Publication: Guitar School
Date: March 1994
Transcribed by "Drugg Pico" ([email protected])
title: Tool Guitarist ADAM JONES is a Master of Many Trades The most anyone has seen of Tool lately, outside of their dominating performances on Lollapalooza's second stage last year, are the distorted flashes in the band's freaky video "Sober". A disturbing piece of stop-motion animation and cold genius, "Sober" centers on a pained and confused Messiah, attempting to deal with a cycle of anger, loneliness and depression. At least that's what we think it's about. "There really isn't a story-line, just images," explains Tool guitarist Adam Jones, the warped mind behind the video. "Different people get different things out of the images. It doesn't matter what it's about, all that matters is how it makes you feel." Feelings are what Tool is all about. On Undertow, the band's latest sensory numbing release, Jones's guitar lines conjure waves of dread and chaos like primal scream therapy. But exploring the dark side and all its seething rage is familiar ground to a band whose members have spent several years immersing themselves in Lachrymology, the science of crying. "We do it because it's therapeutic," offers Jones soberly. Guitar and weeping occupy only a small portion of Jones's universe. An Illinois film student who once worked in Hollywood doing makeup and set design (even contributing to Terminator 2), Jones actively sculpts and paints in addition to crafting bizarre creatures for his band's videos. Interestingly, Jones seems more comfortable as an artist than as a musician. "I'm not a good guitar player," he admits, "but like everything else, I try to take it as far as I can and be artistic with it." GUITAR SCHOOL: You're a film maker, an artist and a guitar player - a veritable rock 'n' roll renaissance man! ADAM JONES: Seems that way doesn't it? I studied film in high school and actually got a scholarship to go to film school. But I turned it down because I thought it would screw me up. So, I went to art school - and that screwed me up even worse. [laughs] GS: In addition to designing the cover for Undertow and the band's infamous logo, I understand you built the creepy character for your "Sober" video. J: Yeah, I built that creature and the "meat tunnel" and the band edited the video and did all the production. All the art for Tool is done by the me and the band. The album cover is a painting I made. We were all working in commercial art and films and music. It's a very cool thing. GS: It must have taken a long time to do all the animation for "Sober" J: We wanted to take as much time and effort making the video as we did the song. The video took a month to plan and a month to do. We did a short tour while a friend, Fred Stuhr, did the animation and storyboards and stuff. When we got back, I did the meat pipe and that little Jesus character. GS: How did you come up with the idea for the video? J: The song and video are based on a guy we know who is at his artistic best when he's loaded. A lot of people give him shit for that. I don't tell people to do or not do drugs. You can do what you want, but you have to take responsibility for what happens. If you become addicted and a junkie, well, that's your fault. GS: Have you recieved much critical attention for the video? J: We won two music awards from Billboard. It got "Best Video By A New Artist" and something else - I don't remember. I've seen it on MTV a couple of times, but I haven't heard the song on the radio. We're working on a sequel called "Prison Sex". GS: Did you play guitar while you were studying art and film? J: Yeah, sort of. I played violin and got into that Suzuki program in the second grade. I played violin all the way up through my freshman year in high school, then I played a stand-up bass for three years in an orchestra. I've always dabbled on guitar, but never took lessons. Tom Morello [Rage guitarist] and I grew up and were in bands together, so we showed each other stuff. That's as much guitar training as I think I've had. GS: Maybe that's why the songs on Undertow don't seem to follow any structure. J: That's the thing! Guy's ask me all the time "Do you think I should go to GIT?" I ask them "Well, what do you want to learn? What do you want to get out of it?" They usually can't answer. I think that if you want to learn theory, how to read music and scales, then GIT's great. But if you want to be in a band and write music, then you should just be in a band and write music. I think people like Steve Vai are so boring. My approach is to be part of a band that makes music, not hit songs. I mean, we started this band just to have fun. We weren't trying to "make it"; we just tried to keep it going. There's a big difference." GS: What music do you listen to? J: I haven't listened to much music lately; I've been out of it. The only thing I've heard that I've really liked is the David Sylvia/Robert Fripp album - it blew my mind. It's heavy, groovy, trippy, and something you'd think I'd like. [laughs] There's so much more to music than 4/4 and being able to dance to it. That's what I love about our music - it'll never be a hit because you can't dance to it. [laughs] GS: "Sober" is very close to becoming a "hit", though. J: That's good, and I'm glad about it, but I know it won't reach that level where it's on "Top of the Pops" or "Casey Kasem's Top 40 Countdown". It hasn't been really important to us to get in the Top 40 and that whole rat race. I'm not into being jammed down people's throats. We have meetings with our record label to tell them how to market us. If we didn't, they'd just promote us like they promote everyone else. We could have gone with much bigger labels and more money, but we wanted to go with a company that is LA based, all in the same building, and really understands what the artists want. Zoo has pretty much worked out for us. But we occasionally bang heads with them because they have to answer to a higher power, too. GS: Still, Undertow has been a commercial success. J: What's important to us is not how many albums we're selling and all that shit, it's making real music for people who appreciate it - it's not writing a hit song so we can sell as many albums as we can look ilke big rock stars. There's something very selfish about this whole program we've put together. GS: How would you categorize your music? J: When we got signed, Nirvana's album came out a month later, so everyone went, "You're grunge!" They want from calling us "grunge" to "heavy metal" to "industrial". Now they don't know what the hell to call us. I think putting labels on people is just an easy way of marketing something you don't understand. As far as the grunge thing, there are three bands from Seattle that I would call true grunge. I seriously do not think Nirvana is grunge. The Melvins are grunge. But they invented it, ya know? It's just silly. It became popular and the music industry made it more popular by hyping it; they sold more albums. It's all about money. That's why we've pulled together and tried to... GS: Keep yourself pure? J: Yeah, exactly! Thank you. [laughs] GS: Are you happy, then, with the way Undertow came out? J: Pretty much. I'm my own worst critic and I think everyone in the band is a perfectionist. With four perfectionists in the band, we have a hard time reaching perfection. [laughs] We're all happy, but there are little things we could go back and do better. GS: The album has a distinctive mood and really amazing tones that are very subtle. J: I was talking with Ken from the band Failure about tone, and we agreed that most people who are making music are looking for that "mood tone" thing. To achieve it, I think it's important not to have a distinct sound. I mean, Tool has a style, but we try to make all our songs sound different from each other. I listen to Helmet - and I love Helmet, they're a great band - but every song sounds the same. GS: Undertow is vastly different on a dynamic level from Opiate, your first album. J: I think we let a lot people down because when they heard Opiate, everyone thought, "Oh, they're a metal band!" Many of the songs on Undertow were written at the time Opiate came out. But we picked our hardest sounding songs, thinking that that was the kind of edge we wanted our EP to have. When Undertow came out, I think a lot of people who like metal got bummed. But I don't really care. [laughs] GS: The album is full of very lengthy songs - one is almost eight minutes long, and a few are six. Don't you think it's hard to keep people's attentions when songs are that long? J: We're more into expressing ourselves than making radio hits. We've had arguments with people who are saying, "Well, the ear can only listen to a song for three minutes." That's a bunch of crap! Look at Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin; their stuff goes on forever, and it's totally listenable and totally memorable. I've never worried about how long the song is. When we played with the Rollins Band, we'd keep songs going until we felt like ending it. That's what music is about, not how long people can stand to listen to a song. Make yourself happy first. GS: Did you meet any outside resistance because of the material? J: Ron St. Germain, the guy who mixed our album, would mix a song and we'd come in, listen to it, and go, "Okay, sounds good" or "No, it doesn't sound good, so do this". He wanted to cut up our songs. He said, "I like my steak without fat; I like to trim the fat off". We told him, "Fuck you, man, you're not touching any of our songs!" [laughs] He wanted to take little parts out of each song and make them follow the formula of what sells. I don't want to follow formula. We want to have our own formula. But we respect Ron, and he can make suggestions like that. I'm not putting him down, it's just that I don't agree with him. I highly recommend Ron as a mixer and have the utmost respect for him. In the end, we got our way. GS: The CD is listed as having ten tracks, but when you pop it into the player, it tracks from nine to sixty-nine, with the 69th track being almost sixteen minutes long. Was that something to mess with our minds? J: [laughs] It's just a dumb "pick a number" joke. I wanted it to go up to one hundred, but we thought sixty-nine would be a little more offensive to people who find things offensive." GS: So what kind of guitar does a person who doesn't think of himself as a guitarist play? J: I use Gibson guitars; I prefer the Les Paul custom. It's a black guitar with a greenish burst in the middle. They only made them for two or three years. I guess a lot of people complained that the metallic finish was affecting the sound. That's exactly why I like playing it. I have Seymour Duncan pickups, and I can't get the same sound with any other guitar, not even another Gibson, without that finish on it. I have two of them. I'd buy another if I could find one. GS: What year is it? J: I think it's a '78, maybe an '80 - I don't really know. People always ask me and I tell them it's a '93. [laughs] That shuts them up. GS: You're not a big fan of effects. J: No, not at all. That's the thing I like about my sound. It's real raw and very unsafe compared to a solid state kind of sound. Solid state amps sound compressed and very predictable. If you make a mistake, you kinda have it covered, which isn't always true with me. [laughs] I'm not a geek about equipment, I just know what I like. I have two pedals, a delay and an eq. I personally don't like to use as many effects because when you play live, something always goes wrong. If you only have a couple of pedals, you can track the problem down. The rack systems I saw during Lollapalooza made me sick. I guess some guys are really into it, which is cool, and other guys are just happy with what they have. GS: What do you use for amplification? J: I use a vintage Marshall head: a non-master volume bass amp from 1976. With the non-master volume, you can get this huge range of tones, all the highs, all the lows, all the mids - then there's this huge crunch. The thing I like about it is that I can play soft and it won't distort. Then I can hit it hard and it will distort. It's such an amazing that I take very, very, very good care of it; I haven't found another one like it. I take it on the road with me, and when I'm not using it, I keep it in the refrigerator. GS: In the 'fridge? Next to the milk and baloney? J: It keeps the components in suspended animation. I heard about that trick from someone who used to make Fender amps; they would keep the components in a freezer until they were ready to be used. You just can't find components for many of the vintage amps. If you have to replace one thing, it's going to change your whole sound. So you gotta keep your head fresh. [laughs] GS: There aren't any solos on your record. Why is that? J: I'm not into solos, I'm into lyrics. If I play anything that sounds like a solo, it's gonna sound like a lyric. Doing the stereotypical solo bores me. GS: Even without solos, there isn't any lack of guitar presence on Undertow. J: Exactly. Everyone in the band is equally important. It's not Maynard's voice and the band. It's Maynard's voice with the guitar part and the drum and bass parts and how all those components work on each other. GS: Paul D'Amour, your bassist, is very inventive. He plays like a guitarist. J: I'm a bass player from way back and Paul is a guitar player and we've been in many bands. This is the first group in which I've really played guitar and Paul has played bass in. When we got together, he said, "I don't really want to play guitar, I want to play bass". You're right though, he does play bass like a guitar, and it's awesome. GS: Didn't your singer used to be in Green Jello? J: Yeah, Maynard and Danny Carey were in Green Jello; Maynard did that high voice on "Three Little Pigs" (sings "not by the hair of my chinny chin chin" in a high voice). I was working in the motion-picture industry and helped the Green Jello guys with their costumes. Danny, Maynard, and I all became friends and met Paul through another friend. GS: Besides art, film and rock 'n' roll, what other projects do you have up your sleeve? J: I have a record company starting. It's called Flesh Records and I'm putting together music for porno movies. I'm looking for a partner; I tried calling Ron Jeremy (famous porn star), but he won't return my phone calls."