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- Posted on Nov 29th 2007 5:00PM by Steve Baltin
frontman Maynard James Keenan. And this area, which he's called home for the past 12 years, is the setting for his own wine business, Caduceus. Keenan, who introduces himself as James, is holding a stack of paper at least an inch thick. He apologizes for being late, but he was held up in a meeting. Caduceus, like his music, whether it be with Tool, A Perfect Circle or his new Puscifer project, is not something he takes lightly.
The wine business, which runs in his family and Keenan says is in his blood, is so important to him most days that he stays away from the tasting room so as not to detract from the seriousness of the business and the area. "We, in Arizona, need people to recognize what we're doing here," he says. Spinner spoke to Keenan about Puscifer, the state of the music industry, his inspirations and how his varied interests help him in Tool.
How did you find this particular area to settle in?
My friend Tim Alexander used to live in this area and I told him that I had this feeling I was supposed to be in Arizona. That was in the early '90s. And then having met [comedian] Bill Hicks and him talking about his 'Arizona Bay' record, that kind of cinched it for me. I then came out for a visit in '95 to see Tim, and I told him about the so-called dream, it was more like passing thoughts and daydreams, and he said, "Well, I have to show you this area." And he brought me up here, and I immediately went to the Motor Vehicle Department, changed over my license, got a PO Box and registered to vote all in the same day.
I believe environment plays a big part in creativity. How did you find it infiltrated the writing and recording of Puscifer's 'V Is for Vagina'?
Not so much [in] conscious ways, I think it was more having found that kind of quieter space in yourself that your life is not dependent on it taking over the world, that very American perspective of world domination in some way, whatever product you're pimping. In a way I am trying to pimp it and make it survive in its own space. But I think it's a much looser recording and process focusing on more techniques, art and experiments rather than it being this ferocious octagon style piece of work that's designed to knock people out. It's not that. It's more like inviting you in and more serving cocktails at your party.
Has having done Caduceus helped you develop your business sense?
Tool and A Perfect Circle -- both bands are very much aware, on many levels, what goes on with our business. We were much older than most people are when we got involved in it and we knew that with the difficult to navigate material that we were presenting we would have to survive on our own for quite a while before someone actually caught on. With that in mind, we had to really buckle down and gut it out to get to where we are now. And in '96, '97, when we already had two platinum records, I was still living on 500 bucks a month. People go, "No, no, you were a millionaire back then when I saw you on Lollapalooza '97." "No, dude. Credit card with a limit."
Do you think people have the same love for music today as previous generations of kids?
One thing that's not going to change is people like music. They're really inspired by music and even now with the digital downloading it's actually made it a lot more accessible to people who might not have heard stuff before because you had to buy the CD with this mysterious cover, you don't know what it's about. Well, now a lot of people are just passing around MP3s. "Check this world music out, check out this country song, check out this Gipsy Kings" -- stuff you wouldn't normally have been exposed to because radio stations have pigeonholed themselves. They're not going to be diverse in what they're playing on their format. They're just going to play this. And some people are going to spend that $14.99 on a CD.
With Tool and A Perfect Circle you say had to be more knowledgeable, 'cause what you were doing was different. Yet you found that audience. Was there a moment where you knew you had found that audience?
Yeah, over the years it's obvious there are people that have come around, and that's inspiring to kind of know, "Oh, yeah, you guys are kind of getting it." But then it starts to get to that weird Holy Grail level where at some point you go, "Dude, we were just having fun. They were just songs. We inserted some codes in there just as a joke, but we weren't serious. We're not wearing masks in some basement chanting, nothing to do with any of that stuff. It's just us having fun." And so when it becomes familiar, like most of my peers, we take off in different directions, and do something else to just have more fun in a different way.
Do these other projects allow you to go back to that point where it's just fun and without expectations?
It's harder now, especially with Puscifer, since I'm really picking my experiments. The lead track that we just released, 'Queen Bee,' was an experiment. It was me and Tim Alexander in his new-built studio on two-inch tape going, "Let's see if we can do a song that's just drums and vocals." And who gives a s--- about the lyrics? It's not about that. It's about, "Let's just see if we can come up with some catchy groove and let's see if I can riff over it and layer it and see what we come up with as fun." Just two guys hanging out, making some stuff, and because it didn't have anything to do with dead relatives or child molestation or hating or wanting to shoot somebody or whatever, it's viewed by many of my fans on other projects as being less. But actually not, it's just a different experiment. I tried to see if I could make cupcakes with syrup instead of sugar. Whatever. It tastes good, shut up.
As an artist, how much do you pay attention to people's responses to things, and how those responses have changed?
I think on some level I recognize that there are stories attached to those, and that's because as a storyteller I recognize there's a story being told by these actions by these people or by these artists. But then looking at my earlier choices of music, I was always kind of choosing rather than the festivities of it all, and responding to somebody who on some level seemed to be searching for some kind of truth, self-searching in a way. Even Bowie, just constantly, all the theatrics and the changes he did and even the 'Let's Dance' era I thought was great because it was him going, "I'm going to try this now. I'm going to see where I can take this." And I thought it was great. I prefer the older stuff, I even prefer the newer stuff, but that he made the choice to look for something and seek something out, as an artist, I respect that. So I guess that's always been my choice. When I'm doing something I'm looking for truth in some way. And hopefully people who pay attention to what I'm doing get that, there's an idea in mind. There's a method to the madness and I'm looking for something.
Have those truths changed for you from project to project?
Yeah, especially with the Puscifer project, because I just started listening to old James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Jackson 5 stuff, and I just remembered, "Oh, yeah, back when I was younger, there were these songs that I didn't care who was doing them. I just liked the feeling that I was getting hearing them." And there was nothing that demanded that I get involved. There was just a feeling and a rhythm that I liked. I didn't know what they were talking about. I didn't have to do acid and put on headphones to enjoy it. It could just be there while I was making cookies and I could enjoy it. So that was kind of what the goal was with this project, on top of, like I said, trying to navigate what this whole new world for just an individual artist trying to make music in a very network fashion. I have friends helping me make this music with every little piece they can bring to the table. And the goal is then next year help those guys do their music. I'll perform on their projects and it'll be their thing, their vision. They'll be telling me what to do and what they have in mind for their thing.
In the rock world there's this, I don't want to say stigma of working with other people, but...
You only do it with these guys and that's your personality and don't break out of that 'cause you're not allowed to be an individual.
But the idea of doing it does go back to rock, with Clapton playing in Blind Faith after Cream, Neil Young moving from Buffalo Springfield to CSN&Y, and jazz with Miles and Coltrane playing together, for example. There's a long tradition of it for good reason. Doesn't it strengthen your enthusiasm for Tool and make you a better musician getting to play with all these different people?
I think the benefit of working with one particular group of people is you really learn more about each other. But I think on some level, although they're humans and they're navigating the world in their own way, generally speaking, those artists or musicians aren't necessarily formally trained or have any kind of college degree or really had to jump through any difficult hoops and make it through any kind of trial by fire or walk across hot coals or go through boot camp or any of those kind of things. So, in a way, when the hot parts come they tend to kind of fall apart, and if they don't fall apart they somehow manage to navigate that part of it, the creative part, I would think, would become kind of stagnant. I love AC/DC, but it's the same record. They do it very well. They're like an exception. And it still hasn't really branched out. That illustrates my point there's no growth; it's the one-trick pony. I like riding that pony, but it's still a one-trick pony. So the guys not branching out and doing something with other people, they don't necessarily grow as individuals. And you're not told this when you're out there doing your thing and people are stroking your back and not telling you the truth. You think that the whole world is revolving around you and this is the only world there is.
Do you feel like because you were a little older when you became successful it has helped you deal with that success?
Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the worst things that can happen to an individual, not necessarily for somebody listening to the art or watching the spectacle, is to have your ego so stroked between the ages of 18 to 23. If you become famous as a rock band during that time just plan on being f---ed by the time you're 30 because that's a difficult time to be able to process that much attention and that much focus. If you can make it out of that and not be an a--hole, wow. Cause most of the guys I've seen that got popular during that period of time it just really consumes them; all the worst characteristics come out. It's just bad for your body and your psyche and your emotions. You have to be a really special person, have some kind of special armor, ethereal, emotional, spiritual armor to make it through that period of time at that age. It's a tough thing to navigate, and most people don't navigate it that well.
How did you get interested in the wine business?
Wine is just in my blood. I'm just a creative, restless person, and I like to challenge myself, and winemaking definitely takes patience, so this is teaching me patience. And the payoff when you open up the wine is immense. I have a history of winemaking; apparently my great-grandfather made wine in Northern Italy. So because I'm a person who believes in that intuition, that thing that brought me here, I want to believe, on some level, that history in my family was somehow speaking in my ear and brought me here to start this industry here, to pioneer this with Eric in this area.
How do you find people perceive you in this industry?
They immediately just shrug and go, "OK." They think I'm Vince Neil coming in with a bottle of vinegar. Initially people go, "Oh, you're in a band. It'll sell just because you're in a band." Yeah, but it doesn't mean that people are going to take it seriously. So I have to try three times harder, work three times harder, and have three times as good a product for them to take it seriously.
But I would imagine that's fun for you.
Absolutely. It's a challenge I'm clearly accepting.