Without Les Claypool, there would be no Primus, not in the way that we know Primus, at least. His bass playing is the anchor around which everything else pivots and weaves. Luckily, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander elevated those pivots and weaves to great heights. The actual songs even languish in the shadows of the music's spotlight.
As AllMusic.com writes, “Their music is willfully weird and experimental, yet it's not alienating; the band was able to turn their goofy weirdness into pop stardom.” Perhaps, pop-punk is a better box to stuff Primus into, because a punk posture is definitely a part of the recipe.
Emerging in the mid- to late- '80s, Primus (originally Primate) was little more than an underground fancy. Their cult following exploded to an army of more than half a million, however, with the release of Sailing the Seas of Cheese in 1991. Tours with U2, Public Enemy, Rush, and Anthrax certainly didn't hurt. The album earned gold status, got some good MTV attention, and set up its successor for an even greater feat.
Pork Soda debuted in the Billboard Top 10 upon its release in 1993 and got them a headlining slot on that year's Lollapalooza tour and a spot at Woodstock '94. Tales from the Punch Bowl followed in 1995 and also achieved gold status.
The single “Wynona's Big Brown Beaver” earned a Grammy nomination, and the band performed on The David Letterman Show, as well as Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Primus was on a roll, and they weren't that happy about it.
The next year, the band was asked to pen a theme song for a new animated series, South Park. The creators were big fans. Also that year, Alexander got the boot and was replaced by Brian “Brain” Mantia whose more groove-oriented sound first appeared on 1997's The Brown Album.
Primus followed that up in quick succession with the 1998 EP Rhinoplasty and the 1999 album Antipop.
Antipop marked a shift from previous Primus ways. Each track was guided by a different producer, including everyone from Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello to South Park's Matt Stone. Tom Waits and Stewart Copeland even got in on the fun. Many longtime fans consider Antipop to be a return to form by the band.
The Antipop tour ended in 2000 with Mantia departing to join Guns N' Roses. Some speculation ensued that Alexander was back in, but the band dissolved instead in 2001.
Claypool embarked on a couple of side projects, one solo and one – Oysterhead – with Copeland and Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio. Alexander released a couple of albums with Laundry and dabbled with Blue Man Group and A Perfect Circle, among others. LaLonde did a bit of producing and tried unsuccessfully to open a recording studio.
The hiatus was short-lived. In late 2003, the three men reunited to do a DVD project and several tour runs. By 2005, they were back on stage at Lollapalooza and Vegoose. In 2006, their first greatest hits collection, They Can't All Be Zingers: The Best of Primus, was released along with their third DVD.
More touring and more re-releases followed suit. In 2010, a new Primus tour and album were announced with Jay Lane stepping in as drummer.