Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang

Four Foot Shack

How “deconstructed” can a group get? How about just one vocal, one bass, one guitar, and a basic beat supplied by stomping on a mini-tambourine-doohickey? That’s exactly what everyone’s favorite storyteller/narrator, Les Claypool, is incorporating in his new band, Duo de Twang. While Les is still pulling double duty with the Primus lads, he has also found the time to unite with his old buddy, Bryan Kehoe, who fans will recognize from several past Claypool projects, and also as one of the main actors from Les’ hilarious jam band mockumentary, ‘Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo.’ But unlike Primus, DDT focuses more on the Americana/rootsy side of things – as heard throughout the band’s debut recording, ‘Four Foot Shack.’

“I was asked a year before last to put together a project for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco,” recalls Les about DDT’s formation. “So I thought, ‘I’ll do a little duo thing,’ and I originally thought, ‘Well, Mike Dillon, he can bang on some stuff, and I can twang away on my dobro bass.’ Then I got to talking to Mirv, and he ended up doing it. But then he couldn’t continue on, and I still really enjoyed it – it was a great thing. We did a couple of shows, so I got a hold of my old buddy, Kehoe, who I’ve known since high school, and it kind of just turned into he and I sitting there in front of the campfire, playing hillbilly versions of my songs and some other people’s songs. And drinking. It’s an intimate thing – you sit there and hobnob with the crowd, and play a couple of tunes…and do some more hobnobbing.”

As a result, a DDT performance is bound to be one the most laid back, charming, and fun performances you’ll witness.  “My son and I went on a camping trip up to Kernville this last year and we brought my twang bass and his banjo and at night we’d sit around the campfire with the dog and twang away.  It was one of the greatest times of my life and I thought, hell, I need to do this on stage.  So, with a little Hollywood magic and some backwoods ingenuity, we now have two guys sitting around the campfire, having a couple of beers, playing tunes. We are literally sitting around the campfire – it’s more of a hang than a show. So, bring your s’mores and wieners.” And as evidenced by DDT’s live shows and debut, Les and Bryan mostly mix traditional tunes, popular covers, and readings of Primus classics (all of which are usually barely recognizable when compared to the original versions). Case in point, the inclusion of “Battle of New Orleans,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “Man in the Box,” “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver,” and “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver” on DDT’s debut disc. “A lot of it is just stumbling across it,” explains Les about how a tune is selected to be twang-ified. “You’re twanging away, and then all of a sudden, something just comes out. And then you laugh about it…or you don’t. And then you move on. There are tons of songs that we’ve stumbled across, and these ones just happened to be the ones that stuck.”

Upon hearing ‘Four Foot Shack,’ you’ll quickly discover that Les and Bryan made it a point to keep things as live-sounding as humanly possible. “It was very live,” admits Les. “In fact, it was a little difficult, with all the bleed of the stomping and the bass and the vocals. Every now and again you can hear the studio refrigerator come on or the dog barking at something outside in the background.  Once it was there, you had to kind of leave it. But it was very stripped down. My studio is all this old, vintage gear. My original thought was just to go direct to two-track with it, but that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, because it just would have been too big of a hoop of fire to try and jump through.  I got my son to play a banjo roll on Battle of New Orleans because he picked up the instrument last year and loves that tune.  I tried to get my daughter to sing back up but she didn’t want to have anything to do with it, which I find odd because she’s into all this new country that’s saturating the airwaves.  I guess her ol’ Pa just ain’t as cool as Jason Aldean.”

From the sounds of their debut recording and shows, Les and Bryan are having a grand old time BS’ing, drinking, twanging, and laughing. “I think it’s one of those things that I’m going to do quite a bit when I have the time to do it. I call it my ‘vacation band,’ because I don’t have to worry about production. It’s just me and Ol’ Kehoezer and a couple of other guys, cruising around. Originally, we talked about touring in an old Cadillac. We sort of did that when we rented a Cadillac SUV on this brief run that we did, but we’ve yet to really do it proper. I need a ’58 Eldorado, actually I’m looking for an old Chrysler Imperial right now, ha! That would do the trick.  The Twang project is me exploring a lot of stuff that I personally listen to; Johnny Horton, Vernon Dalhart, Jerry Reed, Bob Wills, Eddy Cochran stuff like that – it’s another door for me to open. I’m doing this sort of Luther Perkins, Johnny Cash guitar-ish type part on my bass, by doing the old ding-dinka-ding, dinka-ding-dinka-ding on a lot of the stuff. It took me a little bit to get that. Now that I’ve gotten it, I can pull songs out of the air and it’s surprising how many songs easily succumb to the twang, and can be complimented by the twang. When all is said and done, it’s just a hell of a fun project for me right now. I’ll do it ’til it’s not fun anymore.”