Ringleader to the Freaks
Fungi or Foe, Dangerous Republicians and Fishing with Les Claypool
Words by Martin Halo
Photo by Joe Russo
Salt Lake City, Utah — “Imagine Burning Man meets Barnum Bailey Circus”, says legendary bassist Les Claypool in reference to his winter freak show extravaganza. The ex-Primus ringleader finds himself on the capping leg of the Oddity Faire Tour in support of the recent release of Of Fungi and Foe. Directly out of the sideshow spit bucket, the conception stemmed from Claypool’s experience at Lollapalooza back in 1993.
“I wanted to put together a festival of the odd balls. People who had a unique approach to what they do. What we have here is a freak show”, Claypool exclaims. “It’s for the freaks, by the freaks!” Alongside FADER artist Saul Williams and O’Death, New York City will also experience the disturbing talents of the Coney Island Sideshow performers. Fire-eaters, snake charmers, beds of nails, and the occasional regurgitation of razor blades all grace the bill. For all accounts, it’s a proper family affair.
The musical epicenter of the showcase, the Of Fungi and Foe LP, was tailored together from the leftovers of Claypool’s commissioned session work last year.
“I did the music for the Sci-Fi video game ‘Mushroom Man’, and the score to the indie thriller Pig Hunt“, says Claypool. “The movie score yielded a lot of material because I was watching images about a 3,000 lb wild boar that was terrorizing the pot fields of Northern California”, he laughs. “It is pretty spectacular not only from a musical perspective but a visual one as well.”
Adding to the record was contributions from Gogol Bordello front man Eugene Hutz, on ‘Bite Out of Life’.
“I don’t know if you would call it work with Eugene”, jokes Claypool. “There was a lot of drinking and a lot of recording going on in the studio. We basically had a night of drunken babble. I went back through the tapes and found what I thought was the shiniest nugget. The first time I saw Gogol Bordello perform was on video and I asked them to go on a Primus tour with me. I though they were just dandy”, says Claypool tongue and cheek.
But for Claypool it didn’t start out with successful concert tours and sanctioned freak shows. It was a humble conservative upbringing, where Claypool was the black sheep. It was a battle of social and political ideals, which clashed with his most inner circle. “As a fellow who grew up in a long line of auto mechanics and living in a fairly conservative semi-rural environment, I was alienated from the people who were important to me. I was alienated from my family because I did not agree with their viewpoints on certain things. They didn’t agree with mine either. I was some young cocky kid, why would you expect them to take me seriously? It was a culture, that even to this day, if did not agree with you, wouldn’t speak to you.”
“Relating to people on many different levels helps the landscape of everyone’s perspective”, says Claypool. “One of the biggest things that causes bigotry is fear. People experience fear and feel uncomfortable with things they do not know a great deal about. Being around other people with different perspectives helps you as an individual grow. That is how we can be a nation of people who are more tolerant and more open-minded.”
These traits of sheltered conservatism are expressed in Claypool’s recent music, no more so bluntly, than ‘Red State Girl’. The track is a mock of girls wanting to grow up to be like Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin and the men who love them.
“For all purposes it’s a potential love story”, laughs Claypool.
Politics hardly got Claypool hooked on music, if anything music was a way for him to express himself in a forum that appealed to the very heart of the human plight.
– Les Claypool on George W. Bush
“I always just enjoyed the power of good music”, he says. “Girls could have been a portion of it”, he admits, “but I think pretty much anything you do in life is somewhat motivated by your libido [laughter].
“In the case of music its all a mystery until you get the chance to peak behind the curtain. If you are a young kid and you are searching for something, there is definitely a glitter, glamour, and sparkly magic to it all. It’s wonderful”, he shares. “It’s smoke and mirrors to an extent but as you get older, the music industry takes on a different appeal. In my case I started appreciating the actual elements of technique and commitment it takes to do these things.”
“All I know is”, the political Claypool returns, “as a fellow who travels the globe for a living, the climate around the world is more positive towards America now that we have changed administrations. That’s a massive thing, regardless of what happens over the first 100 days or the next four years. The perception of the United States has changed so dramatically because of this last election. That is a very positive and important thing.”
As a man who has also seen the changing of more administration than this writer, it was interesting to push a little farther into Claypool’s perception of the worldview.
“The worldwide perception? I have never seen our credibility or even our intelligence questioned as much as it was during that period”, he says with a snicker. “Especially after the second election. When people found out that you were American, particularly in Great Britain, they wanted to talk to you and find out why the hell we voted for that guy [Bush] again.”
“It wasn’t that many years ago that the Democratic Party was mess. Now it’s the Republicans in disarray. It is always shifting; it is just the way it is. Things come and go in waves.”
“The tide has swung back towards the left. It was way right for such a long time and it was becoming very frightening. The people have finally gotten up on their hind legs and let the world know it is time for something different. I think we are all anticipating some better days than we have had over the past decade.”
Are you this passionate while fishing Les?
“I have been know to let a line”, he responds with laughter. “After this tour I’m actually going to catch up on the boat with Dean Ween. I can assure you there will be not be any kind of Rush Limbaugh talk”, he concludes.
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