Les Claypool Discusses Flying Frog Brigade, Whamola Wieners, Pilot License
Photo Credit: Paul Haggard
Few rock artists of the modern day remain as consistently busy – or a member of as many projects – as singer/bassist Les Claypool. Best known for his work with Primus, Claypool has also been spotted over the years in a variety of other bands – Sausage, Holy Mackerel, Oysterhead, Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, Duo de Twang, and Claypool Lennon Delirium.
And beginning in May, another one of his projects, Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, will be returning to the road for the first time in 20 years with the 41-date Summer of Green Tour 2023. And as they had done on their 2001 release, Live Frogs Set 2, Claypool and co. will be covering Pink Floyd’s 1977 classic, Animals, in its entirety.
Claypool spoke with AllMusic shortly before the launch of the tour, and chatted about the current Frog Brigade lineup, Pink Floyd, Primus’ most overlooked album, his winery, and recently obtaining his pilot license.
AllMusic: What made you decide to reunite the Flying Frog Brigade now?
Claypool: “There were just a lot of requests over the years. My manager, Brad, kept talking about how there was a whole generation of folks that felt they missed the original Frog Brigade, missed the Animals thing. So, we’d always talked about it, and we had a big ‘Primus couple of years,’ so it was time to take a little breather and it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
AllMusic: Who will be in the band?
Claypool: “Because Frog Brigade and the Claypool projects in general have been varied over the years, it’s sort of a mixed cast of characters. I’ve got Sean Lennon on guitar this time, I’ve got Harry Waters on keyboards, Skerik on sax, Mike Dillon on his various marimb-eye, vibraphone-age, and percussion, and then Paulo Baldi on drums.”
AllMusic: You’re also in another band with Sean [The Claypool Lennon Delirium], but how did he get involved with Flying Frog Brigade?
Claypool: “Well…I needed a guitar player. And Shiner and I have been working on a third Delirium record, so I just said, ‘Hey, do you want to do this thing?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ So, it was pretty simple. We’re going to be doing stuff from my whole catalog, so theoretically, we can dip into some Delirium now. It’s going to be a smorg-e-bob of Claypool material.”
AllMusic: You just referred to Sean as “Shiner.” How did he get that nickname?
Claypool: “Because he’s ‘Shine Lemons.’ He’s been Shine Lemons for a long time, so I’ve always called him Shiner. We’re like brothers now – he’s very close with my family. It’s very rare for someone to exist in my world and not have some pseudonym that’s thrust upon them by my warped sensibility.”
AllMusic: How was Animals selected to be covered in its entirety and what does that album mean to you?
Claypool: “Well, many years ago when I started Frog Brigade, in response to the Primus hiatus [from 2000-2003] – which was just a fancy way of saying, ‘Hey, we’re breaking up…but we might do it again’ – I got a keyboard player in the band, who was Jeff Chimenti. I basically just gathered a bunch of my favorite musicians together and started touring the west coast in an Airstream motor home.
And I’d always said, ‘If I had a keyboardist in my band, I wanted to do ‘Pigs” – because it’s one of my all-time favorite songs…definitely one of my favorite Floyd songs. So, we started doing ‘Pigs,’ and I thought, ‘Well, hell – let’s do the whole record. We’ll do two sets and we won’t have to have an opening band.’ That’s how it all started. Then it became a challenge – especially back then, because I really had very little confidence in my vocals in those days. It was an immense undertaking and a great waypoint for growth for me.”
AllMusic: What are Primus’ future plans?
Claypool: “We’ll be out there doing our stuff. We’re working on a bunch of live records right now, trying to get those together. There’s a documentary being made right now. In fact, my son is spearheading that. And he’s gone through nine hundred and some odd hours of video footage that we’ve accumulated over the years – so he’s got a pretty monumental task in front of him. But he’s chiseling away at it.”
AllMusic: Any talk of going back in the studio with Primus?
Claypool: “Oh, there’s always talk. I’ve got a pretty full dance card right now, so it won’t be anytime soon.”
AllMusic: Which Primus album would you say is the most overlooked?
Claypool: “They’re all overlooked – that’s the crux of my career! We were hoping to make a big splash with [1997’s] The Brown Album when we did it – because it was just such a left turn. And it was a very controversial record – a lot of people loved it, a lot of people hated it. I know Tom Waits has said that’s his favorite Primus record, because he says, ‘It sounds like it needs a good wash.’ So, I’ve always prided myself on that.
But I don’t think it was the favorite of the record company by a long shot. That’s when they started going, ‘Hey whoa hey whoa, Claypool – maybe you should start talking to some producers,’ and this, that, and the next thing. So, I’ll just say that one. It was a very experimental record for us – we bought a bunch of old gear and set it up. It was very lo-fi. There’s no Pro Tools or anything on any of that stuff – it was all just tape. I don’t think we even did any overdubs on that record. It’s very, very raw – and you can tell.”
AllMusic: Recently, the book Over the Electric Grapevine: Insight into Primus and the World of Les Claypool was reissued as a paperback version.
Claypool: “Never heard of it! What are you talking about? [Laughs] Yeah, it’s been released as a paperback. I think it’s been supplemented with more photography and whatnot. But it’s almost to the point where we have to do an update/revision – because it’s been several years since the original has been released. Obviously, Herb’s been back in the band for a while, and we’ve been tromping around the globe doing somewhat interesting things – Willy Wonka [Primus & the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble] and Rush [A Tribute to Kings tour] and all these different projects. I’m sure there’s a couple tales to tell.”
AllMusic: Which Purple Pachyderm wine is your favorite?
Claypool: “I would probably say the Rice-Spivak [the ‘CC Pachyderm’ Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir], because I just always gravitate towards that. But they’re all amazing because they’re made by Ross Cobb. I always say, ‘I’m in a band with Stewart Copeland [Oysterhead, with Trey Anastasio] which is an amazing thing, and I make wine with Ross Cobb, which is equally as amazing’ – because he’s kind of the ‘Stewart Copeland of wine makers.'”
AllMusic: I recently spotted an interesting hot dog [called “whamola wieners”] served at Claypool Cellars, which included Lucky Charms as a topping.
Claypool: “For the holidays, I usually come up with a specialty dog. So, St. Patty’s day was coming, and what are we going to do? So, we had our normal wiener – but with yellow mustard as opposed to wholegrain mustard, dill pickle relish not sweet pickle relish, and then Lucky Charms on top. It started as a joke, but it’s actually really good! It’s magically delicious – but it freaks some people out. But that’s kind of the point. We just did an event last weekend – we did a Sailing the Seas of Cheeseburger. Which was amazing – it was two smash patties with slices of cheddar and Swiss cheese, bleu cheese dressing, and cheddar cheese Goldfish on top of it.”
AllMusic: Who are some current rock artists that you fancy?
Claypool: “Fancy? Contemporary stuff, I’m not even sure. Obviously, I get my dose of Billy Strings – because he’s a buddy of mine. But I think as far as a musician, Billy is a force to be reckoned with.”
AllMusic: What are some uncommon albums you enjoy?
Claypool: “All I do these days is I put on the MoogTube playlist on Spotify, let it run, and let it just wash over me. So, that’s where my head’s at these days. It’s all Moog synthesizer music, but it’s all interesting variations.”
AllMusic: Other upcoming projects?
Claypool: “I’m halfway through this Delirium record, I’m halfway through a record with Billy, we actually put some energy recently in trying to get a South of the Pumphouse film made. It’s always something. And I got my pilot license – that’s the big thing. I’ve spent the last four months basically focusing on nothing but getting my pilot license – which was an incredible amount of work. I would get up at 7am every morning and study until dark, and I was just a hermit – I isolated myself until I got my license. So, I’m happy to be social again.”
AllMusic: What made you want to become a pilot?
Claypool: “Well, I had started many years ago and never finished. So I thought, ‘Well, I’d better finish. I’m not getting any younger.’ And I was looking for something – I needed a new chapter. So, this is my new chapter. Sometimes, you need to find things that make you want to get up in the morning or fire the synapse. It definitely knocked a whole hell of a lot of barnacles off my synapse – because I was using parts of brain I hadn’t used ever in my life. And fortunately – I can attest to this – there’s no stupid people flying airplanes. There might be some assholes out there…but they’re intelligent assholes, because you have to be sharp to get your pilot license.”
AllMusic: What type of plane do you fly?
Claypool: “A Cirrus SR20.”
AllMusic: Now that I think about it, there are quite a few rock musicians who are also pilots – Bruce Dickinson, Krist Novoselic, and Alex Lifeson come to mind.
Claypool: “Alex used to fly. I know Krist – in fact, we were going back and forth when I was getting my license. I don’t know Bruce. But I don’t know a lot of musicians who have their license. You kind of named the only ones I’ve heard of. Oh, Gary Numan does, as well. That’s like 1%. So, it’s not a lot.”
For more Claypool, check out his official site.