Primus is the name of a popular rock band. They have been called everything from "thrash funk" to "alternative rock" to "the Freak Brothers set to music." Les Claypool himself once described their music as "psychedelic polka." They are characterized by their unconventional songs and irreverent approach to music - they release their records on Claypool's Prawn Song record label, a parody of Led Zeppelin's Swan Song, and their catchphrase was - and still is - Primus sucks!.
While their music is critically lauded, Primus is often maligned for the outward humor of their songs, like Too Many Puppies and John the Fisherman. But their lyrics often have dark undercurrents that belie that humor - Puppies is an anti-war protest, and Fisherman is the true story of a ship going down at sea. Proud of their cult status, once Tommy the Cat grew somewhat popular, Primus would introduce songs in concert by saying, "this next song is not called Tommy the Cat." When Wynona's Big Brown Beaver exploded across the national consciousness a few years later they would disown it altogether. Yet despite their vast musical knowledge and endless experimentation, Primus remains largely accessible because of their rock roots.
Primus began in the mid 1980s with Claypool, Todd Huth, and Jay Lane. They were known as Primate until another band called The Primates threatened them with a lawsuit. After rising to local music scene stardom with their brand of funk/metal fusion, Huth and Lane left in 1989 to pursue other projects. Claypool recruited metal guitarist Lalonde and eclectic drummer Tim Alexander, and Primus soon gained even greater popularity by dint of their live concerts.
Their most productive period was from 1990 to 1994, during which they released three albums, an EP, five music videos, a home video, and between tours still found time to headline Lollapallooza, contribute music to Beavis and Butthead, and appear in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. They even made an appearance at 1994's Woodstock Music Festival where they performed their hit "My Name is Mud" and were pelted with mud. Their popularity was buoyed by relentless touring and unconventional radio hits such as "Jerry was a Racecar Driver" and "My Name is Mud", the latter coming from their Billboard charting album Pork Soda.
During a lull in 1994, the original Primus lineup of Claypool, Huth, and Lane reunited to record Riddles are Abound Tonight under the band name Sausage. Among the pre-Primus Primus songs they recorded were "Temporary Phase", "The Toys Go Winding Down", and "Prelude to Fear". The video to the eponymous song "Riddles are Abound Tonight" - featuring the band in blue full body leotards performing on an gilded, tiered platform on stationary bicycles -was the impetus for Beavis's Cornholio character when it appeared on Beavis and Butthead.
Primus' nonstop schedule of shows had an ill effect on the band, and 1993's Pork Soda was uncharacteristically gloomy and dealt with threats to the environment, murder, and suicide. But by the time they recorded 1995's Tales From the Punchbowl, they were singing about nutty professors and road trips on LSD, and they recorded their biggest hit yet - "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver". The song spawned a heavily requested video featuring the band dressed as mannequin cowboys, penguin-suited appearances on David Letterman and Conan O'Brien, and was subsequently nominated for a Grammy. The band lost to Pearl Jam.
Alexander left the band in 1996 due to creative differences and was replaced by Brian Mantia of Praxis. Mantia was one of the many original drummers Claypool auditioned for Primus before settling with Alexander - Mantia bowed out before because of a foot injury.
With Mantia aboard, Primus were soon asked to compose the theme song to South Park after the show's creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone professed to be big fans. By this time, bands that were influenced by Primus' bottom heavy rock - such as Tool, Korn, and Limp Bizkit - were having their heydey, and despite the ubiquity of "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver", Tales From the Punchbowl was otherwise their most esoteric album and in later years Claypool expressed dissatisfaction with it.
1997's Brown Album was a departure from previous Primus material because of its crude production values and more straightforward song structure. Tom Waits names it as his favorite Primus album, though some fans openly hated it. Antipop was released in 1999, and was the first album to feature outside musicians and producers. The band toured with Ozzfest and released a video for "Lacquerhead" that was banned from MTV because of its drug content, even though it was an anti-drug song. The album met with limited success and in the year 2000, Primus went on indefinite hiatus.
In the interim, Alexander released two albums with the band Laundry and performed with Blue Man Group and Born Naked, among others. Claypool explored the jam band scene with Oysterhead and his own Les Claypool's Frog Brigade. He also collaborated with Mantia in Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains. Lalonde joined Mantia to produce 2 experimental No Forcefield records, and tried unsuccessfully to start a recording studio.
In late 2003 Claypool reunited with original Primus drummer Tim Alexander and guitarist Larry LaLonde to record a DVD/EP called Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People, which Claypool described as the first DVD with supplementary music, as opposed to the contrary. The band staged a two month tour in which they performed two sets per show, the second consisting of their 1991 release Sailing the Seas of Cheese in its entirety. 2004 saw them continue touring, and even performing their 1990 release Frizzle Fry in its entirety.
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