Exclusive: Primus' Les Claypool Talks Woodstock '94, 20 Years Later

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Les Claypool of Primus performs during the 2011 Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival on June 10, 2011 in Manchester, Tennessee. 

Claypool reflects on mud-tossing, stage fright & Trent Reznor's Semen Demon.

Twenty-five years after Woodstock set the tone for future rock festivals to come and arguably changed a generation, Gen X attempted to make lightning strike twice in Upstate New York with Woodstock '94.

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Everyone from Green Day to Metallica to Salt-n-Pepa, to Woodstock vets Santana and Joe Cocker, played the '94 installment, which is now remembered as much for the mud -- some of it on the ground, some of it in the air -- as for the music.

With Woodstock '94 celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend, Billboard chatted with Les Claypool -- who played the festival as part of Primus and dealt with his fair share of literal mud-slinging -- about his memories. Here's what he had to say:

Whenever I talk to people who went to Woodstock '94, they mostly complain about the mud. Was that your experience?
I had a spectacular experience.

Even with mud?
Eh, what can you do? The thing is, I was on tour with a band called Sausage at the time. I hadn't even seen the Primus guys in probably two or three months. I don't usually get nervous before shows, but I was nervous before that one because I was in the dressing room trying to relearn parts. I was petrified because we hadn't played in so long. And it was telecast over satellite, with gazillions of people watching this damn thing. Sometimes you can be as well-rehearsed as you can possibly be, and you have a crappy show. And there are other times the planets just align and you have a great show. It ended up being one of the best shows we've ever performed.

As far as the mud thing, once I started singing the words to "My Name Is Mud," all of a sudden huge chunks of sod started flying my way and it was pretty frightening. I still have those [speaker] cabinets to this day, and those cabinets still have mud in them.

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How did you deal with that?
I went out and started speculating that people who throw things on stage at musicians have small and insignificant genitalia. And in general, when you question someone's virility or sexuality, they'll second-guess what they're doing. And I got lucky -- they stopped throwing the mud. That worked out well for us.

Was there any sense that you had to live up to the legacy of the first Woodstock?
I played a little "Star-Spangled Banner" in tribute to Jimi [Hendrix, before playing "Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers"], and of course I screwed it up. What can you do? He was on way more acid than I was. He was able to channel Francis Scott Key a little better than I was. But all in all, it was a great show. There were interesting things backstage. I remember Nine Inch Nails had this big black bus, I remember calling it the "Semen Demon," it was this ominous-looking thing. They were cruising around backstage, and somehow the driver ran into a power line. They had to get out of the bus before they got electrocuted. And then it became the Electric Semen Demon, because it was wrapped in thousands of volts of electricity.

I also saw Rob Wasserman [who played with the Band at Woodstock '94] slip in the mud, fall down the hill and break his leg. That was interesting.

Did you get to watch any of the shows?
I didn't get to see anything. I remember seeing a little bit of the Cranberries. You heard all these stories that Green Day had been bombarded by mud. And that was the show that Mike [Dirnt] slipped and fell forward and bashed his front teeth out on his monitors. It was good times, man. [Laughs]

Moving ahead into the present, your next album is a Willy Wonka tribute record called Primus and the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble. Obviously you love the movie, but when did you decide you loved it enough to do a covers album?
As a kid, a portion of my life was completely devoted to Willy Wonka and Gene Wilder and that film. It wasn't until Jaws came along and I started drawing sharks on my notebook [that I moved on]. It struck a chord with me. Now, I turned my kids on to it and we watch it. We were originally talking about doing a Magical Mystery Tour [tribute album], and I'm glad we didn't because the Flaming Lips are doing Sgt. Pepper's right now.

 

The whole Wonka thing came up because I've always done the chant from the boat ride scene for years in concert, and it just fell together. Every song in that movie is so strong. And if you read the books, Roald Dahl is very dark. There's a dark, sinister element to his writing, the way he would paint these pictures with words. It seemed like a perfect vehicle to dive into.

So you were obsessed with Wonka and then you switched to a Jaws obsession. Is a Jaws tribute album next?
There's really only one song. [Laughs] Actually someone mentioned that to me, so I've already made that joke.