Les Claypool spins stories of pigs, puke, and Pinot

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      If your business office is next door to a film studio, chances are you’ll end up somewhat immune to the lure of fame—especially if your own celebrity encounters include touring with members of Phish and the Police. But when Les Claypool saw the giant prosthetic pig, there was no doubt in his mind that it was double-take time.

      “I just went ”˜Holy shit, what’s that?’ ” he recalls, on the line from a Ventura, California, hotel room. Turns out that the big boar was starring in Pig Hunt, a whimsical tale of Northern Californian redneck lunacy, and it wasn’t long before Claypool talked his way into writing the soundtrack. He even wound up on-screen, briefly, in the role of “an inbred, vengeful, redneck preacher”.

      “I had a good time,” he reports—although the experience wasn’t perfect. “Unfortunately, I broke my pinkie during the first scene on the first day of shooting, and it was actually a day of shooting I was trying to get out of, because Tom Waits had asked me to play bass for him that night on the Conan O’Brien show. So had I done that, my pinkie would be able to straighten out. Filmmaking is a bitch.”

      Claypool’s no stranger to screens both big and small. He’s contributed music to South Park and Robot Chicken, did the soundtrack for the Mushroom Men video game, and is a filmmaker himself, having helmed the jam-band mockumentary Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo in 2006.

      “It just gives me a little different jumping-off point,” he says of writing music for somebody else’s visuals. “But I’ve always tended to write from the visuals in my own head, anyway, so it’s really just a little bit of a kick start.”

      Some of the songs from Pig Hunt and Mushroom Men appear on Claypool’s seventh solo release, Of Fungi and Foe, along with one number drawn directly from his experiences screening Electric Apricot at a U.K. film festival. Set to a lurching circus beat, “What Would George Martin Do” details a wild night in London, a close encounter with the Fifth Beatle, and the unfortunate effects of tequila on birthday boy and Electric Apricot producer Jason McHugh.

      “Vomit became involved,” Claypool allows.

      Maybe McHugh would have done better to stick to wine, which his bass-playing pal knows quite a bit about. After a two-year gestation period, Claypool is getting ready to release the first few cases of Purple Pachyderm Pinot Noir, his initial venture into the boutique-wine business.

      “I live in the Russian River Valley, which is the mecca for California Pinot,” he explains. “And having been there for 14 years, getting to know winemakers and growers and having grapes surround my property, it’s become an interest for me.

      “It’s just amazing, all the variables and all the different things you can do with wine,” he adds. “A lot of it’s based on the fruit, but you can alter the characteristics of the fruit by doing various things as the process moves along. So it’s just like mixing a record. What I think is a good bass sound is not necessarily what most people would think a good bass sound is, or some other engineer—and it’s just the same with making wine.”

      Les Claypool plays the Commodore Ballroom next Thursday (June 25).