Publication: Australian Musician
Date: September, 2001
Martyn McDonnell (email@example.com)
Martyn McDonnell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
page: 14 title: Tool: Art for Art's Sake author: Dan Lander A stunning new album and a gob-smacking tour have returned TOOL to the spotlight. But as Dan Lander found out on their recent Australian tour, they want to make sure they are there for the right reasons. Given the face-painted posturing that is once again dominating heavy metal, more than a few folk these days find the notion of a hard rock group with any sort of musical credibility an unlikely story. That is, any hard rock group other than Tool. Over a decade long career, the LA art-rockers - who this year released the dazzling Lateralus, their first album in five years - have won a measure of respect unheard of in heavy rock since the hey-days of Led Zeppelin. Partly this respect has come through a strong and none-too- subtle disdain for the hype of the modern media. Tool are notoriously hard to pin down, dodging interviews, photo shoots and just about all forms of publicity - as vocalist Maynard James Keenan explains it: "We don't want to just be another face used to sell magazines. We just want to make music." However, central as this attitude is to the bands credible image, there is another equally important factor in their enduring success - Tool can confidently say 'let the music speak for itself' because they (and everyone else) knows that the music is pretty damn amazing. Tool's new album and recent tour to Australia have presented a brave new face for modern rock - art is probably the only word to describe it. Lateralus is a sweeping soundscape, swinging from the gothic grandeur of "Parabol" to the eccentric intensity of the title track with disconcerting ease. "It's pretty clear by now that we're not following formulas when we write and record," says drummer Danny Carey of Lateralus. "The tunes just take on a life of their own. You just have to be open to what the song is suggesting. All of our parts are formed that way. Once a song gets developed to a certain point, then you do whatever it takes to let it develop - it's just us being open with each other and sharing enough with each other to let that happen and take it to the ultimate level." Live, the band recreated the album with breathtaking accuracy, and more than a little unorthodoxy. Their stage set up featured guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Justin Chancellor out front, with Carey and Keenan placed on raised platforms at the rear of the stage. While to some this might seem like the ultimate pose, Keenan explains it differently. "That set up," begins the diminutive vocalist, "came about simply for reasons of sound. When I'm up the back like that, I don't have to battle with Adam's guitar and Justin's bass so much to hear myself. With a lot of the new songs, I need to really hit notes that are pretty difficult, so I need a clear, uncluttered sound on stage. This set up has worked really well so far for that reason - it just gives a much better on stage sound" Another feature of Tool's performance that may have surprised a few was the fact that on occasion Keenan picked up a headless Steinberger guitar - there were no solos, but the singer pulled a few clever tricks out of the instrument. "I use the guitar mostly as another voice." explains Keenan. "Because I can't sing all my parts at the same time, I use simple guitar lines live to approximate the vocals on the album. Most of the time you can't even hear it - all the guitar playing you notice out front is still mostly Adam - but it helps to fill out the sound." This style of lateral thinking has long been Tool's greatest virtue, and it is a fact that has drawn them a lot of attention and recognition as 'serious' musicians. On this tour, that sort of recognition was made clear before the group had even set foot onstage. Prior to the band's set, as the black sheet was lifted from Carey's double-bass Sonor Designer series kit, the crowd literally went crazy. "I didn't realise that," laughs Carey. "People get off on some strange things. But it's nice to be recognised by your tools. Especially when it is something like a musical instrument. You spend so long with your instrument that you begin to see yourself in it, and other people begin to see you in it too I guess." At the end of the day, it is this sort of thinking that sets Tool apart from other hard rock bands - they are passionate, almost obsessive musicians, not celebrities. Even the wordsmith, Keenan summed up this position beautifully when he was talking about some of the vocalists he respects. "Chino from the Deftones is one of the few singers out there that can actually sing - he doesn't get caught up in the things that other bands get caught up in, like thinking that they're not allowed to do this or that. But really that's not the point. It's not about one person, it's about how four people interact. Don't look at the clown out front, listen to the band."
Posted to t.d.n: 03/19/02 09:36:12