The Golden Generation

[Translated and transcribed by New Model No. 15]

A Perfect Circle is a supergroup. That’s what they say and noone will contradict them. Over 120 years of music experience becomes in those days to the center of a pedigree that is curling around through the entire progressive music community in the USA. The second A Perfect Circle work “Thirteenth Step” doesn’t only teach the latest haute école of rock music, it stands also for a circumstance that touches every human ever since: Transience.

Maynard James Keenan keeps sitting on the couch in the back of the nightliner. Only the emergency lighting is switched on, the TV he was playing Playstation with before the interview sets the air in flickering. “Thank you and good luck with everything”. He remains in the twilight. Maynard James Keenan is the singer of A Perfect Circle and Tool, two of the most prestigious progressive rock bands from the USA. Sometime in 1999 at Tool’s Aenima tour a tape of the former guitar roadie of the band fell into his hands. On the tape were some short and ripe rock songs which were substantially more conventional than anything Maynard himself has ever done before; they were dark but catchy and without shyness of commercial appeal. Since then Keenan has two bands. The reason why is today sitting about 10 metres apart from him in the front part of the bus and belongs to the kindest and most native people to have a conversation with. Billy Howerdel back then said roadie and now the pulse of A Perfect Circle in this band in which Keenan and he are making music since then and which has become beside the Queens of the Stone Age to the meeting place of high-quality US musicians. Howerdel strokes his shorn shaved head with his hand and thinks.

Billy Howerdel: I tried to found a band just one time before this. I met a singer who was recommended to me. But it didn’t work. It was professional and frigid. I’m not a pro. I don’t know how all this works. It had to come to it. And then Maynard appeared.

Visions: What do you think when of all people the singer of Tool says: Let’s make a band?

Howerdel: I couldn’t believe it. Even after we recorded “Orestes” and “The Hollow” very quickly there was always a plan B. I’m in this business for long enough to know how many great projects fail at the last minute. Even as I formed the band slowly I didn’t believe in it. Maynard already was in a successful band so why should he do that? Visions: But in the end you made on of the most prestigious singers of the alternative music world to sing your songs.

Howerdel: Yes, but on the other hand the record company asked me as the debut approaches: “Where’s the chorus and where’s the verse?” I didn’t know. It doesn’t seemed interesting to me. But, you know, they’re not musicians. They don’t think like we do. They say that their investigations establish that a hit needs certain things.

Visions: Then the new record won’t make them a lot happier. There are not many conventional aggressive rock songs on “Thirteenth Step”.

Howerdel: Maynard definitely didn’t want that. We could have made a big rock record but we wanted to be tasteful. Of course there will be criticizing. Many people tell me right now that our way is a risk. People who think that everything is constructed and on purpose. That’s not true. It’s just that I have the luck to set things on music which characterized me and that some people want to know that. People see it as valuable. And I’m grateful for this.

Visions: Was it on purpose that the new record despite of tasteful variety of acoustic ballads to epic outbursts mainly lives on this homogeneous warm overall picture?

Howerdel: Yes, it was because of Maynards vision and the completely different situation. Last time I gave him 13 songs, he recorded 12 of them and that was it. This time we had a lot more time. Immediately after the last tour I built a studio in my house where we worked and recorded. There were much more experiments, more cooperation and there were also some songs that didn’t do it. Those are good songs but they didn’t match with the feeling Maynard wanted to awake.

Visions: It sounds like it was not a smooth creative process.

Howerdel: It was hard. It is difficult to guess what someone likes. And Maynard only works with the music as the basic of his texts.

Visions: Don’t you as a songwriter also write parts of the lyrics?

Howerdel: It’s Maynards job. Last time I had a few lines, though….Well, I had lyrics but he changed them all. I had something for “Judith” and “Three Libras” but there’s not much left of it. (thinks briefly) Actually “Judith” was about something completely different.

Visions: Were you frustrated in the view of a long way to “Thirteenth Step” ?

Howerdel: It was frustrating and labor-intensive. When everyone is passionately at work it’s hard to look in each others eyes. No-one wants to let go. Last time wasn’t enough time to make it complicated.

Visions: Is it dangerous to think too much?

Howerdel: That really pissed me off. It’s not a problem for me to invest a lot of time in something, as long as I can see the goal. But there were verses I wrote two years ago and they were completed just a couple of moths ago. But everyone works in a different way.

Visions: And now everything is fine.

Howerdel: (looks down) Yes. (looks up) Now everything turns out alright. It’s fun with the very young ones. Jeordie (White aka Twiggy Ramirez – ed.) and James (Iha, former member of the Smashing Pumpkins – ed.) are great guys.

Visions: Why did Paz Lenchantin and Troy Van Leeuwen leave the band?

Howerdel: (breathes deeply) Because Maynard was busy with Tool. Paz went to Zwan and Troy to the Queens of Stone Age. I was going to say that Paz wouldn’t return but Troy’s final leaving was surprising. Danny Lohner from the Nine Inch Nails was the substitute for a while. But then Jeordie came and finally he fits in the band much better and now he’s playing bass as he did with Marilyn Manson. The thing with the two guitar players we put off almost far too long. Just a couple of months ago we called James. He was in Sweden at that time but luckily ready to upset all his plans. It’s working on every level. As a friend, as a musician and as a fellow occupant. It’s pretty cramped here as you can see.

Leaving the A Perfect Circle tour bus you are standing in a side street directly in front of the back entry of the ‘9:30 Club’ in Americas capital city Washington. Dark clouds are hanging from the sky, it’s muggy, the part of town is sleazy. Aside from some fans who are waiting in front of the main entry for the guest performance of their band the streets are deserted. Just a few blocks away some kids are playing baseball on the green spaces around the Monument and the White House, Japanese tourist groups are taking photos of the spotless oceans of flags and buildings. But if you walk just a few more metres in any direction you like you are standing in the most criminal city of the USA.

The photo shooting is a debacle. A photographer from Germany was flown in, the make-up artist came from the neighbor state Virginia and all that for just seven minutes. The photographer wants to put a new film in his camera as Keenan disappears again. The other band members don’t seem to have a problem with it.

Back in the bus it takes a long time until Jeordie White who is actually very cute without make-up comes down from the phrasemongering which he seemed to carry out permanently with his ex-band Marilyn Manson where he was involved in almost every song. Which is a pity because after he left the band he was looking around. He worked on the “Songs for the Deaf” record from the Queens of the Stone Age as well as on the second Mondo Generator record from Nick Olivieri. On top of this he also appears on the new “Desert Sessions” record which will be released soon. But the man just pricks up his ears on one topic.

Jeordie White: What did you say?

Visions: That there was a break in the Marilyn Manson career after “Mechanical Animals” . It seemed like you would take a step back.

White: That was one of the reasons why I left the band. I had the feeling that we were trying to fetch back the past. The new record actually sounds even more as a big step back. I think except of the Beatles every band has just a certain time and my time with Manson was over. I’m happy that I can do other things now. I’m writing some solo stuff and A Perfect Circle made a better songwriter and musician of me. Everything in this band is just great. It’s a supergroup in the positive meaning.

Visions: Is it easier for you now?

White: Oh my god, it’s such a relief to be honest again after all. Not to hide myself behind an image and a name.

Visions: You’re grown up.

White: Manson was in my twenties but now I’m in my thirties. In the past I wanted to be like that, to make this music and to dress myself like that. But now I never want to get in this situation again, to lie for money or fame.

Visions: Do you see a future in A Perfect Circle?

White: Actually I don’t want to discuss that now. But yes: I think yes. I played on the majority of this album and wrote with Billy. “The Package” for example is from me.

Visions: What comes into your mind when you listen to “Thirteenth Step” ?

White: I’m happy. I’m glad that I played a part of it.

Jeordie takes a Visions issue and slips away to the driver’s cab. Josh Freese sits down while James Iha is looking for his backpack. Everyone has already heard the name Josh Freese. For he is well-known as the drummer of the Vandals and he also made a name for himself with various studio jobs as a drummer in Los Angeles.
Josh Freese: Yes, you’re right. “Thirteenth Step” isn’t such a direct rock record as the last one. I hope that the people will give it a chance. We worked for so long on it, long before Maynard returned to Tool. We wanted a record that is something special but don’t wanted to take people aback. Not everybody shall like us.

Visions: What’s your part in the band?

Freese: To help Billy. There are songs from him that doesn’t seem to have any connection. Then we’re discussing it for hours and finally find a solution. I make the arrangements and give the perspectives, that’s important. Above all when you have the habit not to have habits.

Visions: Is A Perfect Circle your main band?

Freese: Yes, though I’m playing with the Vandals for ages – we’re still touring together – but A Perfect Circle is more important.

Visions: For whom did you play drums in the last time?

Freese: For many bands you hear in the radio. For example Evanescence. It’s horrible music but that’s the way I earn my livelihood with. Apart from that….(thinks) The new Offspring record, the new Staind record, Good Charlotte, Puddle of Mudd.

Visions: But they all already have drummers.

Freese: Right, but for example with Staind: His drummer got hurt by snowboarding and the record company wanted to record the three big singles of that record ripe again. So there was I.

Visions: What was the worst music you’ve ever played to?

Freese: (laughs loudly and slaps his hands on his knees) Oh dude, maybe I shouldn’t say that. (thinks) Do you know the broadcast “American Idol”? They are searching for a new superstar in the TV. One of the winners called me and I played for two songs with him. Or do you know Avril Lavigne? I recorded her record. Most of those bands get a deal but they aren’t really bands or they’re too bad. Then the producer calls me. It takes an afternoon for me and after that I get my money and don’t have to do this ever again.

Visions: Sounds like office work.

Freese: Exactly. But it’s fun also. I can feed my family by being a drummer. I know many musicians who don’t earn enough money. But with A Perfect Circle I can apply my creativity. Hey, James! Don’t you want to go on when you’re running around here all the time?

James Iha who is rummaging his backpack for the third time looks up and nods. Iha is on the first view a surprising new acquisition in A Perfect Circle. His ex-band, the Smashing Pumpkins, was unique with the engaging character and licentious creativity between wild rock and sweet pop. After the winding up Iha founded a label in which among others the Swedish pop band The Sounds is, built a studio in his adoptive city New York and wrote on some solo stuff.

James Iha: Ein Hund.

Visions: Pardon? Iha: You’re from Germany, aren’t you? That’s what I can say in German : Ein Hund ( = a dog – annotation from the translator)

Visions: Er…yes. When did you get the news that you can play in A Perfect Circle?

Iha: At the end of June. I was in Sweden working with my band. I returned on the 11th , tried to get my life in a order again and one week later we started working. The Pumpkins have had a tour with A Perfect Circle. That’s why I know the band. It seemed to be a good deal.

Visions: What attracted you?

Iha: The different stiles are interesting. Billy is very varied and he attaches great importance to the atmosphere. I must add that I don’t know the second record that well. (laughs) I still have to practise.

Visions: Is it possible to spot on the differences between A Perfect Circle and the Smashing Pumpkins?

Iha: (thinks long) They are similar in the reference to the light and darks baths and also the rock loans. But despite of that it’s different. A different singer and Billy, Billy Howerdel, writes completely different songs.

Visions: The guitar sound is different from the Smashing Pumpkins.

Iha: Yes, that was the hardest. Not the stuff itself but the way you play it that it sounds like what it should sound like. Which part it plays in the song, the timing and so on. It’s hard but it’s fun.

Visions: Are you creative yet in the band?

Iha: It’s too early. I’m still searching for my place but I know one thing for sure: It’s not such a dictatorship as it was in the last band.

Visions: Was your solo album back then a reaction to this big rock band?

Iha: Yes, I wanted to move away from the sound wall of the Smashing Pumpkins and all those regulations. I wanted to see if I could do it alone and so I recorded an acoustic album. Actually I would be writing new songs right now but now I’m here. We’ll see what the future brings.

Even if the back of the bus is just a few steps away it seems to be a greater distance. Maynard James Keenan doesn’t deign to look at the guest for the first time; his negative charisma plus the meager light don’t help to create a relaxed talking atmosphere. For a while he doesn’t say a word, he just sits there looking at his opposite, listens and doesn’t says anything until he feels explicit requested. Which is when you ask him about the motives he had with this albums.

Maynard James Keenan: When I’m listening to music, reading a book or watching a movie I’m attracted to the discovery of new levels of the precision work. Who wants sees a war movie in “Apocalypse Now” but there is a lot more to discover. The closer you look at it the more will you see.

Visions: On “Thirteenth Step” are many moments between the songs where there is something soft happening in the backround. Why is that?

Keenan: It needed some support to make the flow perfect or to separate some things. It was important that the parts are able to stand alone. One day I was walking near a building site as I heard a machine that sounded almost like a drum solo of Buddy Rich. There was a basic rhythm and some noises that appeared just a couple of times. Preserving things like that and putting it into the flow of a record is quite interesting.

Visions: Do you think that people listen to your music in term like that?

Keenan: (thinks long) As a result of living in this country I don’t think that many people understand anything. Tragically I live in a time that is destined by power-crazed liars. That wouldn’t be possible if the people would be able to digest what they hear in the news, what they read. But that’s not the case so I can’t expect that people – above all from small towns – are able to understand the content that we want to convey.

Visions: Then why do you try to convey them?

Keenan: I do that for myself. I have to express my ideas so that they can hopefully help someone. Perhaps someone doesn’t have to start again at zero but can learn something of the preserved experiences of an other artist so that they can skip some steps without falling on the mug. If this would be the case it would help me too.

Visions: Looking back at the big albums of the past most of them were works which had a significance that grew in time. Do you think that those musicians knew what they were doing?

Keenan: (without hesitation) No. The beauty of that music is that certain moments were captured very spontaneous for the most part. Those moments have nothing to do with an tremendous effort of thinking or planning. But they have for sure something to do with the emotional interaction it’s something spiritual. You can easy destroy it by thinking too much of it. The magic lives on a special kind of energy that musicians develop with each other of a unique result. At the point when they begin to analyse each other their records begin to suck. For example the first Psychedelic Furs records. Wonderful records, emotional, flowing and psychedelic! Then on the third or fourth album they tried to plan something – and bang, the magic disappeared.

Visions: Did you ever make this mistake?

Keenan: Oh yes.

Visions: When?

Keenan: I won’t tell you. These were decisions that I would cancel if I could.

Visions: As in your interviews you are also in your texts never concrete. Is that self-defence?

Keenan: There is no reason to blow details in the world. Musicians are naked enough.

Visions: Would you agree to the thesis that A Perfect Circle are more obvious than Tool?

Keenan: (thinks) I can understand that it seems so. In their spiritual searching Tool are a little bigger. They’re tilling a bigger area. A Perfect Circle are a little smaller on the emotional level. (thinks long) But I think you shouldn’t put it in concrete terms. There are people who have a completely different opinion on the songs as I have but it makes them happy. That wouldn’t work if I would cover the path with dead knowledge.

Visions: But one thing is surprising: On the official A Perfect Circle web site was an obituary on your grandmother who died not a long time ago. That contradicts what you said now.

Keenan: (thinks long) Many people tell us that they take a lot from A Perfect Circle’s music. That we helped them through special times. I wanted to let them know that there is someone else who helped us to get this far and to share this with them. None of us, neither Tool nor A Perfect Circle, could do that alone. We wouldn’t be here if we wouldn’t have the experiences, the education and the wisdom of our families. It was a tribute to the people who helped us to get this far.

Visions: What are you afraid of?

Keenan: Not to have enough time. (thinks) That I can’t make it to realize an idea that reaches what I was talking about. This combination of words and music that really helps the people to decipher something.

Visions: Ever managed this?

Keenan: Sometimes I look back and think: That was a good idea though it was bad executed it was right. And honest. It was so good that I would never be able to put it into music in a better way. Like this time. I think this record is a big step forward for everyone of us.

Visions: What are you hoping to get?

Keenan: Records are like children that you father and then have to let go. My job is done. But when you’re asking me: Just listen! I think it’s important that the people start to listen again nowadays. When they sit down to hear “Lateralus” or “Thirteenth Step” maybe they stop to believe in everything the news tell them. Don’t give in to the fear! Reflect! That’s what we’re trying to convey with a global community of artists and to survive while doing so. But that turns out harder. In America meanwhile some lobbyists are controlling the entire national radio network. The same people that run the big concert halls. Now you can hear Blink 182 or Matchbox 20 in every city. If you want to break the limits you don’t have a forum.

Visions: You are not a big fan of America.

Keenan: America differs just in one thing from the Third Reich: They don’t officially put people in trains to drive them to their death, they do it hidden with death penalty, alleged war missions and so on. That will continue until those guys will overstep the limits of humanity just a few minutes away from the White House that even the biggest fools will notice it.

Visions: And all you’re doing is to sit in you bus and whimper and make music for yourself.

Keenan: (mumbles faintly) Yeah, narcissistic bastard.

Visions: You didn’t even wrote an anti-war song.

Keenan: (looks up) I did wrote many. Perhaps I’m more dangerous than all these people that cry ostentatious slogans in four-four time choruses out in the world. I make music which stimulates people to listen, to think and to reflect. They have the choice: Fear or Passion. That’s much more dangerous than “Fuck Bush!” or “Fuck Saddam!”. People who say that are ridiculous clowns. Embarrassing blockheads who want to sell a few records.

Visions: But the perversity is that you won’t get anything of it. The danger that is assuming from artists is mostly rewarded when they are already dead.

Keenan: That’s right. But it’s OK. I got used to that. I have to do what I have to do. I will bring this to an end. And when the ship goes under – Fuck, but OK. I was there and tried to avert it.

Visions: The last line on the new record is “I choose to live” is this the thirteenth step?

Keenan: (grins)

Visions: You won’t tell me, won’t you?

Keenan: Never in a lifetime.