The last time A Perfect Circle released a new album was all the way back in November 2004. It was a completely different era. George W. Bush was President. Donald Trump had just aired his first season of The Apprentice. Most of the cast of Stranger Things were literal infants. And the Boston Red Sox had just won their first World Series in 86 years. Fast-forward to 2018, and the reasons that Tool singer Maynard James Keenan decided to collaborate once again with guitarist Billy Howerdel for a new project under that banner remains pretty much the same as they were back then. He had an opening in his eye-popping, packed schedule, nothing was moving forward in Tool, so why the hell not?
After such a long break between albums, you’d be justified in wondering if the pair, along with Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, bassist Matt McJunkins, and drummer Jeff Friedl, had anything new and compelling to say, and if they could find an interesting way to say it on their new record Eat The Elephant. I’m glad to report that they do, and they did.
Eat The Elephant is a thought-provoking meditation on this last year in the circus sideshow, Trump-led America we’ve all been white-knuckling through, and perhaps more interestingly, on the culture that fostered his rise. There’s not a lot of optimism to be found, but you already got that sense just by reading through a track list of songs titled things like “Disillusioned,” “The Doomed,” and “The Contrarian” for instance. “TalkTalk” is particularly scathing, upbraiding the Christian right and it’s knee-jerk response to any mass shooting in America with a set of “thoughts and prayers,” and little beyond that.
On a sonic level, Eat The Elephant definitely sounds like an A Perfect Circle record; dark, savage, and melodic. It leans a little more piano-heavy than some of the band’s prior projects — the final track “Get The Lead Out” is a particularly-inspired, doom-laden ballad — but that only gives Maynard more room to step out front and stretch his legendary voice with a supreme authority. Whatever the band, whatever the project, however long it takes to get there, as a singer, Maynard James Keenan remains one of the best and most versatile lead singers on the planet.
I recently had the chance to speak with Maynard about the creation of Eat The Elephant, where he derives some of his best creative ideas, and why concerts are best experienced through your own eyes instead of a cell phone screen.
I’m not used to talking to musicians this early in the morning. Are you much of an early riser?
I’m usually up around 6:30, or 7 AM.
Kudos. You probably more get done today than I do.
I don’t know what you get done…so, sure!
Let’s just get into it and talk about this new Perfect Circle album Eat The Elephant. 14 years is a pretty long gap between records. How did you come to start working with Billy Howerdel again?