Round Trip: Tool Frontman Travels Far From The Familiar With A Perfect Circle
By Mark Brown

A Perfect Circle has long been considered Maynard James Keenan’s side project when he’s not heading up Tool.

But with two albums under A Perfect Circle’s belt (compared with Tool’s three) and rapturous critical acclaim for the latest, it may be time to rethink those priorities.

This time around, A Perfect Circle has strayed far from the metal-grind sound of Tool or heavier assault of its first album. Instead, Thirteenth Step is an atmospheric song cycle with hints of madness and addiction, alluding the Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon but hardly copying it. Fans will find it a strong departure from anything else Keenan has been involved with.

“I know (guitarist) Billy (Howerdel) was writing more atmospheric music than on the first one. And Maynard definitely wanted to make the record different from the last one – it was a pretty big priority in separating Tool and A Perfect Circle. I’d compare it to Pink Floyd, The Cure or Curve. More emotional, introspective, atmospheric music,” says Jeordie Orsborne White, bassist for A Perfect Circle. White previously went under the name Twiggy Ramirez in Marilyn Manson’s band.

Thirteenth Step flows as a seamless album, with Keenan’s singing also coming as a departure from previous efforts (the album’s title refers to addiction; in a 12-step program, the 13th step is relapse).

White met APC drummer Josh Freese about two years ago, and the two hit it off immediately. The bassist soon became the new member of the band.

“It’s like the first day of school,” he says. “It’s tough at first. But you make friends and it ends up being a lot of fun.”

Guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen is on the album but has since left, replaced by James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins.

Freese built his reputation as a studio drummer who has played with everyone from punkers The Vandals to American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson. In A Perfect Circle, however, he and White click in a way that makes their instruments part of the composition rather than just a classic rhythm section.

“It’s really important for the rhythm section to have that closeness and friendship. We trust each other, and it shows up in your playing as well,” White says.

The band jams up the music, he says, “and Maynard comes in and turns it into great songs.”

“The Package” was definitely a song that was a bunch of us in a room and it just came about. It was almost how you’d think a band would record a song in your imagination – when you think, ‘How did Pink Floyd record this one?’ I started playing a bass line, Billy came in with guitars, Josh came in with a drumbeat and the next thing you know we had a song.”

For many of the songs, White says, “we just played it as we would live, as opposed to sitting in a Pro Tools studio looking at a computer.”

When he joined the band, White was somewhat between gigs, having left Manson’s group and taken work on one of Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme’s Desert Sessions discs.

I was auditioning for Metallica at the same time. There was a lot going on all at once,” he says. “It just seemed like A Perfect Circle was the right thing. Aesthetically, it wasn’t too far from what I’m used to. I don’t think any of Marilyn Manson or fans of A Perfect Circle were surprised.”

As for the Metallica gig, “I don’t even know if it was mine to begin with,” he says. “They never really gave me an answer. I’m friends with those guys, but they’ve also got way too much money. I don’t know if in the big picture it would have worked out.”

A Perfect Circle’s shows “are about the music, and it’s a lot different from what I’m used to,” White says, referring to the dark theatricality of Manson’s show. “A lot of (that) stuff relies on image and showmanship, which is great, too. But it’s kinda refreshing to just play music.”

Did he ever get backlash from being so closely associated with such a polarizing figure in music?

“I always got a little respect because I wrote most of the music in Marilyn Manson,” he says. “But I also had a stigma of being another drug-addled sidekick. I’m sure people were surprised at the depth of my character to step up and do something like that, musically and aesthetically. I definitely learned from it. This part of me has always been there.”