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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: The Age Newspaper (Melbourne, Australia)

Date: May, 2001

Transcribed by
Cameron Parrent (parrent@deakin.edu.au)


  page: 
 title: Tooling With Your Mind
author: Michael Dwyer
Tooling with your mind


                 By MICHAEL DWYER
                 Friday 18 May 2001

                 "Think for yourself. Question authority," intones the hypnotic
                 voice that opens Salival, Tool's limited-edition box set of
                 January, 2001. "Learn how to put yourself in a state of
                 vulnerable open-mindedness - chaotic, confused vulnerability
                 - to inform yourself."

                 The voice belongs to the late Dr Timothy Leary, original
                 LSD advocate and champion of free-thinkers everywhere.
                 But the philosophy of enlightenment through mistrust, chaos
                 and confusion is adaptable. For Tool's purposes, it reflects
                 much more than hard rock's standard entreaty to disobey
                 your parents and bite the heads off pigeons.

                 "I got to meet (Leary) before he died, which was pretty
                 amazing," says bass player Justin Chancellor, the Los
                 Angeles art-rock band's token Englishman. "He was
                 someone who, to his last day, was exploring every new
                 horizon he could think of. He was getting in a flotation tank
                 every day before he died (in 1996, aged 75). His whole idea
                 of exploration of the unknown is the only way to go, I think."

                 In the great mystery of life, the unknown is Tool's speciality.
                 The enigmatic quartet captured the twisted imaginations of
                 millions with the trippy metal sojourns of their first two
                 albums, Undertow and Aenima. As its title suggested, Salival
                 was an appetiser for studio album three, Lateralus, unveiled
                 this week after a preview blackout seldom seen in the
                 Napster era.

                 Despite a fanbase to rival the biggest rock acts, Tool choose
                 to edify the masses with precious few interviews. They don't
                 appear on their intriguing album covers or in their horrific
                 videos - both designed by guitarist Adam Jones - and a
                 scarcity of publicity photos has frustrated many a record
                 company promotions schedule.

                 In the clearly delineated game of modern rock, Tool play by
                 their own rules. Eyeing his interrogator suspiciously from
                 deep in a black vinyl lounge chair, their leather-trousered
                 frontman smugly agrees.

                 "Tool has kinda carved out a nice little niche for itself,"
                 Maynard James Keenan says softly, "having come out of
                 that generation of bands, alternative rock or heavy rock
                 bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Rage
                 Against the Machine.

                 "That whole wave of music set a new standard in terms of
                 independence and not necessarily listening to what radio or
                 the record company or the executives or MTV had to say
                 about what you're supposed to do with music.

                 "I think a lot of them really broke down the boundaries.
                 They really explored new areas. You don't have to have
                 verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus-goodbye.
                 You don't necessarily have to have a new record every 10
                 months. You can actually explore a little bit.

                 "Because we're that kind of band, where we really like to
                 explore different aspects, when they say, 'You're supposed
                 to do it this way', we just say, 'Why? Let's do it a different
                 way'."

                 Tool's media relations are a good illustration. In 1994,
                 promotion for Undertow revolved around the band's
                 dedication to the science of lachrymology: healing through
                 crying. Earnestly and eloquently, the lads would cite an
                 inspirational book written in 1949 by Ronald P. Vincent, a
                 Kansas crop-spraying contractor whose wife had died in a
                 snowplough accident. It was a story unencumbered by fact.

                 Another typical press stunt was perpetrated as recently as
                 February. A statement headlined "Man With Big Tool NOT
                 New Tool Big Man" put an end to imaginary rumors that
                 porn star Ron Jeremy had signed on as the band's new
                 manager. This at a time when any shred of news about their
                 long-delayed third album would have ensured much bigger
                 headlines.

                 The Lateralus interview schedule amounts to a single
                 afternoon during mixing sessions at Larrabee North studios
                 in LA's Universal City. As they await their allotted time with
                 Keenan, Chancellor, Jones and drummer Danny Carey, six
                 ill-informed journalists from around the globe are played a
                 handful of completed tracks under conditions Tom and
                 Nicole's divorce lawyers might find excessively secretive.

                 Before the event, at least two bogus track listings had been
                 issued through official channels. We're only slightly shocked
                 to discover the album's not entitled Systema Encephale, nor
                 will we be snapping our fingers to Malfeasance, Poopy The
                 Clown, Alcowhorlick, Mummery or Coalecius this
                 afternoon.

                 Asked to explain himself, Keenan initially pretends to have
                 nothing to do with the campaign of misinformation.

                 "Nothing to do with what?" he inquires, fluttering long
                 eyelashes before a gleeful smirk gives the game away. "We
                 all grew up watching Monty Python, so that'll answer part of
                 your question. And the other part is, we can be a little
                 vindictive at times.

                 "When we put out Salival, some guy went out and reserved
                 Salival.com and made shirts, started selling them on his
                 website. 'The box set's out! Get your shirts at Salival.com!'
                 Hopefully that same jackass has made that mistake at least
                 twice so far."

                 Fair enough. But Tool's penchant for mystery and deception
                 runs deeper than bootleg control. To pick a handful of
                 queries at random, what's the pig on forks doing on the
                 cover of Undertow where a picture of four guys scowling
                 should be? And why is that cow licking itself on the back?
                 Who's the scary claymation dude in the Prison Sex video?
                 What's with all the gizzards already? Why is Keenan wearing
                 drag in the Salival booklet? And what's the story with that
                 "ASTAROTH" pentagram inscription on the Aenima CD?

                 "I think the imagination is a very, very, very powerful thing,"
                 the singer offers evasively. "I think irrational behavior ends
                 up spurring some amazing results, and definitely
                 unreasonable behavior pushes our consciousness forward,
                 helps us evolve. The unknown tends to really get people's
                 gears turning. So hopefully we're a cog or catalyst in other
                 people's evolution."

                 "You wanna inspire people, hopefully," Chancellor adds,
                 "not indoctrinate them to some of your more specific
                 individual ideas. Like any good art, you wanna leave it open
                 for wide interpretation. It's fuel for a greater variety of
                 people then."

                 Hence the wealth of eccentric conclusions drawn by
                 imaginative Tool fans in cyberspace. Entertaining theories
                 about the band's gruesome artwork and typographical tricks
                 abound. Tool's intentions appear to range from the
                 intellectual (references to Jungian theory and clever Latin
                 misquotations) to the plain puerile. Read aloud the cryptic
                 legend "see you auntie" on the Aenima cover and see if your
                 mum doesn't send you to your room.

                 In fact, Tool's preference for the bizarre and macabre is
                 widely misunderstood, says Keenan. All those graphic
                 allusions to entrails and penetration (their tune Stinkfist came
                 in at No.2 on Triple J's 1996 listeners' poll) have somehow
                 led a portion of their audience to overlook their highly
                 developed sense of humor.

                 "Oh yeah, unbelievably," Keenan says with a chuckle.
                 "People think we're this dour, serious, dark band, and they
                 just missed it, because there's so much in our music which is
                 very tongue in cheek, but it comes from that very Monty
                 Pythonesque, Bill Hicks, early Steve Martin point of view
                 that most people I guess just don't get. Anybody who has a
                 sense of humor and listens enough picks it up."

                 "Or people hear the music," says Chancellor, "and pretty
                 much decide there can't be anything funny about that. It's like
                 a lot of reactions to the videos. 'Oh, it's so dark!'. But that's
                 a very surface view. There's a lot of real beauty in there, too
                 - as there's comedy in the very serious rock that we do."

                 As Tool's in-house art director, Jones ought to be the man to
                 shed the best light on such things. Instead, he just grins
                 amiably and shrugs. "I've always looked at ourselves as just
                 total geeks," he confesses. "Maybe that's why there's a lot of
                 mystery about our work, because there's absolutely no
                 mystery about us."

                 Despite their best efforts, facts about Tool exist. They
                 played their first gigs in 1991 in Los Angeles, where chief
                 instigator Jones was working as a make-up and
                 special-effects creator on blockbusters such as Predator 2,
                 Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park.

                 The singer who would soon be yodelling about suicide,
                 mutilation, vigilante homicide and the relative temperature of
                 the anal cavity was an army veteran from Akron, Ohio.
                 Keenan did his time at West Point and the US Military
                 Academy before heading to Hollywood in search of different
                 ammunition.

                 The pair met drummer Danny Carey and original bass player
                 Paul D'Amour through a mutual friend, Tom Morello, from
                 Rage Against the Machine, and Tool released their first EP,
                 Opiate, in 1992. Its most obvious reference point was the
                 alternative metal scene that dominated the annual
                 Lollapalooza roadshow, and it was there Tool established a
                 fierce reputation in the US summer of '93.

                 By that time, other influences were beginning to make
                 themselves clear. In a rare moment of revelation, Carey
                 confessed the band members' mutual admiration for "horrible
                 art-rock bands" of the 1970s. The involved arrangements
                 and obscure imagery favored by the likes of King Crimson,
                 Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd have been increasingly evident
                 in Tool's work since, both in their sprawling song structures
                 and enigmatic visuals.

                 King Crimson/Peter Gabriel producer Dave Bottrill came on
                 board with Aenima in 1996, and remains on knob duty for
                 Lateralus.

                 "He's an alcoholic like us," Jones says, perhaps spying
                 another opportunity for the misinformation drive. "No, I'm
                 just kidding. The thing that sold us on Dave is that Dan and I
                 really liked that David Sylvian-Robert Fripp album that he
                 did (Damage), and the last King Crimson album (Thrak).

                 "We heard a lot of textures that we were going for that he
                 might be good at. Plus," he says, rolling his eyes, "the record
                 company was setting us up with every flavor-of-the-month
                 kinda producer."

                 "Yeah, all the big guys," Carey mutters, blanching at the
                 prospect of record-biz machinations.

                 The drummer knows what he's sighing about. The five-year
                 break between Aenima and Lateralus was partly due to
                 back-to-back legal tussles between Tool and their label,
                 Volcano, and with their former manager, former Jane's
                 Addiction minder Ted Gardner.

                 The temporary stalemate had one positive result in the shape
                 of A Perfect Circle, Keenan's hugely successful side-project
                 with Billy Howerdel, guitar technician for Tool and Smashing
                 Pumpkins. Naturally, the singer chooses to see that triumph
                 as another blow for the free world rather than just another
                 platinum album for his collection.

                 "(With) Perfect Circle, I was allowed by my fans to go out
                 and do something outside of the band that everyone relates
                 to," Keenan reflects. "Usually it's 'You're only allowed to be
                 in this thing, you're not allowed to do anything else. You are
                 Smashing Pumpkins, that's all you're allowed to be'; `You're
                 Pink Floyd, that's all you're allowed to be'.

                 "So one of the individuals in Tool went out and showed you,
                 you don't necessarily always have to be in Tool, either. We
                 can explore beyond that, and it's actually a whole separate
                 audience in and of itself with a huge crossover, and it has a
                 life of its own.

                 "So that's another thing that, in a way, Tool has brought you.
                 It actually has brought another band, another solution. Yes,
                 you can go outside of your little circle to explore, to take a
                 risk. It was for me, really, a huge risk. And all with positive
                 results."

                 "I don't think I ever worried that Tool would be over,"
                 Chancellor says on the subject. "But I was eager to get on
                 with it, so we just had to let him do his thing and patiently
                 craft away at what we were doing."

                 The 80-odd minutes of Lateralus don't exactly indicate
                 creative burnout on Keenan or anybody else's part. Some of
                 the singer's more violent and destructive concerns appear to
                 have been spent, but the band's intricate symphonic-metal
                 approach is in typically expansive form.

                 "We try to keep as rule-free as possible," says Carey.
                 "Some (songs) will start from a little melody that Maynard
                 will come in humming. It's mainly a jamming thing, though.
                 It's a pretty organic process, to see how far each little ditty
                 will take us and expound upon it as far as possible, keep a
                 tape rolling, then go back and find the jewels and develop
                 them, try to hook them together."

                 It's not a method for the attention-deficient. Tool's cover of
                 No Quarter on Salival was originally commissioned for a
                 Led Zeppelin tribute album, then rejected on the basis of its
                 11-minute-plus playing time. The first single from Lateralus,
                 Schism, clocks in at a relatively compact 6:47, but, needless
                 to say, there'll be no edited compromise for radio purposes.

                 "We let the songs dictate," Jones says. "They take on their
                 own life and we try to make them a complete idea unto
                 themselves, and sometimes it takes five minutes and
                 sometimes it takes 20."

                 "Maybe it's because we're trying to communicate on a little
                 deeper level than some bands do," Carey says with a shrug.
                 "Maybe it takes a little more time to get your point across or
                 to be articulate about things that are a little deeper.

                 "I feel like our music's gotten a little deeper, because we're
                 able to communicate with each other a little better now, so
                 maybe that's a by-product. We're getting longer songs now.
                 Maybe the next record will be one song and that'll be it."

                 He's kidding. Probably. But if any band see fit to revisit
                 Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick formula anytime soon, Tool
                 are the leading candidates.

                 "It's more of a challenge now, because you really want to
                 see what else you can do," Keenan says. "Especially within
                 the Tool compound, it's been very much about pushing the
                 boundary and seeing how far you can take something. Every
                 time we write a song, we realise how much more there is to
                 explore. When you learn something about a particular
                 subject, you realise how much more there is to learn."

                 Dr Leary would no doubt have concurred.

                 Lateralus is out this week through Zomba.

Posted to t.d.n: 05/28/01 22:43:04