For 46 dates, Primus put aside its alternative rock, experimental jazzy funk and post-punk (with a hint of Whamola) to deliver some note-for-note covers of Rush’s 1977 album, “A Farewell to Kings “.
Primus still plays a set of his own music, including tracks from his latest EP, “Conspiranoid”.
We spoke with vocalist/bassist Les Claypool about the tour, the new release, Taylor Hawkins, and many of the band’s ongoing projects and show at the Wind Creek Event Center on May 25.
Jay Honstetter for The Morning Call: How’s the shows going so far? What’s it like to step into the shoes of one of your favorite bands (Rush) and take one of their albums on the road?
The Claypools: It was quite amazing. The problem with the Rush material is that… at Primus, we are lazy bastards. We never repeat. We write a few songs, make a record, then we rehearse a little, then we go drink wine and eat steaks. But the Rush thing, we had to rehearse our asses. When I was a teenager, I was a huge Rush fan. It is sacred ground. So we really had to take it seriously and make sure we pulled it off.
It’s impressive to hear because her voice is so unique and you really kill her.
My son told me, because he has a film production office right outside our studio, and he goes, “Dad, that sounds good…but I have to tell you, stop try to sing like Geddy (Lee). Sing it in your own voice. He was basically letting me know it was getting kinda cringe-worthy. So I just took a step back and made my own point of view.
And when did the idea to do this come about? Was it the death of Neil Peart?
No, we were supposed to do this tour over three years ago, but ended up taking the Slayer tour and postponing it. Of course COVID hit and it was postponed for quite a while. In fact, I asked Geddy what he thought about it, before we even got into full-throttle pursuit. I said, “Hey, what do you think of us doing this?” He said, “Oh, that would be amazing.” But Neal was still on the planet at the time.
I know Rush has a huge impact on you, and I’m curious what other bands or artists have had an impact on your playing as well?
Rush was kind of my first love when I was a kid. Rush was my whole world, but when I started Primus I was into much darker stuff. I was into the early public image stuff, and the old Peter Gabriel stuff, 80s Crimson, Residents, and all that stuff that was a little bit more abstract.
When the three of us first got together, we saw this guy with this giant drum set appear and we were like, well fuck, I bet this guy knows some Rush stuff. So we started playing Rush licks, and that was one of the main things we could connect to. Primus is an amalgamation of many different influences.
Your latest release is the “Conspiranoid” EP, which includes the 11-minute “Conspiranoia”. I would like to know a bit more about how the EP came about, the choice to make an 11 minute song, and also a bit about the video. I feel like your videos are an integral part of your work. How involved are you in the production or scripts of these?
I’ve always been very involved in the videos, this one was more my son. But the idea was to make a 20 minute song. We knew we were coming back and we thought we should play something new for these people, but we didn’t want to do an entire album. We had just built this new rehearsal space and set up a bunch of recording equipment, and we just started having fun with it. I had this whole notion of “Conspiranoia” that I had wanted to do for a while.
As for the video… this painting for the cover was something I did during COVID. I started painting because I was bored. It was actually the first painting I had done.
So my son took that, and he went in and built this whole 3D environment that brought it to life. Then he got involved in all the conspiracy theories and listened to a bunch of them. And we had some friends on the tape who are kind of conspiracy theorists, I don’t mean connoisseurs, because it’s more that they find humor in a lot of these theories.
I had them spout certain things into microphones and so forth. A little collective effort.
You have played in several supergroups and have several projects outside of Primus. How is it to work with so many different artists and bands?
I am a very lucky person. I have been able to meet, befriend and often collaborate with many of my heroes. And as I go through life, as I get older, especially now with the passing of Taylor (Hawkins of the Foo Fighters)…me and Taylor have always talked about doing things at some point. Well, holy shit, now he’s gone.
It just makes me want to work with more people. I’m doing a project now with Billy Strings, and I’m still doing stuff with Sean (Lennon). And the Zelensky case.
I had no desire to do anything else because I literally have four different recording projects going on right now. But I started texting with Eugene (Gogol Bordello’s Hütz) the night of the invasion of Ukraine, because he’s Ukrainian… and then, you know, we talk about the courage of Zelensky and the way he has these huge balls of steel. He’s an amazing leader, so I committed to doing a project about it.
Yeah, that’s really cool, and I saw you accepting videos of people clapping along with the song.
Yeah my son made the little placeholder which is the sculpture he made of Zelensky and the visuals you see there now. But what we want to do is just have videos of people clapping. And like I said, I said on CNN the other night, it’s not a song of condemnation of anybody. It’s a song of support, unity and admiration for this guy who just stepped up, more than any leader I’ve seen in many years, to rally his people and rally the world. And it’s amazing what this guy has done.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Or: Wind Creek Event Center, 77 Wind Creek Blvd., Bethlehem
Tickets and info: $45-$65 windcreekeventcenter.com
Jay Honstetter is a contributor to The Morning Call. Follow him on Twitter @jayhonstetter