When three of the earliest members of Primus decided to take its reunion to a new level by following up its 2010 tour with a new album, "Green Naugahyde," the band turned into something that many fans might not have expected - a truly collaborative trio.
To be sure, bassist/singer Les Claypool remained a prime force when it came to songwriting. But guitarist Larry "Ler" LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane also made significant contributions to the music on "Green Naugahyde." LaLonde, who had contributed to the music before, but never written all of the music for any Primus song, wrote the music to two of the new songs ("Eternal Consumption Engine" and "Hoinfodaman") and has a co-writing credit on five other tracks. Lane contributed music to five songs.
In a recent interview, La-Londe explained how his sudden outburst of music happened.
"Most (earlier) Primus albums kind of came from, we tour, tour, tour, and then get off tour and go in and start making an album," he said. "You've got to go into the studio with not having a lot of ideas and start writing in the studio and coming up off the cuff with a lot of stuff. This time, since there was a little bit of a break before this album, I had stockpiled a lot of song ideas. So I'd come in there and go 'Hey, I've got this song idea.' I had a lot of song ideas. There was time to sort of get them together.
"And with the technology now, it's kind of easy to find them (the song ideas), whereas back in the day it was like 'OK, where are all those song ideas that are on a cassette?'" LaLonde explained. "Now it's like I pull up my computer and my phone, and I've kind of got it organized, which for a guy like me, that's what I need. I'm not good at keeping takes and finding things. That probably added to it a lot just being able to physically find all of the song ideas."
The greater involvement of LaLonde, in particular, brought some fresh nuances to the Primus sound on "Green Naugahyde," but the band's idiosyncratic, syncopated sound - often built around Claypool's virtuosic, fast-popping bass parts - is still very much intact.
Tracks like "Last Salmon Man," "Hennepin Crawler" and "Tragedy's a Comin'" are among those that sound like prototypical Primus, and the band's humor remains evident, even in the whimsical music of the playful oddity "Eternal Consumption Engine."
"A lot of Primus songs, if they start with a bass riff, it kind of leads you in that one direction," LaLonde said. "There was a fair amount this time that started with a guitar riff and it definitely changes it a little bit. But it's still Primus. It doesn't get too far off of what the actual sound is."
Claypool started developing the Primus sound when the group originally formed in the mid-1980s, recording demos with Lane and guitarist Todd Huth in the original lineup. But by the time the first Primus studio CD, 1990's "Frizzle Fry," arrived, Lane and Huth had both left the group.
Claypool then assembled a new lineup with LaLonde and drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander (later replaced by Bryan "Brain" Mantia), and over the next decade, the group carved out a singular style built around angular melodies, Claypool's multi-faceted bass playing and lyrics that frequently had an absurdist's bent.
The group made six studio albums before going on hiatus in 2001. And while there were Primus reunions in 2003 and 2006, the latest reunion has been different. That's partly because it's the first time Claypool, LaLonde and Lane have been full-time band members together, and because with "Green Naugahyde," this reunion produced the first full-length Primus CD since 1999's "Antipop."
It's been a busy reunion period as well. The band toured before convening to make "Green Naugahyde," and then did a good deal of touring to support the album after it was released in 2011.
Then last fall, the band returned to the road again, but this time with major twists. The band did two full sets, and more significantly, added 3-D technology to turn the visual aspect of the show into a very different experience. The band is now back for a new run of dates on the 3-D tour.
LaLonde said the 3-D show was an outgrowth of the earlier touring behind "Green Naugahyde."
"We had this screen behind us, and we were trying to incorporate some images," LaLonde said. "With a lot of our songs, we try to include different types of visuals with them a lot of times. So then we had the idea to get a screen behind us because that's kind of feasible these days. So we've had that going for about a year now and it's been working pretty well. We sort of have like a visualizer that kind of, the music hits it and it sort of responds to the music. So it's kind of cool because we do a lot of just kind of jamming sometimes and we'll have visuals to play off it.
"So then someone had the idea of hey, we should try 3-D," he said. "So we kind of started investigating that, and we found these guys and they had the whole technology."
So now, Primus' show features three-dimensional imagery projected from screens behind the band. Fans will be given 3-D glasses so they can see the footage that is in 3-D.
"It seems like we're going to be kind of floating in a sea of 3-D imagery," LaLonde said, adding that he can't resist putting on the 3-D glasses at times during the show to share in the experience. "So if you hear any guitar mistakes, that's probably because I'm checking out the 3-D."
Musically, the shows figure to be pretty epic experiences, with Primus playing two full sets of material drawn from across its career. LaLonde said this lineup, with Lane's drumming talents added to the equation, is well suited to opening up certain songs for improvisation.
"Jay is definitely one of those drummers that's, like Les is always saying, is very good at listening and jamming and playing along," LaLonde said. "You can kind of follow each other a lot when you have a guy like that. Probably another big factor is 10 years ago, people probably weren't as used to seeing a band that was kind of opening up their songs and changing them and stuff. Now I think people are a little more excited to hear things be a little different than the record or something added to it or in some way a tiny bit different."
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