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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: Penthouse

Date: June, 2001

Transcribed by
Cate (purplfaze@hotmail.com)


  page: 52
 title: Precision Tool
author: Jon Wiederhorn
The Larabee North Recording Studio is easy to miss if you 
don't know what you'r looking for.  There's no sign outside 
the nondecript building on busy Lankershim Boulevard in 
Universal City, California, only a small notice on the locked 
front door announcing that the entrance is around back.  Off 
an there's a small outdoor parking lot boasting a single 
basketball hoop - and absolutely no hint that you've arrived 
at an elaborate, state-of-the-art music-making complex 
where such high-powered acts Madonna, Prince, Michael 
Jackson, and Limp Bizkit have toiled.

Inside, there's a decided lack of pretencse or flash.  No 
platinum or gold records line the walls, no juice bar serves 
smoothies to the stars, and the only luxury in the lounge is a 
24-inch TV, a stereo and video rack, and so many remotes 
that no one seems able to turn anything on.  All in all, 
Larrabee North's scaled-down anonymity makes it the perfect 
place for the four members of secretive, multiplatinum alt-
metal band Tool to mix and master their fourth recored, 
Lateralus.

Consider: The four members of Tool never appear in their 
album art or videos, rarely grant interviews, and refuse to 
discuss their private affairs.  Onstage, they play in near 
darkness, flanked by colorful visuals.  Shaved-headed front 
man Maynard James Keenan has been known to take the 
stage garishly dressed in drag, or decked in a business suit 
and gray wig, or adorned in nothing more than underwear 
and face paint.  Recently, he's taken to wearing a red brush-
cut wig and scholarly eyeglasses for band photo shoots.

"We don't want to look and act like typical rock stars, 
because that's what people have had shoved down their 
throat for years," says guitarist and art coordinator Adam 
Jones, sitting on one of two black leather couches in the 
studio lounge and hesitating between every dozen or so 
words.  "Anyway, we're not celebrities, we're just geeks.  I go 
to comic-book conventions and I like toys.  I'd much rather 
have some one listen to our music and look at a cool visual 
to help them understand where we're coming from than look 
at us."

Not only are the members of Tool notoriously wary of what 
they tell reporters, the band is also careful about what it 
reveals on its Website.  A brief glance at www.toolband.com 
seems to offer a multitude of information about the group's 
origins, philosophies, and cuttent activities.  But careful 
investigation reveals a sea of misinformation, including 
incorrect song and ablum titles, bogus bios, and bizzare 
essays on drug use, the occult, and extraterrestrials.

"We don't like to explain a lot, because no matter what you 
do, the unknown is more interesting," says drummer Danny 
Carey, sitting net to Keenan on the couch opposite Jones.  "It 
allows people to come up with their own interpretations and 
keeps them striving for something."

"The other thing is we really like our private lives," adds 
Jones, pushing a stringy lock of hair away from his 
eyes.  "We've been very careful not to overexpose ourselves, 
and it's workedto the point where we can play in front of 
15,000 people and I can go out and watch the opening band 
without being recognized."

Longtime Tool producer David Bottrill (Peter Gabiel, King 
Crimson), who worked on Lateralus, Aenima (1996), and last 
year's live album, Salival, says the bands nonconformity and 
cryptic persence are a large part of its attraction: "There's a 
mystery and a danger there, which is why it's so appealing. 
When we were recording Aenima, Dann [Carey] had a [Ouija] 
board with him, and he said when we were done with the 
record, he was going to sacrafice me.  I remember laughing 
nervously."

It has been almost a year since Tool began work on 
Lateralus, and just days before the album is scheduled to be 
completed, the band is still plugging away.  Today's schedule 
includes working with Bottrill to master a droning, tribal, 20-
minutes-plus, three-part composition tentatively 
titled "Disposition/Resolution/Triad/"  And before the cang 
congregates in the studio lounge for out interview, the boys 
are whisked into a closed-door meeting to discuss the 
concept for their next video, which, in keeping with their code 
of silence, they refuse to name.  Jones will conceive and 
direct the shoot, as he has for Tool's previous eye-popping 
videos, "Sober" and and "Prison Sex" (from its 1991 disc 
Undertow), and "Stinkfist" (from Aenima).  Every 20 or 30 
minutes or so, a band member emerges from the 
conference, scurries down the hallway, and disappears - 
perhaps to sacrafice another lamb for the Tool cause.

It soon becomes abundantly clear that the Tools have 
tailored their interview time to maintain as much secrecy as 
possible.  Many other artists happily offer guided tours of 
their homes or ringside seats at recording sessions in 
echange for a few pages of primo magazine coverage.  Not 
these guys, who refuse to let me in the studio while they 
work.  The only time I'm allowed to leave the Larrabee North 
lounge is when Borttrill escorts me to a mixing room and 
plays me the majority of Lateralus, which is unquestionably 
Tool's most ambitious, visceral, and emotionally challenging 
release to date.

Almost every one of the nine songs (not including 
experimental between-tune segues) is more than eight 
minutes long, and each is flush with multifaceted rymes, 
multiple tempo shifts, and unconventional time signatures.  
Frequently the songs sound like six different cuts spliced 
together.

Without question, Lateralus is bold and inspirational.  Placed 
alongside the sonic wallpaper of most contemporary rock 
radio, however, it sounds inaccessible and exlusionary - as if 
the band that was once embraced by MTV for the Billboard 
Award-winning video "Sober" and the MTV Video Music Award-
nominated "Prison Sex" now wants to position itself far 
outside the mainstream.  Indeed, these musicians seem to 
equate the mainstream with oblivion "Music radio today is so 
empty and horrible that it's like the end of the world is nearly 
here," Jones says once Tool is finally gathered inside the 
studio lounge.  "I'm sure the letters TRL [for Total Request 
Live] are in some way incorporated into Nostradamus's book 
of the end-of-the-world predictions," snickers Keenan, the 
most outspoken and eccentric voice of a country preacher, 
and continues, "And the cattle shall gather beneath the MTV 
glass booth in Times Sqaure!"

Formed in Los Angeles in 1990, Tool is a result of 
serendipity.  Keenan, 36, was born in Akron, Ohio, the only 
child of a devout Baptist household.  He spent much of his 
youth bouncing with his family from city to city, and at 18 he 
joined the army.  In 1989 he moved the L.A., where he lived 
in a loft upstairs from CArey, whom he befriended.  Later that 
year, a girl Keenan was dating introduced him to Jones, and 
before long the two were jamming.  "There was this instant 
chemistry because we both loved Italian horror movies and 
heavy-metal music," recalls Jones, whose friend, bassist Paul 
D'Amour left the band after two albums because of artistic 
differences, and was replaced in 1995 by Justin Chancellor, 
and Englishman whose former band, Peach, toured with Tool 
in the UK in 1991.

Perhaps tellingly, Tool's music has always been a labor of 
love, not necessity.  When they started playing together, the 
members all had stable gigs outside the band.  Carey was 
doing session work for Carole King and drumming in 
alterative bands Pygmy Love Circus and Green Jello.  Keenan 
was painting sets in Hollywood, and Jones was working on 
Jurassic Park as a special-effects designer.  He had 
previously contributed to Predator, Terminator 2, and Edward 
Scissorhands.

And while initially driven solely by the passion of creation, 
Tool's music has, over time, evolved into a rather compelling 
composite of each one of the band members' personal 
interests.  Keenan, whose bald head and penetrating eyes 
make him look like a disciple of satanist Anton LaVey, is a 
relentless autodidact.  He's knowlegeable about the writings 
of mythologist Joesph Campbell, psychologist Carl Jung, 
psychedelic philosophers Terence McKenna and Timothy 
Leary, and establishment-skewering comedian Bill Hicks, and 
combines aspects of each into his cryptic lyrics.

If Keenan provides the mystery in Tool's sound, Carey is the 
source of its menace.  With his shoulder-length hair, striped 
earth-tone shirt, and baggy shorts, all he needs is a 
hackeysack to be a dead ringer for a Deadhead, yet his 
artistic vision is dark and ominous.  His tribal drumming is 
inspired in no small part by his fascination with the occult, 
and his home studio is reportedly filled with occult symbols, 
magic books, and first editions by occult figurehead and 
satanist Aleister Crowley, once considered the most wicked 
man alive.  "I'm really impressed by people who have the 
courage to face darker things and make it work for them," 
Carey says in such a calm manner he could be talking about 
mortgage rates.  "To me, those traits make great men, and 
those people accomplish great things."

For their part, Chancellor and Jones contribute individual 
subtexts to Tool's success story.  With his scraggly locks and 
Mint 400 T-shirt, bassist Chancellor resembles a clerk at an 
alternative racord store.  The youngest and newest member 
of the band, his playing is buoyant and exploratory, imbuing 
the group's music with a sense of wonderment.  And while he 
wrote many riffs on Lateralus, he's elastic enough to vibe with 
whatever his bandmates throw his way.  "I came into Tool 
with a really open mind," he says.  "These guys have some 
specific interests in all sorts of spiritual idea and music, and 
I'm open and interested in all of them."

And then there's Jones, whose two-day stubble, gentle voice, 
and modesty bespeak a stellar graphic artist, but certainly 
not a rock star.  "I've always felt really fortunate because my 
position in the band has been overseeing art and the visuals 
and the video, and that's the stuff I love," he says.  "I 
approach my guitar playing the same way I approach my art.  
It's all about experimenting and coming up with ways to 
express your emotions."

Despite Tool's multiplatinum cred, Lateralus may prove a 
hard sell.  While their brooding atmospherics and angular 
guitar lines inspired such current monster acts as Korn, Limp 
Bizkit, and Deftones, Tool hasn't produced any music in four 
years.  Its last studio disc, the double-platinum Aenima, was 
released in 1996, and since then the group has been 
plaqued with contract negotiations, lawsuits, and crippling 
miscommunication.  Shortly after Aenima hit the shelves, 
Tool's then-label, BMG subsidiary Zoo Entertainment, ran 
short of money and nearly folded.  Then, after the record 
sold its first million copies, the band was handed a 
disappointing royalty check.

"It was for something really insulting, like ten grand," 
grumbles Keenan.  "That's where it all started.  When we 
discovered that they forgot to pick up the option to our 
contract, we said, 'That's it.  We're oput of here.'"

Zoo refused to back down without a fight, and a protracted 
legal battle ensued that not only left Tool in recording limbo, 
but also sapped its creative juices and artistic hunger.  "We 
were ready to bail because we weren't making together 
anymore," says Carey.  "We'd just get together to talk about 
what we're gonna do with this lawyer or that lawyer - all this 
business shit."

While Tool was tied up in legal battles, the band's old guitar 
tech, Billy Howerdel, invited Keenan to sing and write lyrics for 
a melodic alternative group Howerdel was forming with 
session drummer Josh Freese (Guns n' Roses, Chris 
Cornell).  Frustrated with the lack of momentium on the Tool 
front, Keenan accepted.  The new outfit called itself A Perfect 
Circle, and before long its debut album, Mer de Noms, was 
climbing the nation's rock charts and headed for platinum 
status.

Meanwhile, CArey jammed with his old bandmate D'Amour, 
and Jones created artwork for the rerelease of an album by 
Chancellor's old band, Peach.  By the begining of 2000, all 
was able to reenter the recording studio.  Lateralus is being 
released by Valcano, a label co-owned by industry ace Clive 
Calder (who founded Jive Records) and veteran band 
managers Peter Mensch and Cliff Burnstein.

"For me, this record is about reestablishing the 
communication we lost when we were away from eachother," 
says Keenan.  "It's about working out some old issues, 
rediscovering where each of us has gone individualy, bringing 
that to the center and feeding off that energy.  I think we've 
all grown tremendously and developed a connection that's 
probably better than what we had to begin with."

"I think one of the reasons why the group hasn't fallen apart 
yet is because when we were atarting out, none of us were 
going, 'We've gotta get our shit together so we can get 
signed.'"  opines Jones. "When we first got a record offer [in 
1991] we all laughed and kind of blew it off.  Even now, all 
the stuff that's gone on - changing managers, lawsuits - it 
still has that element of comic relief to it."

As on Aenima, the lyrics on Laterlus address topics Keenan 
has discovered on his philosophical safaris.  But this time, his 
verse is much more personal, peppered with references to 
Tool's own near-demise.

"There's definitely an orientation behind the eyes of peopel 
who have faced death," says Keenan.  "There's a calmness 
and a feeling of having let go.  They've kind of accepted that 
fate."  He smiles at the weight of his comment, then 
elaborates.  "I don't mean to be heavy-handed.  I think 
there's a huge range of things that could be considered near-
death experiences.  Some shamans will go out  in the middle 
of an ice tundra in a small igloo with a cup of water and get 
to the point where they're near starvation and they have that 
revelation of sorts.  Other people do a whole baggie full of 
mushrooms, which is a similar near-death experience.  It's a 
matter of shifting your focus, seeing things from a different 
light, and readdressing your conscious frequencies, so to 
speak."

Indeed, mind-altering drugs have been a core inspiration of 
Tool's music for years.  "Third Eye" from Aenima includes pro-
drug samples by Bill Hicks; the band's live album, Salival, 
features spoken-word snippets from Timothy Leary; and the 
artwork for Lateralus was created by psychedelic painter Alex 
Gray.  "We're a total drug band," agrees Carey "We're as 
psychedelic as a band can get, but we're articulate about it, I 
suppose.  That's the difference between us and some other 
groups."

"I think psychedelics play a major part in what we do," agrees 
Keenan, shifting uncomfortably.  "But having said that, I feel 
that if somebody's going to experiment with those things 
they really need to educate themselves about them.  People 
just taking the chemicals and diving in without having any 
kind o preparation about what they're about to experience 
tend to have no frame of reference, so they're missing 
everything flying by and all these new perspectives.  It's just 
a waste.  They reach a little bit of spiritual enlightment, but 
they end up going, 'Well, now I need that drug to get back 
there again.' The trick is to use the drugs once to get there, 
and maybe spend the next ten years trying to get back there 
without the drug."

The Tool four have learned to use their music to reopen what 
Aldous Huxley referred to as the "doors of perception."  The 
band's sprawling passages and pulsating beats can cause the 
listener to lose track of time, and its spiraling guitar lines and 
evocative lyrics practically recount and acid trip.  "If the rythm 
is intuitive enough, your breathing blends into the music, and 
you can tap into this almost yogaic process," says 
Keenan.  "You start seeing those other spaces that take you 
out of your reality.  That's maybe why Tool's music ends up 
being a little longer than most, because it takes a little 
longer to get into that meditative state."

As upfront as the member of Tool are about drugs, they 
sound the retreat when talking with reporters about sex.  
With dong titles like "Stinkfist, " "Hooker With a Penis", 
and "Prison Sex," it's clear they think with both heads; their 
songs pulse and throb, building musical tension then 
releasing it with the power of a good orgasm.  Yet these 
rockers are not interested in detailing their climactic exploits.

"Sexuality penetrates our music from the rear," says Keenan, 
scratching his chin in his best effort to appear professorial.  
He leans back on the couch, thrusts his chest out, splays his 
legs, and blurts, "Don't mind me, I'm just getting prepared 
for my Penthouse shoot."

His bandmates laugh, and any discomfort with the subject 
momentarily vanishes. "I think Tool is a house built on a 
foundation of sexuality," offers Jones.  "I don't think that's 
the key to everything, but it's underneath there.  It's not cock 
rock.  It's passionate, but it's not something where we 
go, 'Well, let's write a song about fucking.'"

"You just don't have to be vulgar or crass about [sexuality in 
music]," adds Carey.  "You can watch dry-humping videos all 
day on MTV, and it's boring.  We're trying to offer something 
a little subtler, with slightly higher aspirations in mind.  But 
we're all sexual people, so that element has to be there."

Relieved to find the discussion veering away from their own 
sex lives, Carey and Jones talk briefly about cybersex and 
downloading porn.  Keenan, a technology buff, seizes the 
opportunity to discuss his latest favorite gizmos.

"Have you seen the new phones the Japanese have 
developed?" he asks, eyes widening.  "It's basically a watch, 
and there's a microphone in the wristband and a little contact 
that pushes against a bone on your finger.  You talk into 
your wrist, stick your finger in your ear, and your finger acts 
as the speaker.  It resonates on the bones of your ear and 
you listen through your finger."

"Sounds like an ivitation to cancer," interjcets Carey.

"It's definitely a metaphor for all those old writings about the 
collective unconscious," continues Keenan 
unperturbed.  "Also, I think the internet is definitely a 
metaphor for the collective unconscious as well.  There's the 
old master saying tht if you meditate long enough with focus, 
you can tap into the collective unconcious.  Well, what the 
fuck do you think people are doing every day when they sit in 
front of the computer? Pretty soon, we're gonna get to the 
point technologically where you're not gonna even the 
external apparatus to do that.  Eventually, quantum physics 
will develop some kind of orientation where you'll just be 
sitting there talking to your friends on the East Cost with 
nothing - just with your focus."

Just as an uncharacteristically candid Keenan reveals the sci-
fi geek within, Bottrill enters the room to announce that the 
band is needed in the recording studio.  The guys excuse 
themselves, but not before Carey sums up the band 
aesthetic: "We're dealing with the chaos of life, and we're 
rubbing it down.  The deeper you rub, the more patterns you 
can see until you realize that it's really an organized chaos.  
There isn't really ever any chance to understand it all, but 
we're here to keep rubbing."

Posted to t.d.n: 06/15/01 16:31:50