The return of Primus definitely brings with it an element of nostalgia, given the lineup of singer/bassist Les Claypool, long-time guitarist Larry "Ler" LaLonde, and original drummer Jay Lane, who left the band in 1988 after just one year. But the quirky California trio will also be keeping things fresh with selections from Green Naugahyde, its first album in more than a decade.
"I like being challenged, and that's what we're dong with Primus right now," says Claypool, noting that his bandmates were heavily involved in songwriting and arrangements this time out. "And Jay Lane is really good at shooting from the hip, so we do go off into sort of strange territory every night, and that to me is very enjoyable. I mean, it's great to play the old tunes and play them the way they should be played, but you also have to have that little bit of stepping off into new territory, that element of dancing on the edge, so to speak."
Ironically enough, Claypool was initially skeptical about the idea of a reunion album and tour.
"To be honest with you, I wasn't really that interested in doing it," admits the musician, who'd just wrapped up promoting his second solo album, Of Fungi and Foe.
"I like turning over new rocks and it didn't feel like it was a new rock. But then came the notion of Jay Lane coming back. We got together and played, and we were getting along really great. It felt good. It felt right. We did the tour and then we said OK, let's do the real thing here. Let's make an album and make a good run of it. So here we are."
Back in the '80s, the band recorded demos with Lane and guitarist Todd Huth. But by the time the first Primus studio CD, 1990's Frizzle Fry, arrived, Lane and Huth had both left the group.
Claypool assembled a lineup with LaLonde and drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander, and for the next decade, the group carved out a singular style built around angular melodies, Claypool's multi-faceted bass playing, and lyrics that typically had an absurdist bent.
The group never achieved major stardom, but albums like Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991), Pork Soda (1993) and Tales From the Punchbowl (1995), produced a string of fan favorites like "Tommy The Cat," "My Name Is Mud" and "Wynonna's Big Brown Beaver." The group got some play on MTV and built enough of an audience to headline the 1993 Lollapalooza Festival and Woodstock '94.
Three albums later, Primus went on hiatus, with Claypool continuing on with a variety of other projects, including Sausage, Oysterhead and Frog Brigade. There was just one 2003 Primus EP prior to Green Naugahyde, which adds new stylistic elements to more familiar-sounding tracks like "Last Salmon Man" and "Tragedy's A' Comin'."
"As you move through life, you acquire barnacles on your hull," offers Claypool. "And over the past 10 years, I have become way more comfortable with production and my vocals and just different elements that we wouldn't really have tackled before with Primus."
Live sets on this tour, Claypool says, will be different every night, drawing upon all phases of the group's career.
"It will be a plethora of classic Primus material," he promises. "And then we're going to be sneaking in some new stuff."