Primus' Les Claypool Explains Band's Trip to the 'Chocolate Factory'

Larry LaLonde, Les Claypool and Tim Alexander of Primus
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Larry LaLonde, Les Claypool and Tim Alexander of Primus on August 20, 1991 in Chicago, Il.

As a kid, Primus' Les Claypool became enamored with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder. Four decades later, that childhood fandom has turned into Primus and the Chocolate Factory, the first album in 19 years from the band's seminal lineup: Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander.

Primus Take on 'Willy Wonka' Songs for New Album & Tour

The album, due Oct. 21, will be followed by a tour starting the next day. Below, Claypool guides Billboard through the origins of the album, why he prefers the original film version to the Johnny Depp-starring Charlie and the Chocolate Factor, and the reason Primus is banned from all radio station shows (hint: It involves a night of 'shrooms and dick jokes).

Did you get to see anybody at Riot Fest?
I saw Cheap Trick and hung out with Cheap Trick. Rick [Nielsen's] always a kick in the pants. So good to catch up with him. Saw more people at the hotel than saw at the actual venue. The Slayer guys were hanging out and met one of the guys from Mastodon, so I got my big rock on.

Does Riot Fest, which is three weekends, feel like the radio fest tours that happen, or is this too short to build that sense of camaraderie?
Well, they don't let us play those radio station shows anymore, I think since we ate a bunch of mushrooms and did a KROQ one years ago [Laughs] But yeah, it's always good catching up. I live out in the country, I'm a country boy, I'm either out on my tractor or on my boat, so I don't see a lot of entertainment folk unless I'm in the entertainment zone. So it's good to catch up with people, plus we're doing the thing with Danny Carey now and he's a great guy, so we're having a good time

What was it like taking 'shrooms at the KROQ show, and what happened?
It was one of the KROQ Acoustic Christmases many years ago. Actually, we have a book just out this last week, and we talk about it a little bit. We used to do this thing called Bob Cock and the Yellow Sock; it's basically us doing lounge versions of Primus songs. There was this character Bob Cock and we would say we couldn't find him and he'd show up end of the set and supposedly be out of his mind on cocaine and he'd start singing pornographic lyrics, Hendrix songs and "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," different things. So of course we did all this frying out of our minds on mushrooms, and I think we went way over on our time, and of course there were kids in the audience and here's this guy singing about his dick, and I think we ruffled some feathers. [Laughs] So we were never asked back after that.

Will you be doing any more shows on hallucinogenics, since that does seem a good fit for this new album?
I think my 'shrooming days have waned. As you move through life and accumulate more responsibilities and people that rely on you to exist on the planet, it tends to become a little more stressful to take your mind to that electric place. [But] this is definitely a show for the head, and I'm sure there are going to be people altering their perspective and watch this thing, and we're there to guide them along to a happy place as opposed to a too terribly dark and spooky place. Our version of Wonka is definitely a little creepier than what's come down the pike, I think. You read those Roald Dahl books, and they are pretty sinister and pretty creepy, so there's a little homage to not only Gene Wilder-era Willy Wonka, but also Roald himself.

You've said you weren't the biggest fan of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starring Johnny Depp. Are you excited to remind people about the original?
This Wonka project, I actually started putting together a whole narrative about it that we were gonna do for the show, and it just didn't work very well, so we pulled it and decided to do only the music. Our interpretation of it is more about the perception of myself as a youth of Wonka and the film and the books. And it's more about the child's experience with that film and that era and the books than it is about interpreting the story itself. I don't want to step on any toes. Obviously Tim Burton is an incredibly talented guy and Ed Wood is an incredible film, and we did some of the music for Pee Wee's Big Adventure for our intro and I've always been a big fan. But I tend to like the stuff he writes himself, that he comes up with himself that's not necessarily based on other people's work or a remake. I just haven't really seen one that I've enjoyed as well, so that being said, I'm sure there are going to be people who look at what we've done with the Wonka thing and go, "What the f--- are these guys doing with my precious little Wonka?" So he tackled a sacred cow and it fell short for some people and we've tackled that same sacred cow and it might fall short for some people. But I dig it. [Laughs]

Will you use that narrative you pulled within the stage show?
We're gonna try and incorporate some of that stuff. Basically, we did the show for New Year's, that's how it all sort of started. Every New Year's for the past 24 years, we've done a show, either Primus or one of my bands. And there's always a theme. We've had the caveman theme, the underwater theme, the snowman theme, Hawaiian theme, all these different themes over the years. So last year, it was Primus and the Chocolate Factory, and it just fell together so quickly and so easily that we thought, "Sh--, we gotta continue this on." We made the record, brought in some of my guys, which is also a new thing, sort of combining the world of my stuff and the Primus stuff, and put together this great stage production, and we're gonna take it out on the road. And there's talk of us doing some matinee performances where it's only the Wonka set for kids and see how it goes from there, and maybe incorporate more theatrics into it as it moves along. Not really sure, but basically what happens is like New Year's. We come out in front of the curtain, and there's very minimal production, minimal lights, and we hammer out a Primus set, à la 1990, and just kind of hammer out some old Primus tunes. Then we leave, take a little break, and all of a sudden you're in the chocolate factory.

What are the chances for the matinee shows to take off?
We've got a couple of matinee shows booked, and we're gonna see how it goes and then take it from there. The matinee shows would only be the Wonka stuff, 'cause it's for kids. It'll be for little kids, and kids don't necessarily have the longest attention span.

Are there songs from the album you are particularly excited to do live?
Every single one of them. [Laughs] They're amazing, I love them all. The whole thing started with "Candyman," I just had the whole "Candyman" thing stuck in my head, this little creepy "Candyman." Then it built from there; I think the hardest one for me was the "Golden Ticket," 'cause it kept kind of sounding like a goofball song, and I didn't want it to sound goofy and schmaltzy. So we redid it a couple of times, and I couldn't figure out how to do the voice. "How am I gonna do this old man, Grandpa Joe, and not just sound like some guy trying to be an old man?" And all of a sudden it hit me and I started doing an elderly Elvis impersonator type voice, and it fell together. The oompa stuff fell together super easy. Some of the stuff that's more abstract, like the wondrous boat ride and the wonk mobile, those were just train of thought things.

Revisiting the movie and book now as an adult were there things you saw differently in the story?
As a kid, this thing fell into my life and absorbed my life, and I had the little Wonka candy bar kit you got off a cereal box top, and I made candy bars for my classroom out of chocolate chips melted into these molds and it absorbed my world until Jaws came along and I started drawing sharks all over my binders and notebooks. And then as I got older you get the VHS and you're altering your mind in various ways and watching these movies that are very colorful and extravagant, so once again I discovered it in a different way. I watch my favorite films over and over and over again, and you're always rediscovering various elements. That's what makes these great films great. So to be able to go in and interpret some of this music with our thumbprint on it wasn't nearly challenging as I thought it was going to be. It's like hanging with an old friend.