Date: May, 2002
page: 28 title: house of Hammer Horror author: Stephen Dalton Main Article House of Hammer Horror They love anal sex, Satan and fine wines; they hate fame and Fred Durst. They've sold seven million albums yet even their own fans don't recognise them. They are Tool, the prog-metal Radiohead, and this is their strange, dark world... Night falls quickly on the far side of Toolworld, its shadows creeping up on the Australian coastline as the last splinters of sun fall away from the southern hemisphere. NME has spent the best part of 24 hours in the bohemian beach resort of St. Kilda in Melbourne's southern suburbs, leaving endless unanswered phone messages, awaiting news from heavy rock's newest dark emperors. And preparing for the worst. We are in Australia for a rumoured assignation with Tool, aka the nu-metal Radiohead, the prog-rock Metallica and the stadium-moshing Godspeed You Black Emperor!. A faceless crew enshrined in heavy rock myth as the most enigmatic, elusive, musically-challenging, anal sex-obsessed and possibly satanic multi-platinum band on the planet. A cultish quartet whose newest album 'Lateralus' sold half-a-million copies in its first week of release last year, despite containing 79 minutes of dense, super-heavy prog-metal slurry. A fearsome foursome notoriously allergic to interviews and photo shoots. The light is dying. NME is waiting. Tool know what they are doing. Finally, as the sky turns crimson, Tool arrive from their Melbourne soundcheck. There are no ceremonial robes, no smouldering candles, no cloven hooves. Just four generic 30-something rockblokes, one a born roadie in an 'ironic' swastika T-shirt, another proudly sporting a comedy wig and a newly purchased stainless steel dildo. Sorry? We were expecting the huge-brained illuminati or ritual heaviosity, not Urinal Tap. Then again, Tool have spent the last decade confounding expectations and shrouding their murky intentions in bruise-black humour. If that means looking like complete, erm, tools in the process, that's a sacrifice they're clearly prepared to make. An hour later, NME sits down with Tool in the bowels of Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena, a clinically clean superdome which holds 16,000 people - coming soon, Destiny's Child, Elton John and Bob the Builder. But tonight it is Tool's turn to entertain the sun-tanned goths and kohl-eyed surf bunnies of Melbourne. It's a young crowd, well-behaved and about 80% male. On most nights, Tool can catch their support act, Sub Pop veterans The Melvins, without hassle. Such are the perks of being the most anonymous rock superstars ever to sell seven million albums and fill arenas the world over. Tool's faces never appear on album sleeves or in videos. As ever, their Melbourne show takes place in semi-darkness beneath nightmarish visual collages, with singer Maynard James Keenan performing from the back of the stage in just his underpants. In this age of celebrity worship, faceless fame is Tool's unusual goal. Maynard, who is surprisingly soft-spoken, intelligent and droll in conversation, explains that sacrificing long-term privacy to short-term media infamy is not Tool's ambition. "Look at Vanilla Ice," he says. "He's fucked! He's a clown! He's completely sold his head and he has nowhere to hide. I really don't see any reason to do that. Just let the music speak for itself. If it sucks, it sucks. At least you have your privacy." Tool could easily play the alt.rock superstar game if they chose. They already straddle an unassailable global fanbase, selling out next weeks twin Brixton Academy shows with ease. They also have legions of celebrity cheerleaders and collaborators, from Trent Reznor to Tori Amos to Tricky. Even Fred Durst perpetually namechecks Tool, despite being branded a prize prick by them at every opportunity. Respect. But by choosing to remain the world's most underground mainstream rock band, Tool hope to direct attention away from themselves and towards the music, which British-born bass player Justin Chancellor says is "bigger than the four of us". Adam Jones, Tool's guitar wizard and creator of their stunning videos, adds, "We can't completely wipe the ego away but you can make it second. It's been great, but we've had to embrace being more recognisable because of the success of the record." Despite their best efforts, Tool are sometimes recognised in public. But surely they see some shallow appeal in hogging the celebrity rock-pig limelight for a few months? "Definitely not," shudders drummer Danny Carey. "There's nothing I can see that's appealing about that, other than boosting your ego to some uncontrollable level." Maynard agrees: "I could do without visiting the Playboy Mansion," he sneers. What, no barbecues with Fred Durst and Hugh Hefner then? "Fuck no. I've been invited but ... I had to return some videotapes that day." Tool and Radiohead could hardly sound more different, but a shared spirit has been noted in almost every review of 'Lateralus'. The parallels are there: both bands push the boundaries of their genre, carving a highly intense and emotionally-charged sound. Both are notoriously wary of the press, despite almost universally positive coverage. Both topped the Billboard charts with stunningly successful left-field albums after long fallow periods. And neither plays the celebrity game, preferring to hide behind distinctive visual masks. Also, by strange coincidence, the last line of 'Ticks and Leeches' on Tool's 'Lateralus' ("I hope you choke, you choke, you choke" [sic]) is almost identical to that of 'Exit Music (For A Film)' on Radiohead's 'OK Computer'. Maynard looks amazed. "Really? Wow!" he says. "I didn't know that. That's cool, though. I really enjoyed the Radiohead albums, especially the last two. And not unlike them, I don't think we're doing anything new, we're reinterpreting the things we were in to when we were kids. People who claim we're doing something innovative and fresh haven't really listened to any Metallica, Pink Floyd, King Crimson or Joni Mitchell albums. If you think we're reinventing the wheel you're crazy, and the same thing with Radiohead. We're just trying our best." Ha yes. NME was avoiding the subject of veteran progressive rockers King Crimson, with whom Tool toured last year. Because, again like Radiohead, Maynard and co. have been labelled shameless prog-rock revivalists. And while Crimson were hardly the worst prog offenders, much of 'Lateralus' veers dangerously close to the fart-sniffing muso territory of Genesis or ELP. Tool's Melbourne show, for all its cutting-edge visuals, certainly contains long passages of psycho-cosmic blusterwank. It's almost like punk never happened. "We enjoy that music," Maynard argues defensively, "but we also enjoy Minor Threat and Fugazi and PJ Harvey, which I wouldn't call progressive rock. I grew up listening to both punk and progressive rock, I see them as fulfilling different needs. One thing missing in most progressive rock is that irrational, emotional element. But as far as pushing an art forward, challenging yourself to be more out there, [goes,] they fulfil that need and the Sex Pistols fulfil the other need. The common element is individuals following their heart and being true to themselves. So in that way they are inseparable, they are the same thing." The double life of Maynard James Keenan, both inside and outside Tool, is steeped in colourful myths and whispers. Raised in Ohio and Michigan by Baptist school-teacher parents, he left high school to join the army in 1982. He attended prep school for West Point, the legendary finishing school for US military officers, but declined a chance to join the academy itself. His main reason for joining up was to get his art school degree funded under the GI Bill, which subsidises college education for ex-servicemen. Maynard describes his three years in the army as a crash course in human nature. "Around 90% of the guys in the US military have no other option, so you're seeing the worst of the worst as far as education levels and social skills [are concerned]," he says. "Then at West Point you see the opposite end where they're highly educated, blueblood kids, and they're *much worse* - elitist, racist, everything. There was no way I was going there. Otherwise I'd be rubbing shoulders with jackasses like George W. Bush right now." Instead, Maynard attended art college in Michigan, relocated to LA in the late-'80s, played in bands, took up wrestling and arranged pet shop displays. No kidding. His neighbour in LA was Danny Carey. They began jamming together in Danny's practise space, eventually forming Tool with guitarist Adam Jones, a classically trained violinist and sometime Hollywood special effects expert. Adam introduced Tool to their first bass player, Paul D'Amour, paving the way for their debut EP 'Opiate' in 1992. Tool became a going concern in the post-grunge goldrush. But while the band worked on the primal catharsis of their second album, 1996's 'Ænima', Maynard pursued an unlikely sideline in stand-up comedy. A friend of his, Laura Milligan, used to host a weekly improvised sketch show in Hollywood in which Maynard appeared alongside a host of famous collaborators including Ben Stiller, Janeane Garafolo and *Shallow Hal* star Jack Black. Maynard frequently quotes Monty Python as an influence and [Tool] sampled Bill Hicks on 'Ænima', but he never considered humour as a serious career. "I'm not that funny," he shrugs. "At best I was like a bit player who kind of helped the straight man. Not to stereotype anybody, but I just don't think Americans should try to be funny. Canadian comedy and English comedy is far superior to American comedy." Tool spent the late-'90s entangled in bitter litigation with their former record label and management. According to Adam, the foursome almost disbanded, although Maynard and Danny insist a split was never discussed. Either way, the runaway success of the singer's more orthodox rock outfit A Perfect Circle initially looked like an ideal escape route from Tool. Maynard denies this, but is currently writing the next APC album and admits, "I have always had a problem with fidelity." Meanwhile, Maynard's latest non-musical passion involves assembling a top-class wine cellar in his Arizona home, where he lives with his wife and son. He jokes about ordering $1000 vintage bottles, but claims, "the trick to being a wine connoisseur is finding those stellar wines for £10." So what would Maynard recommend to budding NME winos? "One that you can probably get for ten, 15 quid is the Penfolds Bin 389," he nods, dutifully namechecking a fine Australian Cabernet Shiraz. "The '98 is a good one to get but it's probably gone by now. The '99 isn't as nice. It's not too expensive but it really does have a nice bouquet..." Maynard falters, suddenly aware of how totally non-rock he sounds. "And all that other horseshit," he coughs, "that jackasses who claim to be wine connoisseurs talk about." In February, Tool picked up a Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy for 'Schism', the lead-off single from 'Lateralus' and a bizarrely radio-friendly sheet-metal monolith of hate-choked rage. From the stage, Danny and Justin thanked Satan for inspiration. Danny is actually Tool's genuine occult buff, but his statement was more of a sarcastic protest against the ceremony's sickly air of sanctimonious backslapping. "I was so frustrated," Danny shrugs. "After two hours of hearing every artist get up and thank God, it was so insincere, like they were only doing it for their record label. So I had to do it, I couldn't help myself, there just had to be some kind of balance." A seven-feet-tall, sun-bronzed stoner with a voice like Clint Eastwood, Danny is the most laid-back devil's disciple you could ever hope to attend black mass with. He could run for life president of Surfers For Satan, smoking doobies with the Big D.. Danny may laugh off reports that he arranges his drums in a pentangle formation, arguing that this is merely a "harmonious" shape, but his diabolical dabblings reflect a genuine interest. "While Maynard goes out searching for good wines," Danny nods, "I go out searching for Aleister Crowley first editions and Kenneth Grant books." Maynard grins: "When we run into each other at the pub, I'll be drunk on wine; he'll be drunk on Satan." Rooting out any truly satanic subtext in Tool's magick-tinged music and runic sleeve artwork could keep demonic detectives busy for weeks - Maynard even played the devil recently in the trash-porn flick Bikini Bandits Go To Hell. But behind the posturing, Maynard's lyrical anger against organised religion is a serious recurring theme. "The stuff about the Catholic church finally acknowledging paedophilia," Maynard fumes, "that's the truth! That's always been the truth! The things that really drive us nuts are the lies and denials. Having grown up in that setting it's very disconcerting to see this set of principles to live by and make the world a better place, and then to watch these middle men get involved and just make a profit on your fear of death, basically." Raised in a strict Baptist family, Maynard still considers himself a spiritual person railing against the earthly abuse of Christian principles. But so vehement are his anti-religious rants, there must be some kin of personal reason for his anger. Was he abused by a priest as a child, perhaps? "Not at all," Maynard shrugs. "But I saw some of my ministers go up there when this man is weeping at the alter. The priest's got his hand on his shoulder, helping him ask for forgiveness, and you find out later they've been butt-fucking for years!" Which brings us, inevitably, to Maynard's other favourite lyrical theme: "ass-sex", usually of the rough and forcible variety. "It's a metaphor for letting go," the singer quips as a pisstake explanation. Hmmm. It seems more like a recurring obsession to us. "It just seems to push people's buttons," Maynard shrugs. He doesn't want to get into this subject, then? "Well, I'll get *into* it," Maynard snorts, "just not here. Hurg hurg!" And with that Maynard skips off, back into Toolworld, still proudly clutching his silver dildo. An enigma wrapped in a myth cloaked in deep layers of schoolboy smut, Tool are the Radiohead it's OK to make juvenile anal sex jokes with. Respect is certainly due, even if the line between prog-metal overlords and complete tools is very thin indeed. ------- Sidebar Lights! Camera! Sick bags! Tool's stomach-churning videos are the work of a visual genius - their guitarist Adam Jones. Squirming yellow maggots with weeping human faces, subterranean toilets crawling with bio-mechanical gargoyles, sci-fi humanoids peeling back their skin, giant eyeballs blinking from macabre clock-faces - Tool's videos rank among the most unique and haunting visuals in modern rock. Directed by guitarist Adam Jones, they combine the high-tech shock value of Chris Cunningham with the body-horror of David Cronenberg, the creeping-flesh surrealism of early David Lynch and the stop-motion nightmares of cult animators the Quay Brothers. One day, sick-puppy Jones will make an amazing film director. Even with his prickly, aloof manner. "Yeah," he sneers, "I'm the next Steven Spielberg." A graduate of the Hollywood Make-Up Academy, Jones actually worked with Spielberg on Jurassic Park. Graduating to creature design, his work can be seen in Edward Scissorhands, Ghostbusters 2 and Terminator 2 - plus many others. But Tool is his chief visual outlet nowadays. There has inevitably been talk of a Tool feature film, but Adam cools those rumours for now. "We spoke it as a wish and everyone's taken it as true," he sighs. "It's something we're definitely likely to do but it takes a lot of time, a lot of money, getting investments and control and studios and trying to get outside the Hollywood mould. But if it did come up, yeah, absolutely. Everyone would really like to be involved with something like that."
Posted to t.d.n: 05/16/02 14:30:18