Music News

Les Claypool on His Duo de Twang, Metallica, and Dean Ween

Twenty years ago, one of the most common arguments between bong hits was who was the better bassist: Primus' Les Claypool or the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea.

Like many other such debates (such as whether peanut butter tastes better scooped directly out of the jar), this age-old question was never fully resolved. But the Claypool supporters could always point out that Primus' entire sound was centered around his unmistakable bass playing — and that's without mentioning Claypool's one-of-a-kind Clown Prince of Funk vocals.

Claypool, though, has never been satisfied merely with being one of the world's most distinctive bassists. Over the years, he's directed the faux music documentary Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo; written and published a novel, South of the Pumphouse; bottled wine from Claypool Cellars; and fiddled around with myriad side musical projects, from Sausage to Oysterhead, all done with a healthy dose of humor.

The latest of this renaissance man's non-Primus-related endeavors is dubbed Les Claypool's Duo de Twang, a two-man project with Claypool on bass and Bryan Kehoe on guitar.

Duo de Twang's first album, Four Foot Shack, due out February 4, not only gives a rustic approach to Primus classics like "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" and "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver" but also twangifies unlikely versions of both disco and grunge hits.

Claypool spoke to New Times from his San Francisco home about the Duo de Twang live experience, what else he has up his creative sleeve, his audition for Metallica, and why this unlikely pairing would not have shattered the universe as we know it.

New Times: How did Duo de Twang come about?

Les Claypool: A few years ago, I was asked to put together a project for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival here in San Francisco. It's a huge festival in Golden Gate Park. We always talked about doing a little, acoustic solo thing, because I'm always twanging away with my resonator bass singing hillbilly songs.

So I put together this project with a friend of mine [Marc "Mirv" Haggard], and it went incredibly well. We learned some old tunes and covered some of my tunes. Then Mirv couldn't do it anymore, so I brought in an old high school buddy I've worked with over the years, Bryan Kehoe. We've started touring around, and we've now subsequently made a record and are heading back on the road.

It's two of us sitting literally around the campfire, drinking vino and beer, and talking to the crowd and telling stories and jokes and playing the occasional version of one of my songs or someone else's songs.

Your publicist sent me the CD. It's great fun.

Shoot, I haven't even gotten a CD yet.

I'll burn you guys one. How did you pick the songs — from the Bee Gees to Alice in Chains?

A lot of it is us stumbling across these things. We started off doing some of my songs and Jerry Reed and Stompin' Tom Connors and then horsing around. Sound-checking one night, we'll start playing some rhythm and I'll start singing over it. Usually, we'll get a chuckle out of it. Like "Staying Alive" and "Man in the Box," we just started playing portions of them during shows. The show is very casual. You never know what the hell is going to happen and you never know what song we're going to go into. It just happens to fit, so when it came down to making the record, we created arrangements for the songs in their entirety and laid them out.

Were there other songs that didn't make the cut?

There are all kinds of songs we twang away on, but those were the ones that leapt out at us.

What can audiences expect at a Duo de Twang show?

Expect two guys hanging around a campfire, cracking jokes, and bullshitting. It's more of a hang than a show.

Before your show at Revolution, you two are setting sail on the Jam Cruise. Is this your first time?

No, I've played the Jam Cruise. In fact, I think I played the first Jam Cruise whenever that was, eight or ten years ago. It's an interesting event. It can be an amazing experience. We were playing this abstract version of [Pink Floyd's] "Another Brick in the Wall," and I'm looking off the starboard side of the boat, and we're going past Cuba. So that was an interesting memory of being on the boat.

On the topic of boats, you filmed a fishing show with Ween's Dean Ween. Can you talk about that?

We shot some stuff. We're trying to get a pilot going.

And that was shot here in Florida?

Some of it was. Some of it in New England and some of it out here in San Francisco.

Do you mind sharing what the show's about, what the feeling of it is?

There's not much to it. It's me and Dean out fishing, and we write songs about our experience, and we're trying to get somebody to pick it up, but you know right now everything is closed down. Things close down for pretty much the last month and a half of the year, so nothing's really happening with it. But we're trying to get somebody to nibble on it.

Is it true there's a new Primus album coming out this year?

There will be someday. We're talking about it. Right now, I've got this Duo de Twang thing going, so I'm pretty busy. Right now, we are gearing for a New Year's show. We're doing a big Primus New Year's show.

Even further back into your past in 1986, you auditioned to play bass for Metallica.

That's very true.

What do you think the world would be like if you had joined that band?

It would be exactly the same, because they would have fired me probably three to six weeks later.

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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland