A Buzz Magazine Project to look back on 27 years of publishing)
Described by some music media gurus as an ‘art rock band’ there is no denying that A Perfect Circle is a band with nu-metal leanings and Gothic aspirations.
A Perfect Circle is the side project of Tool singer Maynard James Keenan (born James Herbert Keenan 17 April 1964 in Ohio.)
Their songs can be considered offbeat, sad and sometimes even depressing, but along with Keenan’s principal interest (Tool), A Perfect Circle has met with a fair degree of critical and monetary success. Shortly Australian fans will be able to judge for themselves, as A Perfect Circle begins a short but fiery Aussie tour in February.
Sometimes Tool guitar tech Billy Howerdel is responsible for the songwriting, while Keenan adds his uniquely eccentric lyrics and Paz Len chantin (born 1973 in Argentina) adds her bass/violin to lift the band’s music to higher planes.
A Perfect circle was first formed in 1997 after Keenan, stuck fast in legal fights between Tool and associated groups, took some time off to recover.
Keenan found some comfort in plunging into the creation of new songs based on ideas suggested by his pal Howerdel. An albums worth of work was slowly polished up over two years with the help of Lenchantin, Troy Van Leeuwin and Josh Freese.
Of course it is impossible to keep such a side project at all secret, especially where Tool fans are concerned and there was much anticipation and salivating for the forthcoming release.
A Perfect Circle’s debut show occured at Hollywood’s Viper Room in August 1999 and their first release, ‘Mer De Noms’ came out the following autumn here in Oz.
Howerdel who had previously co-written for Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails, was hailed as a music hero. ‘Howerdel has crafted an epic, surreal set of songs,’ waxed an American publication.
The album became a surprise hit and suddenly the team was high profile enough to draft the likes of Smashing Pumpkin James Iha, and Marilyn Manson’s Twiggy Ramirez, into their ranks.
Thus was born their second album, ‘The Thirteenth Step.’ Keenan is uncooperative when it comes to trying to explain the title ‘The Thirteenth Step and as to calling the album a ‘Concept Record’ he barely admits to some ‘common dynamics.’
He likes fans to take the songs many ways and deliberately likes to put sidetracks and dead ends into music interpretations.
When asked about where he draws his imagery for the songs, Keenan is not too keen on The Bible, but points more to personal spirituality. ‘It’s a quest,’ he has been known to say, ‘a quest for truth and understanding of human nature and why we’re here – good and evil struggles.’
Known for his liking for playing in darkness, Keenan explains it almost as a physical complaint. ‘I’m the guy who can walk out into sunlight and sneeze.’
He admits that flashing lights and bright lights can distract him and on stage he likes to see the audience. Something bright lights in the face prevents. ‘You don’t have to see my face to understand my music,’ he is likely to growl when this question is asked.
‘General movement is the most important element to the performance, not what my nose looks like.’
Outside of music (if there is any outside for this man) Keenan enjoys reading, living life and cooking. He tends to enjoy Thai food and baking of all things, that American institution ‘Christmas Cookies.’
Their first single off ‘Thirteenth Step’, Weak and Powerless, once again showed off the volatility of the band. ‘When they’re on stage, the member of A Perfect Circle perform in fluid synergy, but behind the scenes all they seem to agree on is when to disagree,’ wrote one American street press.
Ask about cover art for the single and you get slugged!
Howerdel was against the cover art of musing a slug crawling across a woman’s face, which is why he gave singer Maynard K. James credit for the artwork.
Deciding which single to go with hasn’t been the group’s only issue. Determining the direction of some of the material has also raised hackles.
Howerdel wrote many of the songs years ago and was very happy with them, but then Keenan stepped in and wanted changes to the arrangements to match his vocal and lyrical presentation. Some industry insiders suggest that if it wasn’t for White playing peacemaker, the members of A Perfect Circle might have been left searching for a new supergroup.
Much of the disagreement occurred because Howerdel wanted to keep things heavy and Keenan wanted to break away from the type of crashing rhythms he explores with Tool, his other band.
‘I tried to mediate some of the differences and play the middle man, since I was not as close to the songs as they were,’ White has explained.
‘Billy felt married to the way the songs were, so he took offense at being asked to change them. But that’s the whole point of the writing relationship between us. If everyone agreed on everything it would probably come out pretty boring.’
A Perfect Circle Play Festival Hall, Monday February 23rd.