Interview: Les Claypool gave me swine flu, whooping frog cough

Discussion topic after reading: does Les Claypool think of himself this generation’s Frank Zappa?

Les is more: Bass-master Claypool on his animal fetish, ‘South Park’ and real guitars

(The Guide, 5/21) First things first, Les Claypool, because we need to clear up a very important safety matter: Is swine flu transferable by someone wearing a pig mask?

“That’s a very good question. I think if you put on a pig mask after (someone) flu-ridden, there’s a good chance,” Claypool said by phone from his home in Northern California last week, ruminating on one of his trademark stage-costume pieces. “There’s a lot of condensation that comes when you wear a pig mask. The inside of a pig masks is generally a horrible place. It’s kind of like a free facial. It clears the pores.”
Les Claypool, O’Death

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Where: Shoreline Ballroom, Ocean Center, 40 Folly Field Road, Hilton Head Island

Tickets: $23 in advance, $25 day of show

Information: 843-842-0358, www.shorelineballroom.com

Luckily for Hilton Head Island, Claypool does not have swine flu or any other porcine-related malady, so fans of his funky bass trickery and imaginative, meandering songbook can see his first island appearance Thursday at the Shoreline Ballroom as part of his biggest tour outing in a decade. His schedule has been pretty full otherwise, too: he just finished his first novel, directed and released “Electric Apricot,” a “Spinal Tap”-esque movie parody of the jam-band scene and even has a wine in the works.

“Making records is easy,” Claypool said. “Making movies is like climbing Everest wearing a Speedo.”

As the bassist of ’90s bizarro-rock band Primus, Claypool’s signature slap technique — and its resulting thick, heavy bass lines — became one of the more distinctive sounds of the era. He’s been involved in a series of other projects since then, including Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade and Oysterhead, a jam-band supergroup that included Trey Anastasio of Phish and Stewart Copeland of The Police.

But on his latest two albums, “Of Whales and Woe” (2006) and “Of Fungi and Foe” (2009), Claypool stuck with his own name for the first time.

Those previous albums and bands basically were solo projects with a rotating cast of background players, Claypool said, but his latest tends to stand on its own. “So now I’ve dropped the whole second moniker, partially because my agent said he was tired of booking shows and not knowing who I was showing up with,” he said.

“Fungi,” he said, is “a little moodier, it gets different shades of dark and light. “It kind of reminds me of a cross between some old Peter Gabriel and Captain Beefheart. I just like the vibe of it.”

You might be wondering why all Claypool’s projects involve animals in some way, between the pig masks, Frog Brigade, Oysterhead, “Of Whales and Woe” — Primus once was even called “Primate.” Frankly, Claypool is wondering that, too.

“I think that might be a question for some form of analyst,” he said. “Because I really don’t know. I tend to like animals, I guess.  I don’t really know why they keep creeping back in my world. Maybe it’s the whole Gary Larson thing.”

Even that wine he’s got in the works hails from the animal kingdom: Purple Pachyderm Pinot Noir.

But in addition to all that, Claypool also has become the go-to man for a particular brand of project that appeals to a certain demographic of cartoon-watching gamers: He has written the theme songs for the shows “South Park” and “Robot Chicken,” soundtracked the game “Mushroom Men” for the Nintendo Wii and contributed a new Primus song to “Guitar Hero 2,” one of the game’s few original tracks.

His kids have the game, but Claypool said he still hasn’t picked up the plastic guitar and tried it. “But I probably would suck,” he said. “I have real guitars. I’m an old guy. Cartman said it well: ‘Real guitars are for old people.’”

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