Published on May 3rd, 2006 | by The Beige Baron


Les Claypool Interview

“Five gallons of diesel,” drawls Les Claypool in an unmistakable and fairly precise Aussie accent. “You know where that’s from don’t ya?”

Mad Max  — I choose to take this as Les expressing his love of those things Australian, even if they are road-pirates from an apocalyptic fictional world. Les, you are a legend.

5 Gallons of Diesel  is the new DVD from the maestro of bass and weaver of weird tales and is the most comprehensive glimpse into this man as you can get. Granted, it holds no Primus material, but then Primus is a different beast entirely. This is a look at all of Claypool’s various “side” projects: Sausage, Holy Mackerel, Oysterhead, Frog Brigade, Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, 3 Guys Named Schmo and various other grabs.

Apart from the clips, live sets and behind the scenes footage, all resplendent in their bizarre madness, we also get a glimpse into the normal life of Les. This is delivered in the form of two episodes of Fly Fishing Around The World, a television program that guest-features celebrities, takes them fly-fishing and cuts the relaxing and amusing footage with introspective interviews, all shot in the peaceful surroundings of lakes and rivers. With this, we meet the Claypool family and get what is probably the closest look yet at the relatively normal man behind the madman of his art.

Speaking to Les is the same, as the image I have of him is that mad genius on stage, but his spoken words show that underneath he is essentially a normal family man who likes fishing and making music. I asked him about the release of 5 Gallons of Diesel.

“You know, you just go out and you do stuff. You do all this stuff and you come home and there’s this pile. There’s this huge pile of footage from everything you’ve done. My manager came up with the idea and I just said, ‘Go for it.’ I certainly didn’t have the time to sit down and go through it all because I’ve got so many things happening right now. I’m really happy with it because folks outside of the USA have never had a chance to see any of it live. They may never get a chance to see Sausage or Holy Mackerel, so it is good for people to have that visual reference for the music.”

One thing that has always piqued my interest is this man’s style of lyrical writing. There are no clichéd pop lines here. Instead, Les writes in a storyteller style, spinning fables of Jerry the Racecar Driver, Tommy the Cat, Harold of the Rocks, Nature Boy, Southbound Pachyderms, the Tyranny of the Hunt, the coming of the Bastards and of course, fish. Sometimes these tales are just fun romps, but sometimes they are scathing social commentary delivered in metaphors.

“It keeps me interested. That is the sort of thing that keeps me going. Guys like Gordon Lightfoot, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash and more recently Tom Waits all have this deep sense of meaning for me. All the big folk singers over the past century, who helped convey our history through music. They are the sorts of artists I have always looked up to.”

Another thing that had been on my mind was an album I came across called Be Careful What You Wish For, by Gabby La La, a strange pixie-sounding girl playing sitar and ukulele — presented by Les Claypool.

“Gabby is an incredible sitar player; she was Ali Akbar Khan’s master student for 12 years. She appears on Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains and a couple of other things I have done. I think she has this modern Kate Bush or Laurie Anderson thing about her. I asked her if she had any of her own material and she pulled out all these magical little tunes she had written — I don’t usually produce stuff because I just don’t have the spare time, but I wanted to produce this. It just has this energy about it. You know something? Not a single piece of digital equipment was used in the making of that album.”

If you get the chance, have a listen to Be Careful What You Wish For; it may not be your cup of tea, but it certainly is interesting — and Les plays bass on a few tracks.

Apart from that, what else does Mr Claypool have cooking up in his kitchen at the moment?

“Well, I’ve been doing a lot of touring in the States lately, which was one of the inspirations behind this DVD. I have a couple of records in various stages of completion, plus a solo project happening.”

That is good to hear… three upcoming releases from the hands of Claypool.

“Then there’s this film I’m directing.” I beg your pardon? “Yeah, I’m directing my first feature film. I’m supposed to be working on it now.”

Les? You are a bass-playing, songwriting, performing master, but the directing of a feature film? “I have always had a lot to do with the filming and putting together of my clips and directing is something I’ve always wanted to try out. The film is almost done, we just have to shoot a few more scenes and then do all the finishing on it. We have already sent a rough copy to Sundance and I think it has been selected.”

WTF?! What is the film about then? “Yeah, it is a mock-umentary about a band called Electric Apricot.”

Well, that is certainly some interesting news. Les Claypool: director. I cannot wait to see the result. Is Les going to be able to handle this mountainous plate he has lumped himself with? “At the moment, I feel like I’m juggling. I’m just keeping those balls in the air. Keeping ’em in the air–”

Any chance we might get to see this mighty juggler out here anytime soon?

“I can’t wait to get back to Australia to tour. Which band it will be, I don’t know, but I love coming down there. You guys are great.”

Go and buy 5 Gallons of Diesel  now. It is a fantastic look at a fantastic man and his music.

 — By Golly

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Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.

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