the tool page

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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: Guitar Magazine

Date: July, 2001

Transcribed by
Anders Melhus (

  page: 38
 title: Bitchin' UTENSILS
author: John Callaghan
Furiously democratic and fiendishly experimental, Tool's 
Justin Chancellor shows John Callaghan the lengths to which 
a humble rock combo can go to banish the cliché...

'We were joking that for our next album we'd make 15 three-
minute pop songs,' quips an amicable Justin Chancellor as 
he relaxes in his London hotel room. The Tool bassist is well 
aware of all the journalists' clichés regarding the band: rarely 
appearing in any of their videos or album covers, granting 
few interviews or photo shoots and generally treating the 
promotional treadmill with open disdain. And all this is before 
you get to the music, which will have even the most skilled of 
pigeonholers scratching their heads with confusion.

The release of Tool's first album in five years, Lateralus, 
adds to their legacy of challenging every musical boundary 
under the sun. The follow-up to Aenema is over 75 minutes 
of head-melting music. Calling it 'progressive hard rock' 
would be a creditable stab at describing the band, but you'd 
be missing things like the Arabic dissonance on The Grudge 
as well as the cornucopia of jazz tonality, fiendish time 
signature changes and choral harmonies that are just a 
fraction of the aural experiences that await the listener... oh, 
yes, Tool are a pretentious music critic's delight. But even if 
you hate everything the band stand for, you'd be a big fat 
liar if you didn't give them credit for being several leagues 
above the legions of leaden rock bands out there.

'Personally, and it goes for the rest of the band as well, I'm 
always trying to hear things that I've never heard before 
when it comes to approaching songwriting,' explains 
Chancellor 'Who wants to be clichéd? We're also very open 
about just letting an idea breathe and just going wherever it's 
going to go, rather than just stopping it at a certain point and 
then using that.

'If you let things go you can stick ideas on top of each other 
that don't make a lot of sense unless you let it go far 
enough, and then it has this cycle to it that can be original.'

Chancellor goes on to claim that, despite the break between 
albums, the only pressure that they felt during the making of 
Lateralus was that which they placed on themselves. 'The 
idea that people weren't going to like this album was 
something that we had to be - and still are - prepared for. 
We just tried to keep our heads down and continue the 
evolution of ideas, and not notice what was popular and what 
was current. If we hadn't done that things would have gone 
horribly wrong. But it's not in any of our nature to worry about 
being a hugely popular band, and I think the people who 
have been into the music in the past expect us not to stand 

Tool are very much a jamming band, with everyone coming in 
with their own ideas as opposed to finished songs, and then 
exploring every possibility until it's been well and truly 
exhausted. And like any true democracy, constantly taking 
into account everybody's opinion can be a nightmare. 
Chancellor, the only Englishman in the LA-based quartet, 
recalls how - when asked by guitarist Adam Jones, drummer 
Danny Carey and singer Maynard James Keenan to replace 
Paul D'Amour during the writing of Aenema - he was thrown in 
at the deep end straight away.

'They picked me because I wrote my own material. I jammed 
with them for a week as part of the audition,' he explains. 'It 
was quite daunting because they'd already had a successful 
record and I'd never been part of one, but I was a full 
member from the start. I had to pull my weight.'

Only when the 'hairs on the back of everyone's neck stand 
up' is something considered for inclusion. Up to that point, 
however, Chancellor admits that getting your point of view 
across is a competitive process. 'You do have to swallow your 
pride and leave your ego at the door, but when you really 
believe in something that you've come up with you've got to 
stick with it. There's never any personal grudges between us, 
it's just that everyone's constantly got ideas to try out. But 
when it works it's so rewarding to have created this 
independent entity that goes beyond the four of us, but 
we've all had a hand in making.'

According to Chancellor, the nature of this musical debate is 
stemmed from people's differing perceptions; one standard 
Tool technique is for someone to bring a riff in and have 
someone else play it on a different instrument. 'And they 
never play it the way you imagined it. People's sense of 
internal rhythm and where the downbeats are is often very 
different. That goes for the arrangements as well, because 
what is considered to be the climax of the song changes from 
person to person.'

Although Chancellor sees music as a method of emotional 
storytelling, the mathematical concepts of discipline do play 
an important role in keeping the lines of communication 
between the band. 'We're not really schooled in music theory, 
and we can't read music, but we understand the language 
and it's useful for making sure that we're all in the same ball 

His sense of the musical map comes from having taken 
classical guitar lessons as a child. 'I actually got my first 
guitar when I was eight. I was living in Germany at the time, 
and my first lesson was 20 people in the room, with a teacher 
up at the front showing us these chord shapes. And then all 
you'd hear is this horrendous racket as 20 people tried to 
copy him.'

In his teens he'd given up the classical lessons when he 
wanted to be 'loud and annoying'. By 14 Chancellor was a 
bass player, having been asked by some older friend to fill a 
vacancy in their band. Although he went back to guitar for a 
few years later on, the lure of the low-end eventually proved 
too irresistible.

There are plenty of occasions on Lateralus, such as on 
Schism, where you couldn't tell which parts were the work of 
Chancellor and which came from Jones. The Tool guitarist's 
often staccato style meshes beautifully with Chancellor's 
melodic sensibilities, the ensuing effect being akin to a 
maelstrom of mid-air sonic collisions (and a multitude of 
near misses). 'Obviously Adam can go a lot higher than I 
can, and I can go a lot lower than him, but there's a lot of 
middle ground that we can share and explore,' testifies 

'Adam's got a very unique feel for tone, and the different 
strengths that he plays various parts... it's a real emotional 
vibe, the way he plays. Before playing with him, I was a lot 
more just pumping away as a bass player. He's inspired me 
to not be scared to be a little more sensitive. People often 
have a very narrow view of what the bass guitar can do, but 
there's an unlimited world for the instrument you're playing. 
And that applies to all instruments.'

Jones's influence on Chancellor's bass playing also extends 
to his use of effects. Although he writes all his parts on an 
angelically clean acoustic bass, by the time it's recorded it 
has to run the gauntlet of his pedalboard, which contains a 
Digitech Bass Whammy and a Sansamp GT2 distortion unit 
as well as a selection of chorus, delay and flanger gizmos. 
These go through the full amp artillery of a Mesa/Boogie 
M2000 and a 400 head, and two cabinets - one coloured with 
a Rat distortion unit and one completely pure - with the 
pedalboard going into both of them.

You'd think at the heart of all this sonic experimentation 
would be a bass the size of a coffee table, fitted with pickups 
invented by NASA and boasting more strings than a harp. On 
the contrary, Chancellor has plumped for one of the more 
basic, but still top quality, 4-stringed instruments in the Wal 
range. 'I did play a bit of fretless bass for the first time on 
the second section of Lateralus,' he reveals. 'But I'm quite 
proud of not playing 5-string basses.

'The thing is that when it comes to technology I'm quite slow. 
I've got a lot of pedals, but I've had them a long time. I 
concentrate on getting as much out of what I've got, rather 
than getting new things in all the time. I haven't exhausted 
all the possibilities of the setup I've got yet: I'm still finding 
new things which is a real pleasure for me.'

Joining Tool meant that Chancellor had to acquire a number 
of basses as spares and for different tunings, which has lead 
to an appreciation of the qualities of different woods. His 
longtime favourite has birdseye maple facings with a 
mahogany core, although a walnut bass also has a special 
place in his collection. 'I didn't appreciate before how much 
the wood a bass is made from affects the tone, just as much 
as the pickups,' he coos. 'I've got to get a new 
maple/mahogany one though, because my old one is pretty 
knackered at the minute.'

That's not surprising given what the poor loves have to put 
up with. During one of their last bouts of touring, the band 
took to wearing body paint to enhance the visual spectacle of 
their shows; fair enough, except when it got really hot, the 
paint oozed off Chancellor and onto the bass, causing the 
pickups to cut out. 'We weren't too popular with the techs!' he 
laughs. 'And I don't blame them, having to get paint out of 
the pickups and apply silicon around all the little cracks...'

Even if the techs aren't, Chancellor is bang up for the touring 
marathon that awaits Tool in the coming year or so and is 
particularly looking forward to the opportunity to experiment 
further with the songs. 'There are very few doubled 
instruments on the album, because we wrote the songs while 
rehearsing together so we could play what's on the album. 
But we realise more than ever that the album is a postcard 
from that time. We leave sections clear in each song so we 
can jam if we want to, or add new parts that we've thought of 

‘Like, Adam does this great one note solo with a wah on 
Lateralus, which Dave Bottrill, our co-producer likened to a 
water skier going under and over the water,’ he recalls. Now 
he’s free to change that live, or leave it as it is. And we’re 
free to react to that or not. It does increase your 
concentration when you’re trying new things in front of 
people, but if you lose yourself in it, it makes sense and you 
can get something magical. And that’s the whole point.’

Posted to t.d.n: 07/18/01 20:43:45