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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: The Music Paper

Date: December, 1996

Transcribed by
Anthony Kulic (szlappy@sprynet.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