Members: Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde, Tim Alexander
Active: 1984-2000, 2002-present
Primus is a rock band formed in California in the mid-1980s. Les Claypool (vocals and bass guitar) has been the only constant member. They have had two guitar players (although Larry LaLonde has held onto the role for over 16 years) and many different drummers (although Tim Alexander and Brian Mantia were the only ones who recorded with the band, and Jay Lane, the only other one who had creative impact) in the past.
Their music has proven difficult to define; while usually considered by critics to be funk-metal or alternative metal, Primus has been called everything from "thrash funk" (as the band blends funk-style bass technique with thrash influenced guitar riffs and songs tempos), to "alternative rock" to "the Freak Brothers set to music." Les Claypool himself once described their music as "psychedelic polka." Thanks to the diversity of their sound they have been able to gain fans from nearly all rock subgenres. They are characterized by their irreverent approach to music ? they release their records on Claypool's Prawn Song Records label, a parody of Led Zeppelin's Swan Song, and their catchphrase was, for several years, "Primus Sucks!". In 2003 the band dropped that catchphrase, as well as Tim Alexander's nickname "Herb".
EARLY DAYS 1984-1991
Primus began as Primate in the mid-1980s with Claypool and guitarist Todd Huth. Drummer Perm Parker was added in later, although the band would go through many other drummers throughout their early history. They formed in El Sobrante, California. After rising to local music scene stardom with their brand of funk/metal fusion, Huth and current drummer Jay Lane left in 1989 to pursue other projects. Claypool recruited death metal guitarist and one time Joe Satriani student Larry LaLonde (usually referred to as "Ler" later) and eclectic drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander. Primus gained even greater popularity and soon released their first album, Suck on This, a live recording culled from two of their Berkeley concerts. The album was financed by Les' father.
In their early days Primus were heavily associated with the Bay Area Thrash scene. Opening for bands such as Testament and Exodus (whom Claypool almost joined), they picked up a following of fans who were involved in the scene as a result. Today Primus is one of few "alt-metal" bands commonly enjoyed by "true metal" fans, perhaps as a result of this.
Primus played a number of early shows at Barrington Hall, a notoriously free-wheeling Berkeley student housing co-operative. Barrington Hall is often referenced in the band's music: the song "Frizzle Fry" refers to a Barrington party, and the album Tales from the Punchbowl refers to the LSD-spiked punch that was frequently served at Barrington social events.
In 1990 the band released their first studio album, Frizzle Fry also on Prawn Song and released singles for "John The Fisherman" and "Too Many Puppies." With a music video ? featuring Kirk Hammett ? a studio album, and a tour with Jane's Addiction, Primus's popularity grew to the point where they attracted attention from Interscope Records, who signed them in 1990.
Primus's major label debut was Sailing the Seas of Cheese supported by singles "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver," and "Tommy the Cat (featuring Tom Waits)," which both appeared on MTV (a third single "Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers" was also released but did not feature a video). The band also appeared in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey and made music for Beavis & Butthead. With a major label behind them, Sailing the Seas of Cheese went gold and the band toured in support of Rush, U2, Anthrax, and Public Enemy. Today Sailing the Seas of Cheese is considered an alternative rock classic by many critics.
After the release of Sailing the Seas of Cheese, in 1992 Primus released a cover song EP Miscellaneous Debris, with their version of XTC's "Making Plans for Nigel" managing to break airwaves.
In 1993, Primus released Pork Soda, which managed to debut at #7 on the Billboard Top 10. The album was darker than previous Primus efforts, dealing with murder, suicide, and alienation. The band has commented that prior to recording, they had been touring for nearly two solid years and were thus in a somber mood. "My Name Is Mud", "DMV", and "Mr. Krinkle" were hits, the latter inspiring a video featuring Claypool in a pig suit and tuxedo playing upright bass in an abandoned warehouse as a carnival of oddities parades behind him, including Claypool's wife and her twin sister. The band reportedly put their heart and soul into the video, but it received next to no airtime on MTV.
Pork Soda also carries the distinction of being the first full length album recorded at Claypool's house. The band would subsequently record all of their albums in his home studio.
In 1993 Primus headlined the alternative rock festival Lollapalooza. They also made an appearance at the Woodstock '94 Music Festival where they performed "My Name is Mud" with predictable results (Claypool claims to still have mud in his speakers). It was clear that Primus-mania was growing, and the band was churning out material frequently. In the previous four years they had released three albums, an EP, six music videos, and a home video. To top that all off, they toured with Rush, who they consider to be one of their biggest influences.
During a lull in 1994, the original Primus lineup consisting of Claypool, Huth, and Lane reunited to record Riddles are Abound Tonight under the band name Sausage. Among the pre-Primus Primus songs they recorded were "Temporary Phase", "Prelude to Fear", and "Shattering Song." The video to "Riddles are Abound Tonight" featured the band in blue leotards performing on stationary bicycles.
In 1995 Primus released their fifth album, Tales from the Punchbowl. It was very well received and contained Primus's most successful single to date, the Grammy-nominated "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver". The ubiquitous song was accompanied by an equally ubiquitous video with the band members dressed up in cartoonish plastic cowboy costume (similar to the suits worn in the then current Duracell battery commercials). So great was their popularity that the band was invited to perform on David Letterman and Conan O'Brien's shows. Two other less successful singles, "Mrs. Blaileen" and "Southbound Pachyderm" (the latter of which featured a claymation video that apparently only got played on MTV a small number of times) were also released.
Many falsely believed "Wynona" was about actress Winona Ryder. Claypool has acknowledged several times that the song is not about Ryder, indicating that the song's name is spelled and pronounced differently. While this placated Ryder, her then boyfriend Soul Asylum vocalist David Pirner took offense and renamed one of his songs "Les Claypool's A Big Fucking Asshole" in concert. Claypool was apparently not even aware of this at the time, although this did cause tension between fans of Primus and Soul Asylum for a brief period.
MANTIA ERA & HIATUS 1997-2002
Disturbed by their sudden fame, Primus gradually began to disown "Wynona." It would not be long before Claypool stated that they would stop playing it altogether. Nonetheless, Alexander left the band in 1996 due to creative differences. Rumored replacements for Alexander included Mike Bordin of Faith No More, but in the end he was replaced by Brian "Brain" Mantia of Limbomaniacs and Praxis. Mantia was one of the many drummers Claypool auditioned for the original line-up of Primus before settling with Alexander ? Mantia bowed out beforehand due to a foot injury.
With Mantia aboard, Primus was asked in 1997 to compose the theme song to South Park after the show's creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone professed to be big fans. (Les Claypool was an early supporter of their Spirit of Christmas video postcard/demo.) Primus also contributed to the South Park "Chef Aid" album with the song "Mephisto and Kevin", telling the story of Gopherboy. By this time, bands that were influenced by Primus's bottom-heavy rock ? such as Tool, KoЯn, and Limp Bizkit ? were starting to gain a growing audience in the alternative metal genre which Primus had helped to promote.
1997's Brown Album was a departure from previous Primus leaving the majority of fans disappointed. Critically it was Primus's least successful album, having received, for the most part, adverse reviews. Commercially it did not do as well as previous efforts. Both singles "Shake Hands With Beef" and "Over The Falls" flopped. The band would later distance itself from the album. Claypool would go so far as to comment in concert, "does anyone want to hear anything from the Brown Album? Me neither."
Antipop was released in 1999, and was the first album to feature heavy input from outside musicians and producers. The album was seen as a 'return to form' by most long term Primus fans, featuring harder edge song-writing fans had been craving as well as greatly improved production over the previous album. The band toured with Ozzfest and released a video for "Lacquerhead" that was banned from MTV because of its drug content, even though it was an anti-drug song. After touring to promote the album throughout 2000, citing studio mismanagement and general dissatisfaction, Primus went on indefinite hiatus in 2001.
During the hiatus, Alexander released two albums with the band Laundry and performed with Blue Man Group, A Perfect Circle, and Born Naked, among others. Claypool explored the jam band scene with Oysterhead (featuring his friend Trey Anastasio of Phish as well as Stewart Copeland) and his own Colonel Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. He also collaborated with Mantia in Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains. LaLonde joined Mantia to produce two experimental No Forcefield records, and tried unsuccessfully to start a recording studio.
In 2000 Primus performed a cover of the Black Sabbath classic "N.I.B." with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals. This track appeared originally on the album "Nativity in Black, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Black Sabbath". The single hit number 2 on the Billboard Modern Rock tracks, the band's highest charting single in nearly a decade. The track was also released on Ozzy's Prince of Darkness box-set in 2005.
In late 2003 Claypool reunited with LaLonde and in a surprise move, Tim Alexander to record a DVD/EP called Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People, which Claypool described as the first DVD with supplementary music, as opposed to the contrary. The band staged a two month tour in which they performed two sets per show, the second consisting of their 1991 release Sailing the Seas of Cheese in its entirety. 2004 saw them continue touring, and even performing their 1990 release Frizzle Fry in its entirety. For these two tours, the band sold recordings directly recorded from the sound-board online, following an example of other bands such as Phish. The performance in Chicago was video taped as well, and was released on the 'Hallucino-Genetics' Live DVD. The band's style as of their last EP was based on the jam band style with extended soloing from band members and less focus on lyrics. This follows the musical evolution of Les Claypool's work during the Primus hiatus, it is unknown whether this style was simply temporary or if the band has permanently switched over to it.
On July 19, 2005, it was announced that Primus was going to release a new full-length album by spring of 2006 with an international tour, expected to be the band's longest yet (as the band is expecting heavy publicity), in the works as well. The release will be the first full-length Primus album since 1999's Antipop, and the first full-length album with Alexander on drums since 1995's Tales From the Punchbowl.
In 2005 the band performed at Lollapalooza and Vegoose while still spending time recording new songs; no new tracks were performed at these festivals.
As the tentative release date of the album draws near, surprisingly little information is known about the album. There have been no new songs leaked or much new info about the album released in general. On Tim Alexander's website, it states that he is working on new Primus material.
An April 26, 2006 billboard.com story reported that Alexander will be the drummer in a reunited Meat Puppets lineup. The band will feature original members Cris Kirkwood and Curt Kirkwood. Alexander will take the place of original drummer Derrick Bostrom who declined an invitation to rejoin the band. Alexander's website states that "Tim is currently working on the FATA MORGANA disc and helping Linda Cushma finish a couple of her new projects. He is also working on Primus Ideas." http://www.timalexander.org
Primus were originally called "Primate" until another group called The Primates threatened legal action. Claypool allegedly selected Primus as the next closest thing to Primate in the dictionary, though he has been known to claim that Primus was the closest thing that rhymed with anus. Primus is Latin for "the first".
Many of Primus's songs have political undertones, and their true politics are thought by most to be liberal. A quote by Larry LaLonde jokes that "we pretty much go along with anything Bob Dole says", which was a sarcastic response to Primus's well known liberal politics. Les Claypool is shown on Primus's Hallucino-Genetics DVD stating support for Michael Moore's controversial Fahrenheit 9/11 documentary, a move which alienated some of Primus's more conservative fans who disagree with Moore. Claypool has also made anti-Bush and anti-war statements at many of his shows.
1990 - Frizzle Fry
1991 - Sailing the Seas of Cheese
1993 - Pork Soda
1995 - Tales from the Punchbowl
1997 - Brown Album
1999 - Antipop
1992 - Miscellaneous Debris
1998 - Rhinoplasty
2003 - Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People
1989 - Suck on This
2004 - Hallucino-Genetics, Live 2004 (DVD)