Stepping Out From the Shadows

BY Roman SokalPublished Nov 17, 2016

To achieve a state of autonomy within a megalopolis such as Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the planet, is practically impossible. The dark and infectious ethereal left-field hard rock collective Tool have managed to do so, avoiding the temptations to compromise that lead to eventual mediocrity. Instead of being an instrument to the business, the business has succumbed to them, but not without a fight. Having released only three full-length albums in their 11-year existence, they have maintained their artistic integrity and sense of self, even bypassing the requirement to be seen in their music videos, created (along with all album artwork) by the band themselves. Their infectious opuses are melodic and intelligent, built upon a spiritual struggle for self-awareness and the need to evolve. On May 15th the band finally released their third and long-awaited 79-minute aural epic Lateralus.


Drummer Danny Carey (Carole King, Pygmy Love Circus, Green Jelly) is introduced to guitarist Adam Jones (at the time working in special effects, having contributed to Jurassic Park and Terminator 2). The conduit is Jones's old high school friend, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. They are joined by bassist Paul D'Amour and vocalist Maynard James Keenan, who is Carey's neighbour; he'd previously been in an industrial/ experimental band called Children of the Anachronistic Dynasty and released one album entitled Fingernails. According to their first official bio, their name is inspired by "lachrymology," a philosophic study of crying as a therapeutic tool conceptualised in a 1949 book entitled The Joyful Guide to Lachrymology by Ronald P. Vincent, whom D'Amour befriended in his dying derelict days in Hollywood. This is widely believed to be dis-information, one of the first examples of the band tinkering with the press and the public's gullibility.


Nirvana breaks the seal, and heavy riffage vibrates commercial radio waves and major label A&R reps scour the continent for grunge talent. Within three months of their formal inception, having played only a handful of gigs and with no recordings, Tool signs to Zoo/BMG, one of the first major labels to make an offer. They tour opening for the Rollins Band, Rage Against The Machine and Fishbone, gaining in popularity with every gig.


Tool releases Opiate, an EP that eventually sells gold (500,000 copies) in the U.S. This choice mixture of the band's heavier songs are released as both studio and live tracks. The video for "Hush," directed by Failure's Ken Andrews, portrays the band naked walking across a white room with Parental Advisory signs over their buttocks.


Their breakthrough, Undertow hits shelves. The track "Sober," with its innovative and creepy claymation video directed by Jones and surrealist Fred Stuhr, helps catapult the band to stardom. They play with the capabilities of CDs by adding an extra "hidden" track (still innovative at this time): track 69 is the highly abstract track "Disgustipated." The album is a thinking person's amalgam of metal, classic rock and the ruling "alternative" ethos, a heavy, progressive blend of the cathartic with the thought-provoking. Censorship advocates feast on the album's lyrical content and graphics, including photos of ultra-obese naked women, stuck pigs, and cows licking themselves. A "clean" version of the album is manufactured for more conservative audiences. In place of the artwork, a giant bar code is left on the cover. In May, a show is played at the Garden Pavilion in Hollywood. At the last minute, they learn that the venue is owned and funded by L. Ron Hubbard's Church of Scientology, which betrays the band's ethics about how a person should not follow a belief system that constricts their development as a human being. Partway throughout the set, Keenan loudly bleats like a sheep over the P.A. to express his sentiments. The band's jovial Aussie manager (and co-founder of the Lollapalooza festival) gets the band on the summer festival's second stage; it proves to be the catalyst to their meteoric rise. They are quickly moved to the main stage based on their presence, prowess and power. When they finally get a touring break, Tool and Rage Against The Machine collaborate on an untitled seven-minute track (commonly referred to as "Revolution") for the movie Judgement Night, which never ends up in the final cut nor on the soundtrack CD.


The video for the controversial "Prison Sex," once again co-directed by Jones and Fred Stuhr, is deemed "Too Much for Much" on MuchMusic. The stop-motion figurine animation video is an extremely dark, yet fantastic gangly Brothers Quay-inspired depiction of the cycle of domestic abuse. The band is upset over the judgements passed upon the song and its visual interpretation, claiming there is a positive message at its core that many can relate to. In June, Kiss My Ass, a Kiss tribute album is released with the track "Calling Dr. Love," by Shandi's Addiction, featuring Keenan on vocals along with Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk and Tom Morello and Faith No More's Billy Gould.


In September, bassist D'Amour amicably departs due to "creative differences," further delaying work on new material. Two months later, the band recruits UK-based bassist Justin Chancellor, formerly of Peach, a band that had opened for them on tour earlier that year. D'Amour and members of Failure and Zaum (another side project of Carey's) release an album on Zoo as the Replicants, a collection of 13 covers by the likes of Syd Barrett, the Cars and David Bowie. Keenan sings on Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs."


Instead of choosing from a plethora of Los Angeles-based flavour of the week producers, the band taps Hamilton, ON engineer David Bottrill, whose c.v. includes Peter Gabriel's Passion, King Crimson's Thrak and Real World albums by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. "Funnily enough, they called and asked if I would work on [their new album] and they sent me their records," Bottrill recalls. "I listened to them and thought ‘I've never done anything like this before. Why would this kind of American metal band be sending me things when all I've done was English art-rock music?' At first I thought they had me confused with someone else. As it turned out, Danny [Carey] was a huge King Crimson fan and Adam [Jones's] favourite album had been David Sylvian/Robert Fripp's The First Day. Maynard was a huge Real World music fan. A lot of the stuff I worked on happened to be their favourites, even though they were musically doing different things. They thought I wasn't an ‘American rock producer' but they figured they already knew what they wanted and that I would bring something else to their music. They knew what I could do, they knew what they and their fans wanted, so I went along with their confidence."
According to Carey, "We had all these producers climbing down our backs at the time and everyone we talked to said ‘I'll do this and I'll do that.' When we came to David he was like, ‘Why do you want me?' And that was such a cool attitude to have — he wanted to know what was going on with the band and what we were about, rather than just ‘Oh Tool's a big name, I'll record them!' That's what really won us over. What struck me about his work on Passion and with King Crimson was that it didn't have that ‘producer' sheen on it. He was kind of transparent in a way. He just let things shine through more than he tried to put his touch on things like that. In the past we didn't have big budgets so we just worked everything out before we would get into the studio and count on someone with the ears and know-how to capture it. He was perfect for that."
The result, Ænima, is a dark, 70-plus minute sonic tour de force. Debuting at #2 on the Billboard charts, the multi-platinum album receives mass praise and minor flak for its lengthy compositions and their recurring themes of fuelling life by feeding off of pain. They impose a press blackout in order to protect the lyrical integrity of the album. Its title, as with its animated artwork (nominated the following year for a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package) includes a view of Southern California being swallowed by the Pacific ocean, and a painting of the late Bill Hicks, a hard-hitting comedian whose sense of logic and exposure of irony parallels the intelligence and wit of the band. (The album is dedicated to his memory and he can be heard on the track "Third Eye.") Despite the seemingly dominant darkness, there is a balance of humour throughout. The track "Die Eier Von Satan," is a Nuremberg rally-esque speech in German that translates as nothing more than a recipe for cookies. Producer Bottrill explains "A Message To Harry Manback": "That was me playing the piano. A threatening Italian person was leaving a real phone message on Maynard's roommate's machine. Basically, it was from a guy who had recently been kicked out of the house for being the guest from hell." Due to censorship concerns, the name of the first single and video, "Stinkfist," is changed to the more generic "Track #1."


In January, Keenan appears onstage with Tori Amos to perform a duet of her song "Muhammad My Friend" at a benefit show for her charity organisation, RAINN. Extensive touring continues, including another summer stint with Lollapalooza. The highly involved and spiritual/supernatural live shows feature Keenan painted in a half blue & white colour scheme, and at times with his face painted like a woman while wearing fake breasts. Drummer Carey, deeply interested in magick and Aleister Crowley, brings along an Enochian board called the "Sigillum Dei Aemeth," potentially misinterpreted as Satanic instead of as an icon for the focusing of energy. Near the end of the year, their label files a law suit against the band alleging that Tool has violated their contract by entertaining offers from other labels. The band files a counter-suit against Volcano, claiming that the label failed to exercise a renewal option in their contract. The litigation proves to be yet another fighting test to preserve their ethics and identity and halts the band from developing any new material.


The title track from Ænema wins a Grammy for Best Metal Performance. Legal matters with Volcano Records are resolved at the end of the year, shortly before court proceedings. Contracts are renegotiated, resulting in a three-record deal.


Fresh from legal limbo, the band slowly rejuvenates. Tool plays just one show at the Coachella festival in the desert near Indio, CA. Keenan is approached by Tool's former guitar tech and friend Billy Howerdel to fill in the vocalist vacancy for A Perfect Circle, a "sexy" musical project spearheaded by Howerdel, who originally met Keenan years earlier when he was Fishbone's guitar tech. A Perfect Circle serves as an alternate avenue of expression for Keenan; APC's musical approach is more spiritual, feminine and sensual in nature, while Tool's structure remains more mathematical, methodological and somewhat angst-ridden.


Though they don't play a single show, they record "Divorced," a 14-minute long collaboration with long-time friends and tour-mates the Melvins, released on the Melvins album The Crybaby. In May, A Perfect Circle's debut Mer de Noms is released and within a few weeks surpasses Tool's total career sales. Keenan tours with A Perfect Circle while remaining members rehearse new material almost daily. At this time, the band fires their manager of eight years, Ted Gardner. In retaliation, Gardner files suit against them, claiming fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract and quantum merit, demanding $5 million in retribution. Shortly after, the band hire Victoria Blake as their new manager. In June, the Deftones release White Pony, featuring guest vocals from Keenan on "Passenger"; APC and the Deftones tour together in the summer, and Keenan joins in on live renditions of the song. During the APC tour, the bald Keenan sports a variety of long-haired wigs to distinguish his onstage identity. While other members go on vacations, Carey travels to Stull, Kansas to investigate the long-alleged fact that the very small town houses the gateway to hell. He also tracks down a first edition Aleister Crowley book, White Stains, an ultra rare 1898 compilation of erotic verse that allegedly contains the semen of its author within its cloth cover. In autumn, producer Bottrill comes to Los Angeles to begin work on their third full-length album. The hype begins. Bottrill mixes Salival, a mini box-set released just before Christmas that contains live and unreleased material as well as a VHS/DVD containing their avant-garde music videos. Among its highlights are the band's fabled 12-minute aquatic cover of "No Quarter" by Led Zeppelin. (The track was originally recorded during the Ænima sessions and almost ended up on the 1997 Howard Stern Private Parts movie soundtrack against the band's wishes.) Salival's live material focuses more on the band's Eastern influences and a cover of Peach's "You Lied." An odd curio is the hidden track "Maynard's Dick." Peach's Giving Birth to a Stone album is re-released at the end of the year with new artwork by Jones. Due to his commitments to Tool, Keenan turns down a lead acting role in Fight Club director David Fincher's new film The Panic Room. (Fincher directed the "Judith" video for A Perfect Circle.)


Salival sells over 150,000 copies in its first few weeks. Lateralus is completed and kept under tight security by the band and label to ward off internet bootlegging. The band once again messes with the hype machine by first announcing shifting bogus track titles such as "Munge," "Poopy the Clown," and "Alcaharlot," on their web site "They were under immense pressure," Bottrill says, "from all the litigations, the record labels — pressure from just about everywhere to make a great record. The last record had more flavours of Led Zeppelin in arrangement and writing style — [Lateralus] is almost more Pink Floyd-y, more ‘trippy.' All the songs run in the neighbourhood of seven minutes. One of the songs they wrote this time, which is the last track on the album, runs about 22 minutes. In the middle it becomes much more of an entrancing groove track — an amazing arrangement that is totally hypnotic. Lyrically, they're more open for interpretation although there are some specifics in there — more about Maynard's current and future relationships instead of the past and things about his son [Devo]." Lateralus is more broad in scope, taking the immediate aggressiveness of Opiate, the melodacy of Undertow and the cinemascope aspects of Ænima.
"We mastered it up in Maine with Bob Ludwig," Bottrill says, "and were trying to put some segues in and he turned to us at one point and said ‘Look you guys, I don't say this very much, but I think you guys are onto a classic record here. Don't screw it up by trying to stuff things in!'" Also set for release later this year is a side project entitled Tapeworm, featuring members of Nine Inch Nails with two tracks sung by Keenan, one being entitled "Vacant," a track already previewed during A Perfect Circle shows (which apparently upset Trent Reznor, who felt the song was still incomplete). Tool continue to amaze, disturb, soothe and question; after all, it is all about the music, and any of the facts you have read here may or may not actually exist.

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