Les Claypool - Vocals, Bass
Ler LaLonde - Guitar
Tim "Herb" Alexander - Drums
"Oh yeah, we're a complete ripoff of King Crimson." - Les Claypool
A most perplexing trio, Primus' style has been described as everything from Alternative Metal to Funk to Funk Metal to <blank stare> to Alternative Pop/Rock. The Primus sound ranges from humorous, whimsical, and tongue-in-cheek to thrash-funk to dead serious to, as my mom put it, "road construction." Primus' style is something very difficult to classify, for it is truly original.
The dauntingly complex tale of Primus' formation
Primus was formed in 1984 by Les Claypool, guitarist Todd Huth, and a drum machine, which was rapidly replaced by a real drummer, Vince "Perm" Parker. The group was then known as Primate. This lasted about a month, because there was already a group by the name of "The Primates." Les was contacted by the lawyer from the group and was asked to change the name, so he pulled out a dictionary to find a close alternate.
In the next four years, Primus burned through more drummers than Nirvana did in their whole career. Perm Parker was replaced by Peter Libby, who was then replaced by Robbie Bean, who was then replaced by Brian "Brain" Mantia for a scant two weeks (he promptly broke his foot skateboarding before a big show), who was then replaced by Tim "Curveball" Wright, who was then replaced by Jay Lane. Hey, where are you going? We're not done yet. In 1989, both Jay Lane and Todd Huth left Primus. Jay Lane left because his first band, The Freaky Executives, made a big break, and Todd Huth left shortly thereafter because he felt he was neglecting his family. So now poor ol' Les Claypool had a very popular underground band with nobody in it. Todd Huth was replaced by Ler LaLonde from the early death metal group Possessed, who has remained with the band ever since. Jay Lane was replaced by the great Tim "Herb" Alexander, who stuck with the band until about 1996. Herb was replaced by Brian "Brain" Mantia, who has stuck with the band until very recently.
Primus, contrary to popular myth, is still together. The members of Primus are trying to spend some time away from each other, and they all have their own side projects at this time, as covered in the following Bio section. Brain left the group to join Guns 'n' Roses. Yes, Guns 'n' Roses. Tim Alexander has rejoined the band and will be featured on the group's next album. As you can see, Primus has no luck with drummers.
When the going gets tough
and the stomach acids flow;
The cold wind of conformity
Is nipping at your nose
Some trendy new atrocity has brought you to your knees
Come with us, we'll sail the Seas of Cheese
Brief Group Bios
Les Claypool (born September 29, 1963) got his first bass - a hand-carved Carl Thompson, no less - at around the age of 14. He played double bass in the high school orchaestra. He is married (the ceremony was performed on a boat) and has children. Billie Joe Armstrong, anyone? His current side projects are Oysterhead and Colonel Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. In addition to all that, he had a solo act in 1996 - Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerel. He has also reunited with the original Primus - himself, Todd Huth, and Jay Lane - and formed the group Sausage. He has won countless awards for his amazing playing, normally "Best Unclassifiable."
Ler LaLonde (born September 12, 1968) is the youngest member of Primus. Not too much is known about his current side projects; the extent of our knowledge is that he is doing some electronica work. He was at one time a student of Joe Satirini, essentially apprenticing to a master. Before joining Primus, he was involved in early death metal projects Blind Illusion and Possessed. Tim and Les weren't sure initially if Ler would fit in, but after Suck On This, they knew they'd found their man.
Tim "Herb" Alexander (born April 10, 1965) is currently involved in the experimental group "Laundry," and has performed with the Blue Man Group. His nickname "Herb" came mostly from the fact that he is a health nut and is into things like alternative medicine and herbal remedies. He didn't have any significant bands or projects before Primus. He has won awards for his playing, normally in the category "Best Unclassifiable" ala Les. Ler & Les are pretty sure that Herb will be playing on their next album, but that is subject to change.
"She said she wanted my body, not my mind, so I showed her my dictionary, and all the words I know, and just how loquacious I can be when I put my mind down to it. But she wasn't impressed. No no no no, no no no no no no no no no. She wasn't impressed at all!" - Rapid monologue from "Is it Luck?"
Suck On This
After Primus finally got over their drummer frenzy and found stability in their members, they released some real albums. The first was Suck on This. Released first in late 1989, this was actually a live recording that the members of primus released on their own under the label Prawn Song. This was sold at their shows and some independent Bay Area record stores. This album contained what would become some of their major hits, such as John the Fisherman and Tommy the Cat. Many of these great songs are played at Primus concerts to this day. Suck On This was recently rereleased, along with...
This was released later in 1990, and was recorded in a real studio. The biggest track on this album was probably John the Fisherman; this song was actually rather mainstream (relatively speaking, anyway), and had a music video made for it. This song would have been rather rockish were it not for the unusually high presence of the bass line, the textural guitar, the lyrics, and Les Claypool's trademark high nasal voice. This album got Primus established as a "real" band.
Sailing the Seas of Cheese
Released in 1991, this was one of Primus' greatest albums ever. It cost $30,000 to make and was rewarded by going gold. It contained two of their greatest hits - Tommy the Cat, first seen on Suck On This and performed on Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, and Jerry Was a Racecar Driver, a gloriously hectic song featuring one of Les Claypool's best bass lines (he utilized double tapping) and was even featured on the sound track to the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Yes, it was that good. This album put Primus on the map. Music videos were made for Jerry Was a Race Car Driver and Tommy the Cat. Tommy the Cat was neither whimsical nor mainstream - sort of an Alt Funk feel to it. Tom Waits did the majority of the vocals for this song. Those Damn Blue Collar Tweekers, another big hit from this album, is mandatory at any Primus concert - a dark mood and very mosh pit friendly.
This was released in 1993, and was far more surreal than Seas of Cheese. The last three tracks are all bizarre instrumentals - Hamburger Train, Pork Chop's Little Ditty (Part 2), and Hail Santa. Other bizarre instrumentals include Wounded Knee and Pork Soda, which isn't exactly an instrumental per se, but is incredibly strange nonetheless. As Les put it, "The lyrics to Pork Soda are The Lord's Prayer sideways." The big single on this album was My Name is Mud, the lyrics to which are sheer poetry, in the form of an iambic pentameter. The surreality, wackiness, whimsicality and overall "What the hell?" factor of the group probably peaked on this album. Music videos were made for My Name is Mud and DMV, which featured another great tapping bass line, and was indeed a hilarious song about the Department of Motor Vehicles:
I've been to hell, I spell it,
I spell it D-M-V;
Anyone that's been there
knows precisely what I mean
I stood there and I waited
near an hour and fifteen;
and if I had my druthers, I'd screw a chimpanzee -
- call it pointless
Tales from the Punchbowl
Released in 1995, this was Primus' last album with Tim Alexander. Continuing Pork Soda's trend, some of the songs on Tales from the Punchbowl have a very sonically dark sound, such as Professor Nutbutter's House of Treats. This album was still very strange, but less so than Pork Soda. This foreshadowed Primus' evolution to more mainstream music. The big hit single from this album was Wynona's Big Brown Beaver. This song was completely out of control with the wackiness, but was still pretty damn funny. It has been performed unplugged with banjoes. Yes, banjoes. It's a Primus thing.
The Brown Album
This was released in 1997 with new drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia. This album had an even darker sound, with far less surrealism and quirky Space Farm-style ditties - much more conventional than anything they'd ever written before. They experimented with things like mic positioning, which could chage the sound of the whole drum kit. The big hit from this album was Shake Hands With Beef. Les had an old friend who was a vegetarian, but would occasionally head down to Taco Bell and "Shake Hands With Beef," hence the name of the song. So, to confirm: it is a song about eating meat. Not masturbating.
This is Primus' most recent album, released in 1999. Ironically, this album represented the peak of their slide towards a mainstream sound, possibly representative of a loss in creativity and overall energy. Possibly just the sort of thing that would justify their current hiatus. Little if any surrealism here. This one had collaborations up the wazoo, with everyone from Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine to Fred Durst. Lacquer Head was supposed to be the first single, but - get this - MTV deemed the video too violent to play! The mind boggles. So there never really was a music video made. Other hits on the album include Antipop, their ode to non-conformity, and Electric Uncle Sam, which showed that Les Claypool was running the well dry for lyrics at the time. Listening to it, one can indeed get the idea that maybe it was indeed time for a break.
I remember that one of the classic things was, years ago, I was playing in the Tommy Crank band, and I was sitting with this woman at some bar. So she asks me, "Why are you quitting the band?" I tell her, "Well, I've got my own band now. She says, "Oh, well what's it like? Is it like this?" I tell her, "No, it's nothing like this. It's... it's pretty out there." She says, "Oh, you mean like Lynyrd Skynyrd?" <laughing> I go, "No, it's more out there than that." She says, "Oh, so you mean like Kiss?"
Trivia and Interesting Facts
- Les Claypool is 50% deaf in his right ear - the direct result of a diving accident.
- Les Claypool's full name is Leslie Edward Claypool.
- The downside to attending a Primus concert is that the entire thing is a massive mosh pit. This is best exemplified by their 1998 performance at Pinkpop, where their performance measured a 1.2 on the Richter Scale - a record, which was broken on that very same day by Rage Against the Machine. (Who else?)
- Primus performed the South Park theme song - this made them a household name. The opening even features an animation of Les.
- Les endorses Carl Thompson basses, ADA preamps and EMG pickups. Ler endorses Paul Reed Smith guitars, but what the people at PRS don't know is that Ler's been lighting their guitars on fire for many years now. Herb endorses Pork Pie percussion, as well as Vic Firth sticks and Starclassic Drums, a division of Tama.
- Les' house is known as the Rancho Relaxo.
- The El Bastardo is the name of Les' fishing boat.
- Primus uses standard tunings exclusively.
- Pork Soda reached as high as #7 on the Billboard charts.
- Year Of the Parrot is in 7/4 timing. Eleven and Sathington Waltz are in 11/8 timing.
- Les has two tattoos. The first is a picture of Skeeter on his head, the caption reads, "Skeeters suck too!" On his right shoulder is The Cat in the Hat holding a plate of Green Eggs and Ham.
- Fans shout "Primus Sucks!" at concerts. Back in the Primate days, fans would tell Les & co that they sounded good, and they would reply, "Nah, we suck." Fans began shouting "You suck!" at concerts, and Les would reply, "Why, thank you." It caught on, and the next thing you know, the official Primus web site is www.primussucks.com.
- There was a nursery rhyme called Thomas O'Malley Cat. It's all about Thomas' adventures in O'Malley's alley.
- Les Claypool has auditioned for Metallica, and has covered many of their songs.
- Captain Pierce, mentioned in Jerry Was a Race Car Driver, is a real person - Les' grandfather, in fact.
- Primus released several demo tapes - an untitled one, Sausage, and Suckin' Songs to name a few. Les Claypool sold his Cougar to pay for the first one.
- According to CzarKhan, WinAMP has a genre classification of "Primus." Apparently, they really are in a class of their own!
- According to dutchess, Thomas O'Malley is also the name of the hero of The Aristocats.
http://www.ram.org/music/primus/misc/primus_faq.html (and pages therein)