Aaron Burgess of The Onion's The A.V. Club recently conducted an interview with TOOL frontman Maynard James Keenan. A few excerpts from the chat follow:
The A.V. Club: The last press campaign you did focused as much on your political views as on the music. Given how outspoken you are, why don't you do more interviews?
Maynard James Keenan: Because I'm not an educated man. I only know what I'm told, and I'm not told that much; I have no frame of reference for how to place things in history [that would let me] be a responsible leader. All I can do is be an artist, and basically waffle on about my feelings — which helps people, you know, get through a root canal, but it doesn't really help them deal with political stuff. All I can do is say I smell a rat. I don't know where it is or what kind of rat it is, but as an artist, I can express how [I feel about it]. But I couldn't responsibly stand up and tell people which way to go, because then I'm just as guilty as the people who are telling everybody else what to do and where to go.
The A.V. Club: Given how many records TOOL sells, do you feel your message just gets diluted anyway?
Maynard James Keenan: Oh, it's going to get diluted. I tested the water with the political album A PERFECT CIRCLE did. [Until 2005, Keenan was pulling double-duty in A PERFECT CIRCLE; the political album was 2004's covers EP "eMOTIVe". — Ed.] I didn't even write those songs; I was just letting people hear what was said before me, the things that inspired me as a child, and things that were said during various turbulent times. And I was fucking crucified. If you go back and listen to that album and just forget that it's covers, it's a good album, but I was crucified because of its content, because there's an army of little fucking brats out there just going into every little chat room, talking shit and undermining anybody who has anything to say. It's like this insane, "1984"/Big Brother infrastructure.
The A.V. Club: Do you purposely keep what you sing about in TOOL more cryptic for that reason?
Maynard James Keenan: Yeah, because I think it's more important just to inspire people to wake up one day and pick up a book and start feeling it out for themselves. You can't tell them to read the book. You've just got to do this thing and emote in a certain way, and maybe bring up something now and then that they may get. It's just like being in a martial-arts class, where you're clipping along, you've been doing this damn thing for 10 years, and all of a sudden, one day, something clicks. And as soon as you get it, and you get that feeling in your body and that look on your face, you look over and your sensei is looking at you, nodding, going, "You got it right." You know, and then you move on. But until you get it yourself, you're just not going to get it.
The A.V. Club: You have a reputation for being reclusive and elliptical, even to people who are close to you. Do you think you're difficult to work with?
Maynard James Keenan: No, not at all. We just don't suffer fools lightly. You know, we're artists, and we really work hard at what we do, and we just assume that when we go to talk to a journalist, they're as passionate about their art as we are about ours. And then you end up talking to this buffoon who has no business managing a Starbucks. [Laughs.] So we just got into this funk right away, doing interviews — we were like, "You know what? Fuck this. I'm not doing this shit." We'd just go out and do what we do, and the people would come one by one and then tell a friend, and they'd tell a friend, and they'd start coming out and seeing what we're about. Eventually, that may catch up to where we have people showing up knowing what we're about, and knowing that this is a conversation between two humans who are passionate about what they do. When that happens, then I'm willing to talk to the guy.
The A.V. Club: Do you feel out of touch with your audience?
Maynard James Keenan: For the most part, I have no idea who those people are — especially when we're traveling through Europe. And it's not all our fault; it's a whole series of events. [You play] heavy music, and your record company, which has never owned an album anything like what you're doing, immediately markets you to the obvious stinky kid with the dreadlocks and the B.O. and the urine on his shoes because he's been sleeping in his own filth in a festival in the middle of the rain. They basically market right to that guy. And then you realize the only people showing up to your shows are those primates — these weird, cretin people… Then, let's say you're at a coffee shop, and you've got a friend sitting next to you, and you've been reading some Noam Chomsky, or you're reading The Onion, and you look over and see a bunch of kids [who] look like they could be made of cheese, because there are flies everywhere. And you go, "Hey, you want to go where they're going?" and everybody goes, "Fuck no." And they're wearing TOOL shirts. Why would you want to go there? Why would anybody other than those kids wanna go see TOOL if that's our representative in that area? So it ends up being a no-win situation. Of course, that's a completely extreme example.
Read the entire interview at www.avclub.com.