Cooking with Claypool
words: Tim Newby
Bass-freak-master Les Claypool wants to dispel a long-believed perception of himself.
“It’s funny because there is this appearance that I am this very productive fellow and I am really not. I definitely do not wake up every day and write a new song.”
He’s a man with his finger in all sorts of pies. He’s fronted a wide-range of bands, from his early Primus and Sausage days to Oysterhead and Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, to his ever changing solo band. He’s even written a book (“South of the Pumphouse” in 2006), and written and directed a movie (Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo in 2006) It is hard not to see Claypool as someone who is not productive.
Claypool explains his success as simply, “I just have a lot of pots on the stove. Sometimes one of those pots moves to the front burner and that meal is completed. Other times there are pots that just sort of languish. Right now I am watching TV – not very productive.”
He continues, “I just don’t spin my wheels much. I think when I do focus on something I tend to be fairly efficient. I like to do other things as well though, I like to go out on the ocean and pull crab pots, I like to chase my kids around.”
Of Fungi and Foe, Claypool’s new album, is the most recent pot to move to the front of the stove. It stems from some soundtrack work he was commissioned to write for a couple of absurdly weird projects that seemed tailor-made for Claypool and his off-kilter sense of humor.
Claypool describes the two projects, “One was for an interactive game about a meteor that hits Earth and brings intelligence to the mushrooms within the crash proximity, and the other was about a three thousand pound wild boar that terrorizes the marijuana fields of Northern California.” With a good portion Of Fungi and Foe based on this soundtrack work, it provided Claypool with a fresh vantage point to start the album from.
“With the soundtrack, it basically gave me a different jumping off point,” Claypool explains, “instead of starting with a blank slate, you have some imagery that you are able to start from as far as inspiration.” With the staring point of mushrooms and three thousand pound wild boars, Claypool was able to really crank up the strange. And Of Fungi and Foe is nothing if not wacked-out strange, and this seems to be the perfect fit for Claypool, perhaps the most comfortable fitting album he has ever crafted, as the bassist calls it, “the most ‘me’ record I have ever done.”
With lyrics that bounce from the nonsensical word-play of ‘Mushroom Men” and “Amanitas,” to the straight-forward jab at the conservative-right with “Red State Girl,” to the maniacal-wailing and Eastern European flavor of guest Gogol Bordello front-man Eugene Hutz on “Bite out of Life,” Claypool has constructed a gorgeously weird album that is in his words, “a little dark and eerie.” The track with Hutz is the standout on the album as Claypool’s urgent bass and Hutz’s gypsy flavor seem to mesh perfectly to form some crazily-hypnotic universe where these two insane musical souls exist in undeniable harmony. Claypool mentions that he and have Hutz discussed doing a project together, so perhaps a visit to this universe may come again.
The unusual line-up Claypool has assembled contributes to the weird as well. The lack of guitar and reliance on percussion instruments gives Of Fungi and Foe an almost primal feel. Claypool says he approached the line-up for this current incarnation of his band like a director of a film, “bringing in people to fill roles, bringing in characters that fit the characteristics of the plot line.” The band was built from a familiar cast of characters from Claypool’s musical universe – Lapland Miclovik (percussion), Mike Dillon (vibraphone), Paulo Baldi (drums), and Sam Bass (cello). In addition to the aforementioned Hutz, Claypool’s son Cage also makes an appearance on the album. In support of the new album Claypool eschewed a traditional tour, and instead assembled “The Oddity Faire: A Mutated Mini Fest,” a traveling circus that features a number of opening bands supported by a series of carnival acts with Claypool closing each night.
Claypool says, “What we have done is taken a bunch of like-minded individuals who have a like-minded approach to their music and their performance and put them together in one evening. It is like a traveling freak show. You are getting to see things each night that you normally don’t get to see.”
The Oddity Faire featured a diverse line-up that included Saul Williams, The Yard Dogs Road Show, Devotchka, and a rotating cast of others that left Claypool raving, saying the sky is the limit for the traveling festival and that he thinks they will do it again sometime (most likely next year in March again.) Despite that seemingly well thought out approach and plan, the choices Claypool makes are based less on some well thought-out business plan or formula and instead on which ever way the waves of his ever-curious spirit takes him.
With a laugh and a snicker Claypool explains, “I think it is unfortunate, I have many friends who follow a certain path based on business and finances and I find that they tend to not be overly satisfied creatively, and that would drive me nuts. Unfortunately for the folks who handle my business I tend to follow my creative side more than my business sense.”
He pauses before continuing, “I tend to like to turn over new rocks and see what’s under them and find new things.”
With Claypool you never know what he is going to find under those rocks, what new project he may come upon next. He talks about a recent recording session he did with the remaining members of the seminal 90s band Morphine and the potential project with Hutz, before delving into a list of other potential interests.
“I made a film, it was a huge pain in the ass, but I would like to make another one. I am in the process of getting another one going. Writing a novel was a lot of work. I have bits and pieces in notebooks here and there and I am sure I will have another book come out at some point; I know my publisher would like me to finish it. So I really don’t know. I think I would like to breed alpacas in tour busses. I think it would be an interesting and somewhat lucrative thing. They will be new friends, like living stuffed animals.” One has to guess that Claypool is not as serious about becoming an alpaca farmer as he about some of his other projects, but with him you never know.
Claypool gathers his thoughts for a moment before finishing.
“For me what I find is the easiest is just making music. Like always, I have a lot of pots on the stove right now.
“We will just have to see what comes to fruition.”