Les Claypool is the bass player, songwriter, lyricist and lead singer for American trio Primus. If you’re unfamiliar with their material, it can best be described as contemporary rock music that’s a little left-field and somewhat idiosyncratic in nature. Remember the band playing in the movie Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey? That’s Primus, as is the wonderfully silly theme tune to the cult cartoon series South Park.
Les Claypool was born on the 29 September 1963 in California, and as a teenager was turned on to the likes of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix by classmate Kirk Hammett (yep, as in Metallica’s lead guitarist). In fact, Claypool actually auditioned for Metallica in 1986 following the tragic death of Cliff Burton but he didn’t get the job because, according to singer James Hetfield, he was ‘too good’. Claypool had already formed Primus, originally known as Primate, but it wasn’t until guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim ‘Herb’ Alexander were recruited in 1989 that the band really started to take off. Their riotous live act and irreverent approach to music (their motto was ‘Primus Sucks!’) soon had them selling out local clubs, and from 1989 until Claypool pulled the plug in 2000 they were undoubtedly one of the most bizarre bands to gain significant airplay and achieve decent commercial success. However, despite the band’s official demise, since 2003 there have been various tours, a couple of DVD releases, a greatest hits compilation called They Can’t All Be Zingers, and rumour has it that a seventh studio album is imminent.
Claypool has a highly individual, often experimental approach to bass playing and the trio format is the perfect platform for this. He employs effects such as delay, distortion and sampling to colour the bass sound or simply make some appealing noises, generally via one of his collection of six Carl Thompson basses. The most notable of these is a six-string fretless, ‘The Rainbow Bass’, with a body made from a mishmash of walnut, curly maple, padauk, purple heart, ebony and cocobolo.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Claypool is all quirk and no substance, though, because the man can definitely play. Some of his slap lines are basically streams of 16th notes at punishing tempos and just a total nightmare, and those featuring chords on higher strings usually also involve a ridiculous leap back across to seamlessly nail the groove notes. Oh, and did we mention that he’s handling lead vocal duties on top of all this?