On the eve of a tour that sees them perform the Rush album “A Farewell to Kings” at Massey Hall, Primus did something it apparently never does before going on the road.
“We are a bunch of lazy bastards,” said Les Claypool, band leader, singer and co-founder, over the phone recently, speaking on behalf of guitarist Larry “Ler” Lalonde and drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander.
“We rarely ever rehearse. We’ll write some songs, make the record and play ’em a few times when we get on the road. That’s it!
“But with the Rush thing we had to rehearse. We had to rehearse hard! And it was actually a wonderful thing … it actually was a great bonding thing for the three of us. So it’s been very therapeutic for us to do this record.”
And Claypool is looking forward to playing Rush “every single night,” he added.
“The Rush thing, it’s almost like a vacation planet, because it’s very satisfying. It’s tough. Especially on keyboards because I’m not a keyboard player. But my Moog is covered with all these different coloured pieces of tape so I know where the f— to put my fingers.”
He even sought advice from no less an authority than Rush singer, bassist and keyboardist Geddy Lee.
“The biggest thing were the vocals,” said Claypool. “I was like, ‘Did you do this? Is that falsetto or is that full vocal?’ And he’s like, ‘That’s my full voice.’ And I know that Larry was in touch with Alex (Lifeson) quite a bit: Alex kind of guided him along with some of the fingering.”
Those who have followed Primus since the band formed in El Sobrante, Calif., 38 years ago will not be surprised by Claypool’s allegiance to Rush: it was a formative part of his musical upbringing and Primus has often performed “Cygnus X-1” during its spontaneous and unpredictable live shows.
“The first Rush album I ever owned was ‘All the World’s A Stage,’” said Claypool, 58.
As to his decision for the band to tackle “A Farewell to Kings”?
“We always joked that we should play ‘Hemispheres’ in its entirety, because we’ve done our records in their entirety for tours,” Claypool said.
“We always kind of joked about it for a New Year’s show and then one day we thought, ‘Well, maybe we should do something like that.’ Then we started thinking of what album to do … ‘2112’ seemed a little too obvious. ‘Moving Pictures’ seemed a little too obvious. ‘A Farewell to Kings’ is the first Rush album I had ever heard as a kid and (the song) ‘Cygnus (X-1: The Voyage)’ always held a prominent place in my heart because of my first concert, which was the ‘Hemispheres’ tour.
“I remember looking at the screen and watching the stop-motion rocket going through the black hole and it blew my little 14-year-old mind.”
But the performance of “A Farewell to Kings” isn’t the only reason for Primus fans to get excited: the funk/rock/experimental trio that I like to think of as a more intricate spiritual cousin to San Francisco art rockers the Residents has just issued its first piece of new music since 2017’s “The Desaturating Seven.”
Claypool didn’t want to subject fans to “a bunch of new Primus” as well as “playing all this Rush stuff,” but “I felt it was more appropriate to have, like, just a couple of songs as opposed to a whole new record itself.”
“Conspiranoid,” released April 22, is a three-song EP featuring the 11-and-a-half minute “Conspiranoia,” which seems to tackle a timely topic in this dark era of pandemic and partisan politics.
“I’ve been amazed; I’ve had a lot of different friends with a lot of social and political viewpoints,” said Claypool. “ I have my fisherman buddies and my contractor buddies, I’ve got my progressive buddies, and I’ve been amazed by the divide I’ve seen by a lot of them on just various things that they’ve stumbled upon online.
“I have a few friends that are straight up ‘conspiranoid,’ you know? I’ve always had, sort of in the back of my head, a thing about ‘Conspiranoia’ and I had written a verse … and I’d had it in my Notebook for a while.”
From the new EP, ‘Conspiranoid’, available digitally now. Vinyl arrives on 8/5
Getting ready to do the tour, the band wanted a new tune, but “Conspiranoia” is “so long you’ve gotta have a B-side, and it had to be two songs and now we’ve ended up with an EP,” Claypool said.
If prepping for the tour and releasing “Conspiranoid” wasn’t enough, Claypool has also teamed up with Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz and Sergey Ryabtsev, Sean Lennon, ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland and bluegrass guitarist Billy Strings for a single to support war-stricken Ukraine called “Zelensky: The Man With the Iron Balls.”
Claypool was able to squeeze it in despite his hectic schedule.
‘”First of all, I’m in the middle of like four different recording projects … I had no time or desire to do anything else,” he laughed.
“But I was with a couple of Polish friends of mine on the night of the invasion and they had their relatives in town that literally live 50 miles from Ukraine. They were freaking out. The next thing you know, we’re drinking vodka and kind of commiserating and hearing all these stories of this and that, and their worries.”
He got on the phone with Hutz and they got talking about “the fortitude of Zelenskyy and how this guy has really stepped up. And we joked, ‘Oh, this guy’s got balls of steel and we need to write a song about that.’”
To show support for Ukraine, Primus is requesting video clips of you, your friends, colleagues, children, pets, favourite ventriloquist dummy, or anything else you may deem appropriate or wonderfully inventive, clapping along to the song, “Zelensky: The Man With The Iron Balls.”
Claypool wrote some verses and laid out an arrangement, and he and Hutz, Lennon and Copeland started passing tapes around, bringing in Ryabtsev and Strings.
“It was one of those things we felt needed to be done.”
Claypool says the song shouldn’t be misinterpreted: it’s a straight-up anthem of appreciation for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy showing poise under adversity.
“It’s not a song of condemnation,” Claypool said. “It’s not an anti-(Vladimir) Putin nor an anti-Russian tune; it’s the supporting of this unlikely leader who has stepped up more than anybody I’ve seen in my tenure on this planet. It’s really remarkable. And it’s a song of unity.”
In concert, the band has been divvying up selections from 10 of its 11 albums, offering a different set list every night with the exception of the “A Farewell to Kings” performance. Claypool doesn’t volunteer whether a new Primus album is on the way, but it’s not like he isn’t keeping busy with projects like the Claypool Lennon Delirium, Oysterhead or a revolving door of superstars that has included members of Tool, Phish, Slayer and Rage Against the Machine.
He will allow that he’s looking forward to seeing the newly renovated Massey Hall.
“I’m anxious to see it,” he said. “I definitely looked at the stage hundreds and hundreds of times as a kid, looking at the cover of ‘All the World’s a Stage.’”
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