Driven by Les Claypool's thumping, processed bass and coloured by the squalling guitar of Larry (Ler) LaLonde, Primus has always had one of the most distinctive sounds in rock. Although the absurdist wit of Claypool's lyrics made a minor hit out of 1995's Wynona's Big Brown Beaver, the band's core appeal has always been its rhythmic energy.
That's even more the case now that drummer Jay Lane – who left the band just before it recorded its first album – has returned to the fold. As they head out on tour in support of the new album, Green Naugahyde, Primus is, as Claypool puts it from a tour stop in Albany, N.Y., "Flowin' and having a good time with it."
How would you describe the dynamic of the current lineup? It seems, from the listening end, as if the drumming and guitar playing is a bit lighter than what we're used to from Primus.
For me, the feel of this record reminds me of Frizzle Fry, because Jay Lane wrote the drum parts on that record. There's a hop to it, more so than a march or a drive. So, I think that's very apparent.
Larry's approach on this record is much more to what he was leaning towards when we did The Brown Album [in 1997] Ler came out of that metal world, but I think it was by youthful default, because if you were to have asked him 10 years, even 15 years ago who his favourite guitarists were, he would have said Frank Zappa and Jerry Garcia.
You said once that you often started writing by playing the drums. Was that the case this time?
When I'm writing my solo material, a lot it does start with me on the drums, futzing around. On this album, I was very insistent that everybody bring in material, so Ler brought in a couple of completed songs as well as some riffs, and Jay brought in some beats. So there were instances where we were building off his drum beats, and that would be a similar thing because when I play drums I tend to try and copy Jay as much as possible, because he's always been my drum hero.
There are some fairly pointed lyrics on this album, such as the critique of consumerism in Eternal Consumption Machine and the satire of the ad industry in Hoinfodaman, But other songs, such as Eyes of the Squirrel don't seem as topical.
Well, it depends on how you look at it. Eyes of the Squirrel is actually a very strong commentary on visual media. Television. It's just that the title has the word 'squirrel' in it, [laughs]and that tends to throw people. In Primus, there's always something being spoken about via some colourful character, and a lot of times colourful character that will distract people who don't scratch the surface.
I was talking to someone the other day who observed that Primus fans and Rush fans seem to be of a similar sensibility, with a heavy enthusiasm for the music and not really caring –
– if they're going to get laid? [laughs]You can say it, go ahead!
So is this something you've noticed?
Well, there have been a lot of parallels drawn between us and Rush over the years. It's a three-piece band, with a guy with a big nose singing in a voice that takes some getting used to.
We toured with those guys, and became friends with them, so we definitely are familiar with their audience, as they were with us. Plus, it didn't hurt that our first two records started with a little blurb of YYZ. [laughs]
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Primus plays Montreal's Metropolis on Tuesday (Oct. 4) and Toronto's Massey Hall on Wednesday.