Publication: Chart Magazine
Date: December 1996, Issue 78
Transcribed by VAILLANCL@lces.scbe.on.ca (Luc Vaillancourt)
title: Tool- Barium For The Brain author: Robin Genovese "I'd like to dedicate the next song to the owners of this building," chirps Maynard James Keenan in the general direction of the pit at Fresno, CA's venerable Wilson Theatre. "It's called 'Opiate,'" the singer continues, staring at some kids before spewing forth with a predictably sarcastic reminder: "We'll see you in church tomorrow morning." The crowd goes berserk as Reverend Keenan, with high priests Adam Jones (guitar), Danny Carey (drums) and newcomer Justin Chancellor (bass) delivers his sermon: "Choices always were a problem for you/ What you need is someone strong to guide you/ Deaf and blind and dumb and born to follow/ What you need is someone strong to guide you/ Like mee-hee..." You see, a Tool concert proved to be the most fitting send-off for the 70-year-old auditorium, sadly scheduled to close its doors as a concert hall the following day be decree of its owners, religious fundamentalists planning to turn the venue into a church. Toast for a band whose members openly despise any form of organized thought and/or belief system. Tool's latest release, Aenima (Zoo/Bmg), confronts problems created by blind worship - what happens when one ceases thinking for oneself in an effort to flee from fear - and when the album is taken as a whole, it induces a purgation process of self-discovery that effectively vacuums out bullshit. The material on the L.A.-based quartet's previous releases - 1992's Opiate EP and Undertow from 1993 - shared a pattern of delving into the subconscious and exposing society's obsession with treading on a individual's creative space. In some lyrical scenarios, the manipulation and manhandling ran so deep that victims were stripped of all human dignity ("Prison Sex", "Somber" [yes, that typo WAS in the article], "Bottom") by sadists with no recourse but to find affirmation in cruelty. Other songs pointedly attacked censorship ("Hush") and lambasted organized religion ("Opiate"). The music throughout these two albums was a steady nuance, progression, aggression, mirroring Keenan's chilling mood-making. Call Keenan's words existentialist, absurdist, symbolist, homo-erotic, homo-exotic, fanatical, whatever. Just don't call him Maynard Keenan Ivory Wayans because he holds his notes way longer than you. Tool's tradition of excellence continues on Aenima, except the group has taken upon itself to put together a masterpiece. That's a statement that needs storm troopers to defend it. Generic rock musicians might have peed themselves at the prospect of measuring up to glittering past accomplishments, especially given the flighty problem of "alternative" one-hit wonder releases currently flooding the pop charts. Plus it's always scary when your bassist - tops in his field - leaves in mid-session. But Tool has taken everything in characteristic stride, making an album that must be heard in exhausting sequence from start to finish. Journey from the butthole to the cranium and 15 songs later you're pooped out. Cleaned out. Alive, kicking and shitting might be saying something here. Like The Doors ans several special progressive rock acts before them, Tool probes (sorry) the metabolic make-up of humankind, putting its own spin on what it means to be a microcosm within a macro-society withen a cosmos. You've got to listen to everthing in sequence (read:not on radio) or you'll get all fucked-up, likely hearing a doctored version of something, totally out of context. It's a bad idea to tool around with something that ain't broken. There are segues and things that you need as a digestive aid - like grapefruit! Tool's songs are interesting to a fault, making the music ripe for analysis and description. Not surprisingly, a group that is this adept at letting its music do the talking isn't necessarily brimming with enthusiasm over doing interviews. In person, the members of Tool are quiet, alert and sometimes a little exasperated. They open their mouths when they have something to say. A week after Fresno's historic gig, Maynard James Keenan opens his mouth to savour a spoonful of homemade vegetable soup. We're in the catering area at Vancouver's P.N.E Forum - Keenan's dinnertime. It's most impolite to make people talk while they're eating; however, Adam Jones and Justin Chancellor have already supped so I suppose it's O.K. Canadian producer Dave Bottrill was a key element in helping Tool achieve what the boys had in mind for Aenima. They enlisted Bottrill in part because they admired his work with progressive acts such as King Crimson, but largely they were conviced he would do his thing without getting in their hair. "He's good with guitar sounds," explains Jones. "We didn't really need somebody to help us with our songs. That's why we went with Dave - he's really good at what he does but he's never done anything like us. It was really a good chemistry." Keenan adds, "We met him and liked him - that's a big thing. If you work with somebody for that long, you really have to see eye-to-eye a little bit." "He's really not pretentious, as well," jumps in Chancellor. "A lot of the [producers] we met just had this attitude that was sort of irrelevant to what we were doing." Bands such as King Crimson became famous - sometimes infamous - for their complicated conceptual albums. Their video clips and cover art were part of the grand scheme. Tool is much like Crimson, but only in spirit, carrying on the tradition of being justifiably anal about pretty much everyting it does. And the musicianship is solid, too. "The whole album's about evolution, change, movement, unity," says Keenan, munching on a dinner roll. "There's a common thread throughout the lyrics, but it's such a 'way-out' common thread that I wouldn't call it a concept album." Keeping the music interesting for yourself as a musician without alienating a portion of your fanbase - or losing your record company's support - is a challenge, to say the least, but Tool has managed to progress without wigging-out on us. This new album started out differently for Tool, undoubtedly because of the not entirely unexpected departure of founder bassist Paul D'Amour a few songs into everything. Five songs were already written with D'Amour when he decided to jump ship ("Stinkfist", "Eulogy", "H.", "Pushit" and "Aenema"). "Paul's always been a creative force in the band," Keenan explains. "But when you hear his new album, you'll hear exactly why Paul's not with us anymore." The bassist's stint with The Replicants seems to have inspired him to experiment further afield. "He really did want to do his own thing," Jones qualifies. "It's good, it's just different from Tool." "It's beyond The Replicants," continues Keenan. "If you were to take David Bowie, Syd Barrett, Flaming Lips, Steely Dan, and The Beatles - and mix it up - you'd have what Paul is doing right now. Which is not what we're doing." Fair enough, but remember that D'Amour's bass work was hardly incidental. Melodic and rhythmic, his playing was up front and unquestionably helped to set Tool apart from its peers. But the band hasn't lost a step, thanks to Chancellor's strong chops and songwriting skills. "I didn't want him because he had long hair," jokes a stone-faced Keenan. "So I cut it off," smiles Chancellor. As for how Tool contended with the material D'Amour contributed to the album, Keenan says the band resisted the temptation to scrap and start over. "We didn't want to go back and re-do the songs so we left them the way they were. Justin added his own flavour to them, certainly... For the most part we focused on the newer stuff." If there is one lesson to be learned from Tool, it would have to be the futility of taking art at face value. The band refuses to include lyrics in its CD packaging and graphic, somtimes "disturbing" visual and musical imagery are a crnerstone of what Tool is all about. Aenima, like its predecessors, is laced with superfiacially homo-erotic lyrical references. Taken literally, songs like Stinkfist ("I just need to breathe, to feel, to know I'm alive"), "Pushit" ("You're pushin' it/ Shovin' me") and "Hooker With a Penis" ("I'm a man and you're a man and he is, too") [I know, I know, these modified lyrics peeved me off too] might make juicy gay-bay conversation. The band prefers to believe its fans don't listen quite so literally, and that audiences for art in general have heightened sensiblities. Granted, shock-for-the-sake-of-it acts such as Marilyn Manson are making life more tedious for Tool, which wouldn't be caught dead golfing with Anton LaVey as soon as performing at the White House. Jones is irritated. "Most people take everything literally," he says. "They don't want to think. If you throw something at them, they just look at the surfae level. If they don't understand it, they immediately think it's evil..." Keenan takes over: "Hooker With a Penis' - title aside - is a very simple, very obvious song about a situation [whereby] somebody is arguing about the element of selling out. But the underlying priciple of the song is we're all naked in this together. It's a song about nudity. You can say the song istelf has a surface thing that you are getting into, but then it has kind of a 'bonus.'" He pauses to divide a pink-frosted cherry pop-tart in half, honing is sarcasm. "A bonus element in that, it's kind of like picking up a hooker and finding out she has a penis! It's a bonus!" Tool has controlled every aspect of its career from the get-go, making it the envy of groups trying to steer clear in an increasingly controlling industry. "We have a good deal where we have almost 100% control over what we do," says Jones. "A lot of bands get a big chunk of money when they sign. We said, 'Why don't you keep your money and we get all the control?' And it's really paid off for us." This situation has enabled Jones to fulfill his training as a filmmaker and special effects artist by creating some of the most riveting videos the business has ever seen. Tool's videos have been as acclaimed as its albums, largely owing to Jones' extensive use of stop-motion and claymation effects. The claymation videos for "Sober" and "Prison Sex" had a folk-art feel that beautifully depicted Keenan's somber lyrics, enhancing his story-telling. They were hailed as works of art. To most people. But for one troubling period in Canadian network video history, it appeared as if Canada's MuchMusic was - if you can believe it - more consevative and clueless than MTV. Here's what happened... The "Prison Sex" video and song both depicted child abuse in an artful, non-PSA style, but the clip was jostled onto the TooMuch ForMuch butcher's block alongside an atypically idiotic titty video by - surprise - some rap act. Categorizing Tool with a titty rap act was bad enough, but the panel's "psychologist" hadn't even heard of Tool and certainty didn't know that some psychologists urged their patients to watch "Prison Sex" as part of their therapy. A consevatie school teacher demanded clarifiaction ad nauseam. Jones - the video's director - wasn't even invited to defend his own oeuvre and Keenan was only allotted the odd half-minute's worth of rebuttal time. MuchMusic's Director of Music Programming, Denise Donlon, bullied Keenan into admitting - as if the song and video were not sufficient proof - that he'd been a victim of child abuse. Did this admission somehow make the video more tolerable? Explainabel? The video was eventually aired with an advisory intro after prime-time hours and can still be seen on occasion. Two years after the fact, Jones can still barely control his temper. "What I heard was, this woman who was head of programming watched 'Prison Sex' and she didn't know whether or not we were pro or anti sexual abuse. That was the most asshole thing I've ever heard. Speaking of people who don't want to think..." Keenan claims that his traumatic childhood wa a given. "That was what the song was all about, recognizing the cycle of abuse. To deny people access to someone who has worked through that process is bullshit... I didn't really have a chance to explain any of these things." A contemptuous Jones adds that "[Much was] like, O.K., we've got 30 seconds so let's talk to the singer..." Tool's media troubles are back anew, kicking sand over "Stinkfist." The band is adamant about not shooting any specially-edited versions - that includes bleeping out bad words. "I guess MTV's having a problem with it because of the words 'stinkpots' and 'knuckly-deep,'" says Jones. "I don't know what we have to do... I just want to know why they have a problem with that. [Exasperated] But obvious stuff you can [use], like 'Butthole' Surfers. Beavis and Butthead talk about [sticking] it up your butt." Since this interview, Tool has changed the title of the video for "Stinkfist" to "Track 1" for MTV airplay (the original is allowed on Much). The ugly-sounding words have been duly duct-taped. The video's imagery is reminiscent of Tool's previous clips - lonely subjects with pointy objects, peeling flesh and pickled specimens in claustrophobic surroundings - but the tinting is a surreal silvery ash. The protagonists are equally tormented, male and female. Their figures actually appear in Tool's live show as statue props. Even a ceiling fan's rotating reflection seems to be perfectly synched with the rhythm of the song. Keenan's lyrical themes are dark as ever, but without darkness perhaps people wouldn't appreciate light for what it can really do. The lyrics remind some of existentialist works by Schoenhauer, Kafka and Nietzshe, but Keenan claims he's never read any of those authors. "A lot of the stuff that's discussed is very age-old. There's the micro-cosmic relationship aspect [that] you can take [to] a higher level and pan out more - kind of see it more on a global level. That's how the words work." Aenima's most existentialist reference is in the packaging, which contains an inscription: "Beliefs are dangerous. Beliefs allow the mind to stop functionning. A non-functionning mind is clinically dead. Believe in nothing'..." Smacks of Beyong Good And Evil, which challenged people to use their beans and evolve. Keenan thinks "Danny picked that out. That gives you a wider perspective on the bands idea's because [since the other members] don't write the lyrics, their ideas aren't necessarily being expressed in words." The album's fifth track, "Forty Six and 2," is a depcition of evolution taken one step further from our existing 44 chromosomes. Are we capable of evolving further? "Absolutely," nods Keenan. "It's in our geometry. It's there. We are moving. It's what all those people before us who were smarter have been telling us over and over. Every possible piece of architecture they left for us. Every drawing they left us. They were more in tune and they understood where we were and where we're headed. They've left all those cute little clues everywhere for us, so hopefully we'll wake up one day and go, 'Oh fuck, that's what that meant!" "Things break down constantly," agrees Chancellor. "Whether it's L.A. falling into the ocean or not, you've got to start finding a remedy for that [process]. By nature, with things falling to pieces, you have to choose to evolve. Otherwise, you're gonna disappear." The evolution is completed by the 15th track, "Third Eye." In Hinduism, the third eye appears between the eyes as a protector, a seer for the back of one's head to guard against unforeseen surprises - good or bad. Headgames. Nightmares. At the end of the album, you're not afraid anymore because you've pried open your own form of the third eye. Lucky track 13, however, poses perhaps the biggest hurdly - it's called "Aenema," to which the album's inside tray card owes a considerable debt. The 3-D illustration shows California - salt of the earth - falling into the mighty Pacific. The songs call society a "circus sideshow", "The only way to fix it/ Is to flush it all away..." Keenan says L.A. should indeed be wiped off the map, notwithstanding... "People realize that if L.A. were to go underwater, within 48 hours the economic systems across the world would collapse because they're all so integratd and reliant on each other. Just think of the chaos that was going on in the southwestern United States when all the [electricity] went out for, like, an hour. No power for an hour. People were running into each other in the street. Insanity. And that's just some power. Imagine if the banking system went down because of it... "The underlying thing isn't so much 'Learn to swim because L.A.'s going into the ocean.' It's more like, 'Get back in touch with the collective unconscious and learn to swim with everyone in there. Know how connected everything is. Literally, figuratively, spiritually." There now. The next time you go to a Tool concert and gaze at those projections behind the band - expecially the one of a man as a monkey who evolves to walk on his own two feet - you'll have a bit more insight into what's going on. The sparks coming out of the lady in bondage gear tied to the chair should get you thinking, too. And then there's the loop with the elephants mating... Nah, you'd better discover that one on your own. Elephants have longer memories and lengthier gestation periods for a reason..