. Sometimes you have things in various of completion, and you just pick at them as they need to be picked at.
antiMUSIC: Will you be doing shows to promote Of Whales and Woe and who will be in your live band?
Les Claypool: I'm on tour, in the middle of a six week tour. I got a couple more festivals, and working on the film stuff and whatnot.
antiMUSIC: Anything else you'd like to add?
Les Claypool: Nothing's leaping to mind. Seems like you covered quite a bit.
antiMUSIC: Thanks a lot for this Les. All the best.
Les Claypool: Thanks you for the interview.
Morley Seaver and antiMUSIC thank Les Claypool for doing this interview.