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Primus re-imagines Willy Wonka

"We were like, ‘Wow, we put a lot of work into this and it actually sounds kind of cool, maybe we should go in and record it.'"

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Even by Primus standards, this one is going to get weird.

"Les [Claypool] had been talking for a while about remaking some sort of classic," says Larry "Ler" LaLonde, longtime Primus guitar player, referencing the band's famed bassist and founder. "Every year we do some sort of themed New Year's show in the San Francisco area, so the year before last we started with the idea that we should do a Willy Wonka thing."

The band spent some time rehearsing and developing the idea. "Then, after we did the New Year's show," LaLonde recalls, "we were like, ‘Wow, we put a lot of work into this and it actually sounds kind of cool, maybe we should go in and record it.'"

The result, released in late 2014, is Primus & the Chocolate Factory With the Fungi Ensemble, a madcap re-imagining of the soundtrack to the beloved 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Primus Band
  • Photo courtesy of the band
  • Factory workers: Primus

The album, which includes frequent Claypool collaborators Mike Dillon (percussion) and Sam Bass (cello) as the Fungi Ensemble, marks the re-return of drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander, who had not been included on a full-length Primus album since 1995's Tales From the Punchbowl.

"I've played so many shows with him," says LaLonde. "And you know, a lot of times, especially when we have had other drummers, there's sometimes a learning curve, and you have to work on it. But when he came back, it was like jumping right back in."

Asked about the tour, now in its second leg, LaLonde laughs. "It's a long night of Primus," he says.

"The first setthere's no opening band — is whatever set we throw together of Primus songs. And then we take a little break, and the second set is the Willy Wonka thing, with the crazy stage setup and all kinds of crazy visual stuff."

To heighten interest in the release album, five "golden vinyl" LPs were included in the entire stock of Chocolate Factory records. Find one, and win free Primus tickets for life. (Primus announced the discovery of the first on its Facebook page; LaLonde thinks two or three have been found so far.)

And why stop there? There's also chocolate "Primus Bars" for sale on the tour, with flavors inspired by Primus songs. There is the Mr. Krinkle Bar, the Professor Nutbutter Bar and LaLonde's favorite, the Pork Soda Bar.

"That's kind of a special one," he says. "We don't have it at all our shows. It's got like, bacon bits and Pop Rocks. It's pretty decadent."

Despite Willy Wonka's status as an iconic children's film (and novel), LaLonde says that his associations with the movie stem from later in life — something many Primus fans can probably relate to.

"I saw [the movie] when I was a kid," he recalls, "and I probably liked it. But for me, it was one of those things that, once you got a little bit older, you saw it through a different lens," he laughs. "It's kind of a trippy movie."

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