It’s not hard for even the most casual of lespecial fans to recognize the influence Primus has had on the CT-based group, from the band’s power trio lineup and stylistically defiant sonic palette to its members’ vocal Primus fandom to, of course, the frequent Primus covers they perform during live sets.
On (Frizzle) Friday night, March 12th at 8:00 p.m. ET, for the first time ever, lespecial will take on the entirety of Primus‘ 1990 debut LP for the aptly-named lespecial Plays Frizzle Fry livestream. The band encourages fans to tune in to the free stream via LoudSwell. You can also watch via the player below.
lespecial Plays Frizzle Fry – 3/12/21, 8pm ET – Livestream
Ahead of the livestream performance of Frizzle Fry, lespecial’s Luke Bemand (bass), Jon Grusauskas (guitar), and Rory Dolan (drums) chatted with Live For Live Music editor-in-chief Andrew O’Brien about dissecting the complex LP, channeling the Claypool chaos, and the lasting effects of this intensive Primus exercise.
“We’ve been playing a lot of these songs,” Grusauskas explains. “The first three or four we’ve already been covering, so it was a natural progression to be like, ‘Hey, let’s do the whole album.’ … We’ve been covering Primus for 15, 16 years. Luke and Rory have been playing together for 20 years and playing Primus and seeing Primus since then … but that’s not to say it didn’t take quite a lot of work to learn the rest of it.”
“We’d performed a handful of these songs before, but sporadically,” adds Dolan. “They would be sprinkled within other sets, and [we’re] not worrying about tackling thirteen of them in a row.”
To prepare for lespecial Plays Frizzle Fry, Dolan, Bemand, and Grusauskas took their scholarly appreciation of Les Claypool and company to new heights. An important part of that dissection was getting into the off-kilter, chaotic, even sinister mindset of the famously enigmatic band—an act whose debut album’s opening track clearly states its mission: “To Defy the Laws of Tradition”. Explains Dolan, “It’s like getting in character, essentially. I did actually look at it like that a lot. It’s like getting in character for a play.”
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For the Frizzle Fry livestream, lespecial aims for a genuine recreation of the studio recordings, though the nature of the material assured that there were other creative routes from which to choose—an ever-present decision between style and substance.
As Bemand explains, “The last few months have just been intensive rehearsals, all of us working hard on our own and then getting together as much as we can. … We listened to a lot of their tour, [the] Hallucino-Genetics Tour. Primus played Frizzle Fry in its entirety every night. We all got to catch that tour. There’s some amazing soundboards from that tour. So we’ve been really building off those live versions, but we’ve also been deep diving into 1988 versions of these songs. And the more we do it, we wanted to replicate the studio album. I think when we do [lespecial Plays Frizzle Fry] live, we’ll improvise more, but this is just us trying to really pay homage and tribute to a super important album to us. So hopefully people will feel like we did that justice.”
Grusauskas continues, “A lot of times when you do a cover, it’s cool to put your own spin on it. And especially as a trio, if we’re trying to cover a Radiohead or a Nine Inch Nails song, we’ve got to do it in our own way. This just felt right to really try to encapsulate the attitude [on the record]. Of course, our individual personalities will shine through a little bit, but I tried to stick to [Primus guitarist] Larry [LaLonde]’s guitar parts as much as possible, really get in his head and in his fingers and dissect what the heck he’s doing in Larry Land, as Tim Soya calls it. … A lot of his guitar playing is not traditional, it defies the laws of tradition. And it’s very sound-based. It’s not really about what scale he’s in. He’s painting an atmosphere. So that was a challenge.”
“I’ve been playing some of these songs since I was 15,” Bemand jokes, “And even still, I’m like, ‘Wow, even that song I was playing wrong?’ With learning Les Claypool’s technique, once you learn more, you realize how he plays certain things. … Some of these, you listen to them and you’re just like, ‘What the f— even is that sound?’ If you look up tabs … it’s like, ‘I don’t know. Just make some weird noises here.'”
Luke continues, “So you can look at [a section] that way and just be like, ‘Yeah, it’s weird, do whatever.’ But if you get really into the nitty gritty of it and start to dissect it, that’s when it really becomes fun. … Like parts of songs, like in the ‘Harold of the Rocks’ bass solo, where I’m just like, ‘It’s just noise. I can do whatever.’ [Here,] I’m like, ‘No, he’s doing something and I should do what he does.’ … Just looking at the songs that we’ve been playing and jamming to for so long, to get in there with this surgical precision was really cool.”
Bemand benefited from his experimentation with replicating Claypool’s tremolo-assisted bass parts (“Les just likes to make his bass sound like an old, creaking ship”) and developed a preference for a new, lighter string gauge and lighter string action. For Dolan—who mans the Claypool vocal parts in addition to Tim Alexander‘s drums with lespecial Plays Frizzle Fry—the lessons came not just from the material, but from a veteran Primus drummer himself.
“I had a drum lesson with Primus drummer Jay Lane two weeks ago,” Rory explains. “I’d wanted to do it for a while just to check in. He was the drummer in the band before they recorded this record, but had a hand in writing a lot of these drum parts for the record. And of course, has been in Primus a couple of times. Primus has a history of this revolving door of drummers. Tim’s been in and out of the band a couple of times, Jay has been as well. And it was just interesting—humbling, first of all, because the first thing I did for Jay, when I played one of the beats for the title song, he’s like, ‘No, no, no, all wrong!’ Just like all up in my face about it. And he was half kidding, half not.”
Rory had been studying and practicing the Tim Alexander-performed parts from the studio record. Lane, of course, had his own approach to the material. “They all have their own personality,” Dolan explains, “and I had been drilling the studio parts … It’s just so interesting to get a direct link to that stamp of personality that Jay plays it a certain way.”
Dolan continues, “I had told myself that whatever I find out in the drum lesson, I’m going to sort of take it with a grain of salt. I’m not going to totally reshuffle my whole deck of cards as far as getting exactly what Jay tells me to do. But inevitably … even though I told myself I was going to retain what I did before, it ended up infecting the way I played it—and it gave it a little bit of a ‘Jay-ski Hop’ to it, as Les would say.”
This exploration of the Primus DNA has already stimulated lespecial’s creativity. “I just feel really invigorated by having absorbed all this music and practiced it like crazy for the past month or two,” Rory reflects. “It puts you in a really good place to actually, in turn, be really creative. I’m really stoked to get in there and do new compositions with these guys having developed all that muscle doing this music.”
Aiming to keep the focus on the musical recreation, the band has opted to forego the high-tech visuals that accompanied its 2020 NYE Future Blast Off stream. lespecial is far from worried about the absence of the buzzed-about visuals. “I think when you see Rory going ham on the octobans,” Bemand smiles, “you’re not getting to worry about fractal galaxies exploding behind you—because he’s doing that himself.”
Watch the full lespecial Plays Frizzle Fry interview video below.
lespecial Plays Frizzle Fry – Live For Live Music Interview
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For information on upcoming lespecial performances—including a newly-announced date at Colorado’s Mishawaka Amphitheatre, a live lespecial Plays Frizzle Fry set at Beanstalk Music Festival, and a set at The Werk Out Music & Arts Festival—head to the band’s website.