Publication: Metal Hammer
Date: June, 2002
page: 36 title: "Hell is other people" -Sartre author: Neil Kulkarni (Note: All the errors and [almost all of the] typos are here as they are in the article. Don't flame me for fuckups by the author...) Touring 'Lateralus' Down Under, Neil Kulkarni talked to Tool to find out about what really makes them tick. And what they really think of everyone else - including their fans. Backstage passes. The holy grail of groupiedom, the key to that murky world beyond protection of Revlon or security where the stars can be who they are and everyone else is looking to be someone they're not. The fag packet sized entry-visa into rock'n'roll's inner sanctum, they can play funny tricks on the mind, giving those at the bottom of the biz's pecking order delusions of grandeur, turning essentially middle-management (usually equating to those in the heady position of deciding who gets backstage passes) into chestbeating little Hitlers, and letting roadies think they actually havesome resposnsibility when issued with orders to distribute them amongst the daft and big-titted. Backstage passes are bullshit because they stop Joe Public from killing rock stars: Tools backstage passes are cool. On the back they say this: "VERY IMPRUDENT PARASITE: I, THE PERSON WHINING BEFORE YOU, HAD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH ANY OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS WHICH LEAD UP TO THIS EVENT AND I HAVE PERVERSE OVERESTIMATION OF MY IMPORTANCE HERE. IGNORE ME" Which is kinda how you might think Tool think of everyone other than themselves. Ever since the LA four-piece slipped under the industry's radar on a misguidedpost-grunge ticket in '92, they've been perhaps the most consistently maverick, fascinatingly mercurial band in rock, seemingly suffused and posessed by a mystique at odds with a rock world of immediate explication and exposure. What's doubly engrossing is that it's a reverence and awe that the band haven't carefully contrived, rather it's the sheer one-off musical depth, inspired visual abstraction, and sheer monomaniacal drive they've bought to everything they've done that marks them out as such a uniquely absorbing entity, a secret religion, way more that simply other band. Over the course of four albums, '92's debut 'Opiate', '94's stunning 'Undertow' and '96's equally astonishing 'Aenima', and of course, last years leap-into-beyond- 'Lateralus', they've established pretty much the most determinedly wayward, suberbly inventive catalogue in rock and a trust and fidelity with their audience that goes way beyond loyalty and starts approaching pure faith. As the disciples gather at the end of the world, (Christchurch New Zealand and the only thing over the horizon is Antarctica), you're ushered through the labyrinthe confines of the Westpac Trust stadium (where Tool are three hours away from playing a blinding set) to a non-descript dressing room where you wait for the prickliest band in rock to come resent your presence. And when you figure out that the elfin little chap with the tartan troos on who sounds like the campest little genius you've ever met is Maynard Keenan you ask him if right now, he gives two fucks about the people out there. "They don't enter your preparations at all", he says, his calm register barely hinting at the arabesques and abstractions his voice reaches on stage. "You don't see individuals. You see blackness, a space and you fill the abyss with sound. But whatever goes on tonight has very little to do with any one thing. It's the way the day and the place and the crowd and us combine. A million different things going into one experience." S'a curious relationship: as listeners we want to decode the mystery at the heart of your music. As fans we need to believe that in the final reckoning, Tool's music is only understandable to those responsible for it. You do little to disabuse that notion. "That's what I always wanted to think about the artists I loved. Like Joni Mitchell, you could spend your whole life trying to penetrate the mystery at the centre of her albums but you'd still be unable to explain exactly how they happened, why they work, what the hell is going on and why it emotionally connects with you so much. But I think we know exactly how little how little we know also. We're none the wiser, we're just as staggered by this as everyone else." Danny Carey, avuncular and ever-amused guitarist, ponders his own confusion at the Tool altar: "I think we perhaps get closest to understanding what we do because we've been involved at every stage. But there's still this element of total mystery to it, this sense that it's more that just what we're doing, that something is coming through us..." Maynard: "We just become channels at certain points for something higher that's speaking through us. It isn't just arithmetic, something you can trace to us and out personalities, it's something beyond all of that, beyond anything you can see or describe." So tonight's audience is only expecting the unexpected, only care about you not caring about them? "I wouldn't say that because I wouldn't even try and presume what any of them want. And I couldn't ever tell you exactly what we want. It's what occurs that's important, what happens when us four are in a room together playing. And that changes every night because every day is different and things accumulate or fall away. What I think you're trying for is to puncture our illusions that we can be as indulgent as we like. Well, we're just as prone as anyone else, we're just as open to suggestion, and we're just as awestruck by what happens as anyone else. This isn't about our egos. It's about losing your ego." Y'know, I was bricking this interview. I couldn't think of a band seeminglty less willing to throw words around their impenetrable magic. Do you resent interest in yourselves as people because it implies a misunderstanding of the ego- subsuming nature of what Tool's all about? Danny: "I can understand why people want to know about us. I always wanted to know everything about the bands I loved, and the bands I loved were always the bands that never did interviews! That kept the mystery alive, hearing what people had to say was always a total dissapointment." Maynard: "Hearing what an asshole Gene Simmons actually was destroyed the myth. It's easy to dig around in someone's life and try and find a link to what they're doing but that's not what's happening with Tool and it never has been. It's never been about where we've been but where we're going, what we're aiming for. And that can't be summed up by cod psychology or easy motivations. The whole interview process is based on the relationship between personality and art. And the whole Tool process is based on sacrificing your ego for transcendence. How can you talk about that? Like Frank said, talking about music is like dancing about architecture." I always thought Zappa was a twat, so we'll continue. Tool had to come from LA. It's where the frontier spirit finds no direction to push other than into outer or inner space, and it provides object lessons, at a rate of knots, in what NOT to do with a band. What made Tool happen: right place, right time? Luck? Shared desire or shared hostilities? Maynard: "We were all friends at first and that was crucial. Tool was really formed watching so many fucking awful bands in LA, being stood in the audience together just thinking, fuck, this is so totally antithetical to everything that we consider worthwile in music. That hatred coasted us into rehearsing together, it was mutual dissatisfaction and the ad hoc thought that we might be able to do something different. And then when we played together, we knew." Knew what? Adam Jones: "We knew we had to pursue it, but it was also a totally relaxed thing, never even thinking about getting signed, never even thinking where it was going but absolutely sure that for us personally, it was something we'd have to fully explore or feel forever curious about." Did you ever feel encouraged by the general air of buoyancy in rock music during those post-grunge years? Danny: "That should have made us feel less isolated apparently but we've always been utterly uncaring about the rest of music in relation to us. If anything we felt just as out on our own than as we always have." Listening to 'Opiate' recently there's a sense in which recording was simply the method you had to use to capture what happened when you were in a room together - would you say you've become more interested in what the studio can do for you now rather than being intimidated by it? Danny: "We'd jam for hours, work ideas out through every single possibility. Then suddenly we're in a strange room in Los Angeles and you can hear the tape-reels rolling and the clock ticking and you've got to get your shit DOWN exactly right. We learned the sacrifice that entailed. Recording initially for us was a necessary evil..." Maynard: "...for me for the longest time, it was totally subservient to the sheer experience of doing it, always necessarily a compromise between what we wanted to do and the limitations of time and space that pressing things onto plastic entails. With 'Lateralus' we learned so much though, David Bottrill really has brought us to the point where we know where to explore, where to just zero in on the band sound. It's something we didn't know back when we started but those records still capture something of our essence." Adam: "It's always the case with this band that a month, or even a week, after we've finished recording there's a million new things that have emerged that it kills you can't be on the album." Justin [Chancellor, Tool's London born-bassist who joined after Paul D'Amour left mid-way through the recording of 'Aenima']: It's a gruelling process but you have to see it for what it is. Cathing a sprite in a bottle: it's not so much what we all do rather it's that unofficial fifth member of the band, that weird supernatural thing that happens - he's the most difficult one to get down on record. I think 'Lateralus' sees us getting him on a wax more than ever before." After 'Opiate', the defining moment in Tool's development was '93's Lollapalooza tour: with Tool pulling huge crowds away from the main stqage to stage two, a word-of mouth buzz started to grow. You could say that the sccidental, narrative nature of the band's promotion had characterised their whole career. Justin: "Word-of-mouth has a ot to do with how this band gets heard. There's a sense in which we've got to this point without the industry's permission, with no official sanction." Maynard: "Essentially beacause we made the decision really early on that the conventional routes of exposure were cheapening and demeaning and absolutely nothing we want to get involved in. Becuase the way most people first heard us wasn't from official channels, it's inspired a much closer realtionship for people with our music. They feel like we found each other. Not like they were crowbarred into it via a fucking commercial or some clever marketing ploy." Danny: "Bands should hide, should be something people have to actively seek out and explore, not on tap to be immediately explicated and understood by people who's job it is to kill magic." But at the same time your shows were upping the intrigue, your sleeve's (for '93's seminal 'Undertow' and Adam-directed videos (for 'Sober' and 'Prison Sex') were getting talked about almost as much as the music. Genuinely intended to amplify and elaborate on the mystery at the music's heart or slightly informed by a commercial sensibility? Maynard focuses his eyes on yours: "From the beginning we were adamant that absolutely everything connected with the band had to go through us, had to be totally controlled by us. You can either kill mental possibility with imagery or deepen the story. All we did was give more suggestion, more provocation." Danny: "I've always liked albums you live in and absorb yourself in; albums where you listen and try and work out connections between the sleeve and the record, get sucked into the look as much as the music. That's exactly what we were trying to do. Everything with our name on it is equally important to us." Between 'Undertow' and 'Aenima' you lost Paul and gained Justin. Would you say 'Aenima' reflects that instability or remains seamless? Maynard: "Paul was a guitarist who was sick of being in a band and wanted to be a bassist. As we were recording 'Aenima' things were getting really frustrating: it became clear to both us and Paul that he didn't want to be in the band anymore, and the band is a secure unit that needs utter unpreciousness and total commitment from everyone involved for it to work. After three months of going nowhere I went to see a psychic. I was dealing out the cards and she said 'Who's Paul?' I told her and she said, 'This is not working. This needs to change.' And she wrote down on a bit of paper 'London'. She said 'Look to London and you'll find the solution to your problems.'" Danny: "I remember you showing me that piece of paper. It was weird. We'd been trying other bassists for a while and Jesus that was fucking painful..." Adam: "...and occasionally highly amusing 'cos some people were just disgusted with what we were trying to do musically. Didn't get it at all. But as soon as Justin arrived it all clicked immediately. that sense of relief was just incredible. He was like the missing piece of the puzzle that we'd all been looking and waiting for. And we were like, OK, the circles complete, now we can begin again." A difficult band to join, you imagine. What's odd meeting Tool is how they both confirm and confound your expectations. Yes, they're very serious about what they do. They're also pants-shittingly funny in puntuating any feel of pomposity. Fundamentaly, it's less like meeting a band with all the attendant laddish conformity that usually entails, more like meeting four people who happened to have stumbled on the same touchstone of infinity. There's no easy cartoon roles to slot into. Maynard: "We've never really encouraged the usual band roles because they're bullshit always. I'm the singer, but I don't feel like the 'frontman'. No one's the leader, there aren't any camps or pair-offs in the band relatioship. To be in our band you have to be comfortable realising that this is your own journey, that you have to give as much to the music as you're gonna get from everyone else in the room." So are Tool's the most important thing in your life? Maynard: "No. Never has been. I think every band kind of trades on that cliché that they'd die for it but with Tool it's more like four individuals on their own paths to whatever it is they're each seeking. That's not just a stance we took on to avoid cliché; it's just the way we work together, by acknowledging our differences and playing on the spaces between us. That individuality is absolutely crucial in making the music the way it is." Adam: "With gang mentalities I think your creativity gets stifled because you're constantly thinking about how things are gonna play, where they fit." Danny: "'Band mentality' basically means biting your lip, inadequate expression of all your ideas. With this band you've got to be willing to fight for your own ideas but also combine that with being totally willing to let them be fucked with by anyone else. That is a novel way of working and a lot of musicians we tried out just didn't have that openness and musical vision that Justin had. He was what we were waiting for." If being in Tool started to hinder that sense personal liberation and enlightenment would you each feel free to leave? Adam: "Definately." Justin: "Yes." Danny: "Of course." Maynard: "I did. I did join another band. And then I countinued with Tool because and only because I was convinced that there were still things we needed to do and explore. We all have other things in or lives; because mine was quite visible it got talked avout as meaning some kind of quiet demise for Tool but nothing of the sort ever occurred to me. I needed to do something different. I did. I have remained in Tool because I still think we're on to something that deserves my full attention. Once you start seeing the band you're in as this thing that's bigger than anything, this project you're signed on to and you feel obligated to contribute to, you're not in the band for the right reasons." All the same, A Perfect Cicle weren't the only spanner being thrown into the Toolworks at the time. The four-year gap between 'Aenima' and 'Lateralus' proved to be a goldmine for those who wanted to crowbar Tool into the conventional confines of historical rockspeak. They'd done a 'disappearing act', the 'long-awaited' LP getting knocked back and the affection the band had spent so long building up had almost turned into irritation, so agitated were the band's devotees for Tool to complete the next stage, the next chapter, the next opus. To the band's credit, they didn't give a fuck. Maynard: "That kind of frustration seemed a little sad to me. I had people saying to me 'man, my whole life's pinned on your next album' or 'I'm just biding time until it comes out dude' and I'd just think, 'Jesus! Get a sense of fucking priorities man!' If you're putting your whole life on hold waiting for a fucking rock band to release a record you're got serious problems." Justin: "We didn't feel apart for four years, it's not as if we didn't work together or play with ideas. The industry's actually to blame for it being so long a wait for 'Lateralus' because we've been involved in so much record-company legal shit for the past few years we haven't been able to sit down and concentrate on the music. WE certainly haven't felt like we haven't been doing anything, but because we're private people." Danny; "Our isolation whilst making that record was total. Which is what we needed after so long just sitting on our hands waiting for all the bullshit to bring itself to an end. Listenign to lawyers talk is never a pleasant experience. When it came to the actual recording, nothing touched us, we were engrossed completely in what we were doing." In a nuts and bolts sense, how was the epic reach and cocise focus of 'Lateralus' achieved? Who decides when a song starts or stops? "We really had everything worked out before we even got to the studio," says Justin. "Once we were in there it was really a matter of fine-tuning the ideas, there wasn't that much change between the songs as we rehearsed them and how we recorded them, how they are on the record. It's really a matter of making sure that nothing is extraneous: everything has to be put in the position of being in service to the intent of the song, everything we do is about communicating the emotion or idea, whether that's direct or ambiguous, as clearly as we can." Maynard: "You discard the flab, you keep the core." Justin: "It doesn't feel like we're journeymen of rock or anything, it feels like we're opening our mouths and our hearts for the first time. If we can keep that kind of naivety and at the same time learn from our experiences I see this as something with a future that hasn't even begun to be explored yet." In two hours the most intriguing band on the planet are on stage. We're reminded as such. One last question, one last beam to throw. 'Lateralus' came out last summer and was about holding onto both base and transcendent humanity as the world spins into madness: would you say it explicitly prefigured precisely the spiritual angst America has been gripped by ever since? In that sense are you timely and political as well as timeless and free from ideology? Maynard: "We have always been a deeply political band. But we're not about victims and martyrs and easy truths: we're about all our culpability, all the potential for beauty and cruelty that being human entails. That' essentially a political message." Justin: "Even the darkest Tool songs have an element of light at the end of the tunnel 'cos simply to express those kind of feelings is one way to deal with them. We didn't want to paint ourselves into a corner lyrically, we really wanted to provide the notion that no matter how bad things get, no matter how bad the external world is, there's still something intrinsic to humanity that can help it trancscend that, there's still thesibilities and the freedom of the imagination to surpass it's environment. 'Lateralus' deals with how communication between people has been eroded, but in itself, its own ability to communicate with the listener, is an example of how you can transcend that.' Not a cult. Not a sect. Not quite a band in the mad bad and dangerous to know sense, more like the sanest of all responses. Scarcely rock'n'roll because it has no stink of death, rather throbs and wails and screams with life. Tool will not lie about what they do, this is why they're caricatured as over-serious. Maybe it's tome to get serious. Two hours from our last words they shake my life again. But that's another story. Another night in a room while Tool is happening. Roll up. Other little nit-bits in the same magazine: pg. 40: "Video Drone" "Some of the weirdest promo outings Tool 'Parabola' This one out even weirds 'Prison Sex' and 'Stinkfist'! Something about searching identities - we think. But basically there's a little alien thingy that runs through the woods and gets dissected by the eternally ugly trip hop meister Tricky. Oh and fat handed pig things in suits levitate and shit from their mouths over a table. Uh-huh."
Posted to t.d.n: 07/02/02 16:59:14