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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: Guitar Player

Date: June, 2001

Transcribed by
Mark Ramirez (

  page: 71
 title: Mysterious Ways
author: Jon Wiederhorn

Historically, successful rock guitarists have often been larger-than-
life celebrities.  But for Tool guitarist Adam Jones, staying as 
unidentified as the Loch Ness Monster is not only welcome, it's part 
of his master plan.  He and bandmates Maynard James Keenan (vocals), 
Danny Carey (drums), and Justin Chancellor (bass) have never appeared 
in any of their videos, they rarely grant interviews, and they 
frequently perform on stages so dimly lit that their faces are masked 
in shadows.

"We've gone to great lengths to stay pretty anonymous," Jones admits 
one afternoon from the recreation room of Larrabee Studios in L.A., 
where Tool mixed its new album, "Lateralus".  "When I was a kid, some 
of my favorite records were by Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and Yes, and 
there were never any pictures of the band.  The music was all that 

Jones isn't a shredder, a pop guitarist, a jazz man, an avant-garde 
iconoclast, or a blues player, but his performances often include 
elements from all those genres.  His melodies are oblique, his riffs 
angular, and his passages unpredictable.  He'll pluck a shimmering 
arpeggio one moment, segue into a droning mantra, and then tear into 
a distorted barrage of wailing chords.

Coming off a three-year hiatus (due to a legal battle with Tool's 
former record label), "Lateralus" shows Jones at his most dynamic and 
expressive as he conjures an array of bizarre licks and alluring 
tones.  An exercise in concentration and tenacity, the album abounds 
with unconventional meters and abrupt rhythm shifts.  None of the 
tracks are under six minutes, and most are over eight.  Tool was 
hugely influential to alt-metal bands such as Korn, Limp Bizkit, 
Deftones, Incubus, and Linkin Park, and if "Lateralus" is any 
indication, Jones and friends will likely be a shining beacon for the 
next frontier, as well.

GP: Your playing is very striking.  It's muscular at times, and 
delicate at others, but it's never catchy in a conventional pop 
sense.  In fact, it's very hard to hum a Tool guitar part.

JONES: I've never wanted to be a conventional guitarist in any way.  
When I started playing guitar, my heroes were all about riffs, not 
leads.  Then I got into more experimental players, such as David 
Sylvian, Robert Fripp, and Steve Howe.  But I also liked Devo and 
Brian Eno.  At the time, it seemed like everyone else was playing 
lead guitar, and I just got sick of it.  I never went down that path 
myself.  You're right about my parts not being catchy, though.  If I 
don't have a guitar when I'm talking to Maynard or Danny about a 
part, I'll try to hum it, and even I can't do it.

GP: When do you come up with your best passages?

JONES: The best guitar parts I write come from noodling.  I'll sit at 
home watching TV with a guitar in my hands, and just start playing a 
riff over and over.  It's weird.  A lot of the stuff I do comes from 
blues scales.

GP: Yet nothing you play sounds like blues.

JONES: Well, my stuff usually starts off as these 4/4 things based on 
traditional guitar riffs, and then they morph into something that's 
kind of way out there.  But it's good to have a launching point to 
evolve from.

GP: When you were crafting parts for "Lateralus", what were you 
striving to accomplish artistically?

JONES: I think visually when I play guitar.  I look at each song as a 
little film.  I like to start with an opening shot, and then segue 
into different scenes.  I like to drift off in the middle, go 
somewhere totally unexpected, and then have everything resolve itself 
in the end.  It's a whole experimental journey.

GP: The visual and experimental aspects of your style often lead you 
to construct parts that don't sound like guitars.

JONES: I just do what I do best, which is try to take Tool to the 
next level.  I'm always thinking of something new I can add in.  I 
like to do volume swells with delay to create ambient sounds.  I'll 
scrape the strings of my guitar with various things, and I place 
electronic devices over the pickups to get weird sounds.

GP: What kind of electronic devices?

JONES: I get a lot of cool sounds out of an Epilady.  It uses a 
spinning wire--almost like a guitar string--to rip the hair off a 
woman's legs.  I place it over the pickups and control the speed of 
the motor by keeping my thumb on the coil.  I got the idea from Dave 
Navarro, who I once saw perform a solo with a vibrator when he was in 
Jane's Addiction.  I thought that was so cool.  And then I started 
listening to German industrial bands such as Einstürzende Neubauten 
who use crazy stuff on their instruments to take their sound to 
another place.  So I'll buy a bunch of toys, rip the guts out, and 
use the motors to make some noises.

GP: You also use alternate tunings.

JONES: I use dropped-D because I like to have an evil tone, and I can 
get a lot of weird sounds and textures by simply moving my fingers 
around.  After I had been playing dropped-D for a while, I started 
doing dropped-B, and then, on the song "Parabola", I tried dropped-
B/E.  It's normal 440 tuning, but the E string is dropped to B and 
the A string is dropped to E.  It's even more evil-sounding than 
dropped D.

GP: How did you come across the dropped-B/E tuning?

JONES: We did "Prison Sex" [from "Undertow"] in dropped-B, and I just 
wondered how the E would sound next to the low B.  That was a long 
time ago, before everyone got excited about 7-string guitars.

GP: Do you use any other tunings?

JONES: I've tried DADGAD and tuning all the strings to the same note, 
but I always go back to the dropped tunings.

GP: Do you layer guitar parts to get such a huge sound?

JONES: Not very much.  There are a couple of songs on the album where 
I overdubbed a few layers, but for the most part, it's just one 
guitar.  You see, I want to be able to pull off everything I do in 
the studio onstage.  I usually do one pass routed through different 
amps, or two passes where I'm playing the exact same notes to make a 
part more powerful.  I plug into three different amps at the same 
time--even when I play live.  For what I want, I don't think one amp 
would do the trick.  One amp is for a solid-state sound, one for more 
of a non-master-volume tone, and the third fills in the bottom with a 
cardboard crunch.  If you used the amps individually, you'd find that 
one doesn't have much low end, and one doesn't have enough high end.  
But they're really good together because you're getting three 
different things at once, and you can hear all of that in the sound.  
That's why it sounds so big.

GP: What kinds of amps are they?

JONES: I use a modified non-master-volume Marshall bass head and 
Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, which I swapped out with a Sunn Beta Lead 
for the recording.  Buy my favorite amp is a Diezel, which is a four-
channel tube amp from Germany.  It's awesome.

GP: Are you still using Gibsons?

JONES: I have some Gibson silverburst Les Paul Customs--they made 
those guitars from '79 to '81--and I dedicate one for the tuned down 
songs.  When we're recording, I'll use a Gibson SG if I want to play 
something softer.

GP: Do you switch between pickup settings very much?

JONES: I do sometimes when we're recording, but live, I just use the 
treble pickup.  I turn the other one off, then I use my pickup 
selector to kill my guitar sound real quick.  When I use the tone 
knob, I either turn it all the way up or all the way down, and I 
leave it that way.

GP: How about acoustic guitars?

JONES: I used a Guild that I borrowed from a friend for a couple of 
things on the record, but when I'm playing with the band I usually 
want to feel the power of an electric guitar.  If I want a softer 
tone, I'll just turn down or play with a lighter touch.

GP: What pedals are you using?

JONES: I like to keep it really simple.  I use an Ibanez digital 
delay and flanger, a Boss EQ pedal, and Dunlop 535Q Wah.  I don't use 
the wah in an obvious, '70s porno-movie way.  I use it for 
transitions and flavors--it's good for subtle changes in tone--and 
it's a big part of my sound.  There's wah on nearly every song on the 
new record.

GP: Do you use the same setup live as in the studio?

JONES: Making a Tool record is not like making "Sergeant Pepper's".  
I'm comfortable with having the same sound live and in the studio.  
In fact, I'm not comfortable playing something that couldn't be 
easily reproduced onstage--even if it sounds great.  I get the best 
takes when I'm just using my usual gear, because I'm more at ease.  
That's really important when you're totally under the microscope in 
the studio.  Every little mistake matters, so you want to make 
yourself as comfortable as possible.

GP: When did you first pick up the guitar?

JONES: We always had a guitar sitting in our house.  My dad was self-
taught, and he showed me some chords.  Then my brother and I would 
jam together and make really bad music.  Later on, I went to high 
school with Tom Morello, and we started a band together.

GP: What did you call yourself and what was that experience like?

JONES: It was called the Electric Sheep.  I played bass and he played 
guitar.  When I joined the band, I was the best person in it because 
Tom had just started playing.  But when Tom went away to college, he 
started practicing and practicing.  When he came back, he blew me 
away.  He was too good for me! [Laughs]

GP: Have you had any formal music training?

JONES: I played violin when I was a kid, and I can't tell you how 
many times someone tried to kick my ass while I was walking home from 
school.  My violin case usually prevented my head from smacking 
really hard against the pavement!  But I didn't let that stop me, 
because I really liked playing, and I had a good teacher.  He played 
Monty Python music for me, and did these really absurd things.  He 
made me appreciate that music could be serious and fun.  One time, we 
had a recital for the parents, and just before we went on, he gave us 
all toy guns, and said, "Okay, at this particular point, I want you 
to stand up and start shooting at the other side of the orchestra."  
That kind of thing affected me a lot, and I think I brought that love 
the bizarre into Tool.

GP: Most of the songs on "Lateralus" are more than eight minutes long-
-which is unusual in today's marketplace of easily digestible pop.  
Do you ever worry about going on too long and losing your listeners?

JONES: When I was a kid, I never thought once about whether a song 
was too long.  Led Zeppelin, Yes, Pink Floyd, King Crimson did these 
huge, epic things, and when they were done, I always wanted to hear 
more.  Tool has never compromised the length of a song just because 
we're concerned about what people want to hear.  We just go with how 
we feel.  That's why we won't do edits for radio--they corrupt the 
song.  We're only concerned about getting from one place in the song 
to the next, and then to the end.  At that point we ask, "Well, did 
it resolve itself or not?"

GP: How is writing an eight-minute epic different than writing a 
three-minute pop song?

JONES: I don't think I could write a three-minute pop song!  What 
we're doing isn't pop music.  It's not the priority of this band to 
be radio friendly.  If it takes three minutes to express an idea, 
fine, but if it takes 20 minutes, then that's what it takes.  It's 
about how a song feels.  There's a lot of jamming involved when we 
compose, and a lot of scrutiny and a lot of tearing something apart 
and putting it back together.  We explore as many paths as we can for 
a song, just so we know we've chosen all the right ways.

GP: When Tool formed in 1989, you were working in Hollywood as a 
special effects designer on films such as "Predator", "Edward 
Scissorhands", and "Jurassic Park".  How did you divide your time?

JONES: I thought, "Here's my job working on special effects for 
movies, and here's my hobby playing guitar." I met Maynard through a 
friend of mine that he was dating, and we became good friends.  He 
played me a tape of a joke band he was in back on the East Coast, and 
I went, "Maynard, you sing good!"  I kept bugging him to start a band 
on the side with me--just for fun.  Danny lived downstairs from 
Maynard, and he didn't want to play with us.  Then we had a practice 
session, and the guy who was supposed to drum for us didn't show up.  
So Danny felt sorry for us, and agreed to play.  He said, "Well, I'll 
sit in on the sessions, but that's it."  And he sat in and 
went, "Wow, we should jam again."  We started rehearsing a couple of 
times a week, and pretty soon Tool became an actual band.

GP: When Zoo offered the band a record deal in 1991, you quit working 
in Hollywood to focus on the band.  Was that a tough decision?

JONES: It wasn't hard.  Even though we all had steady jobs, when we 
got signed we said, "Okay, well let's give this a try."  That's how I 
look at life.  It's like you're surfing--you grab a wave and try to 
ride it as long as you can.  And if you fall off, you can try to grab 
the same wave or go catch a different one.  It was a little 
frustrating to have my parents going, "What are you thinking?"  But I 
loved music, and I wanted to give this an honest shot.  I'm glad we 

GP: Tool reached its peak in the late '90s at a time when bands such 
as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains were ruling the charts.  
Most of your former peers have broken up--how has Tool managed to 
stay together?

JONES: Maybe because we don't take ourselves too seriously.  When we 
started the band, I don't think any of us were saying, "We're going 
to work real hard and get signed."  When we first got an offer, we 
all laughed and kind of blew it off.  We've kept that attitude 
throughout.  No one has allowed what we've done to go to his head, 
and everything we do still has a ring of comic relief to it.  But 
beyond that, it's the respect we have for each other that makes it 
all worthwhile.  The four of us click so well when we play.  There's 
no real formula, it's just the chemistry of the whole band.  And as 
long as we continue to enjoy playing together, we will.  The minute 
that ends, Tool will end, as well.

Posted to t.d.n: 04/26/01 21:26:20