While Sean Lennon’s band the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger opened a 2015 tour for Primus, he and Les Claypool bonded and the foundation for the Claypool Lennon Delirium was laid.
How did you approach the arrangements? Adding extra layers, colors, and instrumentation? Lennon: Les really was adamant that he wanted it to be minimal. He was thinking about how we were going to play it live, which I never think about in the studio. I’m always following a fantasy musically that may not be recreate-able with a few people onstage. It’s always a puzzle for me to figure out how to represent what I’ve done in the studio. I tend to use the studio as a wizard’s chemistry lab where anything can happen. I worry later about how it would work live. But Les is really smart in that he is like, “No, it’s all about the tour. Let’s limit it.” It was a new thing for me to not do 10 guitar tracks and 10 keyboard tracks. The parameters were fixed in a way that was helpful actually.
Claypool: I wouldn’t consider it an arrangement thing. It’s more of a production thing. I didn’t feel it necessary to layer in a bunch of guitars or a bunch of different instrumentation or what have you. It was a matter of where we found a balance and a compromise to get what we ended up getting, which is the Phobos record.
You cover “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The studio was a big part of that song. How are you approaching that live? Lennon: It’s funny, because I never really do Beatles’ songs, obviously, because it’s too embarrassing or something [laughs]. But Les was like, “This is a supergroup. We’re going to do covers of your songs and my songs. We’re going to blend our two worlds and we want to put on a good show. I think it’s time that you do a Beatles’ song in your set, just to embrace it as opposed to trying to avoid it.” And I thought, “You know, I wouldn’t do this for anybody but you, man.” That’s what I said. I was like, “If you really want to do it, I trust you.” Because you know, there is something like, “What the fuck does Sean think he’s doing? Why is he doing a Beatles song?”
The reactions I’ve seen so far have been super positive. Lennon: Yeah. I was surprised, because I thought a lot of people would be like, “Fuck him.” But you know, I love the music and we went through a couple options, like which one might work. “Tomorrow Never Knows” was the one that I was comfortable with. I mean, sure, it is hard to recreate—we’re not trying to recreate it exactly. But it’s certainly easier than playing “A Day in the Life” or something, because it’s just one chord, pretty much.
Claypool: I’ve come to a few realizations from becoming good friends with Sean. Like most of the planet, I used to sit back and go, “Oh the children of famous people or legendary people must have it made. All the doors open for them when they do this thing or the next thing.” And really it is almost the opposite. I’ve learned that he has so much scrutiny—he is under such a magnifying glass—whenever he does anything musical. I know my own son, he was a bass player and he switched from bass to banjo because he got tired of people saying, “Oh you’re Les Claypool’s son, hmmm …” And that’s on a very small scale compared to what Sean has to deal with. I sympathize with him on many of these things. But I also know from playing with him that he has a very strong voice of his own and a very strong signature. I think some of that is because he has elements of his father—and he also has elements of his abstract mother that shine through—but, also, he’s Sean. He’s an interesting fellow with an interesting perspective. He’s very intelligent. He’s extremely humble. I think more than anything I’m hoping that the planet gets to see that he does have his own voice beyond the expectations of his DNA.
What basses did you use on the album? Claypool: I used my dobro bass quite a bit. I have an old Eko bass that I used quite a bit, too, and then my Pachyderm bass. It’s all 4-string stuff except for the upright—a lot more pizzicato stuff, less thumping, but there is also some thumping and strumming on there.
Were you going direct or using an amp? Claypool: I take a signal from an amp. I don’t mike it, but it’s a direct signal from an amp. I haven’t miked a cabinet in many years.
Was any of it tracked live? Claypool: Quite a bit. Sometimes Sean’s on the drums and I’m on the bass—sometimes it’s bass and guitar.
What guitars did you use? Lennon: I’ve been playing BilT guitars. One of them is called the Relevator. It has these knobs that are a built-in delay, a built-in fuzz, a mute knob, and a delay solo knob. On the song “Oxycontin Girl,” you can hear me using that guitar for the first time. You can play a note and then use the knob where you can change the delay time—because it is built in—and it changes the pitch for a second. It’s been hard to get used to. Using those knobs and buttons in the studio is one thing, but then when you’re onstage it can get confusing. I’m getting better at that now. I really think the BilT guys make amazing guitars. I don’t really like most new guitars, but their guitars feel really good. I feel very comfortable playing them and the tone is great.
I brought my pedalboard and two guitars. I brought one amp, which I didn’t use very much. I used Les’ little Mesa/Boogie—whatever was there—it was his Mesa/Boogie Mark II, those little ones that have the switch and the two channels.
Do you get your distortion from the amp or from pedals? Lennon: It depends. I feel I have amp distortion just as my basic setting. I like the sound where it’s up to my dynamics as to how distorted it sounds. Hopefully, it is clean enough that if I play light, I can do a ballad-y moment, but if I dig in it will give you a little bit of that drive. That’s the ideal state for me. But I do like the boost, too. The amp is driven anyway, so when I turn on the fuzz pedal it is driving the amp from the pedalboard really hard, which I like.
What amp are you touring with? Lennon: I’m touring with a Fender [Hot Rod] DeVille. I know it’s not supposed to be the greatest amp, but that’s what I’ve been touring with since I was in my 20s. I always try to move to something more whatever—bigger or better—but I don’t feel comfortable.
That’s not what I use in my studio, though. I have a ton of amps in the studio: these weird old things—just collectable weird—Hawaiian amps from the ’50s and a really good Fender Deluxe with the distortion I use for most solos. But on tour, in terms of an amp I can rent, that I can replace right away, that’s always going to be in every city in the world if I need it—the DeVille is the one I’m most comfortable with. I can get the sound that I like from it. I don’t know, I’m not an amp expert, maybe, but a lot of guitarists are like, “That’s not a great amp.” But I like it.
There’s no shame in using a DeVille. Lennon: There is huge shame. I hang my head… No, I’m kidding [laughs]. I just mean in terms of a guitar magazine worthy comment, I know it’s not that interesting.
Will there be any more exciting or interesting covers to look forward to as the tour rolls on? Claypool: Oh yeah. We are pulling out covers every now and again. You just have to wait and see what happens.
Check out the Claypool Lennon Delirium’s entire June 11, 2016, set from Manchester, Tennessee’s Bonnaroo festival.