Primus: Antipop, Pro-collaboration

Personality counts for a lot in the rock world. A sufficiently colorful sense of style can compensate for a host of musical sins. Of course, Primus has never faced a style-versus-substance dilemma. Ever since its inception some 15 years ago, the trio has been gleefully hammering out an oddball blend of crunching rock, taut funk and wacked-out surrealism both deftly executed and luridly eccentric.

Though the San Francisco trio's latest effort, Antipop, isn't a radical departure from the Primusine norm, frontman/bassist Les Claypool, drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia and guitarist Larry LaLonde upped the creativity quotient this time by welcoming a number of guests into the fold. Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello played on and produced three tracks ("Electric Uncle Sam," "Mama Didn't Raise No Fool," "Power Mad"); Stewart Copeland produced "Dirty Drowning Man"; Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst provided a production assist on "Laquerhead"; old pal Tom Waits made a cameo on "Coattails of a Dead Man" and the Metallica's James Hetfield and ex-Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin combined forces with Primus on the Pink Floydian "Eclectic Electric." The resulting gaggle of songs is entirely Primus and more -- the visitations seemed to bring out different facets of the band even when there aren't guests playing. The Funkadelic-esque "Ballad of Bodacious" grinds in an earthier groove than Primus have plumbed previously and the aforementioned sprawl of "Eclectic Electric" takes Primus' heady psychedelia in a loftier direction.

For all the eccentric vibes that he and his bandmates channel, guitarist Larry "Ler" LaLonde is a pretty down-to-earth dude, as recently discovered. This album is full of pleasant surprises. You don't sound fundamentally different, but all the guest players seem to enhance what Primus do. Did you get to a point where you wanted to bring in other people to keep challenging yourself?

Larry LaLonde: It's mostly about trying to come up with things you haven't heard before -- which never happens. For this album we brought in a lot of other people to work with just for fun. Just cause they actually said "yes" (chuckles). Never pass up a chance to work with Tom Waits. The same with Stewart Copeland. It's like "Whoa! He said he'll actually do it! I guess we've got to do it now." Was that kind of intimidating?

LaLonde: Well, at first we didn't know what to expect because we actually knew Tom [Waits] for a while so that wasn't a big deal, but Stewart Copeland -- we had never met him or anything. But once he showed up and we met him he was the coolest guy and super easy to work with. It was fun. We really didn't know what to expect, but it turned out that everyone was super fun to work with. Was it weird to share your space with other guitarists?

LaLonde: Yeah. I haven't really worked much with other guitar players except for this Frank Zappa cover band me and [Primus drummer] Brain are in [called Caca], but that's about the extent of working with other guitar players. Did you get in each other's way? Power trios have that special dynamic. Was it weird to adapt it to other people -- specially someone as unconventional as Tom Morello?

LaLonde: I didn't know what to expect cause I didn't know how it was going to work out, but it was super fun. It seemed like it was really easy to play off of him 'cause in some sense we both sort of have the same kind of style, where [we look at guitar as] just a piece of wood with strings on it. Other than that, the people actually playing on the record were James from Metallica and Jim Martin who used to be in Faith No More, and theirs [was just like piece work]. They came in and jammed and I just soloed over the top of it so there wasn't really much to it. Pretty simple. Did you and Tom write "Eclectic Electric" together?

LaLonde: No, we'd actually kind of put it together as sort of a jam -- loosely written configurations and then they came in and played after. Was it an intentional ode to Pink Floyd?

LaLonde: It just kind of happened. When you listen to probably as much Pink Floyd as we have over the years you can't help it. Were all the rest of the collaborations like that -- loosely mapped out ahead of time?

LaLonde: For ["Coattails of a Dead Man"], the one with Tom [Waits], Les had an idea for this arrangement and when Tom came in and started playing, it totally changed 100 percent. Even the time signature changed. [We] just figured out what Tom was playing and went along with that. It's definitely a "which of these things is not like the others" situation -- a bit of a carnival-esque mood swing there at the end of the album.

LaLonde: It definitely shifts gears. That had to be the last song too, cause what are you gonna play after that? [laughs] Is it ever imposing to play with a bassist like Les? He's so central to the music -- I'd think a lot of guitarists might resent a bassist who takes up so much turf.

LaLonde: It actually makes it kind of easier in a way 'cause you can do whatever you want as far as guitars go. Frank Zappa's always been the main guy I listen to for that, and if you listen to when he's doing a solo, it's like the whole band is soloing -- like a drum solo going on behind him and some weird time signature, and that's always the way I've heard it. So it makes it pretty easy for me. It would probably be harder if it was more straight. I would think it would be harder to navigate your way around.

LaLonde: Nah. It makes it easier 'cause there's more stuff to listen to so you can mess up and nobody will notice as much. Before Primus, what sorts of bands were you in?

LaLonde: I started in heavy metal, death metal bands (anyone remember Possessed?-- ed), and after that it was just like punk bands. You never ventured into jazz or anything like that?

LaLonde: No. I was always into it and was always listening to that stuff. I was listening to the Dead Kennedys tons which to me -- some of it was almost jazz, you know? It was so out there. When did you start playing guitar?

LaLonde: When I was 12. I went to see Rush, and then the next weekend saw Van Halen, and then bugged my mom to get a guitar. [When] I went to see Rush I didn't even know what the hell was going on. The first band came out and I was like -- is that Rush? I don't know. [laughs] Then when I saw Van Halen I was like, "Yeah -- this is shredding. I've got to get a guitar." Were Eddie Van Halen and Alex Lifeson role models for you?

LaLonde: Totally. I used to get in fights with people in high school who said Eddie Van Halen sucked. There was one guy that I got in a fight with because he said Angus Young was better than Eddie Van Halen. Did you come to blows?

LaLonde: Close. I wasn't having any of that. Is there a guitarist you've always wanted to sound like but just can't, and yet that helped improve your sound. For example, one of the reasons Mick Jagger is so great is because he couldn't sound like Muddy Waters. His brilliant failure to sound like Waters is one of the things that made the Stones great. Has there ever been anyone like that for you?

LaLonde: I'm constantly trying to sound like Zappa. Every guitar solo I do, I'm trying to play like Frank, but just can't quite pull it off. What was your first live gig like?

LaLonde: It was killer. I was playing my Strat copy, had my checkered sleeveless shirt on. We were like 13, and it was all covers. The first song was "Wasted" by Def Leppard. It was at some park where every year they'd these outdoor events, and all the local bands would play. We were pretty scared. Were your parents concerned when they saw you merging into the rock 'n' roll lane?

LaLonde: They thought it was pretty much a bunch of nonsense. And they were right!

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