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Oct 13 , 2011
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Primus returns with new album and lineup reminiscent of its early years
Primus plays the Val Air Ballroom on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 through Ticketmaster.

By Michael Swanger

Memo to alt-rock fans: Dust off those freak flags and wave them high. Primus is back.

After an 11-year recording hiatus, the inventive San Francisco-based band that helped shape the alt-rock landscape of the 1980s and 1990s with songs like “John the Fisherman,” “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers,” “My Name is Mud” and the theme song to “South Park,” has returned with one of its most irreverent albums to date — “Green Naugahyde.” But of equal interest to would-be concertgoers and fans is the band’s latest lineup, which includes founding bassist-singer Les Claypool, longtime guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde and original drummer Jay Lane, who left Primus one month before it recorded its 1989 debut album, “Suck on This.”

“Old Jayky, he’s always been my go-to-guy,” said Claypool during a telephone interview. “He quit the band before it took off, which I think was always a tender spot for him. So when the opportunity arose for a drummer position with the band, he was the first guy I called. He was real excited, learned the material and the first song we played was ‘Pudding Time,’ and me and Ler looked at each other and were grinning like bastards because you could feel the chemistry.”

That chemistry, Claypool said, is why “Green Naugahyde” reminds him of one of the band’s most influential early records, “Frizzle Fry.” He attributes its feel to Lane’s drumming.

“It’s because of Jay. He has a signature hop and does all this intricate hi-hat work. He has a bounce to the way he plays and it compels me to play a certain way,” Claypool said.

After having spent the last decade pursuing a solo career that includes working with the supergroup Oysterhead (which includes Stewart Copeland and Trey Anastasio), Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade and other experimental music projects that featured non-traditional rock musicians like sitar players, vibraphonists, cellists and saxophonists, the 48-year-old Claypool said that he is more open to broadening the range of what is appropriate for Primus.

“Primus had become stagnate, and it was time to stop. I feel like you go through cycles of eight to 10 years with things and people. You get away and come back and it’s fresh again. We would of made some really shitty music if we had not stopped,” Claypool said. “For me, the last 10 years have been the most creatively prolific time of my life. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. It makes me come back to Primus with a lot more tricks up my sleeve and more confidence. It’s a good place to be.”

Primus spent about a month recording “Green Naugahyde” at Claypool’s Northern California home studio, Rancho Relaxo.

“I have an out building full of vintage gear. It’s a good spot to make sounds,” he said.

More important than the gear, however, was the atmosphere.

“For me, the creative process has to be a casual, flowing thing. If it’s forced, I’m not interested. Fortunately, playing with Jay and Ler, there were a lot of ideas floating around,” Claypool said. “Ler brought in a couple of songs, and Jay brought in some beats, which never happened before.”

With that said, however, Claypool said that he would not do anything differently this time around with the band.

“I just want to make sure everything’s genuine, spontaneous and casual. That’s always been the premise for Primus. Unfortunately, during the latter part of the 1990s we started second guessing ourselves and over-thinking things, and that’s where it becomes stiff and contrived. When it’s all said and done, we need to please ourselves over anybody else,” said Claypool, who admits that he has not thought about making another record with Primus yet.

When asked what he wants fans to take away from the band’s comeback album, Claypool paused, quietly laughed and said, “A true appreciation of Naugahyde.” CV

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