When Primus emerged in the early ’90s, the band’s unique and colorful approach to rock music led the group to success. In the years since, drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander, guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde and bassist/frontman Les Claypool have created one of the most singular and influential bodies of work in all of music—while their shifting sound has kept them on the road and in the public eye.
Top tracks “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” “My Name Is Mud” and “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” offered hints of hard rock, funk, metal and other genres. After a three-year hiatus from 2000 to 2003, the band regrouped and started a new era: Since releasing that year’s Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People EP, the band has experimented more with long-form jams and psychedelic rock.
Now, in 2022, Primus has released Conspiranoid, a three-song EP featuring an 11-minute epic, titled “Conspiranoia.” The band is set to perform at the Grand Sierra Resort at 8 p.m., Saturday, June 18.
“We’ve kind of been joking around, like, ‘Hey, we should just do a 20-minute prog-rock song, kind of like old-school Yes and Rush,’” said guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde during a recent phone interview. “When we went in to record, we tried to do that—but we only got to around 11 1/2 or 12 minutes.”
The band’s sound is driven by the wickedly talented bass of Les Claypool; LaLonde shared how his bandmate led the recording of “Conspiranoia.”
“Les had mapped out the song as far as how he wanted it to go,” LaLonde said. “He orchestrated it; then we went in and banged it out. The end of it just kind of went until we finished. What’s there is actually live—that’s what we recorded, and we didn’t go back and edit anything or switch anything. We just blasted it out.”
Beyond the 11-minute epic, Conspiranoid features two B-sides: The chugging, stomp-along anthem “Follow the Fool,” and the experimental sci-fi creeper “Erin on the Side of Caution.”
“During the pandemic, I was mostly stuck in my studio, so I’ve got a lot of riffs and stuff,” LaLonde said. “(Conspiranoid) started off as just one song … and it kind of went well. I was on my way home, and I got the call: ‘Hey, let’s do some more,’ so I went back and ended up doing the other two. That third one (“Erin on the Side of Caution”) was some riffs I had.
“If we weren’t going on tour, we would’ve had time for a couple more. I had plenty more riffs ready to go. We didn’t really have the time to do a whole album.”
Primus is doing much more than supporting the band’s new music on their current tour. This current leg, titled A Tribute to Kings, features the band covering Rush’s A Farewell to Kings album in its entirety, in addition to performing their own music.
“We’d already been doing the Rush thing—we’ve been touring and all that—so right around New Year’s, we were like, ‘Wow, maybe we should have something new for this tour,’” LaLonde said. “I don’t know how anything works as far as marketing or anything; I don’t know if there’s some science behind it, but we just kind of felt like it’d be cool to have something new. That’s what got us in the studio. We were set up to rehearse for the tour anyway, so the two kind of went together.”
The band is certainly no stranger to full-album tours, as they toured performing their classics Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991) and Frizzle Fry (1990) on two different tours in the mid-2000s, as well as their most recent album, The Desaturating Seven (2017). They’ve even dipped their figurative toes into the world of cover albums with 2014’s Primus and the Chocolate Factory With the Fungi Ensemble, a re-imagining of the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack.
“That’s kind of what led to doing this Rush one,” LaLonde said. “It was kind of like, ‘Hey, we should go out and do some other album,’ and that kind of snowballed into us actually doing this Rush album. There are no plans for anything in the future, but it’s been fun. I’ve been waiting to do it, so I would totally be into doing something like this again.”
LaLonde described the contrasting preparations for a tour that features both new music and a handful of covers.
“There wasn’t much of a learning curve on these new songs. … Since we just played everything live anyway, we went back to re-learn the songs,” LaLonde said. “… We’re pretty bad at rehearsing. For a tour, we’ll go in and we’ll try to re-learn some things just to have some other ones to throw in the rotation, but we really don’t rehearse that much as far as just Primus. For the Rush stuff, obviously, you’ve got to go in and really keep on your toes with it. We do have some other songs that, if we want to throw them in, there are some that are harder than others, but historically, we don’t spend a lot of time rehearsing Primus songs.”
As Primus has moved from the heavy sounds of their early years into their newer experimental jams, LaLonde shared how a love for the Grateful Dead allowed him to hop into this new sound.
“When I was getting into Zappa and King Crimson stuff, one of the ones I got into was Grateful Dead, which was kind of weird, because I didn’t know any other musicians who were actually into the Grateful Dead,” he said. “They weren’t really known as these amazing musicians, which I was surprised by. My friends were like, ‘You got to see the Dead,’ and I went there, and the scene was rad, but everyone was just swirling around without actually focusing on what the musicianship was. I was blown away by it, because there weren’t many bands that had been together and played together that long, so it was really a cool find. I’d always kind of wanted to have an aspect of that, and then when Les started jamming with Oysterhead, and going out and doing the Frog Brigade and stuff, he landed in that scene a little bit more—so we all kind of took this different path into it.”
LaLonde said learning Rush’s music gave him an excuse to buy new gear.
“I rebuilt my whole pedal board for the Rush stuff,” he said. “Basically, I kind of went through and tried out every version you could have of every type of effect. My pedal board now is really specialized to exactly what I want, so I’m pretty stoked on that. A lot of times, I’ll just have stuff in there that I think I like, but right now, I actually have stuff that I spend a lot of time picking out. This was the first time I was trying to nail somebody else’s vibe, because the Alex Lifeson (guitarist of Rush) stuff has very specific effects and sounds.”
Not only are the members of Rush viewed as heroes in the eyes of Primus; the two bands have remained close friends since Primus opened for Rush on the Roll the Bones tour in 1992. As a result, LaLonde said he feels pressure to do their music justice.
“Because of the Rush thing, the fans are very particular,” LaLonde said. “They’re probably pretty scrutinizing, and then being friends of ours is another aspect, and then being heroes of ours—so it’s kind of a triple whammy there.”
Primus is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, June 18, at the Grand Theatre at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, 2500 E. Second St. Tickets are $49 to $129. For tickets or more information, call 775-789-2000, or visit www.grandsierraresort.com.