Maynard James Keenan on the guy with the gun, and other weird tales from the road

Maynard James Keenan on the guy with the gun, and other weird tales from the road

Gas station snacks and never-ending highways, cramped tour vans and behemoth buses on long overnight hauls—being on tour isn’t quite the jet-set lifestyle, nor is it the stuff of silver-spoon luxury, but it is a pretty romantic way to experience the world. Maynard James Keenan, prolific frontman (Tool, A Perfect Circle, now Puscifer) and also vineyard owner, has logged a lot of miles traveling around with his various projects. He’s now embarking on the first official Puscifer tour—which makes two stops this Friday and Saturday at the Paramount Theatre—and the entire set-up from cast to concert is a marked departure from his earlier work. Puscifer is both an experimental musical project and an improvisational performance troupe, blending the two mediums into one cohesive show. But it took some time to get here, so The A.V. Club asked Keenan to comment on the long, winding road and on a few of the more memorable shows and tours from his career.

Tool, Garden Pavilions, Hollywood, May 1993
Maynard James Keenan: I got approached by a man with a gun. The Love Jones was opening, and they were so offensive to L. Ron Hubbard that one of the L. Ron Hubbard guys came to me backstage and mildly threatened me. He had his coat open and he had his gun. He basically made comments about the opening band, and how they were being disrespectful to the space. And I told him that this is a glass building and if you piss me off, it’s coming down, so fuck off.

Tool, Lollapalooza, 1993 and 1997
MJK: I barely remember much of [the 1997 tour]. I mean, I remember, but it gets to be a blur when you do a couple of them. There was also Ozzfest around then, and it gets to be the same shit and the same dressing rooms with slightly different bands. Being on the first Lollapalooza was good because I got to meet Tim Alexander from Primus, which clearly has blossomed into a whole other working relationship [with A Perfect Circle and Puscifer].

A Perfect Circle, the first tour, around 2000
MJK: The first show we actually did was at what used to be The Central; it later became The Viper Room (in Hollywood). Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks, his health was horrible, and we—A Perfect Circle and Puscifer—did a benefit show to help with his medical expenses. That first show, that was actually the first live Perfect Circle show, but not the first live Puscifer show. The first actual Perfect Circle tour we did was in a van traveling around the Southwest.

AVC: What was the transition like to go from being in Tool and these huge tours to starting over with a new band and these much smaller shows?

MJK: It was awkward. We were playing some pizza parlor in San Luis Obispo, and I’m not sure if it was a man or a woman rocking out in the front row with a Zeppelin T-shirt on, but at the end of the set he/she said to us, “That was awesome. I didn’t know Circle Jerks was touring again!” That was our favorite memory from that tour. And then Perfect Circle went from playing the pizza joint to playing to 8,000 people in Long Beach—or was it Orange County?—on our last tour [in 2004]. It takes a lot of focus, you know? You start off at those pizza joints and people are looking at you like, “Hey, go back and do the other thing you were doing.” Finally, in 2004 everybody’s coming out, because they’ve given up asking.

Tool, opening for King Crimson, 2001
MJK: That was a good run. Having Adrian Belew come into your dressing room with an acoustic guitar and perform Three Of A Perfect Pair to you is definitely a highlight.

Arizona Stronghold wines, various dates at Whole Foods outlets, 2009
MJK: That was for promoting the Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra and the Arizona Stronghold wines. It was an awkward tour. It’s funny how there is this romantic idea about Whole Foods being this wonderful, hippie organic place and then you realize it’s just like everybody else. They’re not the Good Samaritans you thought they were when you’re watching them at the end of the night throw out hundreds of pounds of food. Jesus. [Laughs.] That’s a lot of food. But nowadays with industry how it is, it’s just difficult to have your voice heard. You do what you have to do to get it out there.

The beautiful thing about vineyards in general is just how, historically around in Europe, they’re kind of the cornerstone of activity in an area. It just happens naturally. It’s not like there’s some campaign happening throughout small communities in Italy with advertisements and pamphlets, you know? They’re just doing it. It’s a tried-and-true thing. The vines themselves just take so much commitment to keep alive and to make them work that it opens up the possibility for other locals to be doing things to surround that industry and that activity and that community. Kind of an economic stabilizer, if you will. Once you start getting involved in it, you realize how easy it is to make your own food. And I think that’s kind of scary for people in charge, they don’t want people remembering that they can feed themselves.

But on the other tip, just as an artist, there’s so much that goes along with wine, so much that goes into a glass, the food pairing aspects, the process of it aging and it changing. Every time you open the bottle, it’s a completely new moment. Those people showing up [at the signings], for whatever reason, and taking that bottle home, hopefully it will be a little time capsule for them when they open it up, at the right moment when they’re ready to get it. It will be a whole new world for them, and nothing to do with me.

AVC: Your perspective on buying locally and sustainability seems almost in complete contrast to doing this big tour through the corporate grocery store chain.

MJK: To be honest, halfway into it, we realized that, you know, we already made the commitment to go do it. And I think it was worth us getting the name out there and talking to people who are fans of my other art forms, but I’m not sure given the same choice again, I would do it. I would probably take the longer road. I don’t think aligning ourselves with [Whole Foods] resonates. They’re trying to take over the world with it, and that’s what most people want to do when they have a thing. Like, hey, the Prius is going to save the world, so let’s manufacture all these fucking cars! No, don’t make a bunch, make a couple. This whole marketing campaign, you start looking into it and you realize the carbon footprint of a Prius is larger than a Hummer. [With our wines], we’re not trying to make so much that we have to go outside of our area to sell it. We’re not adding trucking routes to the mix. It’s a route that exists that we’ve jumped on, rather than creating a whole new route of trucks just dragging stuff around the country.

AVC: Being in a touring band is a lot of dragging stuff around the country. Isn’t that pretty wasteful?

MJK: We’re doing our best on this run to limit that as well. Doing some of the math on the U2 tour—Jesus, they have like, 100 trucks? Per location? Tearing up lawns? Like, come on, dude. So we’re trying to make this thing more like an art installation and a performance, rather than a concert. We’re just trying to go into a space and be there for a few days, and just exist there rather than every night burning up diesel fuel going from place to place. We have one truck and it basically has everything in it.

I’m trying to do the next best thing with the music too, that’s why this next release for Puscifer is digital only. I’ll do vinyl at some point just because I like vinyl. But I just don’t know that it’s responsible to release hundreds of thousands of CDs. It’s just more paper and plastic that’s out there taking up space. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not on top of some green campaign bus—I’m not that guy. At all. We’re living in the world here, and who knows if these things matter? I’d like to think that they do, so that I can try to pay attention to them and not be too irresponsible, but I’m certainly not going to tell somebody that they’re doing it wrong. It’s not my job, really.

Puscifer, the early shows, 1990s
MJK: As far as Puscifer playing, we actually played in the mid-’90s with Laura Milligan at the Tantrum, some of the stuff she was doing at The Diamond Club in Hollywood. One weekend it would be Tenacious D and a different weekend it would be one of my set-ups, depending on what we called the band that night.

AVC: What should people expect out of Puscifer now?

MJK: The best way to describe it is that it is a show, not a concert. It’s really difficult for people to get their heads around that. It’s far more like an episode of Tim And Eric Awesome Show Great Job! or Sonny & Cher and Hee Haw. It’s like Saturday Night Live, but with a lot more music.

AVC: Have people responded well to that? How were the shows you did earlier this year in Las Vegas taken?

MJK: They were good. There were a few little train wrecks here and there, and there’s no possible way to iron out pacing or working things out before your first couple of shows. It’s definitely going to take a tour like this for us to really hone it in and dial it in. It’s going to take us a while to get it down. It still feels like there’s something happening and then there’s a band, and I’m trying to make it so we break down that barrier, so the bandmates feel like the band is also a part of the sketches in some way—that’s the challenge. But the hardest part probably about this whole thing is explaining it; people just don’t get it. It’s like trying to explain Monty Python. It doesn’t make sense until you see it. 

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