the AU interview: Tim Alexander of Primus (USA) talks Big Day Out

Primus may be one of the most original and dynamic rock bands of the past 30 years. They were also hugely popular – a position that doesn’t always come with originality – but, from inside the circus, drummer Tim Alexander struggled to see all the band had achieved. In 2009 he no longer felt he could play music, which was all he had ever wanted and known to that point in his life. He wondered what it was all for. So he quit.

Alexander’s departure from the band came just a few years after the celebrated reunion of original members Les Claypool, Larry "Ler" LaLonde and he. It was not long before Primus, now featuring Jay Lane on drums, committed to recording Green Naugahyde, released in 2011, the band’s first new material in 12 years.

The album – rich with Claypool’s signature funk-rock bass-slapping and stream-of-consciousness, anti-establishment lyrics, Ler’s incendiary riffs and now Lane driving the decidedly idiosyncratic time signatures on drums – cemented the band’s legacy and longevity. Primus toured the world on festivals and headlined their own shows again. They were brilliant.

Alexander, who had driven the Primus sound through its most successful period in the ‘90s, was soul search as the band reminded the world what was possible from three artists on stage. But after near-four years of self-reflection, Alexander has rejoined a now-quintessential Primus. As the band prepares for its Australia tour in January, and a new album, Alexander spoke earnestly with the AU review about his journey.

Hi Tim, how is life back in Primus?

I’m excited, man, and it seems like everyone else is excited about it also.

How did you spend your hiatus from the band?

I’ve spent the last two years just kind of being at home with a new baby... but you know back about three or four years ago when Primus was getting back together, my heart just wasn't in it – you know. I was just in a pretty dark place. I just told ‘em I couldn't do it. You know? I can’t do it. So I just kind of went off. My wife ended up getting a job up in Canada, so we moved up close to the border up in Washington. So that’s just kind of what I've been doing... You know I had just reached a point where I was wasn't enjoying playing music at.

And it scared me, you know, because that’s all I’d ever done. That was all I’d ever wanted to do. So it’s been just four or five years of questioning that and being not sure, until just recently I started feeling like getting back into it. And then Les called and asked if I was interested in getting back together and, so I said yeah.

Do you have a grasp of where those feelings came from, now that you have had some time to reflect?

I guess... you know I guess that having some good success when we were pretty young and then I think, for myself... Les and I are both pretty strong, or we just like things our own ways. And I think that tension creates great music as well. But I think I was just kind of growing apart musically. And I think I was wanting some kind of deeper meaning in the music I was making. But I think I was maybe just looking for more control in how my life was musically. About that time I started doing some other things with other people and I was a little over involved.

But yeah, I think my ego needed to be fed, you know, and it wasn’t happening like it was back in 1995 when we first kind of split up. So, since then I’ve gone through a lot of changes and done some different things. I think over time I’ve learnt to appreciate the Primus music and playing with Les and Larry. And I’m seeing more clearly what I’ve done in my life with them. Being able to look at that and think more positively about it.

Primus seems so original, and even after 30 years, no one is doing what you guys do. There’s a lot to be positive about

It’s really hard to see it the way you see it. So that’s where... and I’m sure a lot of other bands go through it as well... having internal issues between members comes from, I guess. But what it is, it’s like a marriage. Then money gets involved and it starts getting hairy, you know. Speaking for myself, I think I wanted a lot more respect from the band, and the same with Les, you know, I think he wanted to be appreciated a lot better and we never really talk to each other in any kind of deep emotional ways you know.

We’re very kind of... we play music together and we don’t really hang out. But we have a relationship, you know. But we’re hitting 50 years old. Les just turned 50, and I’ll be 50 pretty soon, and I think we’re a lot more mature now. And for me, like I said, I can appreciate it a lot more and I’m ready to get back in and not become needy (laughs).

Obviously, Les’s bass playing and lyrics get a lot of attention from fans and critics but the guitar riffs and drum arrangements sound really complex as well. How much of your music comes from you three just jamming, and how much of it is a deliberated writing process?

In the past it’s been kind of jamming on an idea. Maybe I start playing something and then Les will start playing on it. Or maybe Les will come up with something and we’ll all start jamming on it. It’s never really been where someone comes in with in the whole song written and we all just play our parts really. But recently, I was told, Les said that Larry brought in a whole heap of ideas for our next record (our call broke up at this point but was reconnected)... Les said he wanted Larry and I to bring in more stuff on the next record, bring in more ideas and writing stuff, things like that.

So as far as writing goes we’re probably going to approach things a little differently on the next album. We also have the same approach of just kind of playing naturally with each other and things come out of it. It’ll be interesting. A new approach and we will hopefully come up with some good stuff. We’ve been in Les’s studio working on stuff for the new year’s show but I don’t know if there are any plans for releasing that.

Can we expect any new material on the Australia tour?

You know, I don’t know looking at schedule, It doesn’t look like there’s going to be any time to write anything new. Les is going off, right after our new years show, he has to go do this thing called Duo de Twang... and they’re going off on one of their jam cruises so I don’t think there’s going to be any time to work on any new Primus stuff.

Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to about the tour here in January?

I haven’t been there since the ‘90s, the mid-90s. We played a Big Day Out there when it was just in Sydney. Last time I was there we played with Soundgarden and Bjork, I think the Ramones played – it’s hard to remember all the bands but I’m really excited to be out playing again for sure. It’s kind of what I’ve realized – being a drummer and playing music is what I’m here to do and I’m ready to get back into it. I really loved Australia so I’m ready to get back into it.


Primus will be performing at Big Day Out and sideshows:

Sunday 19th January: Metricon Stadium & Carrara Parklands, Gold Coast,
Friday 24th January: Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne
Sunday 26th January: Sydney Showgrounds, Sydney
Monday 27th January: The Metro, Sydney - SOLD OUT!
Friday 31st January: Bonython Park, Adelaide
Sunday 2nd February: Claremont Showgrounds, Perth