“For me, making videos for Primus was a huge thing. It was one of the things I was most excited about doing,” said Les Claypool in Greg Prato’s 2014 biography Primus, Over The Electric Grapevine: Insight Into Primus And The World Of Les Claypool. He reckons if he hadn’t been in Primus he’d have become a filmmaker, and you can see his guiding hand (and gurning face) in many of these 10 most visually startling, mystifying Primus promos…
10. John The Fisherman
Although the scenes of the band aboard a fishing boat (Claypool’s schoolfriend Kirk Hammett is one of the fishing party) seem straightforward enough, there are a few details that send Primus’s first video spiralling into madness, anticipating the surreal triumphs to come. There’s the weird, colourful animation, but most notable is the unexplained, demented housewife puppet.
9. The Devil Went Down To Georgia
Directed by Tim Burton stop-motion collaborator Mike Johnson, the promo clip for this cover of the 1979 Charlie Daniels Band chart-topper (released under the name Festus Clamrod and the El Sobrante Twangers) was a claymation masterpiece, as impressive today as it was in 1998. Especially the dancing chickens.
8. Lee Van Cleef
A quirky, unambiguous cartoon homage to the titular actor best known for 60s Western movies (most famously as ‘The Bad’ in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad And The Ugly), whose hanging corpse reassembles and revives itself before stalking off around a Wild West town in search of the sheriff, LVC’s old nemesis, Clint Eastwood…
7. Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver
The trio were creepily dolled up as a band of plastic toy cowboys (named Buck Naked And The Bare Bottom Boys) in the video for this 1995 Grammy-nominated shit-kicker, filmed at Les Claypool’s home/studio Rancho Relaxo. The narrative concerned the titular Taco Bell-chomping rodent (although it might have been a porcupine), with fun comic artwork by Claypool himself.
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6. My Name Is Mud
Straight to camera with a leering grin, Claypool channels sinister bumpkin Alowishus Devadander Abercrombie as he tries to bury the friend he just killed with a baseball bat. The video cuts to a health spa full of obese people, which certainly tickled Beavis and Butt-head, who agreed there should be more fat people in music videos because “fat people are cool.”
5. Tragedy’s A’ Comin’
“The song is all about impending doom,” Claypool noted to IFC, relating the personal tragedies that contributed to the single’s lyrics. “But to depict that would have been the cliche thing to do, so we’ve got lobsters.” The video’s lobster obsession is only alleviated by an unexplained spaceman on horseback – although it turns out he wants the lobster too.
4. Lacquer Head
Claypool never looked more like Fidel Castro than during the live segments of this video, which is otherwise distinguished by more hallucinogenic claymation. This time the theme was the sniffing of inhalants, a subject too contentious for MTV, who banned the video, even though it’s more likely to put viewers off the activity.
3. Southbound Pachyderm
This compelling conservation fable took six weeks to film, and was co-directed by Claypool, who sculpted the prototype models himself. “It’s pretty mind-boggling to see this thing in the works,” Les told Billboard in 1996, adding excitedly, “We’ve got this one gigantic machine that they used for the Star Wars films.”
By 2014’s demented concept album Primus And The Chocolate Factory With The Fungi Ensemble, the trio’s offbeat visuals had become synonymous with the claymation process. They outdid themselves for mind-warping psychedelia with this tale of a peppermint’s journey through a multicoloured sweetie universe of singing cakes, spiralling biscuits and voluble cows.
1. Mr. Krinkle
Mr. Claypool dons a sinister pig mask and green velvet tuxedo to strum on a double bass in an abandoned warehouse as a bewildering carnival of freaks and acrobats – from San Francisco’s School Of Circus Arts – parade behind him, all in one take. There’s also a cameo for Claypool’s wife and her sister as the skipping conjoined twins.