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Maynard James Keenan talks Puscifer, not so much Tool

April 2, 2009 | 12:35 pm


While his full-time band Tool gears up for a still-vague summer tour (wee trickles of details here), front man Maynard James Keenan has been keeping busy launching the first mini-tour for his left-field side project Puscifer (which rhymes with "Lucifer," if you're curious).

Not all that falsely described on its YouTube page as "booty bass from Jerome, Arizona," Puscifer's smirking lech-funk is a far cry from the churning guitars and catharsis of Tool, and a military-satirizing video released in advance of the band's Vegas shows in February hints at a performance that steps outside big rock show traditions.

Primus drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander, Milla Jovovich and Juliette Commagere are among Keenan's musical co-conspirators for the band's dates at Club Nokia this weekend, and "Mr. Show" alums Brian Posehn and Mary Lynn Rajskub will also appear via video. Tool drummer Danny Carey is also expected to join the fun Sunday night, though I wouldn't hold out for anything from the Tool songbook.

After the jump, I talk with Maynard about Puscifer and the band's unconventional show.

What inspired you to bring Puscifer on the road now?

It’s been kind of brewing for 12, 15 years. I figured it was time.

I saw the Vegas promo video that kind of teased what was coming. What can people expect at these shows? I saw the word cabaret got thrown around.

Yeah, we didn’t really have any clue what to call it, so we just kind of called it cabaret. Somebody had mentioned when they saw the Vegas shows -- each show is different, different sets of musicians and the songs are approached differently, different bits going on each night -- so somebody kind of said it was like an art project with a soundtrack. I don’t know. (Laughs) That’s as good as any explanation, I suppose....  It’d be like trying to describe “Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show” or “South Park.” You just can’t really describe it, you just have to see it, then it makes sense.

There seems to be a definite comedic and theatrical element; that’s always been in Tool as well to some extent.

Yeah, I think that people forget that. They tend to think of Tool as this dark project, but there’s comedic elements involved there. But I’m just kind of putting more of a light on that with this project.

Is there sort of a split to break down whether it's a comedy / performance art kind of thing or is it a rock show?

I think it’s all those things. We’re definitely pouring our heart and souls into the performance of the music, and I’m taking time during the days and the weeks and the months prior putting little film pieces together for in between songs, and some actual performance onstage -- like a variety show.

Going with the idea that every show is different, is there a theme to these shows?

Loosely, yeah. But generally speaking the music is just going to be different because we have a different set of musicians presenting it. We’ve kind of gone out of our way to adjust the tunes away from what the core is. The whole loose premise, if we have a manifesto, would be that there is no actual "song," there’s really 15 versions of a song. There’s no main one, no original. Although we did release a record, so most people are going to say, "OK, these are the original tracks." But actually there were versions before those were put out.... We’re not playing anything straight like the record, or straight like the remixes.

It’s going to be interesting, it’s definitely a work in progress. That’s the beauty of it: It’s volatile, it could fall apart at any second.... I’m so used to "here’s four guys" or "here’s the five guys," this is who we are and the only variable is we’re in a different city. With this it’s different people, different city.... The songs are different, which is not something we do with the other bands.

How’s the response been thus far?

It’s been great -- we had a great time in Vegas. People came away with a good experience and they realized, you know, kind of the lightbulb went off by the third night where people were like, “Oh, OK, we get it, it’s different.”

Were there any sort of expectations that you were fighting against?

No, I think most of the people that are showing up have a little bit of faith in me. When Tool started it took people about seven years to "get it." They didn’t have anything to compare it to. I start Perfect Circle and they’re bitching at me to get back to Tool, I start Puscifer and they’re bitching at me to get back to Perfect Circle. (Laughs)

You can’t quite win, but I would hope that people have enough faith in me that I have an idea as an individual and an artist and I’m just following my nose here. People tend to catch up about seven years later.

Is some of what you’re doing kind of a reaction to those expectations?

No, not at all. I’m just exploring. I’m an artist, I create. I can’t sit still.

How many dates are you playing with this?

Oh, just these two. Then we’re going to probably do some Texas dates in June.... Rather than a band touring, this is going to be more like musical installations in places. We started off in Vegas, which made sense because it’s kind of a Cirque du Soleil town.

I don’t know if you’ve seen “Love,” but you can’t do that anywhere but Vegas. The only way you could pull something off like that is to have it stay in one spot and build it from the ground up and have it be consistent. Puscifer’s certainly not that, but that’s kind of the idea, that there’s something occurring and it has to kind of occur over several nights.

So I have to ask, any more news about Tool's summer tour coming up?


-- Chris Barton

Photo: Cherie O'Brien