Musicians' Perfect Circle Happy To Lurk In Background
By Ron Gonzales

Maynard James Keenan is perhaps best known as the theatrical lead vocalist of the band Tool, one of the biggest "underground" groups today. But a funny thing has happened to Keenan and his side project A Perfect Circle, of which he is generally considered the mastermind.

With A Perfect Circle, Keenan, Billy Howerdel (guitar), James Iha (guitar), Josh Freese (drums) and Jeordie White (bassist) are creating music even more expansive, transcendent and unique than Tool. Add to that the fact that the band's debut "Mer De Noms" sold nearly 2 million copies, and the band's latest CD, "Thirteenth Step" is well on its way to selling over a million and you might wonder whether it is even fair to call A Perfect Circle a side project. According to White, it isn't.

"It's like having another kid and calling it a side kid," White said in a recent interview. "Maynard devotes as much, if not more, time to this as he does to Tool."

That Keenan and Howerdel wrote all but three songs on "Thirteenth Step," a masterpiece of soft-to-sludgy dynamics, is a testament to that. But with the addition of Iha and White, who both have served time in other, high-profile bands— Iha with the Smashing Pumpkins and White with Marilyn Manson (he was Twiggy Ramirez)— and you even have the makings of a supergroup of sorts.

"It feels natural to me," White said. "It probably looks cooler from the outside than it really is. It didn't really start out to be a supergroup. It just ended up that way."

And, it just ends up that Keenan, who has been known to don dresses, kabuki-style face paint and devil horns on stage, goes quietly about his business, along the way earning critical acclaim for his soul-baring lyrics and masterful vocal performances. For instance, some have said that "Thirteenth Step" refers to his failure at a traditional 12-step program for addicts, while "Weak and Powerless" contains overt references to heroin.

White himself is no stranger to this type of behavior, as his exploits with Manson have been well-documented. Still, White says that his former group could never reach the level that his current one has.

"We're playing places twice as big and to twice as many people with A Perfect Circle," White said. "Some bands want to be on the cover of magazines (Manson), and some want to stay in the background."

For A Perfect Circle, staying in the dark would be the only way to nurture the elegant, lurking musical beast that it has become.