Publication: Alternative Press
Date: March, 1997
page: title: Nobody's Tool author: Jason Pettigrew You are reading this story because you want to know what inspires the four members of Los Angeles band Tool. What motivates the band- guitarist Adam Jones, drummer Danny Carey, singer Maynard Keenan and bassist Justin Chancellor-to create lengthy rock opuses in a culture where ennui sets in at the touch of a remote-control unit? You want to know the band's lyrics, examine their belief systems and ponder the significance of the floating eyes, the contortionist and the other shifting images that appear on the cover of Tool's new Zoo album, AEnima. You want to be privy to their vision. If facts, lyrics, and assorted minutiae are what you are seeking from Tool, here is a public service announcement:Tool advise you to think for yourself, before somebody does it for you. "Most people think, 'What are you guys about? Explain yourselves, your music, your videos,'" Jones says disgustedly. "why do we have to explain everything? Entertainment can be like going in the woods. You can see nature; you may understand the basics of it, but you can still enjoy it, and it can affect you in many ways. That's how we approach music." Jones and Keenan formed Tool in 1991, enlisting Paul D'Amour to play bass and workaholic drummer Danny Carey, who was holding down a straight nine-to-five job while playing with Carole King, Pygmy Love Circus and local country bands, as well as with comedy-metallers Green Jelly.(Incidentally, that's Keenan singing the falsetto phrase "not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin" on Jelly's only hit "Three Little Pigs.") Later that year, Tool signed with Zoo, who released their cement mixer heavy EP Opiate in 1992. The quartet's synergy of atmospheric riffage and Keenan's idiosyncratic vocal style was welcome by audiences friendly to the stylistic inversions made to hard rock by bands such as Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine. Tool's full length debut, Undertow, was released in April of '93. The music inside the package was as claustrophobic and textured as the album artwork-graphic images of an obese woman, x-rays and grimy portraits of the band that scream homage to macabre photographer Joel Peter Witkin. Consider if Black Sabbath had been formed by literate art students rather than a bunch of British working-class blues growlers. Not that any of the one-million plus owners of Undertow thought specifically in those terms; regardless of the music's airpunching/headbanging aspect, there was a tweaked aesthetic at work. Manager and Lollapalooza co-founder Ted Gardner installed Tool on the second stage of Lollapalooza '93 for a few weeks before he graduated them to the main stage. Three-and-a-half years in the making, AEnima was released last fall. Produced by David Bottrill (whoís worked with King Crimson) and clocking in at 77 minutes, itís a harrowing collection of atmospheres and musical tributaries that doesnít fit into tidy little slots like ìmetalî or ìalternative,î or the grandfather of all musical categories used when your songs run over five minutes, ìprogressive.î (When Tool were asked if there was one band common to their individual record collections, Carey and Jones settled on King Crimson and the Melvins. If Keenan were King of America, each home would own a copy of Peter Gabrielís Passion.) AEnima offers the brooding energy of ìStinkfistî; Keenanís accelerated diatribe on credibilty-police officers, ìHooker with a Penisî; the potentous metal of ìEulogyî; and the epic ìThird Eye.î There are also plenty of in-jokes as segues (ìDie Eier Von Satanî is a German recitation of a Mexican wedding cookie recipe sonically modified to give the feel of an industrial-rock Nuremberg rally). Sure, AEnima is epic and at times sounds self-absorbed, but the disc has more substance than anything on the Billboard charts. But if you are looking for specific insight into Tool-the bandís modus operandi, the je ne sais quoi, if you will, youíll have to look elsewhere. The members of Tool donít owe explanations to anyone-not to the record company, management, critics or fans. The band will tell you that they are only there for the music. Jones, who has spent six months in stop-action animation, creates Toolís maverick videos- which almost never feature the band. Tool have turned down high- profile opportunities like soundtrack offers and appearances on Saturday Night Live. The band refuses to do commercial radio-edits of their lengthy singles, despite their labelís cajoling (ìevery Pink Floyd record I ever heard, I never once said, ëHey, this is a really long song; itís not radio friendly,íî quips Jones). After the compilers of the recent Led Zeppelin tribute album Enconium haggled with Tool over the length of their projected contribution (a seven minute version of ìNo Quarterî), the band walked. Tool are a band first and foremost. AP photographer Chris Toliver was denied a request to shoot individual portraits because the band didn't want just one member ending up on the cover. There was even a point when the band wanted to be interviewed together, so one personality wouldnít overtake this story. If they wanted any more control, theyíd have to dissolve the band and get jobs in national security. Iím waiting backstage with Toolís A&R man, Matt Marshall. Marshallís job on this trip is to placate ma and the band, but not necessarily in that order. After I endure three hours of Comedy Central programming and an old Bob Hope movie, the band finally arrive for soundcheck, dinner and-I-hope-conversation. It seems they were doing phone interviews for European press. Marshall corrals new bassist Justin Chancellor for the first interview. Chancellor was enlisted to replace Paul DíAmour after his band Peach (not the American classic rock revivalists on Caroline) had supported Tool on British dates for the Undertow tour. His brother had turned him on to Tool early on, and Chancellor had been friends with the bandís members prior to being enlisted. How a band like Tool figure into a British music scene driven by disposable fashion is a good place to start. ìThe music scene is run by the two papers (NME and Melody Maker), with no scope of radio play,î says Chancellor. ìEveryoneís looking over their shoulder. They will only commit to something if someone else does. Thatís how you get a movement going, like shoegazing or Britpop. If you donít conform to that, you are irrelevant. People In England say that Tool is not relevant.î He smiles, adding, ìBy virtue of that comment, weíre completely relevant.î Chancellor feels that Toolís think-for-yourself campaign doesnít recognize frontiers. He feels that British audiences enjoy being spoonfed the music of the hour. Chancellorís personal faves include Swervedriver, Mint 400, Penthouse and the God Machine-not necessarily Britpopís Greatest Hits, but still bands with defined characters. ìItís all about participating on behalf of the listener. Itís about digging in and exploring,î Chancellor continues. ì(With Tool) everyoneís perception is different, whereas everyoneís perception of poppy British bands is pretty much the same. Itís all face value. Peach was more along the same lines as Tool sonically than what was going on in England. It makes you spiteful, but it also makes you more belligerent in your convictions. ìI have a friend in England whoís real into electronic trance music. I played him AEnima, and when we talked about it, he was really excited. I suddenly realized that AEnima has more to do with electronica than anything else in England-both have momentum and move forward. As soon as stuff like ego and personality come into the picture, the purity of the music isnít there.î There are many stories about Maynard Keenan, and you can take your pick from the ones you want to believe. Keenan is an Ohio native who did a stint in the army and ended up in Los Angeles. He rigorously practices jujitsu, has a young son (who makes an appearance on Toolís ìCesaro Summabilityî) and has a profound respect for folk singer Joni Mitchell and the late comedian Bill Hicks (a portrait of Hicks graces the inner sleeve of AEnima, with the caption ìAnother Dead Heroî above it.) Keenan enters the Green Room with no introduction save a casual hello. He fixes me with a thousand yard stare; Iím not sure whether it reflects boredom or contempt. ìIn this quick-flip generation,î he says quietly, nursing an herbal tea to soothe his sore throat, ìits easy for a kid to listen to what his older brother is listening to and say, ëNo. I want to listen to something completely contrary to what my brothers, sisters and parents are listening to.í Then they find us. I donít think weíre doing anything innovative; weíre just filling a need.î Nut eight and fifteen minute songs are not something the marketplace commonly embraces. If that were true, Green Day would be covering all four sides of Yesí Tales from Topographic Oceans-and getting paid. It seems that Tool have unearthed an audience eager to make the trip with the band. ìwhen the four of us are in a room making decisions, it comes down to whether the music holds its own,î says Keenan. ìI donít think weíre writing anything thatís timeless. In the big picture, I think that in ten years nobody is gonna care. Twenty years, definitely not. Even if 15 million people bought our record, and you gathered them together and tried to see them from the moon,î he laughs, ìIts nothing!î But what about the kid in Squirrel Nut, Iowa whose first record is a Tool record? When many of us brought home our first record purchase from a department store, we read every liner note; we ingested every image on the cover and in the inner sleeves. In the long run, that was necessary for developing a personal aesthetic and personal growth. Shouldnít Tool fans expect more? Whatís wrong with setting some kidís perception straight? ìThe record is written so that there are layers for him to get into,î says Keenan. ìheíll hear ëHooker with a Penisí and initially think its a ëf**k somebodyí song, when actually its saying f**k everybody and not f**k everybody. Itís about unity, realizing that everything is connected. Itís about breaking down the process of pointing the finger. Heíll get it in about five years.î ìSo what should people take away from Tool?î ìIn a perfect world?î Now you know the world is not perfect... ìLetís speak in terms of a perfect world because weíre dreaming today,î he quietly volleys back. ìIn a perfect world, people in general will hear the album, be inspired and do something extraordinary. I hope someone might use us as a backdrop for inspiration for some other activity they excel in. Iím not going to spoon feed anybody and rob them of their own personal experiences. I read the interpretations of the lyrics that people send to the Tool web page. Theyíre way off. But thatís fine.î ìI really do have more faith in humanity than most people think I do. I get resentful and upset when people donít use their head about stuff. It upsets me when people are selling themselves short and letting themselves down, whether itís education or information.î While Keenan is highly articulate, it seems that he also cultivates a streak of misanthropy. During an encore at a recent Cleveland show, the singer stormed offstage after a fan made it over the barrier past security and gave him a hug. Keenan very well could have taken down the intruder with his martial-arts prowess. But why should the thinking people in attendance have to bear the consequences of one stage invasion? Hollywood Babylon author Kenneth Anger wrote that celebrities-actors, musicians, novelists, public figures in general-deserve about as much privacy as God does. Because some people identify with public figures and for the most part for a part of said figuresí successes, fans then think they deserve more. ìWhat I wear, how I walk, who Iím f***ing, what I eat, what time I go to bed has nothing to do with what weíre doing,î Keenan stresses. ìPresenting those things as somehow being part of Tool is deceptive. Itís not honest. I donít embrace anybody. I want my space, my distance. Iím not a very warm person. Iím sure that most of the people whose music I love are assholes. Where I met them is at their music. That inspired me to do something for myself.î When the lights go down at the Sunrise Theatre, the audience is treated to the animated billowing-smoke-box graphic from the cover of AEnima projected onto two video screens behind the stage. The image is accompanied by a menacing low-end rumble seemingly capable of disrupting human bowel functions. At the beginning of the sequence, the audience screams, whistles, applauds and yells, ìToooooool!î After about six minutes, the band still havenít shown up onstage. The crowd remains silent, save for the couple of boxheads screaming, ìWhat the f**k? Already, huh?î The audienceís reward for this behavior is ìThird Eye,î Toolís blistering, fifteen-minute psych-metal journey in praise of spiritual enlightment. Itís no quick-fix radio hit; Tool are like life, buddy, and nothing ever comes easy with either of them. Through brute force and volume, Tool burn brightly in front of the crowd. Keenan changes lyrics to the delight and disgust of the fans. Jonesí playing qualifies him for the honor of Americaís first intelligent guitar hero; he eschews tired look-at-me fretboard calisthenics for interesting atmospheres. Unfortunately, most of the intriguing subtleties that make AEnima so compelling get lost in the live show arena. Of note is tonightís extended intro to ìSober,î which features Jones and Chancellor creating drones while Carey plays random disjointed bursts from his kit. In the middle of the set, Keenan addresses the crowd. ìIf any of you have nothing better to do, weíre playing Orlando tomorrow. Itís only about four or five hours away.î A handful of people, obviously heading to Orlando, whoops it up. ìIf not,î Keenan adds softly. ìWeíll miss you.î The audience goes nuts. Keenan revels in the knowledge that once your audience rises above 1,000 people, there is no room for irony. ìTool are all really smart guys,î says Kabir Akhtar, a University of Miami graduate film student and the creator of Toolís extensive web site (http:toolshed.down.net). Akhtar created the Toll FAQ (frequently asked questions) file, which answers questions that range from general fan info (ìWhatís that line in the chorus of Sober?î) to plain old urban-folklore stupidity (ìI hear that Maynard keeps corpses in his home...î). A few years back, Akhtar sent Keenan a brief e-mail message with the site address, telling the singer to check it out. Keenan did and got back in touch with Akhtar with corrections. The Web site gets thousands of hits each day, and was recently reviewed in the New York Post. Akhtar says that although he gets a fair amount of dumb-guy mail, most of the Internet surfers logging on to the Tool site are far more intelligent than your typical rock fans. When the MTV program 120 minutes changed the title of the ìStinkfistî video to ìTrack #1,î Kabir had MTVís e-mail address posted on the page in an attempt to get people to voice their complaints to the network. The avalanche of e-mail was so large, host Matt Pinfield came on the air the next week to apologize about corporate policy. ìThe Tool page has its own little agenda,î reveals Akhtar. ìOn the one hand it promotes the band, but it also furthers their anti- stupidity message. Sure, I get a lot of ëDudes, you rock; come play my high schoolí stuff. But a lot of people send me information on Hinduism, Buddhism, Jungian Theory and how it applies to AEnimaís ëForty Six & 2.í These fans are really intelligent people who figure this stuff out. Toolís music means a lot to them on many different levels. These are the people who get what Tool is all about. The next day, at the University of Floridaís Field House in Orlando, Jones and Carey seize the opportunity to shoot some hoops on the remaining court after dinner and before show time-and before the interview. Even Marshall joins in the fun, leaving me benched with bronchitis and a fraying temper. ìI want Tool to be a powerful escapism,î Jones says, back on the bandís coach 45 minutes later. ìI want Tool to be like a drug. Take Tool and kick back into your own little world, or get aggressive, or get all sweet and nice and go ice skating-whatever floats your boat. The bottom line is that weíre pretty selfish; this is our thing, and itís what we want out of music. The fans are pretty secondary to that. Itís nice that theyíre there and they can appreciate us opening with a fourteen-minute song. Iím in this to be happy.î AEnimaís musical schizophrenia can quench the desires of a broad range of music fans. But is that diversity merely tolerated by listeners? If someone loves the electro-rock aggression of ìHooker with a Penis,î will he or she be patient for a fifteen minute piece of menacing terror like ìThird Eyeî? ìThere are no rules to this,î he stresses, ì and when you start making rules it gets convoluted. Everyone wants to supply rules to it, and that takes away the magic of doing something musically that can remind someone of a sensory experience, a smell, a thinking process, whatever. itís about exploring, any way to touch the senses.î ìWe try to push that sense of time,î Jones continues. ìWhen the show begins, the rumble goes on and the smoke-box video comes up. We leave it up for a while, and I can hear people in the crowd yelling, ëOkay, okay; come on!í Some people are thinking thereís a problem because weíre not coming out yet. Itís pushing the element; thereís the long fix and the quick fix. Which oneís better? Neither, but theyíre both powerful.î At that point both Carey and Keenan get on the bus to prepare for tonightís show. Not much has been said about DíAmourís departure from the band. It seems odd that someone would walk away from a million-selling band, especially when the bandís music has evolved enough to accommodate the vision of the individual members. ìHe was open to anything but not getting anywhere,î explains Keenan. ìIf youíre sitting there and not doing anything...î ìWhere we bring in our individual ideas, he wanted us to come to him,î says Jones. ìItís not what itís about.î ìPaul was more into pop stuff,î says Carey. ìwait for his album to come out, and youíll see why he wasnít happy (DíAmourís new band, Luze, will have a record out later this year). What we have now is a really good thing. Weíre content with each otherís contributions, and I canít see that changing.î Carey remembers the bandís early days, when Nirvana had just hit and the last vestiges of hairspray metal were on the wane. He says that Tool, Helmet, and Rage Against the Machine were all signed to major labels around the same time. ìThe labels were looking for the next Nirvana,î he remembers, ìand once we began to draw crowds, we knew we were next. I hope we can provide an alternative to all of the lowest-common-denominator s**t going on right now. I just wish people were doing something weirder than we are. ìI canít listen to the radio,î he continues. ìIt bummed me out heavily when all that punk s**t started happening again. The same f** *ing guitar, bass, and drums Iíve heard a million times from back in ë79. Maybe they donít consider themselves artists, but I think they should have a little more responsibility to try and do something more than cash in on a trend. I think that s**t drags humanity down. At this eveningís sold out show, Tool continue to pulverize the masses. Keenan twitches and turns like a marionette wrestler, while the rest of the band shore him up with a roaring sludge. As the general-admission crowd takes a break between songs from beating the hell out of each other on the gym floor, Keenan, covered from head to toe in dark clay stage make-up, winds up the audience again. ìYou know,î he says demurely, ìI was reading on the Internet that the state of Florida has the best dancers in the country.î The audience erupts in cheers. The more vociferous members around me are several backward-baseball-cap-wearing white-male jock types, and several frumpy women who would be paid lots of money not to dance on tables. They hoot and holler the loudest because Keenan is speaking to them. But theyíve got it all wrong. Keenan is not speaking to them. Tool are not speaking to them. They are speaking at them. And thatís okay. But thatís only what I think...
Posted to t.d.n: 05/11/97 16:04:37