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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: Mix Magazine

Date: March, 2002

Transcribed by
Bryan Tabuteau (bryan@tabuteau.com)


  page: 
 title: Tool
author: Robert Hanson

TOOL

by Robert Hanson

Mix, Mar 1, 2002 

 
If there's any act within the current strata of hard rock bands 
that no one has the guts or ability to rip off, it would have to 
be Tool. The band, which consists of Adam Jones (guitar), 
Justin Chancellor (bass), Maynard James Keenan (vocals) 
and Danny Carey (drums), burst onto the scene in late '93 
and redefined the concept of music-for-art's-sake with their 
debut release Undertow and the surprise MTV mainstay 
Sober. Several successful festival and headlining tours 
followed, and in '96, the band released the critical and 
commercial success Ænima, which they toured behind for 
more than two years. After that tour, lead singer Keenan 
spent the better part of the next year fronting the wildly 
successful band A Perfect Circle, the studio project of one-
time guitar tech Billy Howerdell.

Once Keenan's commitments with APC ended, Tool recorded 
and released their third and most successful full-length 
release, Lateralus, in the spring of 2001. The new album not 
only maintained the band's reputation for epic compositions, 
bizarre time signatures and apocalyptic imagery, but also 
found the band exploring new sounds, textures and 
instruments.

Last summer, Tool took to the road for the first time in more 
than four years, playing dates in Europe and committing to 
an extensive U.S. outing. The first half of the U.S. tour 
focused on a more intimate performance and only hit large 
theaters in major cities. The second leg, however, was an all-
out arena juggernaut, selling out 40,000-plus venues across 
the country. Support acts included King Crimson and Tricky, 
and, on occasion, members of each band were brought 
onstage during Tool's set to play percussion or keyboards. 
Mix got a chance to see the band at the Shoreline 
Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif. As had been the case 
at a number of outdoor venues, Tool's November show 
marked the end of the 2001 concert season at Shoreline.

CALCULATE WHAT YOU WILL 
Tool is renowned for grinding, abrasive, multimedia-
enhanced live shows, and this most recent outing raised the 
bar even higher. In addition to a state-of-the-art lighting rig, 
two projection screens and a huge flat-panel display were 
used as the main backdrop. The video elements were culled 
from the band's numerous stop-action videos in addition to 
some new computer-generated elements. The different 
components were mixed live each night, providing a totally 
new and unique visual collage for each song.

The band's stage positions were also somewhat 
unconventional; Keenan actually stood behind the backline, 
on a raised platform, in front of the flat-panel display. The 
reason for this was actually a practical one. Tool's legendary 
stage volume, and in particular Carey's drum kit, have always 
caused problems with Keenan's vocal mic. Consequently, 
Jones and Chancellor stood at the front of the stage, and 
Carey was positioned on a second riser. This setup kept 
bleed to an absolute minimum while preserving the volume 
and fidelity that the band requires.

FORTY-SIX AND 2 
Monitor engineer Chris Gilpin, now a veteran of tours with 
both Tool and A Perfect Circle, was well-acquainted with the 
specific needs of each bandmember. For singer Keenan, who 
had used in-ear monitors (IEMs) on previous tours with both 
Tool and APC, Gilpin provided an IEM setup including 
Ultimate Ears UE5 custom molds and a Shure PSM700 
wireless system. The other three bandmembers relied on an 
array of Showco Prism wedges, plus the sound of the backline 
equipment.

The other guys talked about trying in-ears, Gilpin explains. 
But to be honest, I can't really imagine a situation where they 
would be happy. And it's certainly not a criticism of anyone, 
but they are audio purists, and they definitely want it to 
sound a certain way. It's been a long road to get it to the 
point where they can say, ‘Yes, that's the way I want it to 
sound.’ It was a constant battle [through Europe] up until the 
point I stepped up to floor wedges and gave them all the 
headroom they needed.

Gilpin managed each bandmember's custom mix on a 48-
input ATI Paragon. The reason I like the ATI is that it's got 
gated comps on every channel, says Gilpin. It's a very clean-
sounding board. And I'd go with either this or a Midas just for 
the audio quality. It's clean and it's crisp, and it works well for 
in-ears. It's got a fantastic number of inputs and outputs as 
well, which is very useful.

The main vocal mic was an Audix OM-6. The bass and guitar 
rigs were miked with a combination of Shure SM57s and 
Sennheiser 409s, which provided some variety in the sounds 
and the ability to mix between the differing cabinets. The 
miking scheme for the drum kit comprised SM57s on snare 
and rack toms, AKG 414s on overheads, an AKG 460 on the 
ride cymbal, four RE-20s (two on floor toms and two within 
the kick drums) and two SM91s also on the kick drums.

Other stage inputs include four stereo pairs for the various 
synth/sampler rigs. Keenan's guitar, which he played on a 
handful of songs, was taken DI.

Gilpin routed the main vocal channel through an SPX 990 for 
chorus and a PCM70 for a short reverb. An SPX 990 was also 
used on bass. Gilpin notes that the majority of the effects 
were used solely for Keenan's IEMs.

The biggest challenge on this [tour] is the fact that the stage 
is one of the loudest that I've ever been involved in, says 
Gilpin. And I've done a few metal acts before, although these 
guys aren't really metal. On the one side, I'm having to turn 
everything up to the point where the guys are feeling it as 
well as hearing it. So there is definitely a threshold where it 
has to be that loud. And, at the same time, I'm trying to 
separate that from Maynard's vocal mic, because there is no 
way that anyone is going to put out as much as a Marshall 
four-by-twelve with their voice. And, thankfully, they arranged 
it before I got involved, where Maynard was going to be on a 
riser, behind the backline, which actually keeps him in a very 
quiet pocket.

NO SECOND GUESSING 
Where the stage engineers were confronted with high SPLs, a 
complicated monitoring scheme and a technically taxing 
show, a stripped down, balls-to-the-wall attitude set the tone 
at FOH. Hard panning of the drums, pitch correction and 
unnecessary outboard effects were purposely avoided. The 
idea was to color as little of the band's sound as possible and 
simply present an accurate approximation of the band's 
recorded material. For this leg of the tour, the main P.A. was 
a Showco Prism system, and FOH engineer Nobby, a veteran 
of tours with Bush and Rage Against the Machine, opted to 
use a Midas XL4 console, running 56 inputs. The XL4 is just 
the best-sounding board; it's my personal choice, says Nobby.

Nobby's outboard processing devices included two Summit 
TLA-100s and two BSS 901s, one of each patched across 
vocal and bass channels. Dynamic control of two guitar and 
two keyboard/sampler subgroups was managed by four dbx 
160s, while Drawmer DS 201 gates were used on all the drum 
inputs except for the snare. Other items of note included two 
TC 2290s, an SPX 990, a REV 5, a KT DN360, an Eventide 
H3000 and four dbx 160As.

It's kind of like a punk show, actually, Nobby explains. We've 
moved some things around. We tried some valve processors 
in places. But for me, it was too warm. I was trying to keep 
the edge. So I actually swapped a few things out and put 
some dbx 160 compressors on there. And I'm [sure some 
people] wondered why I was swapping TLA and all this valve 
stuff for the dbx's. I think, if you're in the studio, they sound 
great. But I just wanted to keep it simple. There are some 
basic delays on the vocal and bit of modulation and 
Harmonizers and some distortion effects.

I want to make it sound as close to the CD as possible, 
Nobby concludes. Whenever I meet a band and start working 
with them, I always say, ‘Look, are you happy with your CD?’ 
Some people think that's a funny question, but a lot of 
bands say, ‘Well, when we were finally finished, we wished 
that this or that was louder.’ But when you get a band that 
loves their CD, that's perfect. I just listen to it for a few weeks 
before. And I go back and listen every couple of weeks 
because you can start to veer, and you just have to keep 
yourself in check.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Robert Hanson is an assistant editor at Mix.

Posted to t.d.n: 03/13/02 16:28:59