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THE DESATURATING SEVEN ATORECORDS
“It’s a story about gluttonous individuals sucking the colors out of the world,” says Primus singer/bassist Les Claypool.“The overuse of resources by the greedy elite, and how the meek masses can overcome them in the end by unifying. It seemed pretty relevant these days.”
The tale Claypool is describing comes from a 1978 children’s book called The RainbowGoblins by the Italian authorand artist Ui de Rico, and it forms the basis for the new Primus album coming out September 29, The Desaturating Seven. In the story—which is accompanied by stunning illustrations, done in oil paints on woodpanels—seven goblins come to the valley whererainbows are born, intending to steal the rainbows and eat them. The valley, though,knows that the goblins arecoming, and makes aplan to thwart the wicked creaturesby hiding the rainbow. After the goblinsare caught in their own nets, the flowers releasethe colors of the rainbowand drown thegoblins, and in gratitude, the rainbow turns the flowersinto beautiful birds who fly across the valley in freedom.
“My wife got turnedonto it when she was a kid, and we started readingit to my children when they were very young,”says Claypool. “It became a bedtime story favorite. It always came across a bit frightening, like an oldGrimm’s fairy tale—a littledark and creepy,which seemed very much up my strasse.”
Claypool found particular inspiration in de Rico’spaintings for The RainbowGoblins. “The artworkis just amazing,” he says. “There’sa beauty but also a dark eerinessfor this compelling, sinister story. The paintingsare incredible, vibrant, very unique looking—it’s a good contrastbetween dark and light visuallyand also metaphorically. And there’s alwaysbeen a strong visual elementto Primus.”
Indeed, taking inspiration from a wide range of sources was part of what made Primus one of the most distinctive, innovative bands of the 1990s. The trio’s alt/punk/avant-garde/psychedelic/country attack, along with Claypool's surreal, fever-dream lyrics, resulted in some of rock’s unlikeliest hits, including "Tommy the Cat," "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver," and "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver." The Desaturating Seven marks the return of the definitive Primus line-up—Claypool, guitaristLarry “Ler” LaLonde,and drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander—for its first album of original music since 1995.
Starting as an underground phenomenon in SanFrancisco, the band’s cult grew rapidly. Such albums as Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991), Pork Soda (1993), and Tales from the PunchBowl (1995) all went gold and or platinum, and Primus toured with some of rock's biggestnames—U2, Jane's Addiction, Public Enemy, Rush—and headlined the third Lollapalooza festival.
Alexander left and rejoined Primus several times, and Claypool alternated between the band and such other projects as Oysterhead (with Trey Anastasio and Stewart Copeland) and the Claypool Lennon Delirium, alongside Sean Lennon. In 2014, Alexander returned for the Primus & The ChocolateFactory with the Fungi Ensemble album, on which the groupcovered the iconicsoundtrack to the 1971 film Willy Wonka &the Chocolate Factory.
Staying in the fantasyland of children’s stories, Claypooldecided to tackle the adaptationof The Rainbow Goblins. “The challenge was to write music about goblins and rainbowsand not come off overly clichéd,” he says. “I didn’twant to be overly literaleither—there are very few straight-up lines from the book in the lyrics, more like hints at metaphors.” He started off with the story’s climactic moment, which becamethe nearly-eight-minuteepic “The Storm.”
“I wrote that and recorded some bass and vocals, and I played it over the phone for Larry,” says Claypool. “I worried that I was going too far down the 70’s art/prog path, I didn’twant it to come off cheesy. But he loved it, and then so did our manager, which inspired me to keepgoing.”
With that central piece down, Claypoolstarted fleshing out the journeyof the book, creatingan introduction, “The Valley,” that established some of the themesthat thread through much of the music.From there, it became a matter of workingthrough the story and buildinga cohesive structure.
“Originally it was going to be one giant piece, but some partsdidn’t match up,” says Claypool. “You get these epiphanies and then you hit awall—I was rolling along and then ‘The Trek’ really hung me up. ‘The Dream’was an odd one, tough to wrangle,but a good contrast—very dark and sparse,then there are these big percussive hits and then at the end, away it goes, into this early PeterGabriel-ish rhythm.”
Having to maintain a story line represented a new sort of challenge for Claypool’s writing.“When you have a narrative, it puts up parameters,” he says. “It gives you interesting jumping-off points, but it can also make it more difficult. Those confines can propel you forward or hold you back a little bit. Butusing someone else’sart for inspiration certainly opens doors you wouldn’t on your own.”
Musically, The Desaturating Seven led Primusback to some of the sounds and styles of their earlierdays. “This record hearkensback to our prog roots—Rush, Yes, Crimson,all those things,”says Claypool. “It’s a little heavier than the last record, more intricate than anything we’ve done in a while.”
Which, he adds, made these songs ideal as a returnto working with TimAlexander on original material. “This stuff is totally In his wheelhouse,” says
Claypool. “Intricate and melodic drummingis what Tim does, what naturally comes out of him.”
From its inception, Claypoolapproached The Desaturating Seven music with aneye toward presenting it on stage. “As I was laying it out, I was alreadythinking about how it could be performed trunk-to-tail,” he says. Now he’s in the processof planning a tour that will featurea complete performance of the new record—ashow with a set of Primus materialand then “anentire set of Goblin Rock, with full production and fancy eye candy.”
For Les Claypool, sailingthe seas of The Rainbow Goblins represents the completion of an idea he’s been kicking aroundfor a long time. “Twentyyears ago, I thoughtit would be great to turn it into music someday, but I’m just gettingaround to it now,” he says. “It was kind of a back-burner thing—but as I get older, I have to get through those,because at some point, I’m going to open up a hot dog stand and say goodbye.”
In the end, though,for all its specific requirements and obstacles, The Desaturating Seven came down to findinga way to let Primusbe Primus. “Every time, it’s like buildingthe Golden Gate Bridge out of a pileof popsicle sticks,” says Claypool. “You have a certain amount ofsticks and you have to figureout how to make it work. ButI’ve been workingwith these particular sticks for a long while,so I tend to know where to put them.”