- Puscifer: Maynard James Keenan
My voice. That’s artsy-fartsy, misunderstood Maynard James Keenan asking where the interview will appear. How pretentious is that? Most people just ask the name of the publication in a straightforward fashion. Like, “Who’s this for, again?” Not Maynard. He can’t do anything to usual way.
If he sounds like a tool, you’re on the right track. Maynard fronts Tool, the band that spawned a legion of milquetoast mainstream nu-metal bands but shouldn’t get the blame because nobody, you know, got it. The press decided they were music for meatheads. Meatheads ate it up, giving not Shit One about the imagination and musicianship behind Tool; they just wanted to hear and/or make big, loud, dark rock & roll. Because in McAmerica, if you appear to be doing the same thing, you are—a burger is a burger is a burger.
And here, where scapegoats are always in demand, someone must be blamed. Let it be Tool, ‘cause we stopped understanding them after that song about the guy with poop, blood and ejaculate on his hands.
Maynard couldn’t even go mainstream for real (with the still esoteric but more palatable A Perfect Circle) and get due credit. It’s like people just don’t wanna peel that onion and get to the sweet, juicy, liquid center where id humps ego, whispering Fibonacci numbers in its ear, and indigo children juggle atoms while reciting string theory like jump-rope rhymes. No thanks, guys. Simplest terms will do.
Now Maynard’s takin’ it straight wacky—or so it seems—with Puscifer, a collective comprised of musicians and comedians that, like Maynard’s late buddy Bill Hicks, uses the profane to communicate the profound. Standing front and center is Maynard as the carnival barker/tent preacher. Puscifer is “a playground for the voices in my head” where the goal is “to make music that sounds like a smooth but firm hot buttered pelvic massage” and attendees are instructed to “check [their] over-inflated expectations at the door.”
Clearly this’ll be the project that’ll speak to the people. Or perhaps not.
City Weekly: Your work is subversive, scary to conservatives, yet you always bring your stuff to SLC. Why?
Maynard James Keenan: We’re performers. That’s what we do. Perform.
CW: The US press doesn’t get Puscifer, yet the U.K./European press does. For example, Rolling Stone said, “…without the gravitas of Tool’s massive prog machine, it seems a little silly.”
MJK: And they won’t [get it]. For awhile.
CW: Tool finally got its due, in a way. Why do you think US press have to warm up to it, whereas UK and European press—I’m thinking of the Kerrang! and Metal Hammer reviews, specifically—see pretty much eye-to-eye with you?
MJK: I think the international markets aren’t as barraged by marketing campaigns and perfectly packaged, easy to understand, products, as they are over here. This is definitely a marketing campaign nightmare in the States. So if you can’t put your finger on it, it’s hard for them to talk about. They’ll give some compliments, but they’ll definitely make sure that they insult it just in case it sucks. But they can’t tell; they don’t know. ‘Cause they’re not open-minded enough to give it a try. Generally speaking. Just like with all my projects, it’ll end up being a delayed period before they get it. For Tool, it took people seven years to get to understand it. With A Perfect Circle, same thing. Now I’m getting irate emails from people saying, ‘Why don’t you stop this nonsense and get back to doing the real stuff: A Perfect Circle.’ Like OK, well that’s funny—they said the same thing about Tool. Usually takes about seven years, so there’s five to go.
I guess the biggest hurdle is this isn’t supposed to be like those other things. This is something different. You’re coming to the table with a preconception about what I should be doing. So … you can’t just step back and look at it. This project is gonna have its own legs. It’d probably have longer legs if I wasn’t involved. People would probably get behind it. But with those other things to compare it to, it kinda puts a skip in the development. That’s OK. It’s not like I’m gonna stop.
CW: Playing devil’s advocate: Maybe things like Fibonacci numbers, transcendental themes, psychology…
MJK: People get the impression that that’s not present in this music. You know very well that it is.
CW: They see song and album titles like “V is for Vagina” and “Cuntry Boner” and have knee-jerk reactions. I’d say it must be aggravating, since you’re clearly trying to communicate big ideas. But you’re also adept at taking the piss, just letting it slide. Are you torn between these reactions or is one dominant?
MJK: I don’t know. I just figure that, at the end of the day, I have to wake up with myself. I’ve got to be happy with the vision I had for something and base the success on whether I met the criteria or the goal I had in mind. In art school, you always have an instructor that gives you the parameters for this project. Never mind if you came up with this really cool thing; did you meet the parameters that you set out to do when you came up with this project? Mostly, that’s how I treat everything. I have an idea in mind for something I’m trying to execute, even if it’s a song—there’s all this stuff going on, but there’s a particular snare sound I wanna express. Is this song successful in expressing that part of the goal?
CW: You bring up parameters. With Puscifer, my understanding was that there are no parameters…
MJK: There aren’t parameters, but there are definitely goals. The goal is to go as far in every direction as we can. So we’re talking about two different things: We’re talking about… In most projects, you’re only allowed to go down one road. And there’s a goal in mind. But if you’re allowed to go down many roads, you just have a goal, you still have a destination in mind. But it’s not confined to one road.
CW: You say in the Puscifer tour press release that audiences should show up “happy and hungry.” What’s Puscifer serving?
As the Rodney Dangerfield of the 21st Century, Neil Hamburger is accustomed to second, even third, banana status, so being a last-minute addition to the Puscifer tour would elicit his catch phrase: “Thaaaaat’s my life!” City Weekly e-mailed with him to get the scoop on how Hamburger got the gig, and what, exactly, that will entail. Besides a heroic flopsweat and liquor overspill.
City Weekly: You've got a “terrible manager,” yet you landed a pretty good gig with this tour. How?
Neil Hamburger: I was the only act that auditioned that wasn't a slob. These young bands need to realize that showing up for an audition in a dirty T-shirt is not going to do the trick.
CW: Will you participate in the Puscifer show in addition to doing an opening set?
NH: I might do some accounting for them.
CW: In a place like Salt Lake City, especially a hoity-toity venue like Capitol Theatre, the booze doesn't flow freely. Will they allow you to BYOB? If not, how would working dry affect your show? Has that even happened before?
NH: Maynard is a producer and manufacturer of fine wines and I would have to imagine that any “dry laws” will be ignored so that we can all enjoy the product samples he is carting around.
CW: Maynard and Tool have been misunderstood as a meathead band. Because of this, Puscifer got a bad review from Rolling Stone—they called it silly. As someone whose work is also greatly underappreciated, do you feel an artistic kinship with Maynard and Puscifer?
NH: Anyone who receives a bad review, whether it be Maynard, or a fried chicken restaurant, is someone I feel a kinship with. Frequently I have been unfairly maligned despite having devoted an entire lifetime to spreading joy, and to helping people forget their problems, of which most audience members have many.
CW: Maynard's work uses unconventional themes to convey serious points. Would you say you do the same with your humor?
NH: Possibly. Most of the subjects of my jokes are vermin.
PUSCIFER & NEIL HAMBURGER
50 W. 100 South
Wednesday, Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m.