In January 2013, I interviewed two members of TOOL ahead of their New Zealand tour, for RIP IT UP magazine. This is what they had to say:
Thanks so much for your time I really appreciate it. What are you up to today – is it just a day of interviews or…
It’s a rainy day here in Hollywood. We just finished doing a rehearsal though, so we’re indoors knocking out stuff for the new Tool record, so we’re making the best of it.
I didn’t think it ever rained in LA.
Pretty rare! It is, we get it every once in a while so it’s kinda a welcome thing here. The plants love it. It makes such a change in the landscape when it rains – everything gets green for about two days, then it burns up again.
It must be nice to be back rehearsing with the band again, bashing out some stuff, getting ready for the new tour.
Yeah it feels really good, uh, we’ve been working pretty regularly, you know, but barring the holiday season – we took a big break over that – pretty much every day you know, during the week. And Justin’s got tonnes of great ideas, and Adam’s been coming in with lots of stuff to: we’re knocking it out slowly but surely. We’re all excited about it.
You probably get sick of questions about how the record’s going, but – I mean you’re in a studio making new material, then you’re preparing to tour with older stuff – how does all that sync up in your brain?
We are really just in a rehearsal space at this point, we never really get into a proper studio until everything is completely written, then we book time and knock out the recording process as quickly as possible. So we’re still like in the writing mode. So we’re in the rehearsal space here, so we start our rehearsals playing through the old songs to get the cobwebs out of those: we have a gig coming up, then we start working on the new things. So that works out OK, that way.
I read in a recent interview that you’re working on, I guess, the “Lateralus” of this album – your big song that’s going to define the whole record – how’s that coming?
Um: really good. I mean we’re still – believe it or not! – still working on it [laughter] – it’s like an ever-evolving thing, it’s probably going to turn into a thing that’s like, uh, a big trilogy type of feel to it, sort of life, just like Disposition and Intension and Triad, like on the Lateralus record or something. It will probably be over a 20-minute piece when it’s all finished, so it will be a good part of the record. We’re dealing with it in sections, but it’s coming together really well, we’re having lots of fun working on it, that’s for sure.
As long you’re having fun, that’s the main thing.
Yeah, exactly. You don’t want to turn the playing into work. They call it “playing” for a reason I suppose. You obviously keep that attitude going. I think - if we’re happy with it - then I think the fans will be.
Can you talk about what thematically is going into this? Have you got any specific motivations going in from anything you’ve been reading or doing?
Um, you know not in particular at this point. I mean Maynard deals with the lyrical content, when he comes in and does more of his treatment. He’s been pretty busy with his wine and other projects lately, but right now it’s just Justin and Adam and I working on things and uh, you know, little bits and pieces, lots of musical things, I’ve been playing lots of fusiony and jazz stuff lately with a band called Volto! and playing with some old jazz cats at the Baked Potato here in town, it’s like a famous jazz club here. I’ve been trying to get lots of new musical input into my system so I can have new influences popping out in that way, more than in a lyrical way.
Is there any new additions to your kit?
Yeah, I went out and tried out a bunch of new cymbols the other day – I brought home two big bags full, I could hardly carry ‘em, man! I’ve been sewing up a few of those, I’ve got a different Wavedrum now from Korg that I put up, and a pocket pad device by Roland, and I’ve still been finding lots of new metals and weird ethnic drums and things to sample: I’ve just got about 50 samples of weird ethnic percussion things so I can load them into my electronic pad, so I can have new textures to choose from on the new jams - so I’m expanding them that way I suppose.
Your job in the band is incredibly physical – it’s a massive workout – how do you work to keep yourself up to scratch – because, I mean, everyone’s getting older aren’t they? And it’s gotta be tough…
It’s certainly more of a challenge! Yeah, it’s a little tougher these days but you know, I’ve found no matter what I do to prepare, I’m never really ready for the road: when the crowd gets in front of you and the adrenaline kicks in, you just step up to another level and there’s nothing that will really do that other than getting out and playing in front of a big crowd. You know, the adrenaline makes all the difference and that feedback is so important. So I try play basketball, and I’ve been doing a little road biking and things like that – it’s been tough lately because I cracked four ribs - broke three of them - on a motorcycle the other day, so I am kinda layed up at this point, it’s making it really painful to play. It’s not an easy thing to do [laughter].
Where did you come off your bike?
Oh god, it was just over in the San Fernando Valley, I was just turning to go on the freeway, and I think I hit some antifreeze or oil or something, and the wheels just slipped right out from under me, and I just hit the pavement really hard [laughter].
Yeah - I’m still in one piece anyway - but I don’t know how lucky I was the way I feel right now [laughter]. It’s pretty painful, but some pain-killers and some scotch will get you through it.
One highlight of the last gig I saw with you guys was the drum-offs you had with the opening band… how fun is that, are you just waiting for that moment?
Yeah, I mean I always enjoy doing the drumming, the double drumming thing, it’s a lot of fun and it’s always a great experience and mixes the whole set up, especially if you’re a little road wary. We have different people every night almost, a lot of the time it’s the guy who’s in my opening band, but in a certain town one of my friends or a favourite drummers we will invite him up and it keeps it fresh, too, when you’re on the road for a long time.
Another thing I’ve found interesting with Tool is that in the early days you were sheathed in mystery, now thanks to the web your images are everywhere. How do you find that?
Yeah, I think it’s just the nature of saturated - how available information is nowadays: I think it’s just in inevitable thing.
Does that bother you at all, or is it just a natural evolution of where things are at with you in 2013?
Yeah, I think it’s just a natural thing like you said, it’s really unavoidable too: there’s no reason to take it too hard I suppose. I still try to be as private as I can, we’re in a lucky enough position – I don’t get bothered really on the street or at the grocery store or anything like that. If I go to a music event I expect it, so at least I know when and where it’s going to happen and I can deal with it, and I feel very lucky that people care enough about the music we’re playing, so I’ll make the best of it. I’m insulated once I get home – we’ve had a couple of people show up outside our rehearsal space for a bit, we have our watchdog guys and will run ‘em off, my neighborhood is pretty solid about protecting each other too, we have it under control.
You’ve always been collecting an array of books, have you been reading anything interesting recently? Any occultic weirdness going on?
One of the most interesting things I got recently was the last copy of Darkmore, it’s essentially a guy in Australia, maybe? That puts out – it’s a bi-monthly book or something, usually eight to ten essays about weird occult things. There were some really good ones in this last one. I’d recommend it. Other than that, I’ve been trying to collect lots of big weird modular synthesizers: I’ve been trying to work on those a lot, and trying to increase my collection of that, and old 70s weird synthesizers, I find I can apply that musically a little more direct[ly], so good times.
I like it how you incorporate all the electronica into your very physical drumming.
Yeah, it’s nice to have the availability of all those different textures, where I can just draw samples of anything on hand and they’re at my drumstick tips. And I enjoy doing it – it’s a lot of fun and it keeps it fresh for me without having to drag around lots of instruments, so – it’s a good way to have access to pretty much anything in your imagination.
So what’s the plan leading up to New Zealand?
Well, like I said we’re working on new tunes every day here, I am hoping we will have a couple ready to go, I don’t know if we will or not - I guess it would be nice to debut something down that way. We’re working on the lighting, and we’ll try to do something fresh for the show, keep working on the new material: that’s where we are now.
So visually you will be mixing up the show, adding some more elements?
Yeah I am sure, it’s a constantly evolving thing, I am sure there will be some new stuff throw in the mix. I haven’t - we haven’t - really seen what Junior and some of our guys have been working on, but we feed them little bits and pieces, so they can sync in references to things, if it’s something we want to enforce. And they always drop things in here and there, so it’s always changing a little at least.
Who do you work with to do the visuals and stage set up?
Junior – Mark Jacobs is his real name - he’s been our lighting guy for probably 15 years now, and our video person Bret’s probably been with us close to 10 years. Adam kind of oversees the operation as far as construction of the lights and things like that, but ah – we all kinda of pitch in here and there - but we let Bret run the controls, and he keeps it all in sync with the songs and he has his whole system set up, it’s pretty dialed in. And it’s great, because he doesn’t have to work off a computer or a midi track or anything because we don’t use any type of click track to play to, we just play live: sometimes it’s slower or faster, so he plays the video stuff to us, and the light guy plays to us… it’s all going down in real time, which I think makes it more energetic and it translates to the moment and is more effective.
Not many people play real time these days – [they] use backing tracks or a click track or something, you know? And we’ve never done this.
Finally as our time winds up, wondering if you’ve watched anything recently you’ve enjoyed?
Wow. What was the last movie I saw? I like Moonrise Kingdom - that was a pretty funny movie - I just saw that the other night, really funny. I enjoyed The Hobbit, I thought it was really good on the big screen, 3D and everything. A lot of fun, that was the last two I saw that stick out.
Did you see it in 48 frames?
I did, that was pretty impressive actually. Yeah, kinda crazy - I mean its’ almost like digital-looking because it’s so clean, kinda a different experience. I enjoyed it. Oh, another movie I saw I liked was called Lawless – it was about the bootlegging guys, like I think in the ‘20s, had that guy that was Bane from Batman. He was great.
Thanks for your time – look forward to seeing you here, and the new record.
Thank you, we’re looking forward to coming. It’s always a pleasure to play down there, we’ve always had such a great response and we love playing for people who love us like that.
Maynard James Keenan
Thanks so much for your time, Maynard. I spoke to Danny – he came off his bike, he’s laid up with broken ribs.
Wow, I didn’t know that.
You’re touring this year with A Perfect Circle, Puscifer and Tool – all this year - that must be quite surreal and exciting I imagine.
Yeah, sometimes it’s a little hard to keep straight we’re I’m at, but it’s gonna be fun.
I’m over at Soundwave next month, and it’s great you’re bringing Puscifer as a sideshow to these parts.
It’s quite an independent project, so it hasn’t been able to afford to come overseas quite yet. So it’s going to be a nice opportunity.
I’m curious how the model’s going with Puscifer: Fully independent.
It’s solid, where we can afford to go. The independent route is of course you have to take baby steps with it, because you’re funding it yourself – um – it’s a – a much more satisfying process and the only problem is of course it takes a lot longer to get overseas.
Of course. And for something you are touring at Soundwave with another of your bands, you can do Puscifer on the side.
I’ve been reading some of your newspaper columns online, and you’re also writing your autobiography – how do you find writing in this way, longer form.
Uh – the writing of the biography or the writing of the column?
Both. The idea of sitting down - and instead of writing music, writing longer-form.
Well its more daunting when you have a deadline, um, and that was for me the kind of exercise, if I have to have something written, um, and there’s a deadline, it just puts you in a whole different headspace. And I kinda wanted to get into that headspace: if I want to write a biography I kinda need to get going on it, and to have to write for somebody else for some other purpose, it kinda showed me what it was going to take to get this thing done.
How did you find it with deadlines then? I am used to them – did you get used to it?
Well you know it was every other week, and I have a lot of other things going on - it’s not my main job I didn’t get paid to do it - so it was, uh, hard for me to develop something like that in that short amount of time span, writing over the course of several months - you know - pieces here and pieces there, writing several pieces at once but over the course of a long time, so they actually have to have something ready every other week was odd. You know, I felt like without having any experience doing it, I did OK.
You did. It made for great reading. Look – I am curious about how you hold three bands together when many can’t hold together one! Then the wine, and a family…
Well with the wine – it’s attached – it’s basically part of my house. And it’s just my wife and I that work it. We have a neighbor friend of ours that cleans up after me, but for the most part, the wine making, the cellar work… it’s close to home, so when I am working on any kind of music in terms of writing and recording, especially with Puscifer it’s right here… and then I pop over to LA and pop into a studio or a friends space over there: it’s easy to keep your head straight in that respect. When it comes to writing with Tool and A Perfect Circle it’s a whole different process and, uh, that requires a whole different set of patience.
What band is the trickiest to get into that headspace for? And to commit to?
They are all just different.
And obviously you are bringing Tool over to New Zealand – which will no doubt sell out.
And those are individual shows, not festivals.
Yeah – your own shows, at Vector. Are you looking forward to bringing that over with your own look?
It’s always nice with whatever project you are working with to have a captive audience for that particular project. You know, when you get into festival settings it’s a lot more challenging, because you have a lot more casual observers who are not necessarily familiar with your work, so you can’t rely on, you know, the show you did last week on your own in that setting. People aren’t necessarily familiar with your songs, you know, it’s a little more challenging, and generally speaking festivals are daylight: it’s a lot of sunshine. And we’re not a jam band, with all three projects it’s more about the presentation and lighting and the mood we’re setting… and it’s a lot harder to do that outside.
Something I was curious about speaking to Danny, was the Internet opening everything up…
I am still trying to get my head around it a little bit. You know, just as I mentioned, its going to take a little while for us to bring this project to outside of the borders, for Puscifer - just because people don’t pay for music. Because if you don’t pay for music, you can bitch all your want that we can’t come to New Zealand… but I could afford to come to New Zealand if you paid for the fuckin’ music.
Some of us do, don’t worry.
Some New Zealanders still pay.
[laughter] I understand, I was being flippant. A broad statement and not true for everything, but nowadays everyone is able to point and click and get what they want when they want it, so they’re so used to that being the standard that they assume everything else should be that way. Institutions like Amazon.com that - like basically - they do so much volume that they can probably give things away, and those kind of things: those things go away soon. Like we have a store – we used to have a store, it’s all going away – called BestBuy. Televisions for 20% less than everywhere else - and DVDs and CDs and washing machines and iPods - and you can usually get stuff there for less than everywhere else, because they’re relying on so much volume, but then when the markets take a crash, or things go a little bit sideways, there’s nothing built into their system. And they’ve pretty much shut out all the competition, because they can do so much volume - and so as soon as things go sideways – you can’t get CDs there anymore, in fact you can’t even go there anymore because they’re closing down. They pushed out the mom-an-pop stores, so they aren’t there any more because they couldn’t possibly compete with the volume and the margins that BestBuy had. Those are little factors to consider when it comes to the whole local moment anywhere. It makes a lot of sense, they are trying to live within their means and keep everything fairly local and um – I dunno.
It’s been a crazy ride you’ve been on since you started making music.
Yeah absolutely. Vinyl to CDs to long CD boxes to no CD boxes to iTunes, and all the cassettes and A Tracks in between.
Growing up with your music – in high school – what was so great is that it was all about the music and image, and not you guys – do you find now Google image search and cellphones at gigs and all that does your head in, or is that just part of life in 2013?
That’s just part of life, but I do feel that a lot of the nuances are missing from some of that artwork. I don’t know if you… when I was a kid, vinyl was the medium – images that came with it – and even now if you buy an album or go on a website there’s not nearly as much imagery or story in images that comes with the music anymore. It’s just kinda… you click on it and you don’t know who wrote it, who performed it, you don’t know who mixed it: all this information that people don’t seem to care about anymore. So on the old albums you could look at all these things, you could look at it all in one spot, it’s kinda contained. Although to be honest, we’ve put albums out for Puscifer and put some of the liner notes on our website and when you fuck up and misspell someone’s name, you can go back and change it! [laughter]
The one bonus in this digital age
Yeah, you can edit.
Thanks for your time, anything else you wanted to say about the tour or album?
Um, I guess we’re looking forward to coming down, it’s one of my favourite places to visit, so I am very much looking forward to the shows, especially because they’re gong to be our own - so it will be a lot more fun to be able to present a contained show, because it’s been so long.