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Interview with Maynard James Keenan of A Perfect Circle (NY Rock)

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Maynard Keenan and Billy Howerdel

When the press discovered Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan was working with a new band, A Perfect Circle, earlier this year, a few eyebrows were raised. Was it the end of Tool? Or merely a side project? Word has it that Tool continues and Keenan plans to re-group with the band for a new album after a few weeks off from this summer’s tour with A Perfect Circle.

It’s not surprising that the creative force behind Tool, one of today’s more respected rock groups, would put together another stellar project. The members of A Perfect Circle have collaborated with such bands as Nine Inch Nails, Orgy, Rage Against the Machine, Guns ’N Roses, the Vandals, the Deftones, and, hey, even Tori Amos. It’s also not surprising that fans have been going crazy for the music, from the band’s first single, “Judith” (released last spring), to the sold-out shows with NIN, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters and Eve 6 this summer.

The band's lineup is rather spectacular. Small wonder the record companies were cueing up to get you guys signed.
We're simply five friends who knew each other for a long time and we always knew that we'd like to perform with each other, play in a band one day and it was something that was bound to happen sooner or later.
And the band's name – how is it symbolic?
We're five people, five individuals who came together to create something, to make music and to complete each other musically, to form a perfect circle. A circle is the reflection of eternity. It has no beginning and it has no end - and if you put several circles over each other, then you get a spiral.

Many of the song titles on Mer des Noms (French for "Sea of Names") are actually names of real or mythological people. A lot of the names of the songs are actually people I do know in real life and some elements of their lives seem to be the same as elements in the lives or stories of mythological figures. A lot of names in America and Europe have their roots in Latin and Greek words. A lot of them go back to archetypes and their stories.

It's amazing, isn't it? If you take different mythologies from different cultures, the names may change and the story lines may vary but there is always something in common.... Most religious stories and mythologies have some sort of similar root, some sort of global archetypes. There are hundreds of myths that are talking about virgin births or murder. It's really hard to find out what happened first: Was it something that happened to people in their lives and it got turned into a myth, or was there a myth and people tried to copy it somehow?
Speaking of myths, you ventured into acting and imitated Charles Manson on the Ben Stiller show. A few critics claimed your portrait of Charles Manson was so intense and too real to not be upsetting. What is your take on Manson? Charles, not Marilyn....
I think the media made Manson, turned him into some larger than life figure and surrounded him with mystery and some shady glamour. I don't even think that he was really a psychopath, that he had any form of mysterious power. He was just a frustrated guy who wanted to be a rock star. He dreamed about having groupies, getting laid and the whole thing how people imagine rock stars live. The kind of stuff you read in the tabloids. Nobody gave him a record deal and he latched on to some drugged-out people who were so spaced out on acid that they did what he told them and went and killed some people like he told them. I can't believe that the media didn't see that part of him and turned him into this larger than life figure, almost a living legend.

A Perfect Circle (L to R): Maynard Keenan (vocals), Billy Howerdel (guitar),
Paz Lenchantin (bass), Josh Freese (drums), Troy Van Leeuwen (guitar)

But Manson was a monster, wouldn't you agree?
Of course, he was a monster. It's his fault that terrible crimes were committed, but I think there's nothing great about him. For 35 years people treated him like dirt and then he freaked out. We didn't glamorize him in any way. We made fun of his image as a psychopath.
There's a lot of talk about the Napster controversy. How do you view the new technology? After all, with Tool you were one of the less commercial bands in the music scene.
In a way, it does destroy the music scene, not just the record companies, even more the artists, the people who write the songs and who don't get paid. I think there are a lot of other industries out there that might deserve being destroyed. The ones who get hurt by MP3s are not so much companies or the business, but the artists, people who are trying to write songs.
Did you always see yourself as a musician or was it more by chance? I'm curious, because you don't seem to be phased by success.
I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. I never even thought about it. It was always there in the back of my head. We had those forms in school, just stupid forms you had to fill out where they asked you all sorts of things. For example, what you want to be when you grow up. There were a lot of choices to make and I always picked artist. I never once picked doctor, lawyer, firemen or something like that. It was always artist. I always knew that I wanted to be creative, that I wanted to create something. Even if I didn't know what when I was a child.

September 2000

Related Stories:
  • July 13, 2000 - A Perfect Circle Announce Tour
  • June 2, 2000 - A Perfect Circle Make History with Highest Debuting First Album Ever From a Rock Band
  • March 29, 2000 - Nine Inch Nails Go on Tour with A Perfect Circle

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