As the front man of Primus, Les Claypool's sense of humor has always been on display, and it takes center stage in National Lampoon Presents Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo. Written, directed, and starring Claypool, the film chronicles the journey of Electric Apricot, a jam band recording its first album and hoping to perform at Festeroo, a popular music festival. As outrageous as the situations that the band faces may be, Claypool explains that everything was grounded in his own experiences as an entertainer. Suddenly fame isn't as glamorous if it means having severed hog limbs thrown at you or dealing with crazed crewmembers who threaten to incinerate your entire project.
Like Lapdog kept saying in the movie, "You only record your first album once." So, what was it like to make your first movie?
Well, it's not actually my first film. The first film I made was when I was 13 and it was called "The Dogs That Ate Detroit" It starred my Saint Bernard Barney, and it was a killer thriller with oodles of special effects that were cutting edge for the time. So, this would be my second film, but when you think about it, you only make your second film once too.
Were you a fan of Norman Greenbaum growing up?
Norman Greenbaum? How did that come up?
He had a song called The Eggplant that Ate Chicago.
He did? I know Norman Greenbaum. Didn't he do "Spirit In The Sky?"
Yes. I thought maybe there was a correlation.
No, but that's amazing that you were able to draw that parallel. That's incredible. That's digging deep in the old attic there. Supposedly, he's a neighbor of mine. I live in Northern California and supposedly, he lives around here but I've yet to bump into him.
Have you put any effort into seeking him out in the neighborhood?
Not really, but now I have a reason. "Spirit In The Sky" wasn't enough of a reason for me, but anybody that would put the notion of a carnivorous eggplant out into the world, I have to have lunch with that person.
And how did the notion of Electric Apricot come to be?
There were always notions being kicked around amongst my comrades and one day I was talking to Matt Stone, from South Park, on the phone and I started telling him about this idea I had about a fictitious jam band whose goal in life was to play a giant music festival. We just started kinda vamping on it and laughing about it and he thought it was an interesting idea. Next thing you know, I'm talking to Jason McHugh, a mutual friend of ours who's a producer, and we're actually running ideas past each other. He said, "That is a great idea and it's well within our means." Because there are a lot of good ideas that float around, but ideas that are financially feasible or attainable are harder to come by and we actually had the means to pull this one off, so Jason really pushed it through. Next thing you know, we're forming a band and I still didn't think we'd be making a movie. I just figured we'd be doing a couple gigs as this band, writing songs, but it just started gelling and then we're filming and we made the trailer. After we made the trailer was when I knew we could make a film out of this thing. We had a storyline within a two-minute trailer, so all we needed to do was flesh it out.
How did you decide to play the drummer?
It just seemed to be the logical thing to do. They were in need of a drummer and Lapdog being one of the better drummers on the planet these days, we called him in and he was more than happy to oblige.
Were the characters in the film based on people you knew first hand?
I could make a broad statement and say that everything I do is based on experience with individuals and whatnot, but this was definitely an introspective piece. I've experienced most of these people and parallels to most of the situations in the film. A big part of it was just having the resources to make it, and that's where our access to the man behind the curtain - our actual experiences - came in very handy.
Electric Apricot (Quest for Festeroo) Trailer
Did you have any experience with roadies that come way too far into your personal space like the character of Skip?
There are always people around like that. What we do for a living is very appealing to a lot of folks, as it was to me as a young fellow, and many people will go to great lengths to try and be a part of that world.
What sort of lengths have people gone to in your experience?
I've had people try to sneak on the bus while we were hanging out, we had people climb up fire escapes and actually steal bits and pieces of our clothing out of the dressing rooms. I had one guy pretend to be me, go to a hotel room, and tell the people at the front desk that it was me and then he went in and stole all of our luggage. There's always that eager beaver that wants to be a part of the team and comes off as a sticky fly.
Did you ever get your luggage back?
We got bits and pieces of it back. It was many years ago. I remember we would be touring with some of these bands and these guys would be staying in hotels under pseudonyms and we would kinda clown 'em about it. "Who do you think you are, Elvis?" and next thing you know, someone goes to the counter and says they're Les Claypool, and this was back when I used to share a room with Larry LaLonde, you know, to save money, so he got all of our stuff.
What sort of pseudonyms do you like to use when you're at a hotel?
Well, I was Juan Valdez for quite a while. I can't give you my current one because then someone would steal my luggage again.
There's another scene in the movie where Gordo, the guitarist, went up to one of his idols, starts talking to him, and says, "You can screw my girlfriend if you want." It sounds ridiculous, but I imagine it's grounded in reality.
Obviously, this is a comedy so some of this stuff is exaggerated and amplified, but not terribly so, to be honest with you. Because it's a film about a band, we're going to get the "Spinal Tap" references. Halfway through the production, I actually watched Spinal Tap. I hadn't seen it in years and the one thing I noticed is that it's much more of an overt comedy. Our film is much less overt. It's much more based upon the Ricky Gervais approach, which is very dry. So things like Gordo offering up his girlfriend are not completely unheard of. It's ridiculous and the way it's presented makes the scene, I think, hilarious, but it's not completely out of the norm. Well, I shouldn't say norm 'cause what the hell is the norm in that world?
What have your fans offered you?
I've always joked that I'm the guy that gets dudes that want to take me fishing. I'm always offered fishing trips because of John the Fisherman and all these people know me as a fishing guy. Comedians get jokes offered to them, rock stars get women and underwear thrown onstage, and I get guys that want to take me fishing.
Has anyone ever thrown a fish up stage at you?
I've had fish come up on stage and it's pretty disgusting. I try and discourage that. I discourage anything flying up on stage, actually. When we played Woodstock, Green Day got bombarded by mud and sludge and I knew it was coming and as soon as I sang the words, "My name is mud," all of a sudden there was just this shit storm of mud and sod flying up on to the stage and it flew for a while and I went up to the front of the stage and said, "You know, throwing things on stage at artists shows signs of small and insignificant genitalia." If you insult someone's sexuality, they tend to mellow out right away.
But the worst was when we played Lollapalooza. It was a hot day, I'm on stage with no shirt on, and all of a sudden, it felt like somebody punched me right in the chest. I look down at my chest and there's this giant red bloody welt. I look at the ground and there's like this hog's foot, but not just the foot - it's from the elbow down, with this big toenail. Somebody thought it'd be funny. "Hey, Pork Soda. Les is gonna really appreciate this giant hog appendage flying up and hitting in him the chest."
Has that inspired you, perhaps, to write songs with names, like Bag of Cash (Large Denominations Only)?
Back in the early days I spent a good number of years being incredibly high on marijuana and so, of course, I would joke that anything that does not resemble a bag of weed that flies up on stage will not be appreciated, so I had my days of trying to milk the folks for interesting things onstage, but I'm not so much of a pothead anymore.
And what inspired that decision?
I couldn't remember things. My hard drive was becoming far too fragmented and I didn't want to not remember my kids' childhood so.
Were there any unforeseen difficulties that you encountered during the film making process?
There were so many unforeseen difficulties; it was unbelievable. Making this film got to the point where it was a joke. It was a daily kick to the testicles. Multiple kicks to the testicles, even. I truly believe that there was some sort of phantom haunting the project. It was Murphy's Law squared. We had trips to the hospital, we had a major crew person who flipped out take all the footage, disappear for two days, and then threaten to throw it in the fireplace before checking herself into a mental institution, friends getting pissed off at each other, it was just non-stop. It's still non-stop. There are still so many hurdles and obstacles. One of the most stressful things you can do, based on what I heard during my days in the contracting world, is to build a house. Supposedly, it's the cause for some ungodly percentage of divorces among couples. This movie was like building a house with a bunch of apprentice carpenters while all of the building materials were on fire.
Was there ever a moment when you thought that you might not finish the movie?
I thought that since the very beginning. The point when I thought it was actually going to work was after we made the trailer. Then we started some playing film festivals, getting some awards, and National Lampoon got involved, but even releasing the film is a lot of work. It seems like every other day, there's some major obstacle to deal with.
How much improvisation was there in the movie?
Quite a bit. The way it was done was that I wrote the storyline and did a skeleton script and then I put everybody in situations where they just had to react to what was going on.
What were some invaluable lessons that you learned as a director?
You have to have a good assistant director. I didn't even have an A.D. until the very end, and he saved my ass. This was extraordinarily, extremely low budget. I shot a lot of music videos whose budgets were higher than that of this entire film, and I had assistant directors, directors of photography, and I had all of these people and it was a wonderful thing. This was shoestring, gorilla style, and it was lots of fun, but it was also extremely hard. It was like back in the old days, gettin' in the old '76 Dodge conversion van, pulling a trailer, playing clubs around the country. It was fun, but I don't want to do that again. Hopefully the next film we'll be able to step it up.
Are you already working on the next film?
We got a couple different projects that we're pitching. One of them would be based on my novel South of the Pumphouse, which actually started as a screenplay.
And those rumors about a new Primus album?
No, there's no Primus album in the works. Those are just rumors.
So, what's happening next?
Well, I'm finishing up this soundtrack. I'm working on a soundtrack for another film that I was in called "Pig Hunt," which is about a 3000 pound animatronic pig that terrorizes the pot fields of Northern California and I play this crazy redneck preacher guy that's out for vengeance and I'm doing the score. I'm supposed to do a tour beginning of this next year with The Fancy Trio Of Doom, which should be interesting. We're doing the Hatter's Ball, which is basically a big hat party and we're gonna give away fabulous prizes. I call it the Fancy Trio 'cause my fans have calling my last band the Fancy Band so this time, I did a trio. It was myself, Skerik on sax, and Mike Dillon was playing drums, marimba, and vibraphone at the same time. I really dug it. It was very raw and so I'm leaning toward that. We're gonna work up a bunch of new material, but I'm not sure exactly what that will be yet.
When should we expect to see more content on JerryLives.com ?
That's a question for Gordo I believe. I'll have to pose that to him.
Do have any theories about Jerry or Bigfoot?
There's definitely a Bigfoot. You never know, Bigfoot and Jerry could be cahoots with each other. They'd be one with nature and they would reflect upon their lives and the environment around them. Perhaps they would even try and save as many old redwoods as they possibly could.
Interview by Ben Kharakh
Starpulse.com contributing writer