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With shock-star sales exploding through the roof, weird seems to be paying off nowadays. Primus bass thumper and singer Les Claypool would seem to take the cake in this arena, penning frighteningly visual ditties about about the spawning patterns of sturgeon, the expanses of somebody’s “big, brown beaver,” and the illustrious abodes of “Professor Nutbutter’s House of Treats” and “Bob’s Party Time Lounge.”

But for someone who counts filmmakers Sam Raimi, the Coen brothers, and Terry Gilliam among his heroes, Claypool is just a bit too laid-back. On tour to promote Primus’ down-to-earth new release, Brown Album, the trio seems a little furtive about its zany side. Claypool is reluctant to be pulled away from an episode of The Nanny to do the interview. Guitarist Larry LaLonde and new drummer Brain have been seen of late sporting trendy DC skateboard shoes, consolation prizes for having mainstream appeal and some WHFS airplay.

There’s no fantasia about Sathington Willoughby today. Claypool is not giving out pointers on snaring pachyderms or twiddling off a jig on his banjo. He’d rather be telling us about his wife and new children or his disappointment at playing the 9:30 Club on a Wednesday as opposed to a more profitable Saturday.

Traditionally for Primus, which started its journey in 1984, conventional has never been the style. If anything, Claypool, LaLonde, and original drummer Tim Alexander earned a rep as straight-up maniacs.

Self-produced claymation shorts featuring humanoid insects and heads frying in skillets comprised the band’s early videos. But recently their imagery has graduated to duels between Duracell-family cowboys.

All this seems to complement the band’s primitive drum and bass—a clickety-clack of mathematical bass slappings, Zappa guitar, and chugging rhythms.

Claypool’s side projects, all of which have included references to some fish or pig obsession, and his recent scoring of Comedy Central’s South Park, only reinforce the image of a band working on the fringes of sanity.

Parallels between Primus, Devo, and the drunken-sage storytelling of William S. Burroughs seem evident, but the band quickly shies from such comparisons.

“I think Devo’s great, but it’s beyond what we’re doing, as far as being left of center,” says Claypool, rather dispassionately.

Primus, comfortable with the middle? What of Del Davis’ tree farm and the game of fisticuffs? The electric grapevine and Duchess and the proverbial mind spread? What about Mud, Captain Shiner, and Sergeant Baker, Jerry the race-car driver, Harold of the Rocks, and Los Bastardos? Is this visage of craziness one big brown joke?

Could be. Claypool says he’d rather be at home by the fireplace, warming to a passage of Charles Bukowski or—gulp—Jean Shepherd. These days, the 33-year-old prefers playing with his kids to sailing the seas of cheese with John the Fisherman.

“I have a great job. I have a great life. The band’s doing great, and I can’t complain,” he says, matter-of-factly.

Oh great! Primus sucks.CP