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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: Terrorizer

Date: June, 2001

Transcribed by
Eileen (groovytx@hotmail.com)


  page: 
 title: Prising Open the Box
author: 

The cult of secrecy surrounding ‘Lateralus’, Tool’s first album 
in five years, would have made officials at the famed Area 51 
base blush, such were the restrictions imposed before its 
release. Catherine Yates met up with the LA rock eccentrics 
with the aim of probing behind the smokescreen for one of 
the most anticipated releases this millennium, only to find 
that the band quite literally, want the music to do the talking. 
Bummer.


STRIKE ONE
This is the one, people. This has to be the one. There have 
already been the pretty non-revelatory releases from 
Sepultra and Fear Factory. Everyone wants to hear the 
impending Guns N’ Roses release, but that’s because no-

one’s had a decent laugh in ages. It could all go so badly 
wrong for Slipknot, and as for Korn, well, who knows?
	
Lest we forget, Tool are on the cover for a reason : They 
have a new album out and given that their last studio release 
was back in 1996, this is A Bit Of An Event. So, we thought it 
was nigh on time for a chat and a cover story. There’s plenty 
to talk about after all. Where on earth they’ve been, the 
success of A Perfect Circle, just what it is they plan to do 
about the current, desperate state of rock music and, oh, 
yes, that small matter of the album that no-one’s been able 
to hear. Yes, there are easier bands to interview, but we’ve 
given them quite a bit of coverage in the past, so it can’t be 
too much of a problem…

	
Except that although our interview request is one of only five 
accepted, Tool have the odd stipulation or two to impose. 
The first is that no-one gets to interview them without 
hearing the album first. No problem – of course we want to 
hear it.  Except that to do so necessitates an arduous journey 
to Crouch End on the day of a tube strike to former Eurythmic 
Dave Stewart’s recording complex for a one-listen only 
playback. The second is that they want to see the questions, 
or at least the angles first. And they don’t want to talk about 
music. Comedy, or humour is suggested, except that the 
interview’s the next day so it hardly allows for any 
preparation. And there’s no Maynard either.
	
Part of you thinks, here is a band that maintains group 
autonomy and artistic integrity in the face of music industry 
promotional duties. The other part of you thinks: Bastards. 


SYMPATHY FOR THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
We know that Tool are not exactly fond of press, with 
a ‘wariness’ toward the UK in particular. Everyone seems to 
know this, but no-one seems to know why. Previous 
misunderstandings and bad experiences at the hands of ill-
informed Limey hacks have been cited, but you wonder just 
who their then label had been setting them up with. Every 
Tool fan I’ve ever met, has always demonstrated an 
appreciation of their music that far surpasses any 
‘dude they rock’jockisms. Indeed, given the accolades 
afforded their last release, ‘Ænima’, from just about every 
major UK music publication, make you wonder just what 
made it into their press cuttings file.
	
But it seems that everything to do with the band is geared 
towards a deliberate obscuring of information. Go to 
dissectional.com, the site of their new label and you are 

simply told ‘May 15’ (Lateralus’ release date). Go to the 
official toolband.com site and the news archive details a 
piecemeal, gradual spooling of information as album and 
song titles, artwork and lyrics are posted almost tantalizingly 
slowly. And then there’s the proclamation dated May 7 that 
states ‘so far NO-ONE has a copy of [Lateralus]’. Add to that 
the fact that mtv.com was given a different title and track-
listing for the album every day for an entire month and you 
can’t help but think that heads got somewhat lodged up 
arses somewhere along the way.
	
So with such misgivings in mind, you hope a face to face 
meeting will help clarify a few things, but walk past the 
impossibly high glass ceiling of the dining room in the 
impossibly plush Landmark Hotel, (you know a hotel’s posh 
when there are phones in the toilet – not in the marbled, 
triple-sinked bathroom but mounted right next to the brick 
chair itself) and the biggest one of all rears its obstructive 
head; the band themselves. Tool it turns out, are absolutely 
knackered. Having been in interview since 11am, they’re 
running close to empty when I show up a whopping seven 
hours later. It’s not that they’re uncooperative – far from it, 
drummer Danny Carey and bassist Justin Chancellor are most 
courteous interviewees. It’s just that, as the low-voiced Carey 
notes, “It’s kinda hard not to go onto auto-pilot when you’ve 
been talking about the same thing all day.”


ENIGMA VIBRATIONS
Despite the tiredness, it still becomes apparent that Tool in 
person are very much like their music; shrouded in mystery 
and impossible to pin down. On anything, Carey in particular 
is a master of The Vague Statement. For example, when 
pressed on the matter of keeping ‘Lateralus’ a distinctly 
promo-free affair, he alludes – vaguely – to the fact that the 
artwork and video hadn’t been finished and that the band 
wanted to released everything at the same time to make 
more of an impact. Which doesn’t really wash since the whole 
point of a promo, or ‘promotional item’, is as its name 
suggests, a method of generating public interest (ie : record 
sales) through a given medium (ie : music press). Isn’t this 
more of a demonstration of contempt for music industry 
norms from a band who, because of their status, just can?
	
“Not really,” he drawls. “We just always want to put the music 
first and we know some press is necessary. You want to have 
the word out there so that everyone knows the record is going 
to be available.”
	
Then why change the word every day for a month as you did 
with mtv.com?
	
“As soon as we released ‘Salival’ [Tool box set released last 
year – CY] and the song titles, somebody instantly registered 
the domain names of all those songs and started making 
bootleg shirts and selling bogus artwork under our name,” he 
explains. “So this time we thought we’d put out a couple fake 
sets of ‘em out there so they’d waste all their money on it.”
	
“And two days after we posted them, they were all taken,” 
adds Justin. “Every song title and the album title were taken 
as domain names.”
	
“And the next day we’d change it so they’d get burned!” 
laughs Carey. “I mean it’s too bad it confused the fans a 
little bit but it also confused the assholes, which is who it was 
intended towards.”
	
Taking action against the likes of bootleggers is fair enough, 
but you also get the impression that their definition 
of ‘asshole’ extends to anyone encroaching on their way of 
doing things. Toolband.com carries a strict legal warning 
advising that Tool will ‘aggressively enforce intellectual 
property rights to the fullest extent of the law’.
	
“You just have to take care of business before you share it, 
which is what that was,” he says. “Getting all the real domain 
names registered in our name before we put it all out. Keep 
it all under our hat instead of someone else’s.”


LATERAL THINKING
Keeping things under their hat is something very particulate 
to Tool. At the time of writing, ‘Lateralus’ has been heard 
once and once only. By the time you read this, the album will 
have been on sale for two weeks and therefore you’ll have far 
more of a clue yourselves. You’ll perhaps notice that Adam 
Jones’ guitar gets ‘a little gnarly’ at times, or that the 
gritty/clean bass sound of Justin Chancellor comes from 
careful manipulation of two separate cabinets, one clean, one 
distorted. Or that, compared to the almost deliberate 
listening challenge posed by some of the more space-rock 
moments on ‘Ænima’, ‘Lateralus’ seems to be more content 
to just let the songs breathe. But as for gaining any greater 
insights from the band… no dice.
	
“Something like ‘Eon Blue Apocalypse’ is just a really short 
into to ‘The Patient’ that you would never think of as a 
separate song,” offers Carey. “It’s a tribute to Adam’s Great 
Dane that died. Well it didn’t die actually, it had cancer…”
	
Okay…
	
“‘Mantra’ is kind of a breather thing in there, it sounds like 
a mantra, sort of a relaxation thing y’know,” he continues. 
“Then ‘Parabol’ is just an intro to ‘Parabola’.”
	
All of this (apart from the unfortunate dog anecdote) is pretty 
self explanatory stuff, and does little to explain 
why ‘Lateralus’ really is something to get excited about. So 
how about the not-so-obvious, the eleven minute tribal 
trance-out of ‘Reflection’ a major departure and one of their 
finest ever moments?
	
“Yeah it was kind a new exploration for us to try and do a 
song like that,” says Carey. “I was kinda proud of us for 
doing something we hadn’t done before and going for more 
of a trance like feel. I really enjoyed doing it.”
	
But, to paraphrase Bill Hicks at the end of ‘Ænima’, all good 
rock music is made on drugs and if you think otherwise 
you’re mistaken. 


Are drugs a big part of Tool?
	
“Oh they’re a key part of our band I would say…” concurs the 
drummer, flashing a grin positively Cheshire cat in its 
dimensions.
	
But Tool are associated with consciousness expanding and a 
lot of eastern music is geared towards the induction of 
altered states through certain rhythmic patterns. The frenetic, 
hypnotic pummeling on ‘Triad’ conjures up images of whirling 
dervishes and the like. Who else in the rock world, which is 
still Tool’s main market, would come up with that?
	
“Yeah, that’s a good compliment,” he muses. “I like creating 
images in people’s heads rather than having someone 
go ‘well that’s kinda interesting’ or ‘that guy’s burning in his 
instrument’. It just gets boring y’know. To make people think 
of images like that, that’s awesome, that’s what I hope to 
do.”
	
That Tool are intelligent, well-disposed beings is not up for 
debate. It’s jus that generating specifics on anything is 
almost impossible.


THE LAST STAND
Still, if they can’t expound further, there’s still the hard 
evidence to fall back on. Like the fact that right now, 
here we are at one of the most stale and conservative points 
in American rock history and Tool are really the only true 
contenders left. All their peers they helped spearhead the 
alternative music revolution with the early 90’s have either 
split (FNM, Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden), got dropped 
(Ministry) or been left behind in the nu-metal gold ruch (NIN, 
Rollins). As Melvins would say, Tool have continued to make 
music that doesn’t suck. And more importantly, have retained 
their popularity alongside it (a recent New York show sold out 
in 60 seconds).
	
“Yeah,” muses Carey, obviously very aware of the fact. 
“We just kept doing what we did to begine with I guess, 
and we kept it all under our control, and didn’t succumb to 
any kind of  outside influences that might have told us to 
write songs and get on the radio, and I guess that’s kinda 
why we’re still here…”
	
Although you would have been forgiven for thinking the band 
hadbefallen the same fate as their peers. A lengthy absence 
from the scene, due in part to protracted legal wrangles with 
their former label, prevented any releasing of material and 
delayed the writing process for the new album somewhat.
	
“We’ve been pretty much in a room, writing music for like the 
best part of a year and a half maybe, so that kind of 
preserves what you’re doing a little bit,” notes Justin.
	
“I think it could do a lot of bands some good to take a 
sabbatical and try to expand their horizons in one way or 
another, and then they could come out with something that 
their fans would really appreciate,” adds Carey. “If you just 
keep cranking out things you don’t give yourself a chance to 
grow as individuals. That’s one thing that’s good. It’s allowed 
us a little time off from each other too to explore our own 
ways a little bit. It’s kinda been good for everyone.”
	
The other hard fact is that as generators for some pretty self-
indulgent music that hasn’t adhered to a single trend, which 
or other, Tool have a surprisingly wide fanbase. Through 
doing it by and for themselves, they can count denim clad, 
mullet sporting Kreator fans as much as sportswear toting 
teens, and everything that goes inbetween as supporters, 
without ever catering specifically to any one market.
	
Which begs the question, why, after such careful 
demonstrations of group autonomy, have they agreed to a 
high profile package tour like Ozzfest?
	
“We want to reach as many people as we can,” explains the 
drummer. “As long as the music comes first, it’ll speak for 
itself. The only thing we usually try and keep a lower profile 
of is our personality instead of the art that you make and I 
think usually it’s ‘cause the art might suck that people have 
to resort to that. If your work is good enough, it’ll stand up 
on its own.”


LOST IN THE TRANSLATION
As long as there is music it will be open to interpretation 
and more importantly, misinterpretation – as the less 
information is provided, the more people will invent their own 
to fill in the gaps.
	
Let Tool’s music speak for itself and parts of the conversation 
are clearer than others. Musical proficiency and technicality 
infused with a near psychedelic sensibility and a crushing rock 
weight are easily identifiable. The highly evocative, 
introspective lyrics of Maynard James Keenan are not so easy 
to get a handle on. Take ‘Ænima’ live favourite ‘Stinkfist’, a 
huge, epic rock song that blooms out of festival Pas and 
flattens crowds with a chorus as monstrous as it is majestic. 
Its lyrics (on the surface) are a blackly humorous paean to 
fisting. Or take ‘Prison Sex’ (from 1993’s ‘Undertow’) a radio 
friendly, upbeat, funk metal number about rape and the cycle 
of abuse boasting the harrowing refrain, “Don unto 
others/What has been done to you.” A rarity in music itself, 
never mind the rock world, it seems strange that so little is 
so often made of such an unusual lyrical bent, particularly 
when it’s such a defining characteristic of the band. But then 
perhaps it’s never possible to underestimate people’s 
capacity for missing the point.
	
A friend of mine used to go to school with someone who 
would play ‘Prison Sex’ every time he had a rugby match, to 
put him in the ‘mood’. Despite the fact that lyrics pertaining 
to ‘shit, blood, and cum’, and being ‘forced wide open’ are 
pretty clear in the mix, he had no idea what the song was 
about. When a lyric sheet was finally thrust in front of him, 
the tape was consigned to the bin in disgust, never to be 
played again.
	
And despite Tool’s desire to put distance between art and 
articulations on art, surely even they have to be asking at 
least some questions when their singer is coming up with 
odes to extreme sexual pursuits or displaying frightening 
levels of introspection on the darkness within.
	
“Oh Maynard’s willing to share it all with us,” says Carey. 
“We have conversations about what the songs mean. I have 
a lot of respect for how much of his soul he’s always willing 
to bare to everyone and it takes a lot of courage to do what 
he’s done and continues to do. Maynard to me is the best 
singer out there. Let alone his persona and the way he can 
just pull it off.”
	
Given the above rather extreme but amusing example of 
misunderstanding, do you ever find yourself forming a certain 
interpretation of the lyrics only to discover a very different, 
intended message?
	
“Oh definitely,” he agrees. “I think everybody does. That’s 
definitely the whole intention. He’s very conscious of making 
them able to be interpreted on a lot of different levels and 
I’m sure he has his own interpretation that’s probably far 
different to even to the one he shares with us.”
	
It transpires the drummer has his own anecdote concerning 
Tool songs, friends and interpretations.
	
“Actually, I have a friend who’s a big body builder and he 

poses to ‘Prison Sex’ at his contests and stuff,” he grins.
	
Does he know what it’s about?
	
Cue another grin. “Oh yeah, he knows…”
	
Frankly it’s hard to decide which is scarier.


TROUBLE AT THE CHECK OUT
Despite having sold more than seven million records over 
their career, one place that hasn’t until now, been able to 
fully observe Tool’s favourite maxim of finding out for 
yourself has been the UK. The band last played here in 1996 
and getting hold of a copy of the subsequent album was a far 
harder task than it should have been.
	
“There was such a lack of support from the label,” notes 
Justin. “We only did one gig when we came over [at the 
London Astoria].”
	
“We played to more people in England than we sold records!” 
exclaims Carey. “When our record came out I think Take 
That and Whitney Houston, who were on the same label, had 
just come out and we got shoved in a little corner. People 
would come to our shows all the time but couldn’t get our 
records in the stores. Things have changed now we’re on a 
new label because we’re selling as many ‘Ænima’ records now 
as we did when it came out!”
	
“At one point ‘Ænima’ sold more copies in Poland than it did 
in England when it came out,” says Justin.


“And we’ve never been to Poland!” adds Carey.
	
Which might go some way to explaining why you rarely see 
Tool records in second hand stores, or if you do, they’re 
rarely in there for long. But then of course, people don’t sell 
Tool records do they? They’re too busy listening to them, 
searching for the answer.
	
“We don’t want to provide that answer either,” reasons Justin 
as the interview draws to a close. “So to a certain extent, 
it’s a diversionary tactic to bring you back to the music. 
If you can’t find the beginning or the end of what you’re 
looking at, then you’ve got to go back and check out the 
music again and again.”
	
Well, don’t negate the entire basis for feature writing in 
one fell swoop will you…
	
“You should have ‘Just Listen to It’ on the cover, and then 
just have a bunch of blank pages!” he laughs. “I mean, 
who’s done that?”
	
Tool play London Brixton Academy June 11 and 12. See live 
dates for full tour details. 




Posted to t.d.n: 10/28/01 02:38:03