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Primus were formed in 1984 by bassist and vocalist Les Claypool, who has always remained the driving force behind the band. The first incarnation of the band included Todd Huth on guitar and Jay Lane on drums, and recorded absolutely bugger all. The second incarnation was more successful, containing guitarist Larry "Ler" LaLonde and drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander. Alexander left in 1996, dissatisfied with the direction the band was taking, and was replaced with Bryan "Brain" Mantia. Primus went on hiatus in 2000, but have reunited in 2003 with the classic Claypool/LaLonde/Alexander lineup. In 2010, Alexander left the band once more and was replaced by the band's original drummer, Jay Lane.
Primus' music is incredibly hard to describe, to the point that it is the only band to have its own ID3 tag in Winamp. The closest general description would be "alternative rock/funk metal" or the band's own suggestion of "psychedelic polka", with main influences including Parliament-Funkadelic, The Residents, Frank Zappa, Metallica and Rush. Additionally, their initial fans came from the Bay Area thrash scene due to opening gigs for Testament and Exodus, among others, and Larry LaLonde was previously in seminal thrash metal bands Possessed and Blind Illusion.
The dominant songwriter and Most Valuable Player is Les Claypool, he of the incredible bass talent and silly voice. For this reason, Primus subvert the general alignment of heavy metal and rock bands, having the bass as the lead instrument and the guitar on the backseat. Larry himself generally complements Les' riffs with distorted noise and going on atonal tangents, but can bash out a heavy metal riff in lockstep if it's required. Alexander and Mantia generally both play incredibly complicated drum patterns that anchor the songs, acting as the Mitch Mitchell or Keith Moon of the band.
Les Claypool holds the distinction of being the only bassist to ever audition for Metallica and be turned down because he was too good, according to James Hetfield. His Funk Metal style also didn't match the band, as he jokingly asked the others after his audition to "jam on some Isley Brothers tunes".
Primus had a bizarre feud with Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum in 1995, due to their absurdist country-funk-metal single "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver". Les went to great lengths to point out that the song is not, emphasis NOT, about Winona Ryder - the spelling and pronounciation are different (not to mention that the lyrics make no sense). Ryder didn't mind, but her boyfriend Pirner did, and even renamed one of his songs "Les Claypool's a Big Fucking Asshole" in concert. The correct title should've been "Dave Pirner's a Big Fucking Asshole Who Did Not Do the Research".
- Les Claypool - bass, vocals (1984-2000, 2003-present)
- Larry "Ler" LaLonde - guitar, backing vocals, synthesizer (1989-2000, 2003-present)
- Tim "Herb" Alexander - drums (1989-1996, 2003-2010)
- Bryan "Brain" Mantia - drums (1996-2000)
- Todd Huth - guitar (1984-1989)
- Jay Lane - drums, backing vocals (1984-1989, 2010-present)
- 1989 - Suck on This (live album)
- 1990 - Frizzle Fry
- 1991 - Sailing the Seas of Cheese (first album released on a major label, breakout success)
- 1992 - Miscellaneous Debris EP (cover album)
- 1993 - Pork Soda (their highest charting album, thanks to the single "My Name is Mud")
- 1995 - Tales from the Punchbowl
- 1997 - Brown Album
- 1998 - Rhinoplasty EP (another cover album)
- 1999 - Antipop
- 2003 - Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People
- 2011 - Green Naugahyde
Not to be confused with the God/Ancestor/Homeworld of the Transformers, who has the same name.
Tropes employed by Primus:
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Larry "Ler" LaLonde.
- Blessed Are the Cheesemakers: Sailing the Seas of Cheese. Note, more generally, how many how their album titles involve a reference to food.
- Catch Phrase: The sentence "Primus Sucks", a reference to Les Claypool introducing the band saying "We are Primus and we suck" in early concerts, and meaning something along the lines of "Primus rocks" seems to have become this for the fans, even though its use is kind of controversial.
- Companion Cube: "Mary the Ice Cube"
- Cover Version: "Hello Skinny", "Constantinople" and "Sinister Exaggerator" by The Residents, "The Thing That Should Not Be" by Metallica, "Behind My Camel" by The Police, "Making Plans for Nigel" and "Scissor Man" by XTC, "Intruder" and "The Family and the Fishing Net" by Peter Gabriel, "Tippi-Toes" by The Meters, "Have a Cigar" by Pink Floyd, "Silly Putty" by Stanley Clarke, "Amos Moses" by Jerry Reed.
- There's also the intro of "Master of Puppets" and the intro from "YYZ" by Rush at the beginning of "To Defy the Laws of Tradition"
- Their cover of "N.I.B." by Black Sabbath actually has Ozzy Osbourne himself on lead vocals. Perhaps because of this, its their biggest rock radio hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart.
- Darker and Edgier: Pork Soda - the music is somewhat heavier than on Frizzle Fry and Sailing the Seas of Cheese, and it also features "Bob", one of the band's few entirely serious songs.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: "Sgt. Baker".
- Drugs Are Bad: "Lacquer Head"
- Epic Riff: Most famously, "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" and "My Name is Mud." But also "Tommy the Cat", "Groundhog Day", "Hamburger Train", "Electric Uncle Sam" and "Lacquer Head." Most of them tend to be on the bass.
- Epic Rocking: "To Defy the Laws of Tradition", "Frizzle Fry", "Harold of the Rocks", "Fish On (Fisherman Chronicles, Chapter II)", "Hamburger Train", "Professor Nutbutter's House of Treats", "Southbound Pachyderm", "Over the Electric Grapevine", "Eclectic Electric".
- First-Person Smartass/Private Eye Monologue: parodied in "Tommy the Cat", where it's performed by Tom Waits.
- Iconic Item: Les wears goggles or sunglasses a lot.
- And hats. Lots and lots of hats.
- Once he started his solo career, he developed a thing for masks.
- Let's Meet the Meat: One possible interpretation of "Shake Hands With Beef", the other being A Date with Rosie Palms. Les says it was the catchphrase of a vegetarian friend of theirs who'd occasionally eat meat.
- Loudness War: the clipping drums of Brown Album.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Difficult to say, since Primus' music is so unusually bass driven. But the best estimate would be about a 5-6.
- Motor Mouth: Les on "Is It Luck?", and Tom Waits on "Tommy the Cat", and he still has no idea how he managed to sing that fast.
- Murder Ballad: "My Name Is Mud".
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: As mentioned before, they're the only band with their own ID 3 tag in Winamp. The band themselves famously refer to their sound as "psychedelic polka".
- Our Product Sucks: Their tagline.
- Protest Song: "Too Many Puppies" is a humorous attack on the military; a verse mentioning "too many puppies in foreign lands" and another about "maintaining our oil fields" making it seem like it's against the Gulf War, but the album appeared in February 1990 and the war only started in August, possibly qualifying it for Funny Aneurysm Moment.
- Rhyming with Itself: Lampshaded in "Mr. Knowitall": They call me Mr. Knowitall/I am so eloquent/"Perfection" is my middle name/And... whatever rhymes with eloquent.
- Rule of Funny: they live on this, sliding all the way along the Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness.
- Sampling: the The Young Ones quotes of "Los Bastardos" and the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 sample of Choptop saying "Dog will hunt!" in "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver".
- "Where you goin', city boy?!" from the film Deliverance is used in "My Name Is Mud".
- Shout-Out: The beginning of "To Defy the Laws of Tradition" includes a bit from their previous live album Suck on This, with Alexander playing the intro of Rush's "YYZ" to great audience approval.
- Surreal Music Video: which ones aren't?
- Take That: "Coattails of a Dead Man"'s never been really explained by the band, but it's frequently interpreted as being anti-Courtney Love.
- Take That Me: Their motto/slogan is "Primus sucks." When fans first began to recognize the band on the street, Les' stock response to "you guys rule!" was "no, we really suck", and it mutated on from there. Occasionally fans who aren't in on the joke get offended when someone else says this.
- Town with a Dark Secret: "Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers".
- Uncommon Time: "Eleven" is, appropriately enough, primarily played in 11/8.
- Word Salad Lyrics: many songs. For example, have you tried making heads or tails of "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver"?