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Primus: Music Makers, Dreamer Of Dreams

Chapman Baehler / Courtesy of the artist

Primus' new album is titled Primus & The Chocolate Factory.

Chapman Baehler / Courtesy of the artist

NPR Music | Staff

Primus singer and bassist Les Claypool says that the idea for the band's seventh studio album, a cover of the soundtrack to the 1971 film adaptation of Roald Dahl's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, started as an idea in his head for a cover of "Candy Man." Then, the idea became the theme for one of Primus' annual New Year's Eve shows in San Francisco. The record, titled Primus And The Chocolate Factory, comes out October 21.

Claypool's says his fascination with the music and world of Dahl's book and the 1971 film started when he was "a young fellow."

"I was in grammar school and was completely enamored by the film, and can remember sitting in the theater watching the credits roll up with the imagery from the actual chocolate-factory assembly or whatever that was," Claypool tells NPR's Arun Rath. "A conveyor belt full of Hershey's Kisses and various things. And it just stuck right to me. I was hooked."

The connection makes sense on another level, as well. A Wonka quote — "A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men" — and the ethos of the film at large could describe the band's style: irreverent, silly, self-deprecating. In the band's early days, its members often wore shirts onstage that read "Primus Sucks."

"I grew up with stuff like Willy Wonka and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and some of these Disney musicals, early Disney musicals, and being subjected to a lot of country and folk music as a kid. You know, it made me write from the perspective of a lot of these characters," Claypool says. "Being a big fan of Frank Capra and Elia Kazan and Terry Gilliam, and seeing these films with these extremely colorful, poignant characters, that's how I always tried to convey whatever the hell it was I was trying to say in the music. And even though a lot of times — just like on this Wonka recording — these characters can be sinister and tragic, there is ... a lighthearted element to them. Or a colorful element."

Claypool says that, at this point in his career, he isn't so self-conscious about his band's perceived wackiness. Still, he says he knows taking on a beloved film like Wonka is always risky, especially after Tim Burton's 2005 remake.

"There's a good possibility there's gonna be some folks insulted by this, as well," Claypool says. "You know, I think that's the folly of taking on a sacred cow, you know. You're gonna please some folks and you're gonna piss off some folks. But I hope I don't piss off Gene Wilder, because he's definitely — for his '70s hairdo alone, he is a champion."

Hear the full conversation at the audio link.