The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, April 7, 1994 - 3
San Francisco-based Primus spawns Prawn Song label
By TOM ERLEWINE
Over the last decade, the San Fran-
cisco-based group Primus has become
one of the biggest acts in rock 'n' roll
and one name is synonymous with the
h'and: bassist Les Claypool. With
Claypool's astonishing musicianship
and bizarre sense of humor, °Primus
has become virtually a household
name without selling out in the slight-
est. As their latest record, "Pork Soda,"
proved, their music continues to be
experimental and innovative, slyly
merging several different musical
styles in the guise of a rock song. "Les
has taken this music that is very out of
the ordinary to these white suburban
crowds," explained jazz guitarist
,Charlie Hunter. Now that Claypool
has gained that mainstream audience,
he is choosing to put his resources in
his pet project, Prawn Song.
Primus' first album, "Suck on
This" appeared on the independent
Prawn Song label when first released.
Over the years. the label
metamorphisized intothe band'smer-
chandising company. "When I de-
cided to make my own label we were
going to use the Prawn Song name
and logo because that was something
I came up with and did all the art work
for. And we already had the fictitious
business statement and all that stuff,
so it was easier," Claypool laughed.
Over a year ago I had the idea,"
he recalled. "It was always something
that I wanted to do because I knew so
many talented people that had oh-
,cure approaches most labels wouldn't
w it to he involved with. And if they
di, they would probably want to
change it or alter it in some way." On
Prawn Song, the artist retains com-
plete artistic control, allowing them
to drift as far away from the main-
stream as they would like.
"I want to do whatever the artist
wants to do." said Claypool. "I'm
invoWI ed as much as I can possibly he
inlolsed At this point F'm try ing to
taper ff on some of it just because it
was bec ininc to consu me me and I
was becominc astiressed-out cuv who
wasn't very fun to he around." he
laughed. "My life was being neglected
because I was doing so much produc-
tion and playing. We had to hag a
couple projects recently because it
was just getting too busv. I'd rather
thin it out and do some quality stuff
than try to do everythin and do it
SPrawn Song released its first two
recordsinJanuary: ex-[I mbomaniacs
guitarist M..R.V.'s 'Cosmodrome'
and the self-tilled debut disc by the
Charlie Hunnter Trio. Taken together.
the two albums illustrate the musical
depth of the record label.
"Cosmodrome' is a shatteri uily funn
tribute to rock concept aibums and
'"Charlie Hunter Trio" is an excellent.
11riving record led by Hunter's eight-
tring guitar that manages to be both
'traditional and experimental.
"I started recording Charlie and
*recorded M.I.R.V. in my basement
and it came out good, so we decided
to release it all,' explained Claypool.
"It was very low-budget stuf'. The
Charlie record cost us 100 dollars to
make." The money in the Hunter
"project alone covered the cost of the
That sort of off-the-cuff,
minimalist approach suits Hunter fine.
*Aflter playing with the Disposable
Heroes of Hiphoprisy, he is doing
.what he originally wanted to do -
;play jazz. The Hunter Trio played on
some Lollapalooza second stages last
year and were well-received. Now.
with a tour underway and their debut
,disc gaining favorable attention from
some major jazz publications, the
combo i making an impact.
According to Hunter, the disc was
recorded quite spontaneously. "I've
known Les for a while," he recalled.
'My drummer used to play in his
band. Les just said. 'Hey, I know you
have the trio. Do you want to make a
record, like a one-off"?' And I said
'Sure, it'd be great.' It was just an
easy way for us to make a record fast
without having to wait for the whole
label thing. So now we have this call-
ing-card disc, which is actually doing
a hell of a lot better than we ex-
"For this particular group," he
explained, "I try to write tunes which
are more or less in a song-form struc-
ture that can be written out on a lead
sheet. Some of the people who I think
are the best and the greatest that I
listen to - like Monk and Mingus
and Wayne Shorter - I try to emu-
late them and don't even come close
to achieving what they did." Even if
Hunter doesn't come close to their
achievements. "The Charlie Hunter
Trio" is full of fresh. inspired playing
and is a very impressive debut effort.
Prawn Song's second release is
also by a virtuoso guitarist .although
not in the same vein as Hunter.
M.I.R.V. is a thrilling guitarist. ca-
pable of some astonishing pyrotech-
nics, yet possessing enough musical
sense to know when to hold back. He
also has a wicked sense of humor. as
his debut alhum. "Cosmodromse.ow
"The whole thing has got the cli-
ches of the '70s rock operas." he ex-
plained. "but it's kind of a tongue-in-
check thing. When I decided to do
this solo thing I was hasvinc a beer
with my brother and he said. 'You
gottado arock opera.' AndI said. 'All
right! I'll take the challenge.'
The surgcstion came at the ril01
time because M.I.R.V. wasn't clear
about what direction he wanted to
take on his first solo album. "I didn't
want to do a solo-oriented fret-hoard
work freakout thing."' he said. "I
wanted to do somethin, more the-
matic. My favorite groups are like the
Who and Pink Floyd and stuff like
that. I thought ( their albumis ) were
Lreat w orks. bigx rorks that were prentr
dain touch to attain. So I decided to
take a smiall stah at something.''
'( Cosmodrome' xxorks sturpri,-
ingly well. Its plot line may get lost in
the music. but t hat happens in
'TonmnIy.''"Quadroplhenia and "The
Wall." too. What makes M.I.R.V.'s
"rock opeira'' such fun is the sheer
lelight he takes in twisting the genre
conventions and placing them into
unfamiliar settinrgs. And he doesn't
treat them as seriously as Pete
Townshend or Roger Waters. After
all. this is a man that covers the
"Cantina" theme from "Star Wars" in
the middle of his serious work of art.
"I was scared because it doesn't
sound like an album like The Wall."'
admitted M.I.R.V. "We recorded most
of it on Les Claypool's broken eight-
track. It's not like two 24-track tape
machines running with extreme bud-
gets flying by. But I guess it came out
in the mastering sound ing pretty
good." Despite all the sly gags on the
album, only one song was planned as
a specific tribute. "The most inten-
tional moment was 'The Walk Back
Home.' he said. "That was kind of
likea Who song. I wanted tocue in the
album like that. The rest of it is not too
intentional: it's sort of steeped in that
Like Hunter's record. the M.I.R.V.
project effortlessly fell into place. "I
brought a guitar over one day (to
Claypool's house)." recalled
M.I.R.V.. "and it sounded better than
I thought it was gonna sound. And I
said. 'Well, shit! Let's record some
stuff.' In the midst of that recording.
which was basically fooling around.
we got some tracks done. And I was
coin c to take those tracks and shop
ihem. In the midst of that recording.
he decided to start this label. And he
actually got this label coini. It of
worked out all real nice with him
starting the label. There's not a lot of
money. but I always wanted to be in
contact wiith my label and hasve a very
good working rclationship. almost like
.I hasc complete artistic control.''
M.I. R.. Veealed. "It's whatever you
want to do. I imcan. there's a lot of
work to be done on the artist's end
because it is not a milajor corporation.
But it's better that way because cv-
crybody helps out.
'laypool intends to keep Prawn
Sontc rather small for the time being.
Presenty. the company only consists
of three employees (lay pool. label
manager I)ax id Ie fk os it/ and A<&R
man Scolti (J. Prrxs n Sonri aims to
rcleise six to sexen albums a ear.
x hileconstamtly keepmig on the search
for ness artists. Praw n Song's third
release. Sausage's "R iddles are
Ahound Tonight.' hits the stores this
week. Sausage is a side project of
Claypool's."Basicall y. Igot together
With a couple of the old members o
Prinius.'' lie explained. ''arid we did a
record ofold Primus songs we used to
do nine. I yveat's ago that nobodys
heard since the little.tins. sm.noky clubs
we used to pla\ .' Not surprisinls.
M.I.R.V. has "complete artistic control" when recording with Prawn Song. Les Claypool, Song's owner, decrees that.
Sausace sounds a lot like Primus.
although slightly less frenetic: for
milost tans. it's as good as a hranid-ne w
Prawx n Song's roster is currentl s
compri sed of Bas Area artists hut. as
Claypool pointed out, that was part of
the intention of tlie label. "I know so
man) people from playing in this area
for the past I15. 16 years that I almost
hase an agenda in my head of who I
xxant to talk to next when the time is
rici.' he said. "Hope fully, in a year
or two I' II have a lot of this done and
I can start branchintig out a little more.
But that's what I brought Scott- (
Mar. so he can ferret through all this
other stuff and if he finds something
that's really. really appealing. we can
try and msake room lot' it.
"At this point, there are so many
things that we wantit to release and we
don't w ant to put out too maim inigs.
Claypool explained. "because then
people get neglected and that's a big
problem with a lot oflabels. (Scotty (
has) actually brought us one group
already that we're going tow ork with.
I had seen (them) years ago but I just
See PRAWN. Page 10
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