Maynard James Keenan Talks His Autobiography, His Process, and His Early Religious Experiences

Maynard James Keenan is a lot of different things to many people.

He fronts three of the most interesting rock bands of the past 20-plus years: Puscifer, A Perfect Circle, and Tool. But recently, it's been all Puscifer and wine for the elusive frontman of all three groups.

Tool fans will have to keep showing up to meet-and-greets to pester guitarist Adam Jones about the progress of the band's forthcoming album, since Keenan is keeping his lips sealed. His more tongue-in-cheek outlet, Puscifer, has been very active in the past year, and all is well in his world of wine in Jerome, Arizona.

"They can go just fuck themselves all the way to Walmart."

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If that wasn't enough, Keenan's new biography-autobiography hybrid, A Perfect Union of Contrary Things, debuted at number 10 on the New York Times best-seller list. The book, written by Sarah Jensen with periodic asides from Keenan himself, shares the tales of the elusive musician's rocky childhood, military life, music career, wine, and self-discovery.

The book touches on the more human elements of Keenan's past, so if you're looking for dirt on the singer, you'll still have to visit Merkin Vineyards with a shovel. He discusses the relationship he had with his mother and the aneurysm she suffered, which prompted the singer to move across the country to live with his father at age 13. While rock 'n' roll excess never played a major role in his life, he openly speaks about his experiences with groupies. He talks about his experience being in the army, and various odd jobs he held before becoming a rock star.

Keenan will visit the Mesa Arts Center on Friday, November 25, for an in-person reading and rare Q&A with fans. We spoke to him via phone about the book and the creative structure behind all his projects.
New Times: There is a common theme or code you seem to follow throughout the book in each of your endeavors. Discipline, patience, understanding the process, and the end result all play an important role in much of what you've accomplished.
Maynard James Keenan: You have 20/20 hindsight with your decisions, and I suppose those can lay out a map of where you've been, where you are, and where you might potentially be going. Of course, with a lot of those decisions you're free-balling.

Do you still follow some of that same road map today when you are venturing into areas of new discovery now?
It's of benefit, but it can also be a trap if you completely rely on your past experiences and make decisions based on those. Surely, you have some results you can look at, but things change and circumstances change, so I think it's more important to be conscious and present in the moment and look at the situation before you leap to any conclusions. There's your balance. You rely on experiences, and you bring those with you when you're gonna make another decision. But [you] also have to rely on your gut in that moment.

It seems like everyone's in a band now and can record music in their basement. Everyone's a photographer with a smartphone, and everyone is a politician on social media. Your mindset can't remain the same.
Especially with social media, there are people out there that will plant seeds, their intent to distract and to pollute. They're the butterfly effect of a thing that's not a fact that will just kind of perpetuate and grow in a way that when someone makes an actual decision on an important matter, that butterfly effect adjusted that decision long ago. That's if you're gonna be tunnel-visioned and focus on stuff like social media. There are a lot of things going on in the world that will continue to go on with or without the internet.

All of the projects you've been a part of over the years seem to serve as therapy of some sort. Does this book fit that mold?
Yeah, I think anything you do is a form of self-discovery, some form of therapy, if you want to call it that. It's also a map for my children. [If] something happens to me today, they'll have something to look at that will give them an idea of who I was. I have a 2-year-old daughter. She only knows so much; I'm sure she'd like to know more when she is older. So this is a small chronicle. This is a slice of the story.

Your early love of the band Kiss is well documented in the book, as is how that terrified your family. They were so freaked out they had your pastor speak with you to get a better understanding of why you liked the band. Were you concerned that if he didn't approve, that would be the end of Kiss in your household?
No, Kiss is just a metaphor for a bunch of other bands that were around at the time; that was just one. I learned quickly that those kinds of conversations mean nothing. The will of a teenager, generally speaking, is like a force of nature. I learned that early on. There are things I feel like I have to do, and things I have to comply with, but some of my more fundamentalist upbringing in Ohio taught me that hypocrisy runs deep and you just have to make your own decisions based on your own version of a moral code.

Your father really wanted you to participate in sports, and once you realized football wasn't for you, you became involved with the cross-country team. Your coach instilled in you the motto "Never give up, and you'll be victorious," and that translated into you winning the cross-country finals. You mention that this was the first time you saw hard work paying off.
It really is a chipping-away process, and I think a lot of people get caught up in the day weather rather than thinking of the long game. They kind of want immediate satisfaction; it's just the nature of this generation. Amazon ships for free and it gets there yesterday. It's like what you said — people with phones saying they are a photographer now: No, no you're not. There are so many things and you can't skip a step to be a master at something. There's a process. And everyone's process is different, but there's still this thing called time and experience. You cannot master something without having done it for a long time.

Would you still say that you're still "kind of quiet, shy, and kind of grumpy" as you were described in the book?
Yes. When you have a mission and you have an idea of how to get something done, distractions kind of just interrupt that process. You tend to maintain focus, which can be confused with being grumpy.

The most disturbing part of the book was when you talk about when your mother suffered an aneurysm when you were a kid and the church told you "she wasn't right with God" and "that's why she got sick."
Yeah, it's all fear. It's whatever they were taught and just perpetuating it. I'm pretty sure they aren't doing interviews about their biography (laughs). They can go just fuck themselves all the way to Walmart. 
This book has a much more human feel to it than many of the other rock biographies other musicians have put out. Was that something you thought about before you started the process?
Yeah, choosing Sarah to be the narrator, to be the writer, was a conscious decision because I knew where we intersect was through movies like Wings of Desire and books written by John Crowley like Little, Big, and Ægypt. Because she like those kinds of stories, I knew it was gonna be more of a narrative where you're kind of following along with the subject rather than the subject just speaking at you. Those stories are out there. You can go read the Motley Crue book if you really want a knockdown, drag-out rock book. That's just really not the way I am.

When you look back on everything you've accomplished over the years in music, your wine, acting, and now the book, what are you most proud of?
I don't know if "pride" would be the word. I feel successful in many ways, having taken risks. If anything I could share with somebody is the idea that taking a risk is important, taking big risks is even more important, as is understanding that it's all gonna be okay. You can make mistakes because you learn from them. That's basically how my father was as my wrestling coach, as my teacher in high school. On the mat, he would say, "You either win or you learn. If you lose, that's you. You chose to be a loser." ... You either win or you learn. Any kind of failures you experience aren't failures. They are a chance to learn about what you did wrong and how you can do it better. All those things, they're just opportunities. If it kills you, then it kills you, and you're dead.

When you first started Caduceus Cellars and started to get your wine business off the ground, did it feel like you were shopping music to A&R reps when trying to find buyers?
It's way worse. At least music is subjective and you can find an audience for it. With wine, there's an army of people who think they know. And you're up against people who are convinced they know, and if they realize they don't know, their world falls apart. ... It's a struggle, and I thought for sure the nature of making wine and growing things would make this industry different.

You talk a little bit in the book about your sexual experiences with groupies and how at the time it seemed like the perfect thing to do but in the end proved unfulfilling. Do you ever feel like you were becoming the rock 'n' roll cliche that you hated?
Well, yeah. But you don't care because you're having fun. And then when you finally wake up you realize that this is not for me, this is not where I'm supposed to be, and this is not gonna help anyone.

The keyboard warriors on the internet got pissed off when you started A Perfect Circle and felt like you abandoned Tool. Did that bother you in the beginning, or did the fact that Mer De Noms was so well-received help you block them out?
I think at the end of the day as an artist, you just have to follow your heart. You have to figure out as a creative force that you create, that you do things. So for me just creating in general, no names attached to anything, I'm gonna create. I'm gonna do things. If the people I'm collaborating with have other things to do or we're not lined up, I'm going to create something. I'm gonna go forward, no disrespect to anyone. I'm just going to move forward. I can't really worry about what the world is gonna think about that.
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Jim Louvau
Contact: Jim Louvau