Sailing the Seas of Ozz

But even with such a varied bag of musical tricks, it's easy to fall into a rut if you stick around long enough. Some would argue that Primus hasn't offered anything to rival the quirky Sailing the Seas of Cheese since that album broke the band. Claypool himself admits that Primus was dragging when it made Tales From the Punch Bowl (1995). But with the drummer switch on the Brown Album, according to Claypool, "that record doesn't slow down anywhere, and there's a lot more of that big-bottomy drum stuff."

Still, he says, "I think one thing that has happened with us producing our own records over all these years is you kind of get your head stuck up in your own ass, you know. You lose sight of what is exciting for other people sometimes. I'm a guy who's listened to many different things throughout my life, and I'm influenced by many different things, and it's not necessarily a good thing, with a band like Primus, to just keep stretching out into these different areas all of the time. It's good to pull these influences in and use them, but I think at some point unless someone's there to say, 'This is what you guys do best,' you get a little scattered."

In order to refocus, the band brought in outsiders to produce and/or play on individual tracks for their as-yet-untitled August release, which they recently finished recording.

"What we were looking for were people that had a history with Primus, were fans of the band, and could bring out in us what they liked about the band," Claypool says.

"Stewart Copeland, who just recently was turned on to Primus, he wanted to see us do something that had some, what he said, 'beauty' to it, you know, some melody, and he actually wanted to incorporate some female vocals onto it," explains Claypool. "For me that was a big step, and I said, 'Well, if we bring in some female vocals, it's got to be someone edgy and someone cool.' And so we brought in Martina Topley-Bird, who I'm a huge fan of. She's the singer on Tricky's first couple of records."

The band also brought in Tom Waits, on whose recent release, Mule Variations, they backed the singer on a track. Waits wanted Primus to crank up a good march tempo (think "Sgt. Baker" from Cheese) and mix it with something totally at odds with that. "Like, polka meets dirge," offers Claypool. "So we ended up doing a song with him that actually sounds like a southern Louisiana funeral dirge, called 'Coattails of a Dead Man.'"

Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello also produced and played on three tracks. The music is "very, very reminiscent of our earlier, sort of driving, groove-oriented stuff," according to Claypool.

Fred Durst, vocalist for the popular alternative rap-metal band Limp Bizkit, "grew up on Primus," Claypool says. Like Morello, he predictably asked for aggressive, trademark Primus stuff of yore.

Hmmm. The Morello and Durst songs sound like perfect fodder for the testosterone-laden Primus set at OzzFest. Will fans get a preview of the new material?

"We'll probably pop in a couple [new] songs," Claypool ventures. "You can't play too much stuff that isn't released, or people get bored. They want to hear the old stuff. We're only doing a 40-minute set, so we're just going to be bustin' out the heavy rockers."

Primus plays at OzzFest '99 with Black Sabbath and more than 15 other bands May 27 at Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach. Gates open at 10 a.m.; tickets cost $35 and $49.50. Call 561-793-0445. See "Concerts For the Week" for a full list of bands.

Contact John Ferri at his e-mail address:

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