Maynard James Keenan Talks Ducks, Wine, and Puscifer's Upcoming Streamed Concert

Puscifer is giving the world another weird, wonderful online concert event next week. (Yes, that's Maynard James Keenan on the right.)
Puscifer is giving the world another weird, wonderful online concert event next week. (Yes, that's Maynard James Keenan on the right.) Travis Shinn

The pandemic forced musicians to rethink how they perform for and interact with fans. Some took to Facebook Live, drive-in shows, or Twitch.

Puscifer, one of Maynard James Keenan's musical projects, tried out prerecorded streamed concerts, which turned out to be just the right format for a band whose shows are equal parts performance art and rock music.

Puscifer is known for incorporating videos into its live shows, which can be "a little challenging," Keenan explains. "You have to really pare the dialogue down, because in a room that’s echoey, people might not quite catch the story — you have to put subtitles up and all that — so in [the streamed format], it’s actually great because you can put all those things in and perfectly sequence them.

"I think it’s a perfect forum for Puscifer," Keenan says. "We’re built for this."

The band's first global streaming event was back in late October. "Existential Reckoning: Live From Arcosanti" featured Puscifer performing its brand-new fourth studio album at the northern Arizona experimental community. The band, clad in black suits and sunglasses, presented an otherworldly show full of chill music and trippy visuals. It was a critical and commercial success, and before it even debuted, it got Keenan thinking about doing more shows like it.

"While we were putting Existential Reckoning together, of course I immediately jumped ahead, as I do, and warned [Puscifer band member] Mat Mitchell, 'Put this in your head, because if we can pull this off, we’re probably going to want to do this for every album, so get ready.'"

Now, Puscifer is getting ready for its second streaming event, which will take place at 2 p.m. Arizona time on Saturday, April 17 (which also happens to be Keenan's 57th birthday).

“Billy D and The Hall of Feathered Serpents Featuring Money $hot by Puscifer," in which the band performs its 2015 album Money $hot in its entirety, promises to be another weird, wildly entertaining trip through Keenan's imagination.

click to enlarge Keenan (as Billy D) wanders through the desert in the concert trailer. - PUSCIFER
Keenan (as Billy D) wanders through the desert in the concert trailer.
“In this prequel to his alleged abduction during Existential Reckoning, we find Billy D trudging through what has been referred to as the Bermuda Triangle of the Southwest,” he says in the press release for the event. “As is common within the Puscifer Vortex, Time and Logic have no home out here. Let that go. Just strap in for another magnificent ride through our collective Grey Matter.”

For the uninitiated, Billy D is a character Keenan portrayed on the HBO sketch comedy program Mr. Show with Bob and David back in the 1990s. The video for the title track of Money $hot, and a video component of shows on the album's promotional tour, depict Billy D being kidnapped by Mexican wrestlers called luchadors. A mysterious briefcase is also involved.

It seems like the upcoming streamed concert will represent the next chapter in the Billy D/luchador saga: The trailer shows Keenan as Billy D wandering in the desert with the briefcase; eventually, he ends up in an old theater confronted by the wrestlers.

If you're not a longtime Puscifer fan and this all sounds confusing, Keenan says not to worry.

"We’re not going to leave you hanging," he says, "but there’s definitely some threads you'll have to pull on your own."

The band didn't pick Arizona for a setting this time, instead recording at Los Angeles’ Mayan Theater, a 1920s revivalist venue featuring artwork by Mexican painter and sculptor Francisco Cornejo.

"That place is equal parts creepy and beautiful," Keenan says. "You start moving furniture and you find eight-balls stuck in the carpet. But as far as the architecture, it’s glorious. You know, a lot of those theaters didn’t make it. As soon as that style went out, they just demolished everything in sight and started over. But this place, against all odds, survived all that."

And as soon as “Billy D and The Hall of Feathered Serpents Featuring Money $hot by Puscifer" is in the rearview mirror, the next project can get going.

"Conditions of My Parole is probably next on the menu for Puscifer, so we’re getting lined up for that. Of course, we can’t even think about it at the moment. We’re completely buried under editing and mixing this current one," he says.

Keenan also has the Caduceus Cellars winery and Merkin Vineyards up in Jerome to keep him busy. They're both doing well, he says.

"This year, so far, it’s interesting: It’s been very cool and we’ve had a lot of snow. ... I imagine we’re going to be two to three weeks behind up north, which is an okay thing. We didn’t get hammered with a lot of late fall/early winter cold, so that didn’t damage any vines. Knock wood: We haven’t seen any hail yet. That’s always devastating.

"Every year, it’s another piece, another technique, another understanding, another mistake that you correct and build on."

And in the midst of finishing up another concert stream and running a wine operation, he found the time last week to drop a very personal video on YouTube.

"An Easter Story by MJ Keenan" is a seven-minute video that debuted on April 1. It's mostly footage of Keenan's northern Arizona property, particularly the flock of ducks that live there, with a voiceover by Keenan and ambient music in the background.

About the video, Keenan says, "I’ve had that story bubbling around in my head for a while and wasn’t quite sure how to present it. I was feeding the ducks and realizing, 'Oh yeah, I’ve got great footage,' so I just decided to go ahead and film some more stuff. I did it all on my iPhone."

It's a soothing, wise meditation on the cyclical nature of the seasons and interconnectedness of living creatures. "As romantic a notion as it is, we are not islands and we cannot always do this thing called life on our own," Keenan says in voiceover.

A gentle nature video might seem out of character for the Tool frontman, but he has his reasons, he says.

"I felt like, with all the crazy stuff going on in the world, we just needed something positive."

“Billy D and The Hall of Feathered Serpents Featuring Money $hot by Puscifer" will air at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 17 at Cost is $20 until April 11 and $25 after. Ticket-and-merch packages are also available.
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Jennifer Goldberg is the culture editor and Best of Phoenix editor for Phoenix New Times.