Maynard James Keenan (Puscifer, Tool, A Perfect Circle) on The Importance of Keeping It Local
Maynard James Keenan is a successful guy: he's fronts two massive rock bands, Tool and A Perfect Circle, owns Merkin Vineyards and Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, Arizona, where he lives. Though ostensibly a "side-project," Keenan's band Puscifer seems to be increasingly be where Keenan's hear lies. He's released two full length albums with the group so far, 2007's V is For Vagina, and a brand new record, Conditions of My Parole, which explores the intersection between gothic folk sounds and the electronic progressive rock.
The new album finds Keenan stepping fully away from the music industry machine. The entire record is self-released. "That's a hard thing for people to wrap their heads around," Keenan says. "They've heard of larger acts saying 'Oh, we're independent.' Well, no, not really, because they might not have a label, but they definitely have a staff that's basically a label. They have all the same pieces in place, and then they go through a major distributor to make sure their records get out into the stores."
Keenan chatted with Up on the Sun over the phone to discuss the bluegrass influences on the new album, dispel the rumor that he owns a store in Tucson, and stress the importance of keeping it local.
Puscifer is scheduled to perform Friday, December 9, at Mesa Arts Center.
Up on the Sun: You guys recorded Conditions of My Parole in one of your wine cellars, right?
Maynard James Keenan: In the bunker, yeah, in the actual winery. Caduceus Winery.
I don't think I'm one of those people who can "hear" the environment in a record, but it sounds fantastic in terms of the tone. Were you guys playing live down there?
No. A lot of the pieces were put together as we went. The band got together for rehearsals while I was processing grapes for harvest, [and they had to] try and figure out -- kind of scratch their heads, how to figure this thing out live. That was happening after the fact. Not a lot of it was written in the same room. [We] kind of pieced it together.
There's obviously some country imagery with the cover, but I was surprised listening to it how deep the more gothic elements of country had influenced the record.
I wouldn't really call it country so much as some kind of marriage of old-time bluegrass-meets-digital-Autechre/Kraftwerk world. [That] meets maybe some classic rock.
Were there specific bluegrass sounds that influencing you?
Nothing that made a direct influence on the record, but definitely sitting for hours in the winery working on stuff listening to Ralph Stanley, the Stanley Brothers, Gillian Welch, that kind of stuff. Just letting it seep in.
I hear that, lyrically. Something like "The Green Valley" feels like a modern person observing the same things those classic songs would have been written about.
In some ways, too, some of these -- this is a stretch to kind of get your head around -- but [there's] some kind of commonality between Irish and Scottish folk songs and traditional Mexican folk songs. You know what I mean? There's a parallel; it's not really country or western, it's more folk, old-timey. I guess folk would be the best word to use. It has a local vibe, but not necessarily local-local.
If that makes any sense whatsoever [laughs].
In both cases you're talking about indigenous music. There are ties between those cantina songs and what you're talking about. There are ties between everything when it comes to "folk music" as music of common people. There's really only a couple of themes, and it draws from the same stuff.
There are moments that remind me of Pentangle or Fairport Convention, stuff that in its time was combining traditional folk elements with cutting edge rock sounds.
Yeah, I could see that. In hindsight, I've had a lot of friends say they hear early Pink Floyd in the work, as well. I don't draw direct parallels to that, but I can see what they mean.
Carina Round's vocals on the record really play beautifully against yours. The harmonies are haunting.
She does a really great job on it. Her influence is absolutely key.