Les Claypool (Primus) Opens Up About His Metallica Bass Audition


Metallica and Primus wouldn’t exactly make great bedfellows, the aggressive, angular riffs of one in stark opposition to the psychedelic experimentation of the other. But Claypool, then a bright-eyed kid from the Bay Area looking for his big break, once auditioned to play bass in what would end up becoming the biggest metal band of all time.

Following the tragic death of original Met bassist Cliff Burton in 1986, Metallica tried out a number of replacements, and Claypool was among them. It didn’t go very well, to say the least… not because Claypool couldn’t play, but because their styles were so different.

In a new chat with Kerrang!, Claypool described that experience and cleared up a commonly held misconception about the incident. Here’s how the chat went down:

Is it true that when you auditioned for Metallica, James Hetfield said something like, ​“Man, you’re much too talented. Go do something wonderfully weird on your own”?

“He definitely did not say that! He said that later on in an interview, which was very kind of him. I think they thought I was a freak. They were very nice – Lars [Ulrich] was particularly kind – and of course I knew Kirk from high school. But I think that James thought I was some sort of thug. Put it this way, I definitely didn’t look the part.”

They had just lost a pretty eccentric bass player, mind.

​“Yeah, but Cliff was eccentric in a whole different way. He definitely had a great look, that’s for sure. He was like a Viking or something.”

Did you entertain serious ambitions of joining Metallica?

​“To be honest, I wasn’t really into metal at the time. I just knew that it was my buddy Kirk’s band and that they were doing really well. It wasn’t until the audition that I got a sense of what was really going on. It was a bit of a heavy thing, the audition, and I didn’t realise until I got there that it was kind of a big deal. Afterwards I fantasised about quitting my carpentry job and touring Japan with them, but I didn’t get the gig.”

What would Metallica have sounded like with you as one quarter of the band?

​“Well, however it would have sounded I would have only lasted for a month or two before they kicked me out. They’ve got enough chefs in the kitchen in that band – they don’t need a guy like me. And the guy they have right now is unbelievable. Robert Trujillo is one of the nicest and sweetest guys I’ve ever met in the industry, and his playing is unbelievable.”

Primus will hit the road this summer to celebrate Rush’s 1977 classic, A Farewell to Kings, and the life of late drummer Neil Peart. The Sword and Wolfmother will open.

Metallica have a handful of festival dates lined up in North America later this year and have been deep in “some pretty serious writing” for their next album since last November. After first floating the idea of working on new music while under quarantine last April, by June Ulrich had revealed that Metallica were, indeed, in writing mode. James and Rob have both said they’ve been busy working on new songs, too, and Kirk Hammett has trumpeted the fact that he has over 600 song ideas recorded (after infamously losing his cell phone with 300+ ideas prior to the sessions for Hardwired). Hetfield recently said the band has at least 10 songs written from online jam sessions.

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