Maynard James Keenan has always been more an artist than rock star, and his newest project, Puscifer, is a continuation — possibly an evolution — from his other bands Tool and A Perfect Circle.
"It's a variety show," says Keenan from a tour stop in Salt Lake City. "It's like Monty Python, Saturday Night Live and Hee-Haw, but with more music."
The band's origin dates back to the mid-'90s, when it was a budding vehicle for Keenan's visual, musical, and comedic creativity. It features a fluid membership of friends, collaborators, and musicians (including Jonny Polonsky and Carina Round, fine singer/songwriters in their own right).
Puscifer is scheduled to perform Thursday, December 3, and Friday, December 4.
Puscifer played out around Los Angeles and got national exposure appearing in a Mr. Show skit but never fully materialized due to the financial constraints of realizing Keenan's expansive theatrical vision. Like the stage show, the music defies easy description. It's unlike his aforementioned metal-oriented projects, with shadowy minimalist backdrops whose moody atmospheres are captained by Keenan's deep, downbeat drawl, and suggest a post-apocalyptic spaghetti Western soundtrack.
Two years ago, Puscifer "reluctantly" released its debut, "V" is for Vagina. The album was a concession to music's standard model, but after releasing a disc of remixes last year ("V" is for Viagra), Keenan decided to get old school for the band's latest, harking back to the days of singles. That's the idea behind the new EP, "C" is for (Please Insert Sophomoric Genitalia Reference HERE).
"It's a couple singles, a couple B-sides," he says. "That's how we're going to start presenting it. It just makes more sense. That way we can focus on a few songs, get some flavor out there, and every time you put one out, you have a different flavor to it."
Bringing together video and animation, sketches and music, Keenan hopes to break the rock-show mold with Puscifer. That was the idea playing the Orpheum, even though theaters are chancy for a new act on its first tour. He hopes to upset expectations.
"You present them with this new performance and show, and it's not the space they were in last week spilling beer on a stranger and puking," he says. "You get them out of that headspace of what this is."
Keenan — who's lived in Arizona for 15 years and runs area wineries Arizona Stronghold Vineyards and Caduceus Cellars with partner Eric Glomski — feels his involvement in Puscifer is hindered by the baggage that fans of his other bands may bring.
"If it was all the same but did not involve me, it'd probably be better for the band. Because, then, it's just a thing. It'd probably take longer to get it going, but I think it would be received with a lot of energy," Keenan says. "Look at how suddenly Gogol Bordello has taken off. Tenacious D took a few years, but once people got Tenacious D, it was a no-brainer. Now they have movies."
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Though A Perfect Circle is free from label obligations — and there are musical ideas kicking around that could culminate in a series of singles — he wants bandmate Billy Howerdel to take his solo project, Ashes Divide, on the road first.
"He needs to make the artistic choice, and not make the financial choice," Keenan says. "If I wanted to make money, I'd be out with Tool right now."
With Tool on the shelf for the foreseeable future, he's intent on making the investment necessary to create a grassroots sensation that grows and changes with each iteration, as Keenan chases his muse.
"If you don't like the EP, or you don't like the first record or you don't like the remixes, it doesn't matter," Keenan confidently states. "We're going to have so much stuff coming at you over the course of the next several years that you'll find something you like or not. We're not concerned about it."