Publication: The Music Paper
Date: December, 1996
Anthony Kulic (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Anthony Kulic (email@example.com)
page: title: TOOL: Tortured Drawn and Quartered author: Peter Atkinson "Censorship is everywhere, fundamentalists are everywhere," said Tool drummer Danny Carey shrugging. On this day, those fundamentalists have caused the upstart California quartet a #1 record. Tool had just found out its new second album, "AEnima"(Zoo),would debut at #2 on the following weeks's Billboard chart, racking up sales of an impressive 140,000 units much to the surprise of nearly everyone but the band. That was about 10,000 records short of Nirvana's "From The Banks Of The Muddy Wishkah", largely because neither WalMart nor K-mart would stock "AEnima" because of its "explicit lyrics" warning sticker. These are the same store chains that refused to stock the Goo Goo Dolls' "A Boy Named Goo" because someone thought the blackberry juice stained toddler on the cover looked like he was covered in blood; or Sheryl Crow's latest because of a line in groove thing that reads, "Watch your kids kill each other with a gun they bought at WalMart discount stores." "It's a scary thing," said Carey. "It's a bad scene all over. If you grew up where I grew up, out where you're away, from a city in the Midwest, you can't find half the music you hear on the radio. These people have the ability to censor that badly. I don't know what they have on the ball that they can say what art is; it's ridiculous. I guess they didn't get to eat blackberry jam when they were kids. They were jealous," he chuckled. Surprisingly, given the nature of Tool's music, and in particular, singer Maynard James Keenan's often profane and occasionally blasphemous rantings, this is the first time the band has actually suffered at the hands of the mortality squad. It managed to sell 1.5 million copies of its debut, "Undertow"--which featured tracks like "Prison Sex" and some downright shocking artwork and spawned perhaps the most disturbing video ever to hit MTV's "Buzz Bin" ("Sober," which boasted an original chorus of "Jesus won't you f**king whistle" before it was edited for mass consumption) and led to Keenan's penchant for stripping during shows to walk about the stage with his penis tucked between his legs-and be left alone at the same time. "We've never had any particular run-ins with wierdo fundamentalists," noted Carey. "We don't put ourselves in that arena with those people; you try not to lower yourself to that level. I'm sure they're out there but we haven't had any personal contact with them." Oh well, there's always this year, or perhaps the next. Tool's a houshold name now, not the "new band" that kept creeping up on people with "Undertow", which went platinum 16 months after its April 1993 release without ever cracking the Top 40. And the band plans on keeping itself plenty visible, with a good nine months of touring already somewhat mapped out to support AEnima. There's also a new vide for the album's openning track, "Stinkfist", which the band, or more specifically, guitarist/visual artist, Adam Jones was just finishing up as AEnima was released. The haunting, but visually striking videos for "Sober" and "Prison Sex" played a good sized role in Tool's breakthrough success with "Undertow". With their combination of dazzling stop action photography, bizarre puppet characters, startling sets, and chilling action, the videos stood head and shoulders above MTV's usual array of eye candy. They even made the cartoon Siskel and Ebert, Beavis and Butt-Head, sit up and take notice. "It took a while for MTV to catch on, or actually to become aware of the band," said Carey. The main breakthrough was playing on Lollapalooza (in 1993) because MTV was giving that tour a lot of attention, and once we moved up to the main stage, we started to reap the benefits of that. They picked up our video and started playing it and thats when things started to take off. We went to our peak position, maybe like 50, on the chart when Beavis and Butt-Head got ahold of it." "We knew it was a good record but you are always surprised when people like it. It was kind of a shocker," he added. A million and a half people or so bought it. We were pleasantly surprised to say the least. I'm glad to see that there were that many people out there who could relate to something like that, rather than say, a Hootie record or a Garth Brooks record." "Stinkfist" is the band's first forray into live action video, and while filming actual moving human beings might seem like a cake-walk compared to the painstaking stop-action process of positioning and shooting each move of the puppets on the "Undertow" video the group found that it's not neccesarrily the case. "Because of the time frame we were working on, we needed to do a little more of a live-action thing," said Carey. "But since we were pretty inexperienced in doing it that route, it ended up not saving us much time. Oh, well, live and learn. Before we had a system because we'd done a couple of them, and its nice because you only have three or four people working and you can work around the clock and it's no big deal. But to do a live action video, you have to start organizing all these production people and everything has to come to a head when all the shots go down. Otherwise you are throwing thousands of dollars away, and wasting a lot of people's time. We're fortunate enough to have lots of good people helping us out. It's been a learning process, to say the least, but this one is going to be a great video too; there's a lot of great images." The video work demonstrates Tool's biggest strength: teamwork. Despite the departure of bassist Paul D'Amour last year (who went on to start his own project, Lusk) Tool is about as tight a unit as you will find. ("It's just a love of guitar playing more than anything else," Carey said explaining D'Amour's decision. "He always played guitar before joining Tool and I'm sure the hunger was eating at him a lot.") The band does almost everything from within it's own ranks, from writing and recording the music to making the videos and putting together the packaging and artwork--which for AEnima is a 3D spectacular that has to be seen to be believed. Everyone is as important a cog in the wheel as the next guy, even with new bassist Justin Chancellor (ex of Peach), who joined in time to play an important role in the album and video work. "It's a good healthy environment," Carey said of the band. "We kind of lead off of each other in a lot of ways so it kind of snowballs. I'm always amazed when I talk to other bands on the road about how difficult it must be to go through the arguments and things like that. We've been pretty lucky in our band in that things have flowed pretty easily. Everyone in the band has a similar enough vision that we can relate in that way. It gives us a lot more energy and power." "As soon as we found record companies wanted to sign us, we were concerned as much about maintaining complete artistic control as we were about getting big advances," he added. "We understand what we're about. It always seemed to be such a ridiculous thing for a band to give away that part of their expression." Things fell together quickly for Tool when it first teamed up in early 1991. There was no prolonged search for the right pieces to the puzzle or agonizing over concept and style. Keenan moved in next to Carey when he moved West to open a pet shop, of all things. Keenan knew Jones, and D'Amour was a friend of Jones' from the film industry. Inevitably they began jamming. By the end of 1991, after a handful of gigs, Tool already had a deal with Zoo. Several months later the band released its debut EP "Opiate", hit the road with the Rollins Band, and hasn't looked back since. "We all knew we had a similar vision in mind once we started playing together and got to know each other," Carey said. "That's been the most important part, because all it really takes to have a good band or success in anything is strength in numbers working for you. If you have four people with similar visions working together, thats going to make a bigger wave in the consciousness than a single person hiring crew members that are just there for the buck or some other strange motivation. We all believe in what we do, so we're lucky." "AEnima" picks up pretty much where "Undertow" left off and shows how much the band has matured in the last three years. Despite titles like "Hooker With A Penis", "Eulogy" and "Pushit", "AEnima" is a bit more polished, at times catchier, and a whole lot looser than its incessantly intense and pissed-off predecessor (a record where, for example, guest vocalist Henry Rollins declares on "Bottom", "I go to great lengths to expand my threshold of pain," before Keenan boasts, "Hatred keeps me alive.") "AEnima" finds Keenan railing against "dumbfounded dipshits" and warns in the explosive "Hooker With A Penis" that, "Before you point your finger you should know that I'm the man...so you can point that f**cking finger up your ass!" The especially chilling "Message To Harry Manback" is basically a piano backed answering machine message -apparently to Harry- from a murderously irate foreigner who notes, "One of three Americans die of Cancer asshole. You're gonna be one of those. I hope someone in your family dies soon." Still Carey insists that AEnima is anything but an angry album. "I think it's a real positive record. Hooker is probably the lightest song on the record; its almost like comic relief in the middle of it all. It's a fun song to play live; we like the good energy of it." "There's all emotions - they run the gamut of everyday life. The record is pretty much a postcard of our lives over the past year or so. While "Stinkfist" is a song that deals with desensitization and overexposure, the media and things like that; overall it's a record about nudity and change, metamorphosis and evoloution." If its hard to gather through Keenan's whisper-to-a-scream vocals and cryptic lyrics, so be it. Tool has little use for mindless fluff, and by avoiding the obvious -and not providing a lyric sheet- it leaves things open to interpretation to the listener, something Carey is all for. "I think you can dig a little deeper into our music," he said. "I think part of it is that we get along well enough that we're comfortable with each other and we can dig a little deeper into each other. We don't have to talk about strange superficial things. We can go in and dig a little further, and maybe pull out some of the uglier things that maybe people wouldn't share with one another, but we're comfortable enough, so that comes out. "It's a unity thing. It's a good thing to be able to share that with other people and they really relate to that," he added. You aren't going to get that listening to the radio most of the time." Despite the stunning success of "Undertow", the band didn't let commercial considerations play into the follow-up, as witnessed by the bizarre series of segues, like the aforementioned "Message To..." that tie the record together as a whole. Where most of the tracks top 6 min. anyway, there's also the epic "Third Eye", which concludes the album in a 15 min. tumultuous jam. "When we write it's definitely an organic-type process where we all just bring in an idea or a riff and just jam them with each other and they mutate or suggest changes. I think that's why our songs turn out with intense arrangements and lots of strange changes and things, because it's all a four-way effort and so we all try to sink in as many ideas into them as we can. You kind of have to let them take on their own meaning and personality. "All the pressure just comes from us, it doesn't come from anyone else," said Carey. "You always have to question somewhat, I guess. 'Am I growing? Am I learning? Am I progressing in some way?' As long as your heart is in the right place, that's going to naturally happen, I think. We just let it work. If things are in harmony between us, I think that's going to come out in the record. I think it did this time."
Posted to t.d.n: 05/08/97 23:38:02