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Interview with Maynard James Keenan of Tool (NY Rock)

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When Tool formed in 1990 in L.A., who knew they'd become something of a landmark in music's heavy alternative scene? Founding members Maynard James Keenan (vocals), Adam Jones (guitar), Paul D'Amour (bass – later replaced by Justin Chancellor) and Danny Carey (drums) have influenced countless bands, such as the Deftones and Godsmack, with their densely rhythmic style. They've also managed to be one of the few bands that are intelligent, arty and yet popular with the masses (think a heavy version of Radiohead).

In 2000, Keenan took a brief reprieve from Tool to form A Perfect Circle. To no one
's surprise, the band released a highly successful album, Mer de Noms, and performed a sold-out tour that summer in support of it. Keenan then quickly jumped back to Tool to record Lateralus, which was released in 2001.
Many bands release a video to go along with a single because it's part of the music business process, so to speak. Tool, however, seem to place a lot of significance on their videos – as much as on the songs and the lyrics. What inspires you?
Everything we release with Tool is inspired by our music. It doesn't matter if it is a video or if it's lyrics. The lyrics for "Schism" are nothing more than my interpretation of the music. Adam does most of the work when it comes to videos and he basically does the same as I do with the lyrics. The videos are his visual interpretations of our music.
Your lyrics are paradoxical and often have an unexpected twist.
Everything revolves around the music when it comes to Tool. Music is about listening, the more you play, the more the magic spreads. For me, life is writing and I can do it anywhere. It doesn't matter where I am. I listen. I write. I live. And if you don't live, you have nothing to write about.
Your shows come across as a complete experience. You manage to create a compelling atmosphere for the audience. What is it like for you?
Shows are really strange. Sometimes you really don't know what to expect. Sometimes you're playing in the sunshine. Something that just doesn't seem to go with our sound. It isn't worse; it's just different, absolutely different. Then there are some days when we really don't want to go on stage at all, when we feel terrible and think we really shouldn't play. And pretty often those shows turn out to be absolute highlights.
What makes a good show?
So much plays into it. There are so many factors and so many things that all play a part in shows, that you really never know what makes a good show. Sometimes we wonder if we – the musicians – do really play a big part in it or if we can hardly influence it.
During your U.S. tour, King Crimson supported Tool. You never made a secret of your admiration for King Crimson. One might think it would be strange to have your idols as support. How did you feel about it?
Clockwise from top left: Justin Chancellor (bass),
Danny Carey (drums), Adam Jones (guitar),
Maynard James Keenan (vocals).

I think it was an honor for us. For our fans, it was something like an education. A lot of our fans weren't really aware where we were coming from, what inspired us. I find it a bit sad. I think to share one stage with King Crimson was important. It showed where our roots are, where we are coming from. After all, in today's music scene every band seems to steal from other bands. They're all stealing from each other and they all claim to be the originals. I think it's limiting – limiting for the bands and for the listener.
How about the Grammy? You received one, but didn't attend the ceremony....
I think the Grammys are nothing more than some gigantic promotional machine for the music industry. They cater to a low intellect and they feed the masses. They don't honor the arts or the artist for what he created. It's the music business celebrating itself. That's basically what it's all about.
Would it have been consequent then to refuse the Grammy?
Why should we refuse it? First of all, that would just gain a lot of attention and we are certainly not attention seekers. And if our record company and the music business want to have a party, why should we spoil it for them? Just because we're not interested? Just because we don't like it, why ruin it for them?
So you simply don't care for it?
I don't care at all. We're just four guys and we are enjoying what we're doing with Tool. We are eager to learn – to learn about ourselves and to learn about music, about life, about everything. And, of course, we always hope that we can change something for the better through our music, give someone else some inspiration. I believe that music is a force in itself. It is there and it needs an outlet, a medium. In a way, we are just the medium.
How do you keep in touch with your fans? You seem a bit elusive and tend to avoid mingling with them.
We really don't like it. It's not arrogance at all. We just consider it slightly unnatural. It's not that we're looking down on our fans and that's why we don't want any contact. It's just if we would mix with our fans, they'd most likely feel that they have to tell us how much they like our music and that can easily get to your head. Look at a couple of bands out there, with a lot of them, I always get the feeling their success has gone to their heads. If you start taking yourself too seriously it's not good for the creative process. I always believed that music should speak for itself, that people shouldn't see us as heroes, that our fans shouldn't concentrate on us, that they shouldn't try to feed our egos. Once your ego gets in the way, it is much more difficult to feel music.
In retrospect, would you say Lateralus was an album that was easy to make for you? That it went smoothly?
Nothing ever happens smoothly or perfectly fine, but it all makes sense. I believe everything happens for a reason, no matter if it's good or bad. There is no point in trying to change the past because if something would have happened differently, we wouldn't be here now; we wouldn't be talking. You never know what would be or what would change, if you could go back in time and just change one single thing.
You're known for disliking interviews. Why?
Sometimes interviewees are almost insulting, especially when it comes down to video or TV interviews. Pretty often they've got such an ego that we sometimes wonder how we fit on the same screen. They're clowns, goofballs and they think they're so funny – full of energy and personality. Do you know what I mean? They're just full of themselves and they don't have a clue and they're not interested in anything else but themselves. They don't even listen. They got a bunch of questions and you don't even get the chance to have something that remotely resembles a conversation. I really can't respect them and if they'd take a minute and realize what they're doing and how ridiculous they are, they wouldn't be able to respect themselves.

July 2002

Sept. 2000 - Maynard James Keenan talks about A Perfect Circle

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