Les Claypool talks Fearless Flying Frog Brigade’s ‘musical chowder’ ahead of May 26 Grinders show

Also, the surprise that broke the co-creator of South Park in a live concert.
man in hat with bass guitar

Les Claypool. / Photo by Paul Haggard

Les Claypool is one of the most prolific and progressive bassists and songwriters in contemporary music.

Primarily known as the frontman, lead vocalist, bassist, and main songwriter for his band Primus, Claypool also famously penned the theme song for Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park. He’s also co-frontman of The Claypool Lennon Delirium, alongside Sean Lennon.

This summer, he has set out on a cross-country tour with his jam band, Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, featuring fellow musicians Skerik (saxophone) and Mike Dillon (percussion, vibraphone), as well as Sean Lennon (guitar), Harry Waters (keyboards), and Paulo Baldi (drums). Colonel Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade’s Summer of Green Tour 2023 will stop for a leg in Kansas City, Missouri, at Grinders on Friday, May 26.

Claypool answered some of our burning questions ahead of the band’s upcoming KC jam session.

The Pitch: First, congratulations, as you’ve recently embarked on your Fearless Flying Frog Brigade’s Summer of Green Tour 2023. This is the first time the band has performed together since 2003. What inspired you all to get back together and perform again after a 20-year hiatus?

Les Claypool: Massive public demand. We’ve been talking about it for a while. There have been quite a few requests over the years for the project at various festivals and whatnot. We’re in between Primus time and Delirium time, so it just seemed like the right time to do it.

So, you’re playing with your Fearless Flying Frog Brigade at Grinders KC on May 26. Can you tell me what you’re most excited about for your stop in Kansas City on this tour?


Can you speak on the importance of improvisation in the Fearless Flying Frog Brigade’s music? Why do you love improvising when you play?

Well, many years ago, I did a thing called Oysterhead. Well, I did a band down in New Orleans, but it ended up becoming Oysterhead—which is Trey Anastasio, myself, and Stewart Copeland. We wrote stuff, but it was a lot of improv as well. So, it kind of just brought me into the jam world.

That’s how Frog Brigade started. We put together a project for the Mountain Aire Festival out in Calaveras County, and the Frog Brigade came about. So, I just sort of fell into that world. So, [Oysterhead] got a little element of that, but [The Frog Brigade got] much more of that element.

What is it about Pink Floyd’s Animals that you and the band love? I hear The Fearless Flying Frog Brigade plays through the album on your second live recording, the 2001 Live Frogs Set 2, and your set at each stop on the Summer of Green Tour 2023 will include a full performance of the album.

Basically, years ago when I first started the Frog Brigade, I had a keyboardist in my band, and I’ve always said if I ever had a keyboardist in my band, I wanted to play “Pigs.” So, I had a keyboardist, and I said, well, let’s play “Pigs.” And then I thought, well, let’s just learn the whole record. We were doing a tour of the West Coast. That way, we didn’t have to bring an opening band, and we could just play Animals in its entirety. We ended up recording it, and it just became something people enjoy.

I hear your horn player, Skerik, has suffered a shoulder injury, so you’ll have “random ‘special’ guests” standing in for him on tour now. First of all, how is he recovering? Secondly, any idea who might be playing in his place yet?

I’ve got ideas, but I’m not really telling anybody. As far as how he’s doing, we really don’t know at this point. We’re still waiting and wishing him the best. He’s pretty bummed.

Some of the June stops on your 2023 tour will be played with Talking Heads members Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew, coinciding with their Remain In Light Tour. What are you most looking forward to about these shows?

Well, Adrian’s an old buddy of mine. I was always a big fan, but he’s also just a great guy. So, I’m looking forward to some jamming and some hanging.

You’ve described the Fearless Flying Frog Brigade as “kind of a King Crimson meets Pink Floyd meets Frank Zappa type thing.” Could you talk about the influences of King Crimson and Zappa, as well, on the band’s work?

Did I really say that? I don’t remember saying that [laughs]. I never really listened to much Zappa. The Primus guitarist, that was more his world. I don’t know. Frog Brigade is kind of musical chowder. It’s various elements of expression and good friends just going out and making some racket.

Last year was the release of Primus’s first new music in more than five years, your 3-song Conspiranoid EP. What was the process of creating this EP like after the band hadn’t created new music together for a handful of years?

We were doing the whole A Tribute To Kings Tour last year, where we played Rush’s A Farewell to Kings record in its entirety, which was an insane amount of work. We had played it through, and were coming back, and I said, well, now we need new Primus material.

I wanted to write just one giant, epic song. I wanted to do, like, a 20-minute song, and we ended up with an 11-minute song. I don’t even remember how long “Conspiranoia” is [laughs]. So, we had this one giant song as the single, and we needed a B-side for it, so we came up with two B-sides, and that became the three-song EP.

Throughout 2022, you traveled the country as part of Primus’s ‘A Tribute To Kings Tour’ which paid tribute to another of your biggest musical influences, Rush. Can you tell me a story about this tour that most people wouldn’t have heard?

Well, it was pretty incredible to be in Toronto and look over and see Geddy and Alex watching what we’re doing and smiling and laughing. So, that was pretty good, and somewhat intimidating.

Can you speak a bit, also, about Rush’s influence on you as a musician?

As a youngster, when I was in high school, they were my heroes. They weren’t just even my heroes, my whole world revolved around them then. When you’re young… my tastes hadn’t evolved, so they were the most exotic thing I’d ever come across. It wasn’t until later I discovered more obscure stuff. But, when the three of us got together for the first time as Primus, here we have this drummer with a giant drum kit and we could play Rush songs in their entirety. It’s always been something that the three of us [Primus] have connected on. And now we’ve worked with them a few times, and they have become really good friends of ours.

Last year also saw Primus, Ween, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush, as well as Trey Parker and Matt Stone, perform in the “South Park: The 25th Anniversary Concert” at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. What was the most rewarding or surprising part of this performance?

It was pretty amazing, we secretly surprised Matt Stone by bringing Geddy and Alex out to play “Closer to the Heart.” Matt played drums on a few songs, and I was like, oh, we should play “Closer to the Heart.” He kept wondering why we were pushing that song so much. And when we did it one of the nights, he saw why when we brought out Geddy and Alex to play it with him. So that was pretty amazing, to see Matt so surprised and so touched, that was a pretty spectacular moment.

Recently, Primus, Tool’s Danny Carey and Justin Chancellor, and Queens Of The Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen released a live video of Tool’s classic song “Ænima.” The performance was shot last month at an intimate benefit concert at The Belasco in LA in support of the band members’ close friend: film director, screenwriter, and animator Jimmy Hayward, who is currently undergoing cancer treatment. I know you’ve also auctioned off exclusive merch from the concert and have set up a GoFundMe for Hayward’s benefit. You guys are great friends, and I can imagine that this performance at The Belasco was emotionally charged. Can you describe the experience of your recent benefit concert for your friend Jimmy Hayward?

Jimmy’s an old friend of ours. He works pretty closely with my son these days. In fact, they’re working on the Primus documentary together. They’ve cataloged over 900 hours of video footage. He’s an old friend, and he’s got young kids, and he has been battling some pretty serious cancer and is in remission now, but it’s taking a toll on him and his family. So, we decided to do this benefit. And he’s buddies with the Tool guys and the Queens of the Stone Age guys, so we put this project together for the night. It was pretty spectacular. We were able to put a drop in the bucket for medical costs and such things, but hopefully we’re able to take some of the load off of him and his family.

Lastly, can you tell me anything about the upcoming projects you’ll be working on after your current tour concludes?

Sean and I are in the middle of a Delirium record. I’ve been working on a record with Billy Strings. We do have a bunch of Primus live albums we’re working on right now, so hopefully those will see the light of day relatively soon. So, that’s kind of what’s been going on as of late, and what’s on the horizon.

Categories: Music