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PRIMUS AND MASTODON

All Them Witches

“It’s a story about gluttonous individuals sucking the colors out of the world,” says
Primus singer/bassist Les Claypool. “The overuse of resources by the greedy
elite, and how the meek masses can overcome them in the end by unifying. It
seemed pretty relevant these days.”


The tale Claypool is describing comes from a 1978 children’s book called The
Rainbow Goblins by the Italian author and artist Ui de Rico, and it forms the basis
for the new Primus album coming out September 29, The Desaturating Seven. In
the story—which is accompanied by stunning illustrations, done in oil paints on
wood panels—seven goblins come to the valley where rainbows are born,
intending to steal the rainbows and eat them. The valley, though, knows that the
goblins are coming, and makes a plan to thwart the wicked creatures by hiding
the rainbow. After the goblins are caught in their own nets, the flowers release
the colors of the rainbow and drown the goblins, and in gratitude, the rainbow
turns the flowers into beautiful birds who fly across the valley in freedom.
“My wife got turned onto it when she was a kid, and we started reading it to my
children when they were very young,” says Claypool. “It became a bedtime story
favorite. It always came across a bit frightening, like an old Grimm’s fairy tale—a
little dark and creepy, which seemed very much up my strasse.”


Claypool found particular inspiration in de Rico’s paintings for The Rainbow
Goblins. “The artwork is just amazing,” he says. “There’s a beauty but also a dark
eeriness for this compelling, sinister story. The paintings are incredible, vibrant,
very unique looking—it’s a good contrast between dark and light visually and also
metaphorically. And there’s always been a strong visual element to Primus.”
Indeed, taking inspiration from a wide range of sources was part of what made
Primus one of the most distinctive, innovative bands of the 1990s. The trio’s
alt/punk/avant-­garde/psychedelic/country attack, along with Claypool's surreal,
fever-­dream lyrics, resulted in some of rock’s unlikeliest hits, including "Tommy the
Cat," "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver," and "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver." The
Desaturating Seven marks the return of the definitive Primus line-­up—Claypool,
guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde, and drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander—for its first
album of original music since 1995.


Starting as an underground phenomenon in San Francisco, the band’s cult grew
rapidly. Such albums as Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991), Pork Soda (1993),
and Tales from the Punch Bowl (1995) all went gold and or platinum, and Primus
toured with some of rock's biggest names—U2, Jane's Addiction, Public Enemy,
Rush—and headlined the third Lollapalooza festival.


Alexander left and rejoined Primus several times, and Claypool alternated between
the band and such other projects as Oysterhead (with Trey Anastasio and Stewart
Copeland) and the Claypool Lennon Delirium, alongside Sean Lennon. In 2014,
Alexander returned for the Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi
Ensemble album, on which the group covered the iconic soundtrack to the 1971
film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.


Staying in the fantasyland of children’s stories, Claypool decided to tackle the
adaptation of The Rainbow Goblins. “The challenge was to write music about
goblins and rainbows and not come off overly clichéd,” he says. “I didn’t want to
be overly literal either—there are very few straight-­up lines from the book in the
lyrics, more like hints at metaphors.” He started off with the story’s climactic
moment, which became the nearly-­eight-­minute epic “The Storm.”


“I wrote that and recorded some bass and vocals, and I played it over the phone
for Larry,” says Claypool. “I worried that I was going too far down the 70’s
art/prog path, I didn’t want it to come off cheesy. But he loved it, and then so did
our manager, which inspired me to keep going.”


With that central piece down, Claypool started fleshing out the journey of the
book, creating an introduction, “The Valley,” that established some of the themes
that thread through much of the music. From there, it became a matter of working
through the story and building a cohesive structure.


“Originally it was going to be one giant piece, but some parts didn’t match up,”
says Claypool. “You get these epiphanies and then you hit a wall—I was rolling
along and then ‘The Trek’ really hung me up. ‘The Dream’ was an odd one, tough
to wrangle, but a good contrast—very dark and sparse, then there are these big
percussive hits and then at the end, away it goes, into this early Peter Gabriel-­ish
rhythm.”


Having to maintain a story line represented a new sort of challenge for Claypool’s
writing. “When you have a narrative, it puts up parameters,” he says. “It gives you
interesting jumping-­off points, but it can also make it more difficult. Those
confines can propel you forward or hold you back a little bit. But using someone
else’s art for inspiration certainly opens doors you wouldn’t on your own.”
Musically, The Desaturating Seven led Primus back to some of the sounds and
styles of their earlier days. “This record hearkens back to our prog roots—Rush,
Yes, Crimson, all those things,” says Claypool. “It’s a little heavier than the last
record, more intricate than anything we’ve done in a while.”


Which, he adds, made these songs ideal as a return to working with Tim
Alexander on original material. “This stuff is totally In his wheelhouse,” says
Claypool. “Intricate and melodic drumming is what Tim does, what naturally
comes out of him.”


From its inception, Claypool approached The Desaturating Seven music with an
eye toward presenting it on stage. “As I was laying it out, I was already thinking
about how it could be performed trunk-­to-­tail,” he says. Now he’s in the process
of planning a tour that will feature a complete performance of the new record—a
show with a set of Primus material and then “an entire set of Goblin Rock, with
full production and fancy eye candy.”


For Les Claypool, sailing the seas of The Rainbow Goblins represents the
completion of an idea he’s been kicking around for a long time. “Twenty years
ago, I thought it would be great to turn it into music someday, but I’m just getting
around to it now,” he says. “It was kind of a back-­burner thing—but as I get older,
I have to get through those, because at some point, I’m going to open up a hot
dog stand and say goodbye.”


In the end, though, for all its specific requirements and obstacles, The
Desaturating Seven came down to finding a way to let Primus be Primus. “Every
time, it’s like building the Golden Gate Bridge out of a pile of popsicle sticks,”
says Claypool. “You have a certain amount of sticks and you have to figure out
how to make it work. But I’ve been working with these particular sticks for a long
while, so I tend to know where to put them.

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Showings

Primus TN.jpg
  • Fri, May 25, 2018
  • Doors - 6:00 PM
    Concert - 7:00PM
  • Cool Insuring Arena
    Glens Falls, New York
  • All Them Witches
  • $49.50 / $39.50 / $29.50
  • All Ages Admitted / 21 to drink