Pieces fall to­gether for Primus re­vival

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Mark Jor­dan Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

To hear Larry “Ler” LaLonde, gui­tarist for the very al­ter­na­tive al­ter­na­tive-rock trio Primus, tell it, the mak­ing of the band’s up­com­ing eighth al­bum, Green Nau­gahyde, was not just a breeze but a plea­sure, too. Part of that may have had to do with the set­ting: bassist Les Clay­pool’s home stu­dio, Ran­cho Re­laxo, named for an episode of “The Simp­sons.”

Nes­tled in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try, the stu­dio is just a short drive from own win­ery, head­quar­tered in an old train ca­boose, where the col­or­ful Clay­pool bot­tles his equally col­or­ful Pur­ple Pachy­derm Rus­sian River Pinot Noir and Pink Platy­pus Pinot Noir Rosé.

“It’s close enough to the win­ery where you can get your­self in trou­ble,” says LaLonde, who plays with with his band tonight at Min­gle­wood Hall in the buildup to their ap­pear­ance next month at Bon­na­roo. “Wine may have crept into the record­ing process quite of­ten.”

But more than the vino, LaLonde at­tributes Primus’ re­ported re­turn to form — af­ter a decade of false starts — to the more re­laxed attitude ac­com­pa­nied by the re­turn last year of early drum­mer Jay Lane.

“I think all the times we kinda, sorta tried to pull it back to­gether, all the pieces didn’t come to­gether enough to make it a full-time thing or want to get in the stu­dio and make it work,” says LaLonde. “I think it took Jay com­ing back in the band to make it work.”

Clay­pool and gui­tarist Todd Huth started Primus in the Bay Area in 1984, go­ing through sev­eral drum­mers be­fore choos­ing Lane. With him, Primus honed their sound, a mix of Red Hot Chili Pep­pers punk-funk with Cap­tain Beef­heart strange­ness and Frank Zappa’s wry hu­mor. Though Lane was a per­fect fit, Primus was still an un­signed band, and he left when there was a sched­ul­ing con­flict with his other band, Freak Ex­ec­u­tives. Huth de­parted soon af­ter.

Clay­pool, whose vir­tu­osic and eclec­tic bass play­ing and hu­mor­ous singing and song­writ­ing were al­ready the core of the group, moved on, re­cruit­ing LaLonde and drum­mer Tim “Herb” Alexan­der. It was this lineup that would es­tab­lish Primus as one of the most orig­i­nal acts of the day, be­gin­ning with their 1990 de­but stu­dio LP, Friz­zle Fry. It was fol­lowed by un­likely suc­cesses like 1991’s Sail­ing the Seas of Cheese, fea­tur­ing the songs “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” and “Tommy the Cat,” and 1993’s Pork Soda, which con­tained the band’s high­est-chart­ing sin­gle to date, “My Name Is Mud.”

Alexan­der left the band in 1996 to be re­placed by Bryan “Brain” Man­tia, and the band re­leased three more al­bums. But af­ter 1999’s An­tipop — a typ­i­cally out-there ef­fort that saw each track pro­duced by a dif­fer­ent friend of the band, in­clud­ing Po­lice drum­mer Ste­wart Copeland, Tom Waits, and Matt Stone, the co-cre­ator of “South Park” who had tapped the group to write the show’s theme song two years be­fore — the band went on hia­tus.

The break was short-lived. In 2003, Clay­pool re­con­vened Primus with LaLonde and Alexan­der. That year they recorded an EP and DVD and toured. They toured again the next year. And in 2006, they re­leased a great­est-hits pack­age, an­other DVD, and played some shows, but there was, LaLonde says, no real en­thu­si­asm for any of it .

Dur­ing this pe­riod, the never-shy Clay­pool, who was re­cently named one of Rolling Stone’s best bass play­ers of all time, had plenty of side projects to keep him oc­cu­pied. He re­leased a solo al­bum, formed the su­per­group C2B3, and toured with his own Les Clay­pool’s Fancy Band and Les Clay­pool’s Fear­less Fly­ing Frog Brigade. Out­side of mu­sic, he made a movie, the jam-band mock­u­men­tary “Elec­tric Apri­cot: Quest for Fes­teroo,” wrote a Hunter S. Thompson-es­que novel called “South of the Pumphouse,” and built his win­ery.

LaLonde, mean­while, had re­lo­cated to Los An­ge­les, liv­ing a quiet life with his wife and do­ing session work for Tom Waits among oth­ers.

The two seemed con­tent in their new lives when man­age­ment ap­proached them last year about play­ing some shows. Clay­pool then reached out to Lane, who had gone on to play with the Grate­ful Dead-de­rived bands Rat­dog and Furthur, about re­unit­ing. Af­ter a run of shows, the trio went into the stu­dio last fall to record the first new Primus full-length record in more than 10 years. Green Nau­gahyde is due out in July.

C. Tay­lor Crothers

Gui­tarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde, drum­mer Jay Lane and bassist/vo­cal­ist Les Clay­pool are Primus.

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