The Saviours of Modern Rock Return

"I have no bad words to say about Manson - but APC is definitely more focused on the music rather than on the attitude and image" - Jeordie White

"I'm probably the world's worst qualified person to answer that question and probably any other question you have to ask me." Down the phone line from Cleveland, Ohio, A Perfect Circle guitarist, chief song writer and producer Billy Howerdel indifferently utters the words every journalist dreads. An innocent enquiry as to whether his band is potentially the greatest modern super group of our time has gone down like a led balloon - and we're only two questions inů

It's approximately 11a.m. stateside and Howerdel is eating breakfast. Currently showcasing APC's second album 'Thirteenth Step' on an intimate American club tour, every evening his band are the hottest ticket in town as the select few get to exclusively witness the first performances by the bands new-fangled rock royalty line-up. Out are original members Troy Van Leeuwen (last seen on the road with Queens of the Stone Age) and Paz Lenchantin (who jumped ship to join Billy Corgan's Zwan) and in (somewhat ingeniously) are one time smashing pumpkins guitarist James Iha and former Marilyn Manson bassist Twiggy Ramirez (now referred to under his real name Jeordie White) respectively. It's an album that will certify them modern masterminds and it's something we want to hear about - but something, we surmise, that Billy won't be the one to fill us in on.

"Any adjectives you wanna use to describe the album is fine with me," he yawns, disinterested in the discourse. "We just put the music out there and you can offer your own critique....." When asked if he agrees that it's slightly less accessible and commercial than it's processor he offers, "I think .... yeah. Um - I don't think we've stayed stagnant which is important to me as a song writer...."

Seemingly unbothered by the fact that there's a chance that it will not repeat the success of the bands previous album (which broke records for a new band on America's Billboard album chart incidentally) he comes out of his shell for just a minute to explain: "This album is more serious. Not that the last one wasn't - but I think there were things on the first album that were a little more tongue in cheek - but I think now we rebel against the seriousness by being more goofy onstage. I think though at the end of the day that we feel we have our dignity intact because we did the record we wanted to do and we're proud of it."

And that's your lot, it would seem. Any further questioning of this nature is met with the same fob-off "I'm too close to my music to comment..... "

Using every tactic to transform this stalemate, I even remind Billy how his band was once dubbed, a little haughtily I know, the 'Saviours of Modern Rock'. "That sounds very pretentious to me" he snaps. "It just sounds like someone's propping you up to chop your fucking head off - hold you up a little higher so they can swing the axe ......."

We can safely assume he isn't in the mood for talking then - but looking at the bands track record - I won't be taking it personally. The last time we interviewed the band circa the release of their stunning '00 debut it was a similar affair, except for this time it was the singer and Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan giving us the silent treatment. A solid hour of it in fact. To this day I swear I heard him count down 3,600 seconds under his breath before vacating the room - without making eye contact once during the muted 60 minutes. An incident, what the heck, I chose to remind Billy of. "Maynard just doesn't like doing press that much," pipes up Billy, somewhat hypocritically. "He's an odd one when it comes to being seen." He's not lying - as spectators of the bands current jaunt will attest. Performing behind a sheet for the shows opening number then residing at the back of the stage thereon in - never once showing his face - whether he's shy, desiring to remain mysterious, trying to divert attention to his fellow band members - or (and I'd pump for this one) being plain difficult it's anyone's guess. Including it would seem - his bandmate Billy. "I've never figured his reasons out - and I don't know he has either." Billy lets slip. "I think it depends what day of the week you get him because he goes back and forth. I wouldn't deal with it the way he does - he's just weird. I have nothing to do with his personal decisions. If he doesn't want to do it, I can't force him to."

Despite this somewhat ambivalent revelation, Billy, now having warmed up slightly reveals how morale in the band is at an all-time high. Sharply dismissing rumours that James isn't fitting in as "bollocks", he explains how the dynamic of APC have never been better.

"It's different for sure - for one we have a different stage set up - so it immediately feels like something new - but Jeordie in particular is such a different player and I think you can hear the solidity more." He enthuses now - but it's a meeting of musical minds that nearly didn't happen. Paz's departure from the band, it was rumoured that Maynard believed Jeordie was the most inappropriate choice (spoilsport!) to fill the position, as Billy explains. "I guess he was worried about all the baggage Jeordie had from Marilyn Manson - because he had such a defined character in the band. They always seemed like so much more than a music group - being theatrical - they were almost like a play."

Maynard's concern proved to be short-lived however, as Jeordie was chosen unanimously by the band. "He came from such a great place - with no attitude or ego which is good because I don't think there is a lot of ego attached to this band in general." Billy rationalizes, "As for James - he's such a new member and he wasn't involved with the recording process - but the guy has such an amazing work ethic and he'll learn something instantly," enthuses Billy, getting uncharacteristically animated. "I don't think James was actually planning on being in another band again - and now he's like a kid joining his first band - he's genuinely excited by this." And after a white knuckle ride of a decade and a rollercoaster of emotions with Chicago's alternative heroes smashing pumpkins, James is back in a place where he swore he would never find himself again - in a world successful rock band. "I've heard him say that it had to be the right band and the right situation" explains Billy "and it was. We've known James for a long time. This whole 'supergroup' thing might sound contrived - like 'ooh let's make a list of the most famous musicians you know - and make a band' - but these were two people who we knew professionally and personally and respected them as musicians - so it just made sense. It was a big decision for them both - wondering if they were gonna fit in with people and click musically - but it has ....." he states self-satisfyingly ""As a super group!" he sniggers finally resigning to the fact this is a word that will hang over him for the unforeseeable future. "I think everyone in this band has already been in extremely successful band situations - and have all got good heads on our shoulders and don't expect too much. I've said this before and I'll say it again: we were never meant to be anything other than a band with really great rock songs."

Then, without warning, the line goes dead. Whether we're victim to transatlantic telephonic troubles or whether he's simply had enough - one suspects that Billy prefers his music to do the talking.

Failing that he can always rely on Jeordie. An hour later after the somewhat unfruitful interview with bandmate Billy, Jeordie, the consumate professional, is gushing down the phone about his new vocation within the ranks of' APC'. "It's great to be in a band where everyone is equal - certainly as far as experience and talent is concerned, " he reveals forthrightly. "No-one has to cover for anybody else - it's a very solid team.. Everyone aside from Billy has been in other bands for years - especially James and I - we've been in bands where there has been a lot of emotional attachment - and this band is very professional and also a lot of fun."

Now over a year since he walked out on his shock-rock associates, Jeordie ("you can still call me Twiggy if you want - i'm not gonna do an Artist Formerly Known as Prince' on you ...") has found his niche - and artistic freedom being one of the main advantages. "Because some of the other guys are in other bands - when there's downtime I can do whatever I want - which is what I was looking for at the end of my career with MM", he discloses. "I would speak for James as well because both our previous bands were more like a marriage - and you really couldn't see other people."

Bumping into Josh Fresse at a New Year's eve party last December, Jeordie vividly recalls thinking how his reputation might be a deciding factor in the band not considering him as a possible replacement bass player, (having heard himself that Maynard in particular was responsible for the great uncertainties). "Now - and i'm making an assumption and i'm not answering for Maynard - I would think as with all eccentric artists and frontmen- there's a feeling of competiton - or the enemy of some sort !" reasons Jeordie modestly. "But I think he looked past that. I think someone told me that he had said I seemed like completely the wrong decision - and not knowing me or anything - that I would be the last person he'd choose - maybe because of my image - and maybe that's why he did pick me in the end ... he did the eaxct opposite to what his brain told him," Jeordie titters. "On stage he is the polar opposite of Manson - if you want me to compare the two. In no way is this an insult to Manson because I love him like a brother - but Maynard is the complete reverse of him in terms of trying to get attention. For Maynard it's not about him - it's all about his voice - not his body or his face or his image - it's about the music - almost to a point where you can't even see him. And on a personal level he's probably one of the most generous and diplomatic people I have ever worked with," he coos. But then he would say that because sure enough, a few weeks after speaking to Josh, he was called up and asked to attend an audition.

"They made me show up at 10 am which I think was a test - just to check that I wasn't a loser who slept all day," he chuckles. "So I showed up with an idea of their previous material and a few days later Maynard called me up and I was actually scheduled to go back for an audition there with Metallica. Maynard said the gig was mine if I wanted it - so I took it and didn't go for my final audition with Metallica."

Not that he regrets the decision. "It's worked out great because everyone seems to say the band sounds better than it ever has. I think it's a lot more suitable for me on a personal level. I have a lot more in common with the music and the people in this band and I think artistically career wise I think it was a smarter move. Not that the Metallica gig was definitely mine - i'll never know. But I think this makes more sense to the public for me to be in the band." And for Jeordie too, for many a reason ...

Not least now he finally has attained his former band mate's approval. Just a few days prior, MM himself showed up at one of' APC's' shows to lend Jeordie some support - and the experience Jeordie describes as "kind of having sex with your new chicken killer when your old chicken killer is watching." But, not wanting to cast aspersions on his personality and preferences, does he mean he was perversely excited or somewhat uncomfortable ?

"A little of both. It was a very nice gesture on his part - y'know," Jeordie sighs. "He reached out and showed his support of what i'm doing - which i'm very surprised about - because he has a great way of shutting people out and I thought he was gonna do that with me.

I thought that it would be his way of dealing with losing me - to shut me out - but he came with open arms," he elucidates.

"But as far as performing - it was definitely weird to look out and see him in the audience as opposed to having him stood next to me. I was thinking to myself, 'hey - am I allowed to do this ?' just because we had such a strong commitment to each other once."

A man with a conscience it would seem - he even apologises profusely when I remind him how he once dribbled heartily on me during a show many years ago in Wolverhampton. Despite abandoning the stark theatrics of one band in favour of a more serious and studious musical outlook of another, he maintains he will not be repressed or compromising his onstage persona : "I'm just putting on a different hat and a different pair of shoes - I'm being a different character. It's just a different part of myself I'm using to play this music. With MM it was more of a decadent rock'n'roll band that you'd dream of being in when you were like 15 years old and this is a little more adult !" he snorts mischievously. "I do feel like I can be a little more like myself - not that I wasn't myself in MM - I was in my 20's and I was crazy and on drugs - but this is more mature. A sophomore record is the hardest one to write and I truly believe 'APC' have taken it to the next level with this record because it's a lot more adventurous in a Pink Floyd-esque kind of way or in the same sense in how Radiohead have really pushed the envelope," he offers getting back to what really matters - the music.

"Whereas the first album was simply a collection of really great rock songs - this is an album you'll listen from beginning to end. It makes you think a little more. To some listeners there could be a concept to it - depending on how you interpret it - but you could get something from this record for sure. I'm definitely proud to be involved with it and I think it's already a classic - in my ears any way. This is music that will really take you places - it's definitely a journey I recommend you take ..."