When Primus debuted in 1989, the world just wasn't ready. And even with seven studio albums in the bag and an eighth on the way — plus 22 years' worth of dusty road in the rear-view mirror and a resumé that lists most of the biggest festivals (H.O.R.D.E., Family Values, Ozzfest, Bonaroo, and Lollapalooza) on the alternative, rock, and metal scenes — it still seems as though the world hasn't entirely caught up to this Cali freak crew.
Which isn't to say Primus hasn't enjoyed a few serious doses of success. It's just that the three-piece Bay Area outfit doesn't get the recognition it deserves.
But this band didn't get booked for all of those national tours by chance. Scoring platinum-level sales with back-to-back records — 1991's Sailing the Seas of Cheese and 1993's Pork Soda — is no small feat. Never mind that, during the mid-'90s, songs such as "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver," "Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers," "Tommy the Cat," and "My Name Is Mud" momentarily hijacked MTV, rock radio, and the Discmans of every American teenager with a flannel shirt.
Perhaps, though, it's the fact that Primus willfully defies classification, refusing to fit into any one bin at the record store — or these days, under a single tab on iTunes — that has pushed the band into an almost permanent underdog role. Throughout its career, the threesome's sound has been notoriously hard to pin down. But this crew doesn't shy away from life on the fringes. On the contrary, it relishes that kind of outsider status.
"I think at first it represented to us a fact of trying to move on from who [our] influences were. And those were people who lived outside the box and did crazy stuff," says guitarist Larry LaLonde, who replaced founding guitarist Todd Huth in 1989 and has appeared on every Primus album to date. "At the time, that represented our chance to do that, and somehow we got lucky and it worked. And now that we know we've gotten away with it, we just feel like we can go with it and that's our thing.
"When I joined the band, that was really a chance to do anything I wanted," he recalls. "You could play the craziest sounds, make the craziest rhythms. And you know, the notes didn't necessarily have to be traditional sounds. So, to me, I think that was the spark that made this band really go for it.
"You didn't even necessarily need to be a very good guitarist," he jokes, discounting the inventiveness it takes to keep up with bassist Les Claypool's awe-inspiring chops and uniquely aggressive bass-as-lead attack.
Over the years, Primus has been described as a mutated strain of everything from funk to metal, thrash, alt-rock, and experimental noise. The band got its start in California during the mid-'80s when bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction were drawing from similarly disparate musical traditions. But where Primus's contemporaries attempted to sort through those individual sounds and give it a twist of their own, Primus tried to make it all fit, all at once.
"When we first started doing this in the Bay Area, there were a lot of bands that they called funk-thrash or whatever," LaLonde says. "And they were bands that melded together a lot of different influences.
"But they melded them in a way where they played one kind of music. And then another kind. And then another kind," he explains. "We just sort of put them all together in one thing, making our own music."
Outsider status has served this freak crew well, though. Of course, there are all of those aforementioned platinum records, festival stints, and other accomplishments. But more telling is the band's continued existence 20-plus years later — not to mention its ability to remain relevant while mustering the creativity to continue doing new things. And Primus is set to defy the odds again with the release of its eighth record, an as-yet untitled full-length slated to hit the streets sometime this summer, a full 12 years since the band's last studio recording, Antipop, came out. LaLonde, however, seems certain that fans won't be disappointed by this long-awaited, much-anticipated album.
"Every time we do a new Primus record, I'm always kind of trying to figure out what it is too," he laughs when asked about the nameless slab. "But it seems to me to be a little bit of everything we've [ever] done on every record. It's definitely another crazy Primus record. It sounds like Primus, that's for sure."
He also cites the return of original drummer Jay Lane, who played a significant songwriting role on Primus's first two records. "It might have a lot of that influence on it," LaLonde says. "And hopefully we've moved on from there."
In addition to working on the band's upcoming release, Primus is keeping busy on the road, headlining its own tour in the early summer months before setting out on the Oddities Faire, a fall festival of Claypool's design that unites like-minded bands.
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"Right now we're just doing three weeks in the States," LaLonde says. "Then we go to Europe. And our record is coming out in July. After that, I'm assuming the next thing will be the Oddity Faire.
"I'm not sure what it's going to be this year," he says of the Oddity Faire. "Up until last year, [it] was mostly a festival that Les had put together with as many crazy bands and sideshow-, stilt-walker-type things as possible.
"We're just kind of throwing in a bunch of shows before the record comes out," he laughs. "And then we'll do this whole giant thing around the planet."