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The Core: Les Claypool

Mike Greenhaus | January 21, 2014

The always colorful bassist shares his thoughts on Duo de Twang, Beats Antique and the new/old Primus.

Fellow Mischief Makers
I’ve been plucking away on my old Dobro bass—it’s a four-string resonator bass. So my good friend and manager Brad Sands said, “You should do some solo stuff at some point in time, just acoustic.” Then, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass thing came up [in 2012]. I thought about maybe doing something with my percussionist buddy Mike Dillon and then, I thought, “Well, it might be better with a guitarist.” So I got a hold of my old friend Mirv [Marc Haggard]. We took some of my old songs and twanged ‘em up. And we took some old songs that were influences—some old Johnny Horton, some old Jerry Reed and Stompin’ Tom and whatnot—and played the set. Chris Robinson sat in with us, and we just had a great time, so the thought was, “This is good. Let’s continue on!” Unfortunately, Mirv—having a family to feed—took a day job in Silicon Valley. So I called my good buddy and fellow mischief-maker Bryan Kehoe and the new Duo de Twang was born. And we started sitting down with a campfire in front of us—drinking wine and beer and cracking jokes—and basically playing a song or two. It just sort of evolved into this very intimate performance group.

Like Father, Like Son
The notion of sitting around a campfire started with my son. I try to get out and camp several times a year, but, of course, camping time is the same time as prime tour time so I don’t get out as much as I’d like. But my son and I took off during his spring break last year and headed toward the desert. We brought an assortment of fishing rods and archery equipment—guns and a dog and all these things you bring on camping trips. I brought my Dobro bass and he brought his banjo because he just started playing banjo last year. So we’d just sit around a campfire all night, just like the old days. He was showing me some stuff that he knew, and I was showing him some stuff that I knew and we were kind of picking through some songs that we both knew. It was one of the best times that I ever had with my son.

Serious Laughs
I’ve known Kehoe since I was in high school. He was in Frog Brigade for a little while, and he did the first Jam Cruise with me. And then, when I made the Electric Apricot film, I was actually gonna ask Mirv to be the guitarist character. I got to talking to Kehoe and he said, “Oh, no. Let me do it. Let me do it.” It was all very organic. The songs had been accumulated from us just touring and sitting around at soundchecks and twanging away and stumbling across something—whether it was a Bee Gees song or an Alice in Chains song—and whatever gave us the biggest laugh made it into the set. A lot of these songs, even just bits and pieces, would make it into the set. When it came time to do the record, we actually learned some of the songs in their entirety and then, recorded them. It was pretty much, “OK, here is the setlist, so let’s go into the studio and record and let’s become the setlist.” It was very bare bones—just a couple mics. I have all this vintage recording equipment and we just laid it down—very few tracks.

The Fuck Off Vacation Band
I call this my “fuck off vacation band.” I’ve got to be careful. Hanging out with Kehoe, the whole alcohol consumption goes up. So I have to watch my alcohol blood level—by the time we get back from tour, I’m usually vibrating. It’s kind of a big hang. We get some buddies to come and sit in, and it’s very casual and fun. As far as the Alice in Chains number, I think we were up in Seattle. I have quite a fragmented hard drive these days, but I think I started horsing around with a bit of the song and Kehoe, who used to play with Jerry Cantrell and knows the entire Alice in Chains repertoire, jumped it. It just became twangified.

Something to Do with the Devil
I met [Beats Antique’s] Tommy “Sidecar” Cappel when he auditioned for the Frog Brigade back when he used to have pigtails. He was part of the Yard Dogs Road Show and then, all of a sudden, he had this side project, Beats Antique. They asked me to play some bass on a few tunes on A Thousand Faces: Act 1, and they sent me a track. I basically shoved it in my computer as my bus was going down the road and jammed over the top of it and sent it back to them. And then, they said, “Hey, can you do some lyrics for it? We wanna do something that has something to do with the devil.” So I just kind of babbled a bunch of Beelzebub nonsense over the top and made it into a song.

Primus Still Sucks
We had some downtime, and Bobby Weir asked [Primus drummer Jay Lane] to go out on the road with RatDog. So downtime became uptime for Jaybles and then, Primus got an offer to do some Australia dates. Jay decided to stick with Bob so we called Tim Alexander [who played in Primus from 1989-1996 and 2003-2009] and asked him to come back into the band. It was one of those mystical things. We had to get on the phone and talk for a while—there were reasons he left in the first place—but he is in a great spot right now. He is a machine, and he’s learning all the songs [from Lane’s recent tenure with Primus.] As Woody Allen said about relationships, bands are like sharks—they have to constantly move forward or they will die. And I don’t want to be a dead shark.