is a cult favourite Alternative Rock
band from El Sobrante, California.
Primus were formed in 1984 by bassist and vocalist Les Claypool, who has always remained the driving force behind the band. The first incarnation of the band included Todd Huth on guitar and Jay Lane on drums, and recorded absolutely bugger all. The second incarnation was more successful, containing guitarist Larry "Ler" LaLonde and drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander. Alexander left in 1996, dissatisfied with the direction the band was taking, and was replaced with Bryan "Brain" Mantia. Primus went on hiatus in 2000, but have reunited in 2003 with the classic Claypool/LaLonde/Alexander lineup. In 2010, Alexander left the band once more and was replaced by the band's original drummer, Jay Lane, but came back in 2013 for an all new album and tour where the band covered the soundtrack from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Primus' music is incredibly hard to describe, to the point that it is the only band to have its own ID3 tag in Winampnote
. The closest general description would be "alternative rock/funk metal" or the band's own suggestion of "psychedelic polka", with main influences including Parliament-Funkadelic
, The Residents
, Frank Zappa
. Additionally, their initial fans came from the Bay Area thrash scene due to opening gigs for Testament and Exodus, among others, and Larry LaLonde was previously in seminal thrash metal bands Possessed and Blind Illusion, the latter of which also included Claypool.
The dominant songwriter and Most Valuable Player
is Les Claypool, he of the incredible bass talent and silly voice. For this reason, Primus subvert the general alignment of heavy metal and rock bands, having the bass as the lead instrument and the guitar on the backseat. Larry himself generally complements Les' riffs with distorted noise and going on atonal tangents, but can bash out a heavy metal riff in lockstep if it's required. Alexander and Mantia generally both play incredibly complicated drum patterns that anchor the songs, acting as the Mitch Mitchell or Keith Moon
of the band.
The result is a weird and compelling fusion of Heavy Metal
, Funk Rock
, Progressive Rock
and Rule of Funny
You probably know them as the band who made the South Park Theme Song
, while lead singer Les Claypool is known for doing the theme (And the "IT'S ALIIIIVE
" scream) from Robot Chicken
Les Claypool holds the distinction of being the only bassist to ever audition for Metallica
and be turned down because he was too good, according to James Hetfield. His Funk Metal
style also didn't match the band, as he jokingly asked the others after his audition to "jam on some Isley Brothers
Primus landed in a bizarre, one-sided
feud with Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum in 1995, due to their absurdist country-funk-metal single "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver". Les went to great lengths to point out that the song is not, emphasis not
, about Winona Ryder
- the spelling and pronunciation are different, not to mention the fact that the lyrics make no sense. Ryder didn't mind, but her boyfriend Pirner did, and even renamed one of his songs "Les Claypool's a Big Fucking Asshole" in concert. The correct title should have been "Dave Pirner's a Big Fucking Asshole Who Doesn't Know What the Hell He's Talking About".
- Les Claypool - bass, vocals (1984-2000, 2003-present)
- Larry "Ler" LaLonde - guitar, backing vocals, synthesizer (1989-2000, 2003-present)
- Tim "Herb" Alexander - drums (1989-1996, 2003-2010, 2013-Present)
- Bryan "Brain" Mantia - drums (1996-2000)
- Todd Huth - guitar (1984-1989)
- Jay Lane - drums, backing vocals (1984-1989, 2010-2013)
- 1989 - Suck on This (live album)
- 1990 - Frizzle Fry
- 1991 - Sailing the Seas of Cheese (first album released on a major label, breakout success)
- 1992 - Miscellaneous Debris EP (cover album)
- 1993 - Pork Soda (their highest charting album, thanks to the single "My Name is Mud")
- 1995 - Tales from the Punchbowl
- 1997 - Brown Album
- 1998 - Rhinoplasty EP (another cover album)
- 1999 - Antipop
- 2003 - Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People EP
- 2006 - They Can't All Be Zingers (Greatest Hits Album)
- 2011 - Green Naugahyde
- 2014 - Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble (Their tribute to the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack)
Not to be confused with the God/Ancestor/Homeworld of the Transformers
, who has the same name.
Tropes employed by Primus:
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Larry "Ler" LaLonde.
- Alternative Metal: The Trope Codifier
- Author Avatar: Les Claypool is a fly fisherman, and Primus has a series of songs called "The Fisherman Chronicles."
- Awesome McCoolname: Les Claypool has a nice ring to it. Larry Lalonde gets bonus points for Alliteration.
- Batter Up: "My Name Is Mud"
We had our words, a common spat; So I kissed him upside the cranium with an aluminum baseball bat..
- Blessed Are the Cheesemakers: Sailing the Seas of Cheese. The packaging of their Greatest Hits Album, They Can't All Be Zingers, also resembles a package of processed cheese slices. Note, more generally, how most of their album titles involve a reference to food.
- Book Ends: "Hello Wonkites" and "Farewell Wonkites", the respective opening and closing tracks from ''Primus and the Chocolate Factory" both feature a slurred, ethereal guitar cover of "Pure Imagination"'s melody, with a deep, sharp bass pedal note in the background. The biggest difference, however, comes in the below Last Note Nightmare example.
- The Cameo: Tom Waits plays the titular character in "Tommy the Cat", and Claypool's grandfather plays the live-action Tommy in the music video.
- Catch Phrase: The sentence "Primus Sucks", a reference to Les Claypool introducing the band saying "We are Primus and we suck" in early concerts, and meaning something along the lines of "Primus rocks" seems to have become this for the fans, even though its use is kind of controversial.
- Corrupt Hick: "My Name is Mud", provides the Page Quote.
- Companion Cube: "Mary the Ice Cube"
- Cover Version:
- "Hello Skinny", "Constantinople" and "Sinister Exaggerator" by The Residents, "The Thing That Should Not Be" by Metallica, "Behind My Camel" by The Police, "Making Plans for Nigel" and "Scissor Man" by XTC, "Intruder" and "The Family and the Fishing Net" by Peter Gabriel, "Tippi-Toes" by The Meters, "Have a Cigar" by Pink Floyd, "Silly Putty" by Stanley Clarke, "Amos Moses" by Jerry Reed.
- The band played the intro of "Master of Puppets" live, and the intro from "YYZ" by Rush at the beginning of "John the Fisherman" on Suck on This and "To Defy the Laws of Tradition" on Frizzle Fry.
- Their cover of "N.I.B." by Black Sabbath has Ozzy Osbourne himself on lead vocals. Perhaps because of this, its their biggest rock radio hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart.
- Curse Cut Short: "The Air Is Getting Slippery" has the word "fuck" replaced by "Forgive me if I hesitate", until the very last line. And even then, in the studio version, "fuck" is snuffed out by a Sound Effect Bleep of a smashed bottle.
- Darker and Edgier: Pork Soda - the music is somewhat heavier than on Frizzle Fry and Sailing the Seas of Cheese, and it also features "Bob", one of the band's few entirely serious songs.
- Double Entendre: Subverted for "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver" - the title explicitly sounds like a double entendre, but when put in context, the lyrics make so little sense that it might as well not be.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: "Sgt. Baker".
- Driven to Suicide:
- "Bob", where Les sings about his friend who "hung himself in the doorway of the apartment where he lived."
- The male protagonist of "Coattails of a Dead Man". Some fans believe that the song was written about Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.
- Drugs Are Bad: "Lacquer Head"
- Ensemble Darkhorse: An in-universe example serves as the title subject of "Lee Van Cleef". One part of Claypool reminiscing about his youth is how he and his friends watched a lot of Western movies. Everyone "really loved watching Clint", but he preferred the less well-known contributions from the song's title character.
- Epic Rocking: "To Defy the Laws of Tradition", "Frizzle Fry", "Harold of the Rocks", "Fish On (Fisherman Chronicles, Chapter II)", "Hamburger Train", "Professor Nutbutter's House of Treats", "Southbound Pachyderm", "Over the Electric Grapevine", "Eclectic Electric".
- Evil Laugh: The infamously-creepy tunnel scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is covered in an even more nightmarish fashion by Primus in the form of "Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride", with an Evil Laugh replacing Wonka's maniacal scream after the poem.
- Fake-Out Opening: "To Defy The Laws Of Tradition" functions as this for both Frizzle Fry and the They Can't All Be Zingers compilation. It starts with the same cymbal riff of "YYZ" that opens Primus' debut album, Suck On This, before suddenly Letting the Air out of the Band and beginning the real track.
- First-Person Smartass/Private Eye Monologue: parodied in "Tommy the Cat", where it's performed by Tom Waits.
- Genre-Busting: Just what in the fuck are they?
- Hidden Depths: In the sea of supposedly wacky, off-kilter novelty songs you'll find topics like war ("Too Many Puppies"), suicide ("Bob"), student abuse / mental illness ("Mrs. Blaileen"), and immigrants trying to make it in America only to end up destitute ("American Life").
- Hidden Track: Antipop is their only album to have one - A new studio version of "The Heckler", which previously could only be heard live on Suck On This, was hidden after "Coattails Of A Dead Man".
- Iconic Item:
- Les wears goggles or sunglasses a lot. And hats. Lots and lots of hats.
- Once he started his solo career, he developed a thing for masks.
- Last Note Nightmare: "Farewell Wonkites" off Primus and the Chocolate Factory is primarily stuff one has already heard before from the album's opening track, "Hello Wonkites". However, the final minute of the track is nothing but Les Claypool shakily singing "Pure Imagination" as if having an emotional breakdown, while Larry imitates a passing emergency siren on his guitar. Also counts as a Last Track Nightmare, as it's the last thing you hear on the album.
- Lead Bassist: Les Claypool arguably hits all four types.
- Let's Meet the Meat: One possible interpretation of "Shake Hands With Beef", the other being A Date with Rosie Palms. Les says it was the catchphrase of a vegetarian friend of theirs who'd occasionally eat meat.
- Letting the Air out of the Band: Happens at the start of Frizzle Fry with "To Defy The Laws Of Tradition", which opens with the same cymbal opening of the "YYZ" quotation that opens Suck On This, before suddenly dropping out and starting the real track.
- Loudness War: Brown Album was one of the first albums to prominently feature clipping drums.
- Lyrical Cold Open: "Mr. Knowitall", "Mrs. Blaileen"
- Medium Blending:
- There's a fondness to blend live action with stop-motion animation in Primus videos, such as "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver" and "Southbound Pachyderm".
- Or more traditional animation in "John The Fisherman" and "Tommy the Cat".
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: 5-6 with a few going up to 7, which is unusual considering the band is so bass driven.
- Mood Whiplash: Their cover of "Golden Ticket" starts off slow and sombre, before suddenly kicking into a "Welcome To This World"-esque triple-time shuffle.
- Similarly, much like the scene in the film it is based on, the ending of "Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride".
- Motor Mouth: Les on "Is It Luck?", and Tom Waits on "Tommy the Cat", and he still has no idea how he managed to sing that fast.
- Mundane Made Awesome: From "Nature Boy":
"I pull the blinds, fill out my income tax form, pen in hand, I write so legiblyyyyy..."
- Murder Ballad: "My Name Is Mud".
"The breath on that fat bastard could bring any man to tears
We had our words, a common spat
So I kissed him upside the cranium with an aluminum baseball bat"
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: They're the only band with their own ID 3 tag in Winamp. The band themselves famously refer to their sound as "psychedelic polka".
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver" is NOT about Winona Ryder, as Winona's then-boyfriend Dave Pirner mistakenly believed. It led Dave to announce at a Soul Asylum concert, "This next song's called 'Les Claypool's A Big Fucking Asshole'."
- Noodle Implements: In "Here Come The Bastards", we're never sure as to why Les Claypool is so fearful of their arrival. His only basis is some second-hand rumours that may or may not involve, "something about a hammerhead shark, nosehairs and flatus".
- Our Product Sucks: Their tagline.
- Place Worse Than Death: "I've been to hell... I spell it D-M-V", from "DMV".
- Plagiarism: The subject of "Year of the Parrot", specifically that of other musicians swiping their sound from other musicians; one of the verses mentions making lots of money by taking a Zeppelin riff and "altering it a bit".
- Protest Song: "Too Many Puppies" is a humorous attack on the military. A verse mentioning "too many puppies in foreign lands" and another about "maintaining our oil fields" making it seem like it's against the Gulf War, but the album appeared in February 1990 and the war only started in August.
- Record Producer: DIY produced the majority of their records; co-produced Frizzle Fry with Matt "Exxon" Winegar and Antipop variously with Tom Morello, Stewart Copeland, Tom Waits, Matt Stone, and Fred Durst. Suck on This was produced by Matt Winegar and Bob Cock.
- Rhyming with Itself: Lampshade in "Mr. Knowitall":
"They call me Mr. Knowitall/I am so eloquent/"Perfection" is my middle name/And... whatever rhymes with eloquent"
- Rock Trio: Or "Alternative/Funk Metal Trio" if you prefer.
- Rule of Funny: They live on this, sliding all the way along the Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness.
- Sadist Teacher: "Mrs. Blaileen".
- Self-Deprecation: Their motto/slogan is "Primus sucks." When fans first began to recognize the band on the street, Les' stock response to "you guys rule!" was "no, we really suck", and it mutated on from there. Occasionally fans who aren't in on the joke get offended when someone else says this.
- Sellout : "HOINFODAMAN" from Green Naugahyde.
- Surreal Music Video: which ones aren't?
- Okay, there's one exception: "DMV", which is mostly a Performance Video interspersed with behind-the-scenes moments and a little stock footage having to do with the lyrics.
- Take That:
- "Coattails of a Dead Man" has never been really explained by the band, but it's frequently interpreted as being anti-Courtney Love.
- "Year Of The Parrot" is allegedly a veiled swipe at Tori Amos and Adam Duritz, as the lyrics mention 1994 and unnamed artists ripping off Kate Bush and Van Morrison (which the previous two respectfully sounded like).
- They Call Me Mister Know-It-All
- Thrash Metal: Have always had elements of this in their heavier songs, particularly on Frizzle Fry. This could probably be owed to Larry LaLonde's time in Possessed and the time that he and Claypool both spent in Blind Illusion.
- Town with a Dark Secret: "Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers".
- Uncommon Time: "Eleven" is, appropriately enough, primarily played in 11/8.
- War Is Hell: "Too Many Puppies", which talks primarily about New Meat sent to the Middle East to fight a War for Fun and Profit.
- Widget Series: WAT Band: they have such a strange mix of bass-led Funk Rock, Thrash Metal, Progressive Rock and Psychedelic Rock that they're the only band on Winamp with their own ID3 tag.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Many songs. For example, have you tried making heads or tails of "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver"?