One of the most prolific bass players of our day, Les Claypool (founder of Primus and Oysterhead) sits down to discuss his longtime love for the band Rush, his song for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, his outside hobbies of wine making and fishing, and much more.
by guest writer Christopher Snyder
So how did I go from a fourteen year old kid drooling over a bass that I wish I could own, to opening for my heroes? It was pretty strange.
One of the most prolific bass players over the past several decades, Les Claypool is best known for his work in funk metal band Primus and rock supergroup Oysterhead. When Claypool is “off the road” from his bands, he spends his time in Northern California with his wife, helping her with their wine business. Locals can also find Claypool trying to catch a few fish out on the open waters.
Atwood Magazine caught up with Claypool at a recent Primus concert in Bethlehem, PA. In our interview we discuss how his love for the band Rush has grown over the years and the importance of mental health in the world today, and we also dive into some of his outside hobbies of wine making and fishing.
A CONVERSATION WITH LES CLAYPOOL
Atwood Magazine: November 16,1978 is when your life changed. “The Hemispheres” tour came to San Francisco. What was your first concert experience like? How did you feel in 1992 when Primus toured with Rush?
Les Claypool: Was that the actual date? I don’t remember. I know it was way back. How did you find that date?
The Internet told me.
Claypool: Ah, the old Internet. You have to be careful; there’s a lot of disinformation on The Internet. It’s trolling you with some disinformation.
So how did I go from a fourteen year old kid drooling over a bass that I wish I could own, to opening for my heroes? It was pretty strange. In my teens, Rush was my world. It wasn’t until a friend of mind said Geddy (Lee) is great but you may want to check out Larry Graham and Stanley Clarke. I said “No!” then I ended up checking them out and was like “Holy shit!”. Obviously we had grown, accumulated a number of heroes and influences but to be able to go back and play with and befriend your high school heroes is pretty phenomenal. To also discover that they are great, warm, human beings was also special.
I think that’s definitely the key in the music industry. Sometimes when you get to open for your heroes or are on the same stage as your heroes, you get that itch that they are more than human. At the end of the day they are pretty human.
Claypool: What’s great is when they are nice people. Sometimes your heroes aren’t such nice people. (laughs). I have a friend that says, “Love the art not the artist.” He deals with a lot of musicians and has to remind himself of that sometimes.
A little while ago you actually came out with a song for the Ukraine President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, about the Russian invasion. You were actually with some Polish friends, and you called up your friend Eugene (who is Ukrainian). The tune “The Man With The Iron Balls” came about. How did you get this all-star cast together?
Claypool: They were friends of mine. Some of them could do it and some of them couldn’t do it. I was actually in the middle of a bunch of shit, but I made a commitment to Eugene, and I felt it was a nice timely statement to make. I wanted to show support for my friends that are going through (and continue to be going through) some pretty nasty shit.
A few weeks ago you were in Nashville and you sat in with Billy Strings. He returned the favor a few nights later with Primus. How did you and Billy first connect? Who’s the better fisherman?
Claypool: I first heard of Billy when I was doing a festival in The Sierras with Delirium. My wife came to me and said “Look at this setlist!” It was for the band with Billy Strings. The first song started with “L” and the second song started with “E”, and the third song started with “S”. The fourth with “C” and so on. It spelled out my name and I was like, “What the hell? That’s a little weird.”
I kept hearing about Billy. With the assistance of my daughter, I got a social media account (Instagram). I never use, it’s just not my thing, but I’ll post fishing pictures on there every now and again. So Billy would always comment on my fishing pictures. I started talking to him, about getting together to jam and doing some fishing. He has out-fished me in freshwater, but I have out-fished him in saltwater. So he’s the freshie and I’m the old salter.
What’s your favorite movie (or top three) of all time, and why?
Claypool: My all-time favorite is Dr. Strangelove. I’m a huge Stanley Kubrick fan. As well as Frank Capra, some of my favorite films are Capra films. My all-time favorite is Dr. Strangelove, then there is The Godfather, Meet John Doe, and Face In The Crowd.
You’re involved in fishing, music obviously, but you also do a little wine. Can you tell us the story of Claypool Cellars?
Claypool: I used to smoke a lot of marijuana bush (chuckles). I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it; it was adversely affecting my memory. I didn’t want to not know what my kids were like when they were little, so I kind of stopped. In the interim, I ended up picking up local Pinots. I lived in the coastal wine country. In Hollywood, they work in the film industry and they come to your barbecue. When you came to my barbecue, you were with winemakers. We were steeped in this culture. So one day my friends and I said, “Oh! We should make our own wine, it would be way cheaper than buying wine all the time.” This was the stupidest thing I ever said, because it costs a fortune. We came up with the “Purple Pachyderm” (which is our label). We arguably have the best Pinot maker in the county, and the only reason we got him is because he was a bass player. We make a great bottle of juice. My wife pretty much runs the whole thing.
A few years back you had the spoof movie Electric Apricot. How did the movie come about? It’s hilarious.
Claypool: I did a bunch of screenplays and I wrote my novel. I think I was talking to Matt Stone one day about how I had this whole spoof on the jam scene, because obviously I knew a lot about the jam scene from Oysterhead, on. He told me it’s a great idea, so I got together with an old producer buddy of his. We made this thing about killed me.
I’m still paying for it to this day. Got it back from National Lampoon, but there are wretched copies of it out there. It was fun, but also like climbing Mount Everest with a speedo: Painful but fulfilling.
You're obviously a stand up guy because you took the time to talk to me today. Years ago you helped out your friend Dean Ween when he needed it the most. The music industry has Backline to help musicians/crew with their wellness. How is mental health more important than ever as bands start to tour again?
Claypool: It’s hard being on the planet; to be a carbon-based human on the planet. Mother Nature is trying to flick us away because we’ve been pissing her off for a while. Dealing with life, turning on the news, seeing what’s going, and deciphering that. Mental health in general needs nurturing.
The bottom line is this: I tell everyone this. You’re on this marble one time. You can have your religious beliefs or whatever, but this is what I remember. If you’re not enjoying yourself, you need to find something that makes your life enjoyable. You get one crack at this thing. Just don’t step on anyone else’s toes when you’re trying to get your toes comfy in the sand.
For over three decades, Christopher Snyder has been attending live music. For almost a decade he has been writing about his experiences as well interviewing musicians in every genre.
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