Publication: Bass Player
Date: May, 2001
Eric N. (JNewmil430@aol.com)
Eric N. (JNewmil430@aol.com)
page: 61 title: Handy Man, HOw Justin Chancellor Frames Tool's Metal Madness author: Scott Shiraki & E.E. Bradman In the juggernaut known as TooL, the most visible figure is singer Maynard James Keenan: quiet and serious, then furiously exploding. Adam Jones, the guitarist with one foot in heavy metal and ten fingers in the future would be next. One could argue, perhaps, that the band's sonic assault would be nothing without the global palette and furious chops of drummer Danny Carey. But TooL's secret ingredient may well be Justin Chancellor: Whether he's grooving in tandem with danny, doubling a melody with Adam, or reacting to Maynard's angst-ridden lyrics, Justin's thick midrange tone, guitar- style techniques, and elastic versatility are the most grounded components of nu-metal's loftiest band. TooL's combination of dark textures, bleak atmospherics, and death- metal/grindcore fury set them apart right from the start. Two full- length albums, two EPs, and touring-including a slot on 1993's Lollapalooza lineup-have cemented TooL's popularity with critics and fans while making a few concessions to radio airplay. The band's latest, Lateralus, expands on TooL's epic, King Crimson-meets-Black Sabbath aesthetic while upping the ante with more ethnic percussion textures and odd-meter grooves. Close listeners will notice that 30- year-old Chancellor, who joined the band just in time for '96's AEnima, has changed his sound too: He still strums and uses a pick, but his tone is cleaner, with less fret noise. Justin's use of chords, distortion, and effects lets him carve his own path while supporting the band. Overall, TooL seems to have honed its unique ability to convey will articulated rage with finesse and cohesion, making grand gestures that sound lean and mean. Chancellor was born in Kent, on Englands south coast, an hour's drive from London. His elder brother's albums-Thin Lizzy, Rush, and later, Fugazi- were a strong influence on Justin, who asked for and received his first guitar in '78. Theory and classical guitar lessons were short-lived however. "Once I started listening to more rock music, I just wanted to feel my way a bit more." Justin first picked up a bass with Surlies, his school's alternative to the orchestra. He joined his first extracurricular band at age 14, and he eventually abandoned his three-year university stint to move to London and form the alternative group Peach. Giving Birth to a Stone, released last year on Vile Beat, collects everything the band recorded and released in the early '90s. By the time TooL released its first EP, Opiate, Chancellor had already been impressed by bassist Paul D'Amore's playing on the groups demo tape; Undertow followed next year. Chancellor met TooL in New York, Peach toured with them, and when D'Amore quit in '95, TooL gave Chancellor a call. As Justin told BP in March '97, "At first I actually turned them down. Peach had broken up about six months before, and I was forming a new band with the guitarist. But then I decided I couldn't deny myself this opportunity." AEnima debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Top 200 chart, and TooL promptly went on the road. Lead singer Maynard's side project A Perfect Circle and last year's live TooL EP Salival, both enormously successful, have whetted fans' appetite for a full-lenth album. We met Justin on a rainy afternoon in sleepy Calabassas, 25 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Gracious and laid-back, he hugged a cup of coffee as he talked about his past, TooL, and the upcoming tour. THERE'S A SIMILARITY BETWEEN YOUR BASS TONE IN PEACH, YOUR SOUND WITH TOOL, AND PAUL D'AMORE'S TONE WITH TOOL BEFORE YOU JOINED-CRUNCH WITH HIGH MIDRANGE AND TOP. WAS D'AMORE'S PLAYING STYLE INFLUENTIAL? He's definitely an inspiration. When I joined TooL, the band already had a few songs written, and I wanted to get Paul's sound and style-I loved it. WHen I auditioned, my appreach fit what they were already doing. My MUsic Man sounded good in rehearsal, but when we started recording AEnima, the StingRay didn't really work. The Music Man has a lot of lows, but some mids were missing. A friend recommended Wal basses. I tried one out and it was great. DO YOU PLAY FRETLESS ON LATERALUS? Yes, on the title song, but only on the second verse. I couldn't play fretless before we recorded this album, and I spent hours trying to get the part right. I even put marks on the fretboard. THe bass is so beautiful that I spent a long time just looking at it-now I have to learn how to play it HAS YOUR SOUND CHANGED SINE THE PREVIOUS ALBUM? On a couple of songs I used a slightly different gauge on the bottom strings-a .110 E for teh thicker tone, a little less ambient string sound, and more crunch. Most of the songs are in drop D tuning, the rest in standard. Overall, though, I don't think it's changed too much-there's more of the ambient stuff, and the effects have become more experimental. Sometimes I just turned everything on, rode the Wal's volume knob, and let it feed back. I like to play with the parameters of different pedals. On the title track, there's a middle section where the band breaks down to nothing. I started with my flanger all flat, and then I played with each parameter-I don't even know specifically what I'm doing with each pedal-but it just starts to warp and get further awy from pure bass tone. When the song finally kicks back in, the flanger's off and you're all the way back. IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU EXPERIMENTED WITH WAH SOUNDS ON "THE PATIENT." In the beginning of the song, I hammered on the notes with my left hand and used my bass's tone controls to get a tone sweep for a wah effect. The guitar started out playing may part, we ignored the bass until later on, and then suddenly it made sense. YOU DEFINITELY HAVE YOUR OWN STYLE. WAS THAT A RESULT OF JUST MESSING AROUND? Yes. I've never really copied anyone's style-I'm not the kind of person who listens to something and tries to play the exact same line. And when I'm fooling around, accidents happen, and they become part of my style. CAN YOU GIVE US AN EXAMPLE OF A TECHNIQUE OR RIFF THAT CAME ABOUT THIS WAY? The twiddly "Schism" riff came from fooling around. I just play as much as possible, and I don't write stuff down-so when I get a good idea, I play it until I can't forget it. WHAT INSPIRES YOU? My inspiration comes from a place that's mysterious even to me. I pick up my bass, my fingers move, and something happens. I call it the "mystery ingredient." We write a lot of songs that way; we'll jam in soundcheck, record it, and work on it later. It's always interesting when other band members react to something I come up with. They might treat it in a way I never really thought of. On the new album's title track for example, we got Danny to play my bass part on drums. He took line's rhythm, and I did something completely new. We do that quite a lot, and not just between drums and bass. "THE GRUDGE" HAS MANY DIFFERENT RHYTHMIC THINGS GOING ON. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING WHEN YOU WROTE IT? The riff in 5/4 is driving, but it's almost like a straght 4/4 line to me. We played around with that and then explored the in-betweens, grooving along in different patters of five, layering them so that it sometimes almost swings. When it goes into the verse it has a waltz feel to it. It's quite a journey. "SCHISM" STARTS IN SIX-BUT THEN WHAT HAPPENS? It goes into six-and-a-half. It feels a bit unnatural; the six-and-a- half just emphasizes the solidity of the original riff. It stretches your brain, and then it goes into all kinds of other times in the middle of that-I don't even know what they are! HOW DO YOU APPROACH A NEW RIFF WHEN YOU DON'T KNOW THE TIME SIGNATURE? We hear downbeats in different places, so we tap it out to understand the cycle. If someone reads it differently and we take their lead, though, it'll twist the whole thing and we'll be able to hear it from a different perspective. It sounds unnatural to most people when you layer two different times on top of eachother. But if you let it breathe and keep playing it over and over, you find places where the two time signatures conflict and where they lock back together. Eventually, you start to see this really interesting relationship between the two. HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN AN ODD-METER MAN? Yeah. I lisen to a lot of classical music, drum-n-bass, and other styles that ignore the beginning and end of a bar and deal with all the possibilities between those points. When a pattern comes into my head now, I'll sit down and tap it out. It's just a bunch of rhythms in my head-I'll have to think, Is that in six-and-a-half or six [laughs] YOUR DRUMMER'S SKILLS SEEM TO ALLOW THE REST OF THE BAND TO DO WHATEVER YOU LIKE Danny explores a lot of Indian and African music where traditional "Four-on-the-floor' boundaries are less of a focus. We've taken that a little further, and we've learned it's not always the heavy downbeat that has the coolest impact. In our songs there's always the straight groove you can latch onto, but there are other interesting options in the music too. DID YOU TRY ANOTHER TUNING FOR "PARABOLA"? That one was in the BEDG. Two basic riffs carry the song. We came up with the main part while jamming over the bass line; although they're related, the guitar line has its own vibe. The second part developed from a vocal idea and a simple guitar line. HOW DID THE BAND GO ABOUT WRITING SONGS WHILE MAYNARD WAS ON TOUR WITH A PERFECT CIRCLE? We had written a few things on tour, and there were much older riffs we never worked into the previous album. When we got back to L.A. we worked with Maynard for a couple of months before he took off, and then we jammed for five or six months. We were sending him stuff as well, and he was working on his computer, painting his ideas and coming up with subject matter. We just kept plugging away, and when he got back, he already had basic lyric ideas and definite melodies that went with certain riffs. ONCE MAYNARD HEARD THE MUSIC, WAS IT SET IN STONE? Absolutely not. When the vocals and music start jelling, we react to eachother to accentuate certain ideas-Maynard might be talking about something that warrants a push here or a little snare hit there. We added that flavor, and it's a different part of the process, moving furhter along into a new idea. WILL THE SONGS HAVE A LIFE OF THEIR OWN AFTER YOU START TOURING? Absolutely. The live and recorded versions of our songs are two different worlds. We could have worked on the last record forever, but we had to record at some point, and we definitely like what happened to the songs afterwards. We changed "Pushit" into an acoustic tabla piece and almost got rid of original rhythm tracks and guitar tracks. We played with harmonics, and the vocal track became more ethereal. We do a live version now that eventually morphs into the original song. WHAT'S IN TOOL'S FUTURE? Tons. We're excited for the next album already, and hopefully it won't take as long to record as the last two! I'm excited about going on tour. The mistakes, the moments of inspiration, the touring life-I love playing live. And then you're off to the next moment.
Posted to t.d.n: 04/26/01 21:58:37