Maynard James Keenan drives around Arizona's Verde Valley in an oversize green pickup. The truck's wheels kick up clouds of dust as he rumbles down the dirt road that leads to Four Eight Wineworks, the barreling room where wine from his nearby Merkin Vineyards ages in casks. From here it will be shipped to stores across the Southwest and to his Caduceus Cellars Tasting Room up the mountain in Jerome.
A bitterly cold wind blows as he emerges from the vehicle, thick, black glasses wrapped around his signature bald head. Wearing dark-blue jeans cuffed around dirt-caked boots, he sports a puffy down jacket zipped up to his chin. He checks in with members of his staff, bearded guys blasting RJD2 loudly from speakers that send the progressive instrumental hip-hop bouncing off tin walls.
Keenan wears one look as he maneuvers himself in front of New Times' cameras, and it's intimidating: severe, dead-set, his dark eyes magnified behind the glasses.
• Check out all the Maynard James Keenan columns for New Times. • Read our extended Q&A with Maynard James Keenan.
"I only have the one," he says of his expression, barely the hint of a smile tugging at the edge of his mouth. Keenan is protective of his image, and he often performs with his bands — Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer — from the shadows, in elaborate costumes. Or from behind video monitors that distort and obscure his face.
His mystique translates to interviews as well. He has a reputation for being distant and is known to respond to interviewers' questions curtly in one or two words. But he's not always tight-lipped. Once you get Keenan going, he'll happily expand upon and illustrate his ideas — he just has to be interested in doing it. He has little time for questions whose answers are apparent. No patience for "customer service."
When pressed, he'll explain his severity in simple terms:
Right now, Maynard James Keenan is very, very busy — and he would like to get back to work.
Keenan is famous primarily as a musician, the frontman of heavy alternative-metal band Tool, whose string of hits in the 1990s and 2000s added a knotty, progressive rock edge to the down-tuned nu-metal sounds that dominated rock radio. He's had nearly as much success with his theatrical art-rock combo A Perfect Circle and the electronic-tinged Puscifer. But Keenan spent the past decade devoting an even greater share of his time to wine, with occasional forays into acting.
He's played bit parts in Crank 2: High Voltage, appeared on the anti-comedy TV series Tim & Eric Awesome Show: Great Job, and played Satan in the Troma-style Charlie's Angels spoof Bikini Bandits. In 2010, he was the subject of a documentary by directors Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke, Blood into Wine, which charted Keenan's fascination with oenology and his desire to cultivate a world-class vineyard in Arizona. In 2012, he took another turn with Pomerenke and Page, playing the bizarre Bobby Angel in the pair's surreal country-western comedy, Queens of Country, starring alongside Lizzy Caplan, Ron Livingston, and Jo Lo Truglio.
Last fall, he added "columnist" to his list of job titles, penning a biweekly treatise for New Times' music blog, Up on the Sun. From September 2012 to the beginning of January, Keenan pontificated and rambled, offering tongue-in-cheek proclamations of imminent world destruction, pop culture reflections on obscure installments in the Planet of the Apes series, and his take on television shows like Walking Dead, Justified, and Sons of Anarchy. He wrote detailed glimpses into his day-to-day tasks as a vintner, with occasional outlines of his creative philosophies. He finished each one with a signature tagline, "Chicken Little out."
The process of writing his ideas for a newspaper was an entirely new one for Keenan.
"No, they were all inside," he says of his thoughts. He's never been one for blogging, but he enjoyed the process and has started working on an autobiography.
"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," Keenan says. "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."
Balancing the book with his wine-making is just one example of Keenan's burning the candle at both ends.
A Perfect Circle and Puscifer embark together on Australian and South American tours in February, with stops at Lollapalooza Chile and in Brazil, as well as at the Australian Soundwave Festival. Pulling double duty is intense for Keenan, who spent much of December and January locked in "the Bunker," his studio at Caduceus Cellars, prepping both bands for the road, the tours slotted around his schedule at Caduceus.