Maturing Primus is about more than good, dumb fun
Something strange is going on with Primus: on its latest release, Green Naugahyde, the band best known for cartoonish funk hoedown “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” sounds almost serious.
Almost, that is. “Lee Van Cleef”, bassist and singer Les Claypool’s rubbery ode to the moustachioed action hero, is just good, dumb fun. But it’s nearly the lone moment of unleavened levity on a record that’s otherwise full of, um, ideas. On “Last Salmon Man”, “Eternal Consumption Engine”, and “Moron TV”, for instance, Claypool’s message is clear: American society is eating and amusing itself to death.
Larry “Ler” LaLonde, Primus’s guitarist since 1989, admits to missing some of his band’s earlier irreverence.
“I’m sure Les looks back at some of those older songs and they seem like they were written by a 20-year-old,” he says, checking in from a Flagstaff, Arizona, tour stop. “Twenty years later, he’s probably gotten a little more sophisticated in his writing and storytelling—even though I like the songs from 20 years ago. I still try to convince him that he did know what he was doing.”
Still, he shares most of his bandmate’s latter-day concerns. “The ‘Consumption Engine’ song is sort of like the idea that we want all this crap and we want it cheap, but what’s the price?” he explains. “Especially now that no one’s going to be able to afford even the cheap crap, because the means of getting the stuff cheap is by giving away our jobs and giving away a big hunk of what our society’s built on.”
“Moron TV”, he continues, is similarly about giving yourself over to something worthless. “You get sucked into these things, and then you realize, if you stop and think about it, it’s almost like a weird drug that you get caught up in. You get your moment of clarity, and you’re like ‘Oh my god, what am I doing? I’m never going to get those minutes back.’ ”
Don’t expect finger-pointing when Primus comes to town this Friday, however. The band’s newfound sense of socio-political purpose has been accompanied by a musical renewal as well: when former member Jay Lane returned to the drum chair in 2010, the influx of energy was immediate.
“He’s the greatest, on and off the stage,” LaLonde says. “He’s happy to be on tour, he’s happy to be playing music, and you’ve got to tear him away from his drums. So he’s a great guy to have in a band.”
It’s worth noting, too, that Lane has been honing his chops with former Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, giving Primus an even more tangible connection to the Bay Area’s long-standing tradition of rock ’n’ roll experimentation
“Growing up there, I thought every city was like that—but, eventually, I realized that it wasn’t that way,” says San Francisco native LaLonde, citing Joe Satriani—his former teacher—and Jerry Garcia as crucial influences. “If you’re a guitar player from there, you kind of get this sense that ‘Oh, I can do whatever I want, and there’s an audience for it.’ ”
“Then you go to Sacramento and find out that’s not true.”
Primus plays the Orpheum on Friday (June 15).