A Recipe For Cosmic Flan: Les Claypool Skewers Jam Bands With a New Mockumentary

Les ClaypoolLes Claypool has made his career by pulling rabbits out of hats, coaxing magic and surprise not only from his pen and his bass, but from his career choices. That career has included various incarnations of his band Primus, his foray into the jam band world as Colonel Claypool and His Flying Frog Brigade and last year as a novelist. Through his music, with Primus and as a solo artist, his songs have been populated with various, vividly-drawn characters. His live performances have always been propelled by a strong visual sense on stage. His creative output has been varied and unusual, but Claypool says he has always been inspired by filmmakers. So it should come as no real surprise that Claypool has now expanded his creative palette to include film.  It should come as less of a surprise that the result is hilarious.

That result is Electric Apricot: Quest For Festeroo, a mock documentary film that follows the fictional eponymous west coast jam band through their daily struggles of playing concerts, making records, traveling to concerts and festivals and, of course, making glass dildos.

As drummer Lapdog Miklovich , Claypool plays a central character in the group, which also features long-time musical collaborators Brian Kehoe and Adam Gates, along with Vinyl keyboardist Jon  Korty. It also includes cameo appearances by jam band giants Bob Weir, Mike Gordon and Warren Haynes, and a hilarious portrayal of the scene’s obsessive tapers by South Park co-creator Matt Stone and actor/producer Seth Green.

The film opens nationwide in select theaters on November 9th. After a successful run through the festival circuit, the film was picked up for distribution by no less of a humor authority than National Lampoon.

Claypool somehow found time between all of these creative endeavors to speak with Honest Tune.

HTM: The last time we talked to you was for our cover story last year. At that time you had finished the movie, and now a year later the movie is coming out in theatrical release. What happened in the interim? What was the process for getting it to the screen?

LC: The process of the last year was selling the movie. We actually had our deal with Lampoon a while ago. It just takes time to hammer out all of the angles and the dangles. Then you get on a release schedule, so we did and we locked in to the beginning of November.

HTM: Did anything about the movie change during that time period? Did you go back and tweak anything?

LC: A few things. Nothing major. Some music cues here and there, and you have to get clearances on all of the various things.

HTM: How was it that you hooked up with National Lampoon, and was that something you sought out based on the kind of humor they had done in the past?

LC: No. It was more about weighing our options as far as who had interest. We had quite a bit of interest because we had won three film festivals. We won Best Comedy at Tiburon International Film Festival, we won best feature in Malibu Film Festival and we got an encore performance at the Longbaugh which became the most inebriated audience award.

HTM: You’ve done some work on music videos, but this is your first full-length feature film as a director, right?

LC: My first film that I ever did was when I was about 13 years old. I did a film starring my Saint Bernard called The Dog That Ate Detroit. But Lampoon didn’t want to have anything to do with that.

HTM: People will undoubtedly end up drawing comparisons to Spinal Tap with this movie. Was that an influence for you in doing Electric Apricot?

LC: Well, I think…it’s like making a baseball picture. There are a lot of baseball pictures out there, but not too many rock and roll pictures or parodies. So the Spinal Tap comparison is obvious and somewhat valid. We watched Spinal Tap halfway through the production because I hadn’t seen it in a while and we wanted to see if we were stepping on any toes. And our approach was much less overt. Spinal Tap is pretty overt. You can tell it’s a comedy. Our film is much more based on like a Ricky Gervais approach. It’s very dry. In fact, we were showing it at the film festival and some of the old folks who come to these film festivals, who just come to festivals to come to festivals, thought it was real! In fact, one of the guys at Lampoon thought it was real when he watched it. He was like, “Why are we talking about putting out a documentary? We do comedy.”  I don’t know if I answered your question or not, but Christopher Guest was definitely a huge influence, with his work in general.

HTM: You did some actual shows as Electric Apricot to get some of the live performance footage for the film. To what extent where those audiences in on what you were doing? Did they come knowing you were up to something or just show up and start dancing to Electric Apricot?

LC: It was a combination of both. We did some shows where people…like at the Sweetwater where people just stumbled in not knowing anything about what was going on and they’d go “Oh my god, this is a great band! Who are you guys?” and that was pretty hilarious. But for the most part people knew it was Claypool up to something sneaky. But I think there was a good mixture of folks in the know and not so in the know.

HTM: You came to the jam band scene purposefully, as somewhat of an outsider, so maybe had a more objective viewpoint on the whole thing . Do you think coming to this scene rather than having grown up in it allowed you the objectivity to better lampoon it?

LC: The thing about me is that I played the Lollapalooza, the HORDE fest, the Woodstocks….so my career has kind of been the guy that doesn’t fit in anywhere but kind of fits in just about every where .I think just about the only one I haven’t done is Lilth Fair, you know? But the film isn’t so much a lampooning of “the scene” as it is taking the piss out of these four artists and the parallels and the observations I’ve been able to make over the years on artists…how they perceive themselves and how they react to certain situations and whatnot. It just seemed like it was a perfect scene to set as the backdrop for this because A) it’s so vibrant and B) it’s …just since I’ve been involved it’s been morphing and mutating in so many different ways. Ten years ago if you’d have asked me about the “jam scene” I would have said, “Oh yeah, Grateful Dead and Phish,” as an outsider. But coming into it, obviously me being a part of it and bands like Ween and Flaming Lips and Tool played Bonnaroo last year. It’s more about the approach to music than the actual style of music. So for me, it was more being a part of so many different scenes for so many years I was able to draw from many experiences.

HTM: In that sense, are the artists—the members of Electric Apricot—just archetypal musician who take themselves too seriously and could have been part of any scene to an extent?

LC: To an extent. But obviously because of the vibrance of this scene and how it is growing and gaining more and more profile, and that nobody has really done anything on it, I thought it would be the perfect backdrop for these guys. There is a lot of misconception about the jam scene beyond the jam scene…people are very protective of that scene, and it’s sort of a mystery to the normal Joe out there in America or around the world.

HTM: Who are the members of Electric Apricot?

LC: On guitar, the character who plays Gordo is Brian Kehoe who is a guitarist who I have known for many years. I’ve actually known him since high school and have played in various incarnations of bands over the years. He was in my band a few years ago. Adam Gates plays Aiwass, the bass player. I’ve known him since 1984  He’s been in local bands here and there and is probably best known for playing the character Bob Cock in the Primus world. Jon Korty is the keyboardist. He is the keyboardist for Vinyl and I’ve known him for a while, but he’s very good friends with our producer Jason McHuhu who plays  Smilin’ Don Kleinfeld, our manager. And of course, Lapdog Miklovich, the greatest drummer on the planet. I can’t remember who played him…good lookin guy.

HTM: Did the individual guys come up with a lot of their own dialogue or mold those characters, or was that more your job as director and writer?

LC: My job as director and writer was to come up with a story line and guide these guys through the storyline with interview questions and putting them in various situations that they had to react to. So a great deal of it was improvisation prompted by questions and scenarios.

HTM: What about the music in the film. Did y’all create that collaboratively?

LC: Yes. I believe that I wrote the lyrics to maybe four of the songs and each of those guys has a tune that they wrote the lyrics for, but all of the music was done together.

HTM: Will there be a soundtrack to the film?

LC: Oh yeah, and what a fabulous piece of audio that will be. We did a deal with Universal and they are very excited about it.

HTM: How important was it to you to get this film into theatrical release rather than maybe just going to DVD with it?

LC: Well, there was a lot of interest in this film. A lot of that interest was going to DVD. In fact we were offered some pretty good, pretty lucrative deals going direct to DVD. But for me, this is a calling card for us as filmmakers and the few other projects that we are working on. So it was imperative that we had a theatrical release. So, that was one of the big reasons we went with Lampoon.

HTM: To do something else along the way with them?

LC: Well, mainly because they wanted to do a theatrical release.

HTM: You’ve now released a book and an album and now a film within the span of just over a year.  Will filmmaking be more and more part of your creative palette moving forward?

LC: Now it’s time for me to lie down and sleep for five years. You know, I’ve always been big into film. My heroes have always been people like Sergio Leone and Elia Kazan and Frank Capra and Terry Gilliam and Kubrick and people like that. So it’s a big part of what I do. Even Primus as a band….we’ve always been very visual. We’ve always put as many visual elements to our music as we could possibly afford to do. We would have done a lot more but back in the day things were much more costly than they are now. I could have never done a feature film 10 years ago for the price that we were able to do it now because technology wasn’t there…these tools are more readily available. For me, it’s just another direction to go that is captivating to me, it’s very interesting to me. Those types of things are what help propel you through your life…working in new and different realms.

HTM: Matt Stone has a cameo in the film, and I guess that came out of your relationship doing the South Park theme years ago. Did he help you in pursuing this project?

LC: Well Matt is a very good friend of mine. In fact, he’s a mutual friend of myself and the producer Jason McHugh.  Jason has produced a few of their live action films. And Matt is who I was originally talking to about this idea. One day we were just bullshitting over the phone and he says “Hey that’s a great idea! You should follow through with it.” I got ahold of Jason and Jason basically pushed it through. I was hemming and hawing the whole way. And he pushed it through and made it happen. Matt and Trey [Parker] were both instrumental in pushing this thing through and being supportive on many different levels.

HTM: What’s up next for you musically?

LC: I’m talking about doing this tour at the beginning of next year which is the Traveling Hatter’s Ball. Every New Year’s I do this thing called the Hatter’s Ball where people come with these elaborate hats and we have this competition and give away fabulous prizes. So I want to do that and take it on the road, because it’s a pretty good party.