Publication: The Age Newspaper (Melbourne, Australia)
Date: May, 2001
Cameron Parrent (email@example.com)
Cameron Parrent (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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