by Abel Folgar
Les Claypool has been the driving force behind funk-metal outfit Primus since 1984. In that time, he has also written a book, South of the Pumphouse, directed a film, Electric Apricot, and become synonymous with the sounds of animated TV shows Robot Chicken and South Park. Now he's remade the Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory soundtrack.
Considering his penchant for the bizarre yet playful, it is no surprise that Claypool's had a lifelong fascination with Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka character and Gene Wilder's cinematic interpretation. This obsession eventually spawned a Chocolate Factory-themed New Year's Eve concert, and then Primus' eighth studio album, Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble.
We recently got the chance to chat with Claypool in advance of Primus' show tonight at the Peabody Opera House. The topics of conversation included golden records, the power of "Candyman" and of course, chocolates.
Abel Folgar: You are an incredibly busy man. You've worked in film, written a book, and scored TV shows. What do you do to relax?
Les Claypool: I float around in the ocean pursuing fish and I raise my kids.
Before we talk about the new album, let's discuss your other work, like Sausage, which I saw back in '94 when you toured with Helmet and Rollins Band, and I remember it being an incredibly fun show. How do you separate your signature sound with Primus from the other projects that you've been involved with?
Well, it's very much like having conversations with different people. You know, when you're conversing with folks, you have your perspective and a timbre to your voice, you have your way of communicating, and it's very similar with music. The musicians who you work with are going to determine what the musical conversation is going to be about. But as a conversationalist, you're going to have your input and you're going to have your imprint on that conversation, based on your perspective.
So you know, it's not that much different than any interaction that you as a journalist would have interviewing various artists or various personalities. You're going to have your style, your approach, and the response you get from those individuals is going to tailor how you react.
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When did your fascination with Roald Dahl's books start?
It was more about when I was a kid and saw the Willy Wonka movie -- I forget how young I was when I saw it -- and was enamored by it and started absorbing everything. Saved all my Cap'n Crunch box tops and sent out for the Wonka chocolate bar you could melt to get the chocolate chips from and form into little molds and put into foil and hand them out to your friends. That led me to the books, and so I read the books a few times, and you know how it is when you are a kid and stumble across some element of media, usually film, and it can greatly influence you for a period of time until the next one comes along, like Jaws, and you start drawing sharks all over your notebook at school.
So let me ask you about the movies. Between the Mel Stuart adaptation back in the day and the recent Tim Burton one, what's your opinion?
I'm a fan of the Gene Wilder version of the film. I saw the Tim Burton one. Some of my favorite films are Tim Burton films. I think he's a very talented guy, but I just don't think that one was very good.
And I don't think I'm alone on that one.
What prompted you to re-imagine the Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory soundtrack?
Well, there was talk of taking on some form of sacred cow, whether it was going to be Primus or one of my bands. I had been thinking about it for a while and there was a lot of ideas being tossed around, and one of them was to do Magical Mystery Tour, which we almost did and ended up not doing. Which is fortunate, because the Flaming Lips have just done Sgt. Pepper's, so that would've been a bit, you know, awkward.
And the whole "Candyman" thing just got stuck in my head and we ended up doing a Chocolate Factory-themed New Year's, because we always do a themed New Year's for the past twenty-some odd years, and it worked well and it was easy and it just kind of fell together. We were able to take it and make it our own without a terrible amount of forethought.
And this is the first time back in the studio with longtime Primus members Tim Alexander and Larry LaLonde. The last time you three recorded an album together was Tales from the Punch Bowl back in '95.
With Tim, yes. But we did an EP in early 2000.
That's right, there was that EP. How did it feel in the studio, the three of you?
It felt fantastic.
Have there been any Willy Wonka-style golden records claimed?
I've yet to hear of one, we're kind of waiting to see when one of them pops up.
Was it five that were made?
There are five.
What can the fans expect from this tour?
They can expect lots of chocolate!
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