Primus are a band who need no introduction. For the past 27 years the group have followed in the footsteps of boundary-pushing artists like Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd to create some of the most original and inventive music in existence—and they’ve collaborated with everyone from Tom Waits to Tom Morello over the years in the process. However nothing could properly prepare listeners for Green Naugahyde, which is the band’s first album in eleven years featuring the line-up of bassist/singer Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane.
Like Primus’ early output before they were international superstars, there was no earth-shattering catalyst behind Green Naugahyde other than the fact that all three of these musicians—and life-long collaborators who have worked together in various contexts—were getting the itch to experiment again. “There wasn’t a lot of pre-thought to this as much as, ‘Oh here we are, we should make a record,’” explains Claypool. “I’ve been playing with Jay quite a lot over the past ten years and we have an intuitive bond so for me he was a natural choice to be back in the mix,” Claypool continues when asked how Lane came about rejoining the band after nearly two decades apart.
Claypool and LaLonde also concur that Lane injected the band with a new energy that’s evident in every note of Green Naugahyde. “We recorded this album in the same way we always do but having Jay there made this a whole different experience,“ explains LaLonde. “It definitely made it more collaborative and it made us excited about the album as we went along because we had so much fun in the process.” Produced and engineered by Claypool in his personal studio, Rancho Relaxo, in Northern California that’s crammed full of vintage gear, the album’s warm sound and unique tones are pure Primus and could never be obtained via a set of Internet plug-ins. “I come from a long line of auto mechanics so I’m always buying these old jalopies and trying to fix them up and I approach my recording gear the same way,” Claypool adds with a laugh.
Sonically Green Naugahyde expands on the Primus’ incomparable sound and also sees them bringing it into the next millennium. “If I were to look at all of our records it seems like this is reminiscent of the early stuff. Obviously with Jay there’s a newness to it, but because he left the band right before we recorded our first record, his approach has an eerie harkening to the old Frizzle Fry days.” Correspondingly from the futuristic groove of “Tragedy’s A’Comin’” to the atmospheric experimentation of “Jilly’s On Smack” and demented swing of “Last Salmon Man,” Green Naugahyde is a cerebral and complex album that, like all of the band’s output, is teeming with the band’s signature blend of whimsy and underlying darkness.
“It’s funny because when you look at Primus lyrics throughout our entire career there are extremely dark stories in there but it’s told from the viewpoint of a race car driver or a fisherman—and then you throw in a song like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” which is just a silly song that just happened to become huge; the perception from the outside has been lighter than it actually is, especially if you don’t scratch the surface,” Claypool explains, citing the Coen brothers of an example of how his film counterparts deal with destructive issues through similarly colorful characters. Admittedly it’s hard to worry about the apocalypse or cancer when you’re grooving along to “Tragedy’s A’Comin’” but ultimately that duality is what has kept Primus relevant. Simply put, Primus confronts the issues we don’t want to think about in a creative way that makes the unbearable bearable.
Green Naugahyde also sees Claypool—who has spent the last decade working with the supergroup Oysterhead (alongside the Police’s Stewart Copeland and Phish’s Trey Anastasio) as well as Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade and various other experimental musical projects—stretching out in the lyrical department. “Over the past ten years of working on my own stuff and working with other musicians—especially non traditional rock musicians like sitar players, vibraphonists, cellists and saxophonists—I’ve really expanded my notion of what is appropriate for Primus,” Claypool explains. “On this album I decided I wasn’t going to hold back and I was going to do everything I wanted to try vocally instead of having one vocal line narrating the story.” This is evident in songs like “Eternal Consumption Engine” and “Extinction Burst” which feature layered vocal tracks that showcase Claypool’s range and see his voice acting as an additional instrument.
Above all Green Naugahyde is a Primus record with all of the magic and mystery that phrase entails—and while no one can say for sure what the future will hold in store for the band, the most important thing is that the album exists and will inevitably hold its own in the band’s impressive cannon of music. “Even back in the old days people would always ask me, ‘How long is Primus going to go on’ and I would always say ‘It’s going to go until it’s not fun anymore’ and at the end of the day it just wasn’t fun anymore so we stopped,” Claypool explains. “I think giving it this much time to sit and ferment or whatever the hell you want to call it has made it fun again,” he summarizes with a laugh.
“We’re still doing our own thing and we’ve got to own it.”