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Primus' Les Claypool returns with Fearless Flying Frog Brigade Tour 2023 | Interview

Claypool talked about his tour, audition for Metallica, his concert with the creators of South Park and more.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Iconic bassist Les Claypool (Primus, The Claypool Lennon Delirium) is bringing one of his solo projects to Napa and Hard Rock Live Sacramento in Wheatland.

Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, fresh off a 20-year hiatus, will be playing Blue Note Napa Summer Sessions at Meritage Resort on May 19 and Hard Rock Live Sacramento in Wheatland on July 11.

ABC10 sat down with Les to find out more about the tour, creating the “South Park” theme song, his friendship/musical partnership with Sean Lennon (son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono) and auditioning for Metallica.

This interview was edited for brevity.

What sparked the return of Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade after a 20-year hiatus?

Claypool: Massive public demand. Yeah, that was a joke. But not totally a joke. You know, we're sort of in between Primus runs and there's been requests for the past handful of years for the early Frog Brigade playing [Pink Floyd’s] “Animals” in its entirety. So it just seemed like the right time to do it. And it started off with a few festivals and now it's become this entire tour. So two months of my life and more actually...

Q: I know with owning Purple Pachyderm at Claypool Cellars, you've probably been to Napa a few times. And I saw that was one of the show dates. Have you played any shows there before?

A: You know, I live in this ignorant bliss of not knowing where the hell I'm going to play and usually when. I mean, I played Napa, we just did. So we did a New Year's run with Bastard Jazz with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, which was pretty sweet. But I think it's a different venue. But I could be wrong. I don't even know.

Q: How fun will be to play with Fishbone again like on the Napa date?

A: Well, anytime you can play with Fishbone it's a wonderful, wonderful thing. And I haven't seen those guys in a number of years. I keep in touch with Norwood [Fisher, Fishbone’s bassist], who is an absolute champ. But I'm very excited to play with Fishbone again.

You know, Fishbone in the day was the world's greatest live band, and I have very, very fond memories of touring with them, watching them play and the camaraderie and kinship that we have. So, I'm very excited.

Q: What are you looking forward to about July’s date for the Hard Rock Live Sacramento show in Wheatland?

A: I didn't even know about it. [Laughs] Yeah, sounds like it'll be fun. You know, I get in the bus and go “Oh, here we are. Wow, look at this place.” But I enjoy Sacramento you know, I have people around that zone.

Q: So, I think it's really cool that Sean Lennon is joining the Frog Brigade with that musical connection you have with him in The Claypool Lennon Delirium? What are you most excited about playing these songs with Sean?

A: Well, you know, what's funny for me is because I just asked him. I said, “Hey, you know, I'm just putting the Frog Brigade together to do this.” And you know, the Frog Brigade has always been sort of a mixed cast of characters or even basically all my solo endeavors tend to morph. And I wanted to be able to attack things from throughout, not just the early Frog Brigade, but throughout my solo work. And I asked Shiner to do it. And he was excited. But what I'm finding very interesting is how excited he gets about some of these songs because he didn't know the Holy Mackerel record or some of the Fungi And Foe stuff. And he gets so excited about some of these tunes and playing them and learning them. So, he's an excitable, young lad. And we're very good friends. He's like my brother, you know? So, it's always good to have Shiner around. And he can play.

Q: Are there going to be shorter setlists with the festivals or are you going to be able to play “Animals” an entirety?

A: We're playing “Animals” in its entire entirety regardless of the set length, you know. So that's the priority is to play that and then whatever else is in there. But I would imagine, knowing my manager, he set it up so that we get a good hunk of time.

Q: You plan on playing, having some Primus and maybe some Claypool Lennon Delirium songs kind of sprinkled in?

A: You never do know what's going to pop out and I will leave it at that.

Q: That's cool. Who do you see are your biggest influences with your bass playing?

A: You know, I just did an interview for guitar, one of the guitar magazines, literally right before I talked to you, and they wanted me to spout out 10 of my favorite bass players. And, you know, there's a long list of guys that were very influential on me in the early days. But, you know, I mean, I started off like most rock guys listening to Geddy Lee and Chris Squire and John Paul Jones. And then I discovered Lewis Johnson and Larry Graham and Stanley Clarke, you know, these guys that are thumping and then Tony Levin. So that's kind of my list, my shortlist.

Q: Now, how did you land the South Park theme song? And how was the 25th anniversary concert? How did that go?

A: Well, the concert was amazing. There was a lot of rehearsal went into that just to coordinate everybody and whatnot. And get Matt [Stone] and Trey {Parker] comfortable with getting ready to go on stage in front of a s***load of people, because that's not what they do. But it was incredible and the whole thing went amazingly well.

As far as how we originally got the gig, you know, these two guys fresh out of college had made this little cartoon “Spirit of Christmas,” and they were Primus fans. So they sent it over and asked if we would do the theme song for this pilot and we never thought it would even get on television, let alone become an international phenomenon. So, we did it because we thought it was cool, not because of the profile or any of that because there was no profile.

Q: I did have one final question. I know that there's kind of like all the rumors about when you were starting out and you auditioned for Metallica. I mean, how accurate are those rumors about how they said you were too good to be in Metallica and you should start your own band?

A: Well, I mean, that's a stretch. I had Primus, Primus was going. So, I went to high school with Kirk [Hammett]. And he's part of the reason why I got into music because he was always talking about getting his Stratocaster and all these things, and we had algebra together. And he formed Exodus and I joined another band that needed a bass player.

And so I had heard he had this band that was doing pretty well. I wasn't into metal. I was listening to all this, you know, Public Image Limited and early Peter Gabriel and Fred Frith and things like that I knew nothing about Metallica or the metal scene in the Bay Area. And I kept hearing about how his band was doing well - you know, my old buddy Kirk. So I had actually met Cliff [Burton] right before he passed away, because we did a Primus gig with Faith No More, and he was at that show. And then I heard like a month later that he had died in that bus crash, and so Kirk, called me and said, “Hey, you want to come down and audition?” And I didn't know s*** about Metallica? I had “Ride the Lightning” because he had given it to me. And I learned the songs and I went in I didn't realize how popular they were or anything. And I played and I did not fit [laughs] as is evidence with the result.

So, you know, I showed up with a, you know, a blonde Mohawk and a hat like this on, two different colored tennis shoes and baggy skater pants. I did not fit. I didn't fit the image and [had] a bass that looked like a hunk of driftwood. I didn't fit, so I didn't get the gig. But they were very kind to me and James said years later that I didn't get the gig because I was too good. But I have a feeling it was more because they thought I was a frickin’ weird looking bug. But who knows, they're good guys. And I tell you what, they have the perfect bass player and have had for the past 20 years now with Robert [Trujillo]. He's a monster player. He's one of the sweetest, nicest humans in the music industry. So, they got an amazing thing going. They didn't need me screwing it all up.


Interview | Les Claypool of Primus returns with Fearless Flying Frog Brigade Tour 2023

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