Publication: Classic Rock (UK Magazine)
Date: August, 2001
Missy Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Missy Williams (email@example.com)
page: 46 title: Home Improvement author: Rosanna Slater (transcribers note: Because this *is* a UK magazine, some of the spellings and grammar are a bit odd, but this article was transcribed exactly the way it was printed in the magazine.) At the point where precision engineering meets fallible human appendages, you will find Tool. Now Classic Rock meets the self-proclaimed “new Metallic”. Nuts and bolts: Rosanna Slater. Formed in the midst of the oppressive alternative nation of the early 90s, Los Angeles-based quartet Tool – Maynard James Keenan (vocals), Adam Jones (guitar), Danny Carey (drums) and bassist Paul D’amour – were among the first to combine metal aesthetics and post-punk sensibilities, single-handedly introducing a dark and abstract underground sound to the narcissism of art rock. Ten years, three albums and seven million sales later, while a whole host of hard rock pioneers such as Alice In Chains, Helmet and Sound garden have fallen by the wayside, Tool have remained seminal. The band first drew attention to themselves with the release of 1992’s ‘Opiate EP’ mini-album, a power introduction to their ponderous, dense and sparsely tuneful style. Debut album ‘Undertow’ featured guest vocals from Henry Rollins on the track ‘Bottom’, and earned Tool a slot on the US’s third Lollapalooza tour the following year. Born to a Baptist family, vocalist Keenan grew up with his elder sisters in Ravenna, Ohio. The son of high school teachers, he’s a notoriously volatile and complex character – one of those introverted and difficult rock star types averse to eye contact. His childhood was a painful tale of abuse and insecurity, as the unsettling biographical ‘Prison Sex’, from ‘Undertow’, recounts. Acutely cautious of the media, he and his band are complete control freaks who direct their own videos, design their own album artwork, and seldom choose to be interviewed. When we met for the first time last year during his stint with side-project A Perfect Circle, during an uncomfortable 30-minute sitting, thumbs were twiddled, heads were scratched and ceilings were studied, but not one single word was uttered. It is a pleasant surprise, therefore, when Classic Rock comes face to face with a pale shadow of the character from the previous disagreeable encounter. A slight five feet 7 inches tall, with shaven head and a commanding presence, Keenan has every right to be in high spirits. Tool’s third studio album, “lateralus’ (the title apparently has no English definition) had debuted No. 1 on the US Billboard chart that week, and a small clutch of Stateside shows had sold out within minutes. “We’re not naïve about how the business works – it’s not like we walked into a casino and pulled a lever and hit the jackpot, and all the money just pours out into your hands,” Keenan begins. “just because we’ve got a successful record doesn’t mean we’re gonna get paid. It’s wonderful to see the success – we go out and party, and it’s a real milestone for us – but it doesn’t mean the work is over.” The day prior to their highly anticipated UK Ozzfest appearance, the band, apparently eager to fit in a round of golf before the shows, ponder the other acts on the bill. For Keenan, at least, it’s not a pretty picture. “It’s such an artist-oriented arena these days, and it’s such a shame,” he sighs. “If you look at Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins, for example, those are guys who completely kicked ass and ended up inspiring a whole new generation of bands like Nine Inch Nails and Butthole Surfers. Then suddenly shitty band ‘A’ turned up and was taking up their space. Then shitty band ‘B’ came along and replaced shitty band ‘A’. By the time shitty band ‘C’ came out, people were like: “Oh, shitty band ‘B’ are shit, but not half as shitty as shitty band ‘C’”! “The standards had already been lowered to the point where you’re saying the original turd isn’t half as bad as the recent turd. The standards continue to lower, so now we’re in a climate where we have to try and coax people back into listening to good music, and that sucks.” Contrary to a fault, clearly it’s Keenan’s bitter observations that fuel typical Tool fare like ‘Undertow’ closing track ‘Disgustipated’, which protests a carrot’s right to life, or the video to ‘Hush’ (from ‘Opiate EP’), in which the band stand nude with parental advisory stickers over their crotches and buttocks. During the 80s, Keenan even ventured into comedy, performing in after-hours bars – a far cry from his now cagey public persona. However, he has learned, he says, that bizarre behaviour can have its down side too. When he joined the army in ’82 it was “the most illogical thing I could possibly do….so I did it.” As a member of the US Military Academy West Point (prep school class of 1984), Keenan was a member of the varsity wrestling team and a cross-country athlete. “It was a learning experience,” he recalls pensively. “You can really learn a lot about human nature, because for the best part you’re dealing with the worst parts of every walk of life – predominantly fucking ignorant people and followers. You can learn a lot about others, and in particular about yourself.” A closet Joni Mitchell fan, Keenan soon realized that he hadn’t found his niche, and quit the army to study art at the Kendall College of Art & Design. In stark contrast to his military lifestyle, he found himself a job applying spatial design concepts like Feng Shui, and even entered the pet industry. Music, however, remained his prime interest, and during the mid-80s he formed enigmatically named bands like Children of Anachronistic Dynasty, and TexAns. Sitting alongside Keenan and listening intently is bassist Justin Chancellor. A musketeer-bearded, reserved but instantly likeable type, and desperately trying to hand on to what's left of his English accent, Chancellor is a keen artist, who in person is both imperturbable and pleasantly spaced out. The only non-original member of Tool, he met Keenan, Jones, and Carey in New York. His then band, Peach, later went on to support Tool during a 1994 European tour. When original Tool bassist Paul D'amour jumped ship soon afterwards, the band called Chancellor, who beat off tough competition from Kyuss's Scott Reeder and Filter's Frank Cavanagh. Chancellor joined in time to play on 96's squillion-selling, Grammy award-winning 'AEnima' (named after the album's apocalyptic title track about an earthquake that devastates California - now *there's* a new concept), which was also the album that secured Tool's status as one of the decade's most artistically ambitious success stories. Originally from Illinois, guitarist and 'visual thinker' Adam Jones's musical history stems back to elementary school, where he played the violin and stand-up bass in the orchestra. Forming Electric Sheep with future Rage Against the Machine leader Tom Morello, Jones eventually chose art over music and enrolled at the Hollywood Make-up Academy. As a sculptor and special effects designer, he went on to work at Rick Lazzarini's Character Shop, designing, among other things, a head on a spike used in Ghostbusters 2, as well as Freddy Kreuger's make-up in Nightmare On Elm Street Part 5. He later went on to work on Hollywood blockbusters such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Edward Scissorhands, and Jurassic Park, and learned camera techniques he would later apply while directing several Tool videos. The creative mind behind Tool's trademark drilling riffs and grotesque videos (notably 'Stinkfist', which depicts grief-stricken, tadpole-like men made of sand, nursing swollen brains after eating nails and inhaling barbed wire), Jones is initially the most aloof member of the band. Pencil thin, bordering on pretty, rolling his eyes, looking at the ceiling and sneering are all skills he's developed masterfully. When asked how the five years between the release of AEnima' and this year's 'Lateralus' were spent, he looks almost insulted. "Well, what you have to remember is that we toured for nearly two years, then took time off, toured a little more, took time off, toured a little more…and then a year ago, we started the writing and recording process. Plus, we're definitely anti-album-a-year like some bands do - they start sounding like cover bands of themselves. I don't know where you were going with that question." What Jones doesn't mention is that during their lengthy hiatus, Tool were sued by their own record company for allegedly courting offers from other labels while still under contract. They were also hit with a lawsuit from their manager of seven years. Litigation was crippling, and although a stop-gap two CD/DVD set 'Salival' (featuring live and previously unreleased material including a cover of Led Zepplin's 'No Quarter') came out last year, the band appeared to go their separate ways. Indeed, according to drummer Carey there was a time when the band weren't even communicating with each other. A burly, suffer-looking sort from a middle-class family in Kansas, Carey began taking drum lessons at the age of ten, got his first kit at 13, and was awarded a high-school scholarship to go to the Conservatory of Music in Kansas. He studied at the University of Missouri, where he got a classical training, but abandoned college after getting the chance to work as a session musician for artists as diverse as Pygmy Love Circus and Carole King. During Tool's recent hiatus, he drummed with Pigface (an industrial 'supergroup' featuring Killing Joke's Martin Atkins, and the Dead Kennedy's Jello Biafra, Revolting Cocks, and Ministry's Paul Barker and producer Steve Albini), while Jones joined Melvins singer King Buzzo in experimentalists Noise Arcade. Keenan, in particular, took advantage of time away from Tool, providing vocals for the Deftones' 'White Pony' album, debuting with Tori Amos on 'Muhammad My Friend', and working with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor on the collaborative studio venture Tapeworm. Most notably, he also formed A Perfect Circle with roommate and Guns N' Roses/Smashing Pumpkins guitar tech Billy Howerdel. A Perfect Circle's debut album 'Mer de Noms', a far more accessible release than any so far from Tool, triumphed commercially. With two more records under contract, there's more to come from APC, quite possibly to his Tool compatriots' dismay. "We were a little frustrated with everything that was going on," Carey admits. "We're just relieved that he came back. It was something he needed to do, and I guess it didn't really affect us that much. It defiantly didn't detract from how great it can be when the four of us get together. Nothing can take that away from us." Jones concurs, albeit somewhat reluctantly: "It took off real big, and that's fine. I think in the end it can only help Tool's situation." "Being in Tool is such a huge part of my life," Carey continues. "it's what I live to do at this point in time. We don't have to be big personalities, we're just selling a product that's very worthwhile." Jones also plays down the celebrity. "We try to push the music first. If you look at someone like Jon Bon Jovi, he was a rock star before he was a rock star. You know, those type of people think the only way to appeal to people is to be like, 'Dig me'. I think Jon Bon Jovi's gonna be real embarrassed about being Jon Bon Jovi one day. He's gonna wake up and fell like a fool. "I like being protective over my privacy and in control of my life," he adds. "On our last tour we could go out and watch the opening band, because no one would recognize us. It was awesome. Push the music first; the image of the band is secondary, and that's the way it should be." Keenan himself insists he sees Tool as a "very small part of my life, it just happens to take up the most of it. My main focus is our relationships with each other and dealing with life and the shit it throws at us. At the moment, I'm thinking about how wanna build a wine cellar in my house, and I've wanted to do it for a while. So while I'm out here, I'm just daydreaming about my wine cellar." Like Jones, he's defensive of his privacy: "I don't see why you should have to give up your right to go to the grocery store, so yeah, I get a little resentful of that. But I can understand it. As a kid, I was very much into Kiss. But when I had a chance once in New York to walk up to Kiss as they were coming out of the backstage area, at the moment where I thought, "Yeah, it's OK to do that', I turned and thought, 'What the fuck? Why? What am I gonna say?' My appreciation is that I support what they do, I buy their albums, and I listen. After consideration, I didn't really see the point in bothering them." Keenan is most guarded when about the effect of his fame may have on his son Devo. An enquiry as to whether Devo listens to his dad's music is met with an affirmative nod. When asked why he often stands with his back to the crowd, even though his usual stage attire includes such exotic items as bustiers, Speedos, wheelchairs, body paints, TV evangelist suits and leather jump suits, he merely shrugs. "Well, it's mostly because of the new stage set-up," he says, apparently with little interest. He perks up more when asked about Tool's latest - and yes, greatest - album, 'Lateralus'. Produced by Dave Botrill ( who oversaw their last release and who's also manned the controls for Peter Gabriel) and clocking in at well over and an hour at an epic 79 minutes, Keenan is intensely proud of his latest achievement. "It's accessible to anyone who's willing to listen," he reasons. "I think there's a problem that we're faced with nowadays: the deafening lack of an attention span and the space available. People fill it right up with shit." Rooted in the progressive-rock sensibilities of early-70s Pink Floyd and the avant-adventurism of prime-time King Crimson (who Tool take out on tour with them in America later this year, following guitarist Robert Fripp saying that he listens to Tool to get his day started), 'Lateralus', is a futuristic soundscape, part concept album, part unfilmed movie - so much so that Keenan claims the band are now thinking of creating a full-length movie around it. "I feel we're the dinosaur," he sighs his bald head glinting with sweat. "I feel we're a dying breed that stuck to their guns and are about the next phase of awesome music. I think we're the new Metallica. We've done our thing in the shadows for so long and suddenly it breaks, and people understand what it's about and how far we've come to get to this point." "It's kinda like the passing of the torch - finally people come around to realizing what Metallica are about. But for them, it's kinda over, it's the next phase now. Well, I hope it's not really over for them," he retracts. "I just mean that Metallica might be treading a fine line between being inspiring and being perhaps ready to pass the torch to another era. I mean, look at us - we're not 21 years old anymore." Who is? But when Keenan looks back at Tool's decade-long history, he knows the source of the band's staying power: "Communication, and checking your ego at the door," he smiles. "We're not just band mates - band mates don't necessarily stick with each other - we're family. You can move through friends and walk away from them if they try your patience, but with family, you're with these people and you have no choice. You're with these people, and you really have to force yourself to work things out." Four friends who came good, Tool, in no uncertain terms, will claim that they're doing this for themselves. "We're not in the least bit concerned whether you listen to us or not," Keenan insists, not entirely convincingly. "But we guarantee that if you do listen, we might learn something from each other."
Posted to t.d.n: 09/25/01 20:25:26