Here’s more from our Jambands 25 celebration: an interview with Les Claypool that originally ran in August 2001. Claypool’s Adverse Yaw: The Prawn Song Years box set, which includes the Flying Frog Brigade albums discussed below is now available for pre-order.
Ever since he invited Trey Anastasio and Stewart Copeland to join him on-stage as Oysterhead last May, Les Claypool’s bass has rarely remained idle. In the wake of that performance, he assembled bands for both the Mountain Aire Festival and the Gathering of the Vibes. Before long, the Fearless Flying Frog Brigade became a entity onto itself. Earlier this year, Claypool’s label released Live Frogs Set I, which captures a performance from the band’s initial tour. This disc demonstrates the band’s powerful progressive improvisation, earning Claypool and his band a Jammy Award for best live album. Last month, Claypool released Set 2, which presents the group’s interpretation of the Pink Floyd album Animals. The bassist is now preparing to tour in support of The Grand Pecking Order (due October 2) which he recorded this past spring with Oysterhead. All in all, this has been an active, enlightening fifteen months for someone who never imagined that people would be interested in watching him improvise with his pals. Read on(and visit www.lesclaypool.com to sate any additional Claypool cravings).
What was your intention in putting together the Frog Brigade and has that changed?
I don’t know if I had an intention. It really was a see-where-the-pieces-fall type of project. I did the Oysterhead thing and then all of a sudden I got these calls to do projects for other festivals. It was during a time when Primus was fading. If anything I was just confused and wanting to do something that was fun, not necessarily knowing what I wanted to do careerwise. So I started jamming with friends. Even the Frog Brigade which toured and did those two records was friends of mine who were available at the time. We went out, did the tour, recorded those two shows and then did the SnoCore tour. The band that is out now is a little bit different. At this point if I were to do the Les Claypool Band this would be what it is. It’s just that instead of calling it the Les Claypool Band I decided to call it the Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. Basically this moniker is just a reflection of what I plan to be doing in the future. I plan on doing a studio record at the end of this year under the moniker.
What version of the band do you expect will join you in the studio?
When I do the record there will be a bunch of different people because there are a lot of people I want to work with. It will be kind of like the Holy Mackerel record which was a casual thing and I got friends involved. Some will be people I have worked with before, like Warren Haynes. I’ll try to wrangle him in there to do some stuff, and get some different people. We’ve been writing and performing new tunes on this tour so I would imagine that some of that will appear on it. I think the Frog Brigade will end up being a core group of guys and then depending on what we’re doing, where we’re playing, a bunch of different people will be involved as well. It’s like the last time we played at the Warfield it was myself Jay [Lane] and Jeff [Chimenti] and Eenor. Then we had Buckethead sit in and Ralph Carney, Kenny Brooks, Jerry Cantrell and Brian Kehoe. It was just a big ensemble.
Lately it seems like the one consistent Frog Brigade member is Eenor.
The original Frog Brigade at the Mountain Aire Festival was myself, Jack Irons on drums, Tim Alexander on drums, Skerik and Mirv. I had been playing with Mirv for years and I asked him to come do this tour and he wasn’t available. So I ran an ad in several local papers just looking for eclectic local musicians because doing Primus I had become isolated from what was happening on a local level. I got hundreds of tapes and CDs and one that stood out was this guy Eenor on the cover holding this weird banjo-looking thing. So I called him up and he came down, we jammed and hit it off. He’s become a regular.
As far as the Frog Brigade goes, my wanting to work with musicians is based on their ability to shoot from the hip and follow me down the trail. I think that whether it’s the four piece or the six piece the musicians I bring in have that ability. They don’t have the need or desire for structure.
I imagine it must be tough to tour as many of your players have other gigs.
When you play with monster musicians they’re usually busy. [Laughs.] Like Jeff and Jay, they have Ratdog. And then in September Skerik’s going out with Critters Buggin’.
How has your own playing changed as a result of your work with the Frog Brigade?
Well I’ve done way more bass solos than I’ve ever done in my entire life. [Laughs.] The thing is that I’m doing all the things I was always told that nobody wanted to see. For years you sit down with your friends and you jam for hours on end. You drink beers and everybody trades licks. But it was never thought by anyone that I hung out with that people might actually want to see what. That was something for the rehearsal space. It just blows my mind that there’s this huge community of people that want to see players do that. And it seems to be growing at an incredible rate.
Your just released your second live album with the Frog Brigade. This one presents the band’s Animals set. What led you to cover that entire album?
I’d always wanted to play “Pigs.” So we were sitting around deciding what we’re going to do this tour. Just coming off Primus, I wasn’t in a big hurry to write tunes at that point. I had a bunch of tunes sitting around but I wanted to possibly use those with Oysterhead. So we were looking at various covers to interpret. I had always wanted to play “Pigs,” it’s one of my favorite songs ever but I never had the instrumentation. All of a sudden I had a keyboardist and I’ve always told myself if I had a keyboardist I would play “Pigs.” The next thing you know we’re learning “Pigs” and I said let’s learn the whole album, we’ll do two sets and away we go.
How much variation was there night to night during Animals?
There was variation within the solos but the whole concept was to try to play it as perfectly as we possible could. My concept in doing covers is either do them as close as you can or take them way out, as far as you can, like the Residents used to do.
How successful do you think you were?
I think we pulled it off pretty damn good myself. I was really impressed with how people stepped up and took various parts. Obviously it sounds newer and there’s a lot more bass. [Laughs.] I wouldn’t have through to record it if we didn’t pull it off.