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King of the Rat Brigade - Les Claypool
By Matthew S. Robinson
(more articles from this author)
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When he is not ripping it up with Primus, bass-master (and avid salmon fisherman) Les Claypool has been laying it down with a wide variety of co-conspirators. Recent side projects have included work with Geddy Lee and Neil Peart (Rush), a project called Oysterhead with Trey Anastasio (Phish) and Stewart Copeland (The Police, Animal Logic), and his latest set-up, The Rat Brigade, which features keyboardist Jeff Chimenti (RatDog) and former Primus drummer Jay Lane (also of RatDog).

So why has Les gotten so into working outside of the seas of cheese? Le{t'}s find out...

[Matthew] You've been dabbling in a lot of new projects recently.

[Les] I'm the Old Dabbler!

[Matthew] Is there something you'd like to find?

[Les] Yes, fun. Fun and fulfillment. I'm just having fun! It's kinda' like I reached a point in my career where I have a little time off and people aren't getting mad at me for doing side projects. And I was thrust into the Oysterhead thing - or it sort of fell into my lap - and it was just this wonderful, amazing, eye-opening thing for me and I'm just excited to play with a lot of people. And that's what I've been doing. None of it's calculated to make money or to sell records or any of that stuff. It's what I've been doing for a while. Not that Primus is a conforming type of creative entity - we're sort of the anti-culture or whatever - but, you know it is about 'Make a record Go out and tour behind it. Make a record. Go out and tour behind it.' This stuff is 'Why don't you go play and have some fun?!' That's what I've been doing. I'm having fun!

[Matthew] Are there any of your current projects that you hope will really develop? Are there any people you'd like to get back with again or any new people you'd like to play with?

[Les] It seems like everything I've done so far I want to do again and again and again. The Oysterhead thing was phenomenal. I would do that in a heartbeat if we weren't all so busy. Maybe we'll do that again sometime. We'll see what happens with this band. I always love playing with Jay Lane and Jeff Chimenti is a new thing for me and he's fabulous so- I'm like a kid in a candy store, you know. I mean I was talking to John Scofield today and now he's supposed to sit in with me, so I'm going 'Oh my gosh! I'm gonna' play with John Scofield!' So it's all good! I'm just happy that I'm at a point- that I have reached a place in my life where I've had the chance to play with some phenomenal monsters. I played with Stewart Copeland. He's one of my biggest heroes ever. And Trey. And Tom Waits. Now Scofield. It's overwhelming, but it's very exciting. That's why I got into this business. That's why I picked up the instrument as a kid. I said, 'Someday, I'm gonna play with Geddy Lee.' And I played with Geddy Lee. You know? I played with Neil Peart. It's f---in' awesome. I'm a pretty lucky guy, when you think about it.

[Matthew] Who's on your short-list wish list of people to play with?

[Les] Um .... John Bonham. No- That's not gonna' happen. Um .... I dunno. Dennis Chambers .... Jimmy Page would be pretty phenomenal. I'd like to do a band with me and Stewart and Jimmy Page. Me, Stewart, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. That would be Awesome. We'd do Yardbirds songs. That would be awesome!

[Matthew] What would you call yourselves? 'The NEW New Yardbirds'?

[Les] I dunno. 'Yardbirds, 2000' maybe.

[Matthew] Are there any new specific styles of music that you'd like to explore?

[Les] Nothing in particular. I mean I'm having fun playing everything and everything's been so different. You know? I mean Jay Lane is one of the funkiest guys there is. I've known him for years and I've played with him for years and I think people are going to be surprised when they here the stuff he plays with Rat Brigade because he's a funky S.O.B. He's funky as hell. So I think it's going to be a little bit of a surprise for folks. Whether it's a good surprise or a bad surprise, we'll soon find out! (Laughs)

[Matthew] Where do you see Rat Brigade fitting in? Is it a 'jam band' or a 'rock band' or what?

[Les] We're full-on jamming. We've got very loose parameters that we're setting ourselves up with here. We're gonna' be on the edge all the time.

[Matthew] And you're completely comfortable with that?

[Les] I feel pretty comfortable. I feel comfortable because I'm playing with Jay Lane and Jeff Chimenti who are .... I mean my bass could explode and those guys would be just fine without me. And Kenny Brooks has been talking about coming out and John Scofield has been talking about coming out. I mean I'm more nervous about playing with John Scofield than anything!

[Matthew] What is your favorite bass string?

[Les] Carl Thompson.

[Matthew] No- the string!

[Les] Carl Thompson- Oh you mean which actual string?

[Matthew] Yes.

[Les] Oh, I was talking about a brand.

[Matthew] Right.

[Les] Oh, I dunno. That's like asking-

[Matthew] Favorite child for a mother?

[Les] Well, I wouldn't go that far, but it's like saying which tire on your car do you like the best. It could be the right rear or it could be the left front.

[Matthew] How has Les Claypool developed as an artist?

[Les] How have I developed?

[Matthew] Yes.

[Les] How the hell should I know? I guess I'm becoming more comfortable just playing. I used to do a lot of it. I didn't for a while and now I'm doing it again. Casual playing, that is. I'm just doing casual stuff and feeling very comfortable with it. I used to do a lot of that. I was in a band and that's how we made our living- We played three to five sets a night three to five days a week and that's what I did for my $50 a night.

[Matthew] Being a salmon fisherman, do you have any thoughts about getting together with Ian Anderson- playing in a band and opening a salmon business?

[Les] Is he a big salmon guy?

[Matthew] He makes smoked salmon when he's not touring.

[Les] Ian Anderson does, really?

[Matthew] Yeah! It might be a nice double collaboration.

[Les] Hmm. Maybe. I didn't know that. But I'd like to play with Ian Anderson,. That would be pretty funky .... [In a high, silly voice[ 'Oh the minstrel in the gallery...' (Laughs).

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