Les Claypool “twangifies” with Duo de Twang (INTERVIEW)

Few musicians are as recognizable as Les Claypool. Between his bizarrely unique and hugely influential style of bass playing, darkly comical lyrics, and cartoonish, sinister vocal delivery, Claypool is a musical personality who would be impossible to rip off. In over three decades as a professional musician he has been involved in enough bands, collaborations and side projects to easily earn him status as a living legend. While his role as the bassist and frontman for Primus, Frog Brigade, as well as one third of the short-lived supergroup Oysterhead, which he put together with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and drummer Stewart Copeland of The Police, may be Claypool’s most notable endeavors, each and every project he has been a part of has only added to his strange allure and garnered more respect from his legions of die-hard fans.

That being said, Les Claypool’s latest side project, Duo de Twang, may be his simplest yet. To make it happen Claypool enlisted the guitar services of longtime friend Bryan Kehoe (aka Kehozer), an accomplished musician in his own right known for fronting the Bay Area bands M.I.R.V. and Kehoe Nation, among numerous other creative pursuits. In contrast to the elaborate light shows and production of Primus, the Duo de Twang live show is simply Claypool and Kehoe sitting down swapping stories, drinking, and having fun playing “twangified” originals, covers, and renditions of songs from their other bands.

Now the Duo de Twang has a new album out called Four Foot Shack (ATO Records), which aims to translate that laidback campfire aesthetic onto a studio recording. Four Foot Shack is a mishmash of original tunes, covers from seemingly random groups such as the Bee Gees (“Stayin’ Alive), Alice In Chains (“Man In the Box”) and Johnny Horton (“Battle of New Orleans”), as well as Primus favorites like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.” Recently Les Claypool took the time from Primus’ Australian tour to talk about Duo de Twang and other strange matters.


Bryan Kehoe has been involved in some rowdy projects (M.I.R.V., Kehoe Nation, etc.) and seems to be very much a frontman, and obviously so are you. How do you two find the balance onstage between both of your personalities?

I’ve known Kehoe since high school [when] he was a skinny amped up Tasmanian devil of a human being. Now he’s a large, less amped up but still somewhat Tasmanian devil of a human being. We have a pretty good rapport on stage; it’s almost like Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. We get up there and start drinking and telling stories and cracking jokes and occasionally play a tune. It seems to work out.

How much of the stories you tell are off-the-cuff?

Most of [them are]. The scene is pretty intimate and sometimes we’re on fire. Some shows it falls flat because maybe there’s no interaction with the room, or we just did a show on this boat (Jam Cruise) and we were both sick.


Can you talk about the recording process between you and Bryan for Four Foot Shack and how it went down in the studio?

It’s so weird to hear you say Bryan because I just think of him as ol’ Kehozer. I have a bunch of old vintage recording gear at my house that we always use, so I just set up a couple mikes. I pretty much did it all myself; I didn’t have an engineer. We just set up some mikes, started stompin’ away and playing, and you can hear the refrigerator every now and again and you can hear dogs barking from outside or a leaf blower going through. It’s very organic, which was the intent.

What does Bryan Kehoe bring to the table musically that works so well with your style?

I think what little Kehozer brings to the table is a very long history with me. We’ve been friends [through] times of extreme joy and extreme being-pissed-off at each other [laughs], so we’ve got good dirt on each other, we’ve got good stories. It’s a couple of old high school buddies sittin’ around the campfire playing tunes and telling stories, and usually drinking. And then whoever’s around – we had Jerry Cantrell sit in on it, Lukas Nelson, Warren Haynes, Chris Robinson. It’s more a [hang out] than a show.

Yeah, I caught you at Harvest Festival and you brought out Yonder Mountain String Band.

Yeah, it’s so casual. We pull people out of the audience sometimes. Like I said, it’s more sittin’ around the campfire. A couple months ago I went camping with my son – and he picked up banjo a while ago – and among the fishing poles and the rifles and the dog and whatever we had for our camping, he brought his banjo and I brought my Dobro bass. We played around the campfire and it was amazing. So I said, ‘we need to get a campfire for Duo de Twang,’ so we got this campfire and it just creates this vibe.

Have you encouraged your son to pursue music or did he just fall into it naturally?

It’s not his passion, but he enjoys it. He’s a total computer wiz so that’s where his passion lies. He goes and takes these courses at Stanford and UC Berkeley in the summertime. That’s really where his head is at, but he played bass when he was younger and now he’s picked up the banjo. He enjoys a lot of the same music [as me], whereas my daughter is much more into pop culture and whatnot, so it’s an interesting contrast.


Are you enjoying the stripped-down setup of Duo de Twang as opposed to a big Primus show?

I think it’s a good contrast – I get to sit down! We just kind of sit there and have a good ol’ time. That’s the thing about doing what I do and have done for all these years. The more [I work] the more interesting it becomes and the more interested in your instrument you become. Having done Primus for so many years, by the end of the nineties I was just so burnt out on my instrument. So going and doing these other things, whether it was Frog Brigade, Oysterhead, Bucket of Bernie Brains, these things reinvigorated my interest in my craft and made me a better player. Any time I do something different it’s very exciting, but it also makes it so I can go back and do things like Primus, which I love, and have a different perspective on it and be refreshed by the notion of going out [on tour] for a while.

Is there a chance that you would revisit Oysterhead?

We’re talking about it. Me and Stewart [Copeland] are very good friends so I talk to him quite a bit. There’s a lot of talk, it’s just a matter of all of our schedules lining up.

You jump into so many collaborations and projects. How do you get into the creative head space for each one even though they are all so different?

I don’t think of it that way. You don’t think about having different conversations with different people, you just kind of have that conversation and those conversations can be completely different from each other in content and whatnot. That’s the way I feel music is, it’s not difficult at all. The hard part at this point is going into a twangified version of one of my songs or a Primus song back into the non-twangified version. I start to stumble a little bit.

You and Kehozer are playing South By Southwest this year. Do you approach a festival like that with a game plan or just go with the flow?

I tend to not know what’s going on until I get there. The last I heard I heard we were going to set up some little side stage stuff around some food trucks, so I thought that was pretty cool. I’m not sure if that’s still happening and/or it should be a secret thing I wasn’t supposed to spill the beans on [laughs]. Us and food are a good combination – the Twang and the food. A digestif!

In your writing style, lyrically, a lot of your songs tend to be humorous, especially when you’re listening in the audience. Do you write for humor?

I come from a long line of wisecrackers. My grandfather who just passed away a handful of months ago was a wisecracking guy. My other grandfather is 90-years old he’ll sit there and look at you and say, ‘You know my can do can’t keep up with my want to,’ and he’ll say it like five times in a row and flash his big old false teeth at you. That’s the way my family [deals with things] is through humor. That’s the way we’ve always been. So a lot of these characters in my music are very dark and sinister and have huge social issues, but there’s a sense of humor too.

That’s like my life. My uncle who died at 50 was a tweaker his whole life; he was a very funny guy to hang out with but he was a very troubled person. My [other] uncle has been in and out of prison for the past thirty years. He’s in prison right now, and if you met him you’d think he’s pretty damn cool, he’s a funny guy, but you know, he’s a criminal [laughs]. It’s the same with watching an old [Frank] Capra film or a Coen Brothers film; there’s these characters that are very intriguing and colorful but they’re also very dark and tragic. There are elements of humanity to everybody no matter what the circumstance…I would like to hope [laughs].

You mentioned films and humor. Will there ever be a follow-up to Electric Apricot or something on a similar page?

I would love to. It’s just a matter of finance. That film kicked my financial ass and still continues to. We sold it to National Lampoon and the president of National Lampoon is currently serving time in federal prison for fraud, as is his second in command. That whole thing was just a huge mess – dealing with attorneys and that whole thing has just been a financial disaster for me even though the film itself did really well. We just recently got it back, so we’re trying to re-launch it through a different company. It was torture, but I’ve always had this analogy that [filmmaking] is like climbing Everest wearing a Speedo and losing limbs to frostbite and whatnot. Then you get back down and you look for the next mountain to climb. I love Capra, Elia Kazan, [Stanley] Kubrick and those guys, so I would love to make another film. I’ve written a handful of screenplays and I have my novel, which came from a screenplay. I’d love to do those things, but it’s just [difficult]. I can come home from Australia in a couple weeks and make a record – I’m working on a record right now – and I can just do it. It’s made at my house and I do it and hand it to some people and it goes out to the world.

Can you shed some light on the record?

It’s some Primus stuff right now. I can’t shed too much light on it but we [have] some things in the works. It’s sort of a collaboration between Primus and some other folks.

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