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Maynard James Keenan Discusses Donkey Punch the Night

Right now, there's a Tool fan angrily venting about the lack of a new Tool album in some dark corner of the Internet. Right now, Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan is most likely working on something other than a new Tool album.

As detailed in this week's Phoenix New Times cover story, Keenan is a very busy guy. In addition to his winemaking in Arizona's Verde Valley, where he oversees Caduceus Cellars, Merkin Vineyards, and Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, Keenan is prepping for a joint tour featuring two of his bands, Puscifer and A Perfect Circle. On Tuesday, February 19, Puscifer is scheduled to release a new EP, Donkey Punch the Night, with new songs, remixes, and covers of Accept's "Balls to the Wall" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." He's working on an autobiography, and oh yeah, he just recently wrapped up a four-month stint as a pop culture/wine/music columnist for Up on the Sun.

Keenan pressed pause one busy morning to discuss his recent projects with Up on the Sun, touching on the survivalist instinct that drives his work ethic, Donkey Punch the Night, and Puscifer's origins on the David Cross and Bob Odenkirk's program Mr. Show.

See also:

-Nobody's Tool: Maynard James Keenan Would Rather Talk About His Other Bands -Maynard James Keenan Is Nobody's Tool [Slideshow] -Maynard James Keenan's Column Archives at New Times -Maynard James Keenan (Puscifer, Tool, A Perfect Circle) on The Importance of Keeping It Local

Up on the Sun: You recently completed a column for Up on the Sun. How much do you write for yourself? Do you keep a journal, or were you not accustomed to writing out your thoughts in that fashion?

Maynard James Keenan: No, they're all inside.

Have you considered doing more long-form writing?

I am working on a semi-autobiography.

Are you looking to focus on everything you've done with that book -- art, movies, wine, music?

It's an autobiography, so it will focus on me. I think there are a lot of misconceptions with some people that, all of a sudden, I was born when my first band came out. I actually had a life before that, and there were a lot of accomplishments. [The book] will kind of chronicle why it is I got to where I am, and why I got to where you knew about me.

You started in multimedia art, which you've continued to do with Puscifer, but you were involved in the art scene for years before people knew you through music, correct?

Yeah, I went to art school in Michigan, and was also doing a lot of performance stuff when I moved to Los Angeles, [working] the comedy circuit, more sketch comedy, along with music. I was very involved in the arts [before that]; I moved to Boston and -- eh, [it's like] saying you were in the film industry if you worked at Blockbuster Video -- but, I worked at a frame shop in Boston that had a lot of museum pieces come through. [There were pieces being framed for] gallery showings. It was full-on installation pieces, so I got to see a lot of cool stuff.

Was there always a musical component to your sketch comedy?

Yeah. Puscifer and Tenacious D [performed] on Mr. Show.

Puscifer's forthcoming EP, Donkey Punch the Night is very interesting. You guys do an incredibly faithful rendition of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," and a very divergent take on Accept's "Balls to the Wall." You've done covers before [A Perfect Circle's eMOTIVe featured a re-imagined and rearranged selection of cover songs]. Was the impetus to do this record just a desire to work with these songs?

In a way, yeah. But also, the general approach to [Puscifer] has always been to do a couple songs at a time and put them out. Traditionally, back in the mid-1900s, a vinyl single would go to a radio station. You'd buy somebody's sheet music and record a song in a studio and take it to radio stations and sell the single. [You would] sell that song. Then you'd have a B-side on it, and beyond that, if you had a couple more songs and you were feeling kind of froggy, you would do an extended play, an EP, which would not only be the single and B-side, but maybe a couple other tracks on there.

That's were [the term] LP came from. That's the long play. "Woah, you have all these songs on one piece of vinyl? That's a long play." You have four or five songs per side with an LP. But the single format was the format of the day, and I kind of like the idea of getting back to that a little bit, where you just focus on two thoughts, or one thought, and release that thought.

It feels like the industry is shifting back to that. Conditions of My Parole was obviously a long play but...

That was us on a roll. We were going to do a couple songs, and all of the sudden it became something completely different.

 

See more photos in this exclusive Phoenix New Times slideshow.
See more photos in this exclusive Phoenix New Times slideshow.
Jamie Peachey

Do you feel like in some way, the "iTunes single format" is getting back to that?

I don't know, I feel like I'm kind of torn. There's two sides of my brain fighting with each other. There's something about connecting with that physical piece of property, and also things you don't know about. When you download the song, there's nothing. Sometimes it comes with a booklet, sometimes it comes with an image, but usually it doesn't.

It's just this disconnected thing that you can't touch and feel and experience. [There are] other nuances to the songs. Some images and artwork that are totally connected and related to the song you're hearing, and you make the connection by seeing that image, and it completes the joke or completes the thought; that's a little disconnected.

However, as an independent project -- no funding, no record label, no underwriters, nothing -- the whole digital route is a lot more sustainable. You're not wasting a lot of paper or plastic products, except for the manufacturing of computers, which apparently go out of date every week. Thank you very much, Apple. But you're able to get that music out there and have a direct connection to who you're selling it to -- and actually fund your project. There's a disconnect between people not buying music and not understanding why [bands] go away.

There are people who are like monkeys in a cage just hitting the coke button. They don't really get that for [musicians and artists] to do these things, they have to fund them. They have to have something to pay the rent. You know those "fund my project sites?"

Kickstarter, Indie Go Go, yeah. There are a number of sites.

Those things have to exist in order for people to get to the next level of something. People always ask us to bring Puscifer to Europe, but that's not free. I'm not really willing to lose my house over a failed European tour, you know? [Laughs] That doesn't really make any sense. So there has to be a happy medium [for bands to make money, tour, and record] without having some artless, soulless, heartless funding person getting in the middle and fucking up the art.

Does that mean more than just creating music?

The new world of bands surviving is not just putting out a T-shirt or CD. You have to turn to weird stuff. We just released a limited-edition giclée of an image [designer and photographer] Tim Cadiente and I put together, and we're being criticized because it's 250 bucks. But if you go online, Mickey Mouse giclées are 800 bucks. Am I Mickey Mouse?

 

See more photos in this exclusive Phoenix New Times slideshow.
See more photos in this exclusive Phoenix New Times slideshow.
Jamie Peachey

It seems like every one is looking for this "thing," asking "What can we do to propel the music industry forward?" It seems like you have a lot of it figured out.

We have our own thing figured out. I think that's how the pieces are going to settle into place. It's going to default back to people who want to do this and are willing to do this. Once people find their own way and find their own audience, they might kind of peek their head up over the crowd long enough to see that there's an entire movement happening, and we did it individually.

It's critical mass; it all disseminates in a way that you go, "Oh, this is the new thing now." People just did it naturally, and people just did it in their own ways, in their lines and their mediums and surroundings. They'll all step back and realize they've all come to the same place.

It's going to have to default back to people who are willing to do more work for less money, basically. You have to kind of do it out of love, and doing it by living within your means and getting to an end of what you want to do, other than worrying about 401(k)s and insurance and all that crap that comes with being paid by someone else [so] you [can] coast.

It seems like it's moving toward the realms of small business .

Absolutely.

You were involved with the industry during a time of a lot of excess. That's gone now, isn't it?

The illusion is gone. There's no longer blank checkbooks. I remember playing a show ages ago, where Helmet got offered a [record deal worth a] million dollars. Oh, my God! A million dollars. Of course, all that did was make every other band with ego throw its dicks on the table and say, "Well, I want a million five." "Well, I want two million; I'm more popular."

There was never any rhyme or reason to what those numbers ended up translating to at the end of the day. If you go back and track what somebody actually paid for something, it's not nearly as dialed-in as, say, a video-game corporation saying, 'No, we're going to sell exactly this many units of this game.' It was never that calculated. The people running [the business] weren't qualified to run it.

Even now, you go on any tour, and pull out any person on any one of those tours, and before you get through five of those employees, you'll find one that has no formal experience in the job they're doing. None.

 

See more photos in this exclusive Phoenix New Times slideshow.
See more photos in this exclusive Phoenix New Times slideshow.
Jamie Peachey

People think of wine and music as just sort of these magic things that happen. But you seem to have found a great deal of joy in doing the work that leads to those things.

Yeah. I think it's that survivalist, end of the world mentality, of pulling together what your skill set it so you don't end up becoming food.

Donkey Punch the Night features a set of remixes. Are you dialed into the EDM world?

I don't have my finger on that pulse whatsoever. I'm in the bunker or composing, or something. I couldn't even speak to that, [but] the electronic component is very compelling to me. [I hand off programming to other bandmates] -- I don't work on the computer at all. So I can hear it in a fluid and emotional form, and then kind of guide them, like, "Hey, guys, you're off track." In a way, I'm kind of a producer, an executive producer.

EDM is sort of another indicator of how the music business is shifting -- it's the big thing this year. But "electronic music" is nothing new.

It's like Members Only jackets. They never will truly go away.

You joked in your column about being wrong about the end of the world in 2012. You know, it's funny. We all made so many jokes about that, but there definitely is a feeling of something being in the air at the end of last year.

I think that part of the way you have to look at a lot of these things is that we're living in the middle of it. [Imagine if] you were to transport your body and mind back even 200 years, and [be able to] place yourself in the middle of everything going on then. Whatever is happening now is absolutely different than what was happening then.

On some metaphoric level, the Internet in general, is a representation of the collective unconscious. That is your physical manifestation of the collective unconscious. All it takes is a form of meditation to locate the information you're looking for, just a little bit of focus mentally in your collective unconscious to retrieve the information from a person across time and space. That's your Google -- that's what you're doing. It's a physical representation of the collective unconscious. In a way, things have changed. This is the end of the way people used to look at it. If you look at it that way, the world that you knew did end. We're just living in the middle of it, so it doesn't seem any different to us, because we're living in it.

You're prepping for shows right now, correct? Both APC and Puscifer are going on the road.

Finally we're getting out of the country, we're going down to Australia and South America as well, for Lollapalooza Chile and Brazil, and the Soundwave Festival in Australia as well as some individual shows.[Both bands are] rehearsing at the same time. I'm doing double duty. When I hang up with you, I've got to do Puscifer rehearsal this morning, then take a break, and do APC rehearsal in the afternoon.

That's the beauty of this project. We can still maintain our irresponsible side -- our rock-star side -- but when it comes time to be responsible, we can react; we can respond. We can do what needs to be done. We can start rehearsal at 10 a.m. What band that you know of can actually get going at 10, 10:30 in the morning and get done by 1?

That's not even the secret to our success: That's our success. We can go, "What day do we want this record to come out? Okay. So how many weeks before that does someone need to have it in their hand? We have to finish doing this by this day, and this other thing has to be finished by this day, so we can do that next step." We can be logistical and responsible enough to go, "Here's the task at hand. This is what has to be done. Are we up for it?"


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