Tool of the Trade

A Perfect Circle tries to prove that its popularity is because of much more than just Maynard Keenan's pretty face

"At first it really wasn't a serious or time-consuming thing," adds Howerdel. "It was, "Oh, let's play together next month or something.' It was really sporadic. I was still writing music the whole time, but as far as playing together, it only got pretty focused about a year ago and it got very focused in August; we just decided, "Let's just go for it and get it rolling.' The band's gone through different stages of evolution very quickly. Everything has been nonstop since then."

This regular activity included a tour last fall with a slightly different lineup, and, with or without Keenan, the band is set to become an ongoing affair. "At the end of the year, I would think, [Keenan] will be busy with Tool and I will get on to writing the next Perfect Circle record," Howerdel says. "We'll both be busy. It's kind of good that we work the way we do, with me writing the music first."

And while Howerdel bears the bulk of the creative burden, it's clear that most of the high-profile media and radio attention is a result of Keenan's association with the band. With few having been exposed to the just-released record, it's clear that the singer's presence is still overshadowing the music. For his part, Keenan appears to be trying to obscure his participation -- wearing a long wig in press shots and completely hiding his face in the band's "Judith" video, directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven).

Aenima's of the state: Keenan (far left), in wig, and Howerdel (center) lead A Perfect Circle.
David Palmer
Aenima's of the state: Keenan (far left), in wig, and Howerdel (center) lead A Perfect Circle.

"The front person is the person people notice first. I know it's coming, I've always known that," says Howerdel calmly. "I'm proud of what I've done. I'm not going to worry about it."

Keenan, looking like he could pass for Howerdel's older brother, agrees. "People are going to compare it to Tool -- whatever, it's their thing. We're happy with it. I like what we did. I'm inspired by it. We're trying to make it so that people really understand that Billy is the main songwriter in this band. He writes all the music, he did all the producing, all the engineering -- it's his band. So as time goes on, I'll be involved and I'll be there, but it will become very obvious that this is his thing and I'm just the singer."

Regardless of whose "thing" it is, Mer de Noms remains a pretty stunning record. And Howerdel has seen enough to know that not only does he have something good on his hands, but to be grateful for the chance to bring his work to the masses. "Working in the business the whole time [has helped]. If I'd had a waiter job and had been doing this in my bedroom and then this happened, I'd probably be so awe-struck, star-struck -- I'd probably be freaked out," he says, laughing. "I don't mean to downplay it, but it's another business dealing. I'm kind of realistic that anything can happen at any time. I really feel blessed as to how this has gone about so far. But I'm trying to be realistic about it. It's just another band and we're trying to do what every other band does, which is to try and get your music heard by as many people as you can. It's the same industry; it's just a different job."

A Perfect Circle is scheduled to open for Nine Inch Nails on Sunday, June 4, at America West Arena. Showtime is 8 p.m.

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