Rock Lit is where Hive discusses the intersection of literature and music.
Primus’ Les Claypool is something of a storyteller. The acclaimed basist’s eclectic songs feature equally eclectic characters, each existing in a world of Claypool’s making. And, in fact, his ability to spin a yarn extends beyond his music career; In 2006, Claypool released Song of the Pumphouse, a heavily masculine novel, centered around fishing, which was initially intended as a screenplay. Primus’ seventh album, Green Naugahyde, released earlier this month, also features many similarly-minded tales. Hive talked to Claypool about his novel, songwriting and how sometimes the best inspiration for fiction is the truth.
What inspired you to write your own novel?
I had written a screenplay many years ago, and in the process of trying to get a film made, you tend to get notes and input from various producers and money people as they come onboard such a project. After many producers came and went, and money people fell to the wayside, I found that the cooperative act of trying to make a feature film was eroding the original vision of my writing. So, I decided to write it out in novel form so that should someday it get bastardized into a film, at least the original story would exist on the printed page for folks to see.
Do you plan to release another one?
I imagine I’ll write another novel someday. I’m kicking some ideas around but, that being said, long form is a bitch and I find the process to be very isolating. Perhaps once the kids move out and my wife is tired of me, I will find the time and the need for that solitude. As for now, I’m writing short stories. Johnny [Temple] from [publisher] Akashic has been prodding me to get these tales assembled into a releasable package but it is a pot that keeps getting pushed to the back burner. When all is said and done, I’m just a bass player that just happens to tell a good tale every now and again. Real writers write all the time. I read that Larry Brown had hundreds of short stories accumulated before any of it was published. I have about a dozen.
What writing did you find inspiring while you were writing the novel or the screenplay?
I’m pretty meat and potatoes. [Charles] Bukowski, [David] Sedaris, Hunter S. [Thompson], [Bill] Bryson — people like that. I’m one of these guys that likes old films. I tend to re-read things I very much enjoy. I don’t know how many times I’ve read and re-read various Bukowski writings. Jean Shepherd is a big hero of mine too.
Do those literary influences seep into your music as well?
I would like to hope so. As I’m getting older — and even when I was younger, for the sake of taking the piss — the honesty element of these writers is what I find very compelling. Maybe that’s the difference between the filter of all the people who have to be involved in film and television, and even music versus the literary world. There’s no real filter, unless you put it up yourself to an extent. I just try to be as honest as I can, all the time. That’s what I keep going back to as a performer. Music has always been fairly honest for me. But you can start second-guessing and get too far up your own ass when you’re writing words on a page.
How do you stay out of your own ass?
That is one of the greatest sentences I’ve ever heard! For me, it’s just shooting straight from the hip as much as I can. I go through my notebooks when I’m looking for song fodder, and I’ll stumble across some line where I wonder what the hell I was thinking at the time. Or, it brings me back to what I may have been thinking at the time. It could be some random thing: “Is there a heaven?/Is there a hell?/Is that a tuna melt that I smell?” You know what I mean? What the hell is that? But it makes me laugh.
Have you ever put a specific literary influence in a song?
Not that I can think of. If it’s an element of fiction, it’s my fiction. But a lot of these characters are autobiographical. Over the year there’s been a lot of demons exorcised, elements of my family especially. We’ve had problems with substance abuse. I’ve lost some relatives to overdoses and there’s a lot of that in the music … often through various characters.
Is it fair to say your goal is to tell a story with each song?
Ninety percent of the time, I’m writing a narrative. As a kid, that’s what was very compelling to me; the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang approach. I was also subjected to a lot of old school country, although I didn’t realize it at the time. We didn’t have much so we didn’t have a lot of records in my house to listen to; it was just the AM radio. When I’d be out in the garage, working, my stepdad would have the country station on. That whole notion of narratives and story lines and characters in those songs has always been very compelling, and always made me listen a little harder. I want to do that too.