In a world-ex­clu­sive in­ter­view (with two epic covers to boot, too), Ker­rang! catch up with May­nard James Keenan and Billy How­erdel to un­veil the first A Per­fect Cir­cle al­bum in a whop­ping 14 years – and trust us when we say that it’s been worth the wait



May­nard James Keenan has a very good rea­son as to why A Per­fect Cir­cle haven’t made a new al­bum in 14 years. It has some­thing to do with their guitarist and founder, Billy How­erdel. It’s prob­a­bly best that May­nard ex­plains this one.

“Right around late 2004, I cryo­geni­cally froze Billy,” be­gins APC’S front­man.“work­ing with Dairy Queen and the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, as an ex­per­i­ment we went ahead and froze him and… I fuck­ing for­get! Like, ‘Oh shit! We gotta un­freeze Billy!’”

May­nard is­sues a quick chuckle as he out­lines the “Hey man, sorry…” con­ver­sa­tion he was forced to have with his freshly-thawed band­mate; one that pre­ceded the al­to­gether big­ger process of bring­ing Billy up to speed on the trauma of hu­man his­tory over the past 14 years.

“We re­ally had to give it to him a piece at a time, be­cause…” May­nard draws a sharp, con­dola­tory in­take of breath.“poor boy.” Is Billy okay now? “Yeah, he’s com­ing around,” sighs May­nard. “He’s re­ally ex­cited about pro­mot­ing the new al­bum on Mys­pace.”

May­nard is in Jerome,ari­zona, tak­ing a break from work­ing at his Ca­duceus Cel­lars

win­ery, when he be­gins to spin this far­ci­cal comedic web. How­ever, for the pur­poses of jour­nal­is­tic in­tegrity, three days later and some 350 miles away, Ker­rang! de­camps to LA to catch up with Billy to gauge the ve­rac­ity of this story.we lo­cate him at Mar­cussen Mas­ter­ing stu­dio on Hol­ly­wood Blvd where, aside from bouts of yawn­ing, he in­sists he feels “great af­ter that lit­tle stint un­der the ice.”

Call it a hunch, but we sus­pect the real cause of Billy’s fa­tigue has noth­ing to do with shak­ing off his pur­ported per­mafrost en­tomb­ment. Rather, it’s be­cause he’s been up since 6:30am fin­ish­ing A Per­fect Cir­cle’s highly-an­tic­i­pated fourth al­bum, Eat The Ele­phant. If that name – and in­deed the lyrics of the mov­ing, piano-led ti­tle-track – im­plies a mam­moth un­der­tak­ing, it cer­tainly seems apt.

To say Eat The Ele­phant is ea­gerly awaited doesn’t re­ally do it jus­tice. For one,apc’s first two stu­dio al­bums, 2000’s Mer de Noms and 2003’s Thir­teenth Step, are both re­garded as unim­peach­able clas­sics, while 2004’s EMO­TIVE was a beau­ti­ful set of anti-war covers. Sec­ond, for all the memes of skele­tons wait­ing for Tool’s new record to ar­rive, even that hasn’t been as long in the off­ing as this.

When K! greets Billy, it has fi­nally been com­ least, we think it has.

“I just barely fin­ished the mas­ter­ing about 30 se­conds ago,” Billy ex­plains.“it has to be done in 12 min­utes.” He laughs ner­vously, then cor­rects him­self. “11 min­utes.” Surely not… “I’m not kid­ding,” he says.“i’m just done with the se­quence and the cru­cial cross fades. The mas­ter­ing stu­dio is get­ting it over to be pressed to vinyl at a place a third of a mile away from here…”

As to the fin­ished al­bum, well, any­one who has heard Eat The Ele­phant’s mes­meric first two sin­gles,the Doomed and Dis­il­lu­sioned, may not be sur­prised to hear that it is, in Billy’s view,“a dark record”. Ker­rang! was graced with an un­mas­tered ad­vance ver­sion and can con­firm that much is cer­tainly true.we can also tes­tify as to its im­pend­ing sta­tus as a fu­ture clas­sic.

Yet the new songs are only part of the story at hand.aside from spo­radic tours, great­est hits and live re­leases,a Per­fect Cir­cle have largely spent over a decade in creative sta­ snap out of it, May­nard and Billy had to jug­gle con­flict­ing sched­ules, parental obli­ga­tions, other bands, one book project and, well, the way in which life some­times sends two peo­ple on dif­fer­ent paths. One man is cur­rently con­tend­ing with the be­wil­der­ing, ter­ri­fy­ing state of the world to­day; the other is ex­hausted from pro­duc­ing mu­sic that can do that sub­ject jus­tice.

We pick up the trail of that first path in Ari­zona, where May­nard is hav­ing a bad day. In fact, you could call it a shit­ter.

Pic­ture this, if you will: it’s 7am and May­nard James Keenan is stood on snow-blushed Ari­zona soil star­ing at a gi­gan­tic con­crete egg.the man in the truck who is de­liv­er­ing it to May­nard’s win­ery is de­vour­ing break­fast in his seat, see­ing one of the most ac­claimed rock vo­cal­ists of all time in some­thing of a per­turbed state through his wind­shield. May­nard ex­plains the sit­u­a­tion to us.

“A 5,000-pound con­crete egg – a wine tank – showed up, and I don’t have a fork­lift that lifts 5,000 pounds. Mine stops at 4,800,” he says.“that poor bas­tard’s sit­ting in a truck eat­ing an Egg Mc­muf­fin while he’s wait­ing for us to scram­ble and get our shit to­gether.”

If this con­sti­tutes some­thing of a lo­gis­ti­cal prob­lem for May­nard, he can at least take com­fort in the fact that he’s tack­led worse. In or­der to record A Per­fect Cir­cle’s lat­est al­bum – while work on Tool’s fifth full-length re­mains on­go­ing – for the first time ever May­nard can­celled his usual Christ­mas hol­i­day, typ­i­cally spent in Ari­zona or with his ex­tended fam­ily in Michi­gan. In­stead he headed to LA to fo­cus on fin­ish­ing Eat The Ele­ far as wider prob­lems go, how­ever, few things could hold a can­dle to the apoc­a­lyp­tic sub­ject mat­ter he is en­gag­ing with on A Per­fect Cir­cle’s new record.

In many ways May­nard is the first to ad­mit he has changed over the years.when K! caught up with him in 2016 while on duty with Pus­cifer, he was not the unas­sail­able, acid-tongued front­man of leg­end – he was open, funny and self-dep­re­cat­ing, even de­cry­ing his own con­form­ity to “douchebag” artists that draw you in with mys­te­ri­ous art then push you away when you show in­ter­est. One con­stant, how­ever, is that – be it with A Per­fect Cir­cle,tool or Pus­cifer – May­nard never re­veals what his in­trigu­ing lyrics are about. It’s just part of why he’s one of rock’s most enig­matic pres­ences.that said, he in­sists there is a trail of bread­crumbs on this record for fans to fol­low.

“A lot of times the con­ver­sa­tion is hid­den right in the ti­tle,” he of­fers.“you can digest the song it­self and the lyrics on your own, but usu­ally the ti­tle kind of gives you a clue of where to dig.”

Tak­ing this and run­ning with it, K! notes one of Eat The Ele­phant’s stand­out tracks:the Hitch­hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy-ref­er­enc­ing So Long,and Thanks For All The Fish.when May­nard hears that se­lec­tion of words he lets out an elon­gated “yeeeeeeees” and re­peats the song’s name slowly. If this is a sign of his pride – and it should be – it is jus­ti­fied by a soar­ing track about hu­man­ity rac­ing to­wards its own de­struc­tion, fea­tur­ing a range of pop cul­ture ref­er­ences (in­clud­ing the death of Car­rie Fisher via a nod to Princess Leia). Un­like any other APC song, it sounds up­beat but is riven with tragedy: imag­ine some­one danc­ing grace­fully, sil­hou­et­ted against the blind­ing light of a nu­clear ex­plo­sion and you’d be close. Last time around, May­nard told Ker­rang! he is prone to find­ing hu­mour in the darkest sit­u­a­tions, but you have to won­der if that has been tested by head­lines of re­cent months.

“Yeah, no shit!” he laughs.“there’s only so many Satur­day Night Live sketches you can watch to kind of take the pres­sure off.”

May­nard in­sists his comedic back­bone is hold­ing strong, and that while there’s “tongue-in-cheek doom and gloom, there’s still hope” on APC’S new al­bum. Still, judg­ing from some of the in­censed lyrics of Talktalk and the ven­omous schaden­freude of De­li­cious, you have to won­der if he has given up on hu­man­ity al­to­gether…

“It all comes down to per­spec­tive, doesn’t it?” he says.“if you can step back far enough and hear the voices of prior gen­er­a­tions, how many times have we been in a sit­u­a­tion we’re just con­vinced the world was over in the last 6-8,000 years? I’m sure there’s many in­stances where we thought, ‘We’re done – this is it.’ Then we kind of wig­gle out of the tur­moil and into the light. Some­how. At least tem­po­rar­ily. I think there’s hope, but the prob­lem is bal­anc­ing what your ver­sion of hope is. [When] you have a dis­gust­ing turd for a pres­i­dent – did I say that out loud? – you have to look at how some­thing like that hap­pened.”

May­nard stops him­self be­fore he dis­ap­pears “down a rab­bit hole”. In 2018 he says he is wrestling with a world gov­erned by a “Port­landia men­tal­ity” – where ev­ery­one acts, as in that com­edy sketch show, as mor­bid ex­ag­ger­a­tions of any given stereo­type, be it politi­cians or bo­hemi­ans. He turns to Star Wars to ex­plain the bal­ance he is look­ing for in life.while he pre­ferred Rogue One to The Last Jedi (FYI), some­thing res­onated with him in the form of Kylo Ren and Rey.

“You have two char­ac­ters who have the per­fect yin-yang pro­por­tion of dark and light in them,” he be­gins.“now you’re strik­ing a bal­ance, now you have me.we don’t have bal­ance right now. Every­thing’s po­larised extremes without hav­ing the yin-yang el­e­ment in place where even as dark as you might be, you might have that dot of light in you, and as light as you may be, you might have a lit­tle dot of dark in you.”

At least as a lyri­cist, May­nard has found his bal­ance in Billy and the in­cred­i­ble lay­ered, at­mo­spheric sounds he pro­duces.the story, as out­lined in Sarah Jensen’s 2016 May­nard bi­og­ra­phy, A Per­fect Union Of Con­trary Things, is that Billy – then a gui­tar tech for Tool – was play­ing some of his own ma­te­rial when May­nard liked what he heard. And so A Per­fect Cir­cle was born.

Yet the story goes back even fur­ther, and it starts with May­nard giv­ing Billy an in­tense stare he will never for­get…

“My first im­pres­sion?” be­gins Billy How­erdel, sat re­flect­ing in the LA mas­ter­ing suite.“i was con­cerned.”

This is how Billy re­calls the first time he saw May­nard. It hap­pened while the singer was per­form­ing on­stage with Tool at Hol­ly­wood’s Club Lin­gerie. May­nard had no idea he was eye­balling his fu­ture mu­si­cal co-con­spir­a­tor, but he cer­tainly left an im­pres­sion on him.

“I re­mem­ber May­nard be­ing on­stage, star­ing, and it hap­pened to be right where I was,” he tells K!. “I thought,‘is this guy star­ing at me or what?’ I got out of the way even­tu­ally and I said,‘oh no, he’s just dead­locked on some­thing.’ I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was an ex-girl­friend he was pissed at, but maybe it was just a spot on the wall. I was like,‘what is go­ing on with this guy?’ He just never

broke char­ac­ter – his pres­ence was so in­tense.”

Billy would soon wel­come this in­ten­sity into his life as a per­ma­nent fix­ a gui­tar tech for Fish­bone – who took Tool out on a Euro­pean tour – they spent a lovely time to­gether with “no air-con­di­tion­ing in a crappy bus for a month”. It all pre­cip­i­tated May­nard even­tu­ally hear­ing Billy’s own mu­sic – the rich, at­mo­spheric rock that now comes branded un­der the A Per­fect Cir­cle moniker.while he has still been ply­ing his trade dur­ing APC’S bouts of in­ac­tiv­ity with his Ashes Di­vide project – not to men­tion rais­ing two chil­dren – he is un­equiv­o­cal when asked if he felt APC’S ab­sence deeply in the in­ter­ven­ing years.

“I missed it a lot,” are the sim­ple words he gives that seem to bear a lot of weight. He ex­plains that, when it came to A Per­fect Cir­cle get­ting back to­gether, May­nard “reached out, know­ing I would be ready to go when the time was right.”

A Per­fect Cir­cle, you see, is as close to Billy’s heart as one could re­al­is­ti­cally ex­pect any­thing to be – a gift he was given.

“I never re­ally thought I would be­come a mu­si­cian,” he re­calls to­day. “But I knew I spent a lot of time – prob­a­bly too much time – lis­ten­ing to it and ob­sess­ing on it.”

Billy is a soft-spo­ken man, but his voice be­comes charged with ex­cite­ment as he talks about his love of Elvis Costello, and how dark mu­sic from the UK such as Siouxsie and the Ban­shees, The Cure, Echo And The Bun­ny­men and Killing Joke in­formed his vi­sion for APC. For many years of Billy’s ca­reer, he has been some­one liv­ing on the side­lines of rock as a gui­tar tech – he watched on from the wings as he worked with some of the great­est bands ever, from Nine Inch Nails to Smash­ing Pump­kins and Guns N’ Roses. It taught him a lot of lessons.

“Pro­fes­sion­al­ism, work ethic and also what not to do,” of­fers Billy.“there were a lot of down­falls you could see bands go­ing through. I didn’t get in it for the drugs and the girls; I got in it be­cause I love be­ing around mu­sic.who I learned the most from was prob­a­bly Trent Reznor. He only ex­pects as much as he could do him­self, and he can do a lot.that’s a high bar. I just tried to keep up.”

Ar­guably, Billy has been striv­ing for that high bar ever since. It per­haps ex­plains why he has been so foren­si­cally ab­sorbed in work­ing on Eat The Ele­phant. He is, he says, not nor­mally this scat­tered or ex­hausted; he in­gests his mag­ne­sium sup­ple­ments ev­ery day and he med­i­tates, yet Eat The Ele­phant has still taken its toll on get the mu­sic for lead sin­gle The Doomed off the ground, for in­stance, he stayed awake for a day and a half. Billy says he’s never sub­scribed to the no­tion that “you need to suf­fer for great art”, but some­where along the line, per­haps sub­con­sciously, it seems he was liv­ing that out. He’s learned a lot about him­self this time around.

“I won­der how much I want to say,” he pauses. “I’ll say this.the stress that’s as­so­ci­ated with mak­ing a record – hav­ing an ex­treme dead­line where you’re putting your stamp on it – it’s a fine line you draw, car­ing so much that it is bad for your health. For me, I wanted it to be every­thing it could be. It’s hard not to get phys­i­cally worn down from it.when you get to that place where you’re not sleep­ing, and you can barely think straight, that’s when you go,‘god, did I need to push it that hard? Or was it nec­es­sary?’”

Yet Eat The Ele­phant is not just the prod­uct of hard(est) work: it is the prod­uct of an ex­tremely unique mu­si­cal friend­ship. In a band that has had so many line-ups [see panel over the page], there is a rea­son why Billy and May­nard have re­mained the only two con­stants in A Per­fect Cir­cle. But this does not come without its cuts and bruises…

Spend a bit of time speak­ing to May­nard James Keenan and Billy How­erdel and it is rel­a­tively easy to detect their sur­face sim­i­lar­i­ties. Cryo­genic jokes aside, they both take A Per­fect Cir­cle ex­tremely se­ri­ously. Both are in­tel­li­gent, ar­tic­u­late and share a mu­tual love of PJ Har­vey and Mas­sive At­tack. Sim­i­larly, both are cau­tious not to wrap their songs in too many ex­plana­tory words or su­perla­tives, and are equally pro­tec­tive of their per­sonal lives – “There’s pub­lic life and pri­vate life,” Billy ex­plains at one point in the in­ter­view. They find a lot to ad­mire in each other. May­nard is not nec­es­sar­ily an easy man to please mu­si­cally; he even points out to K! what so many gui­tarists, drum­mers and bass play­ers for­get.“your sound is not some ex­ter­nal gear,” he says.“or your hair­cut.your sound is what hap­pens when you phys­i­cally pick up that in­stru­ment.” To that end, May­nard hears some­thing very spe­cial when Billy picks up a gui­tar – a sound nat­u­rally is­su­ing from his band­mate that makes him want to start telling sto­ries. Billy, too, says May­nard has made a huge im­pact on his life. “The great thing in the be­gin­ning was it was the mu­si­cal di­ary of my whole life com­ing into fo­cus in 2000 for our first record,” he ex­plains.“hav­ing May­nard made it so much bet­ter, so much more than it ever could have been, like if you have a sketch­book you’ve been draw­ing in for 10 years and hav­ing a great painter come and bring it to life.”


His ad­mi­ra­tion ex­tends from those early days right up un­til the present with Eat The Ele­phant. May­nard’s vocals and lyrics are some­thing of a mov­ing goal­post for Billy’s cre­ativ­ity.

“It just makes what­ever thing I’m do­ing that I find medi­ocre have to step up to his level,” he ex­plains.“when I hear what he presents, it puts the fire up my ass to up my game.what he brought to this record, I think it’s some of my favourite May­nard vocals I’ve heard on any of his projects.”

But when it came to the pair re­con­ven­ing af­ter so much time apart, both will note the changes from yesteryear. “We haven’t done an al­bum in 14 years,” says May­nard.“he was prob­a­bly think­ing things were go­ing to go the way they used to, and I was go­ing to re­spond to sounds the way I used to.we re­ally had to come up with a new lan­guage for each other.”

May­nard hails co-pro­ducer Dave Sardy for help­ing them find the mid­dle ground that re­sulted in such a bril­liant al­bum, but he also points out that there’s a lot of ma­te­rial the world will never hear. Some­times A Per­fect Cir­cle have their im­per­fect mo­ments when May­nard’s lyri­cal vi­sion and Billy’s mu­si­cal foun­da­tion don’t align.

“There’s a lot of songs that will never see the light of day be­cause there’s noth­ing in them that in­spires me and I don’t hear a story in them,” May­nard says.“it might take me years to find it. I might not be in the right place to hear it…”

It’s al­ways fas­ci­nat­ing to hear how bands com­mu­ni­cate that to each other… “Or don’t com­mu­ni­cate,” he laughs.“wheeee.” How do you tell Billy if a song’s not work­ing for you?

“There’s no other way to do it other than to be straight and hon­est and deal with that week of mis­ery.there’s no other way to go about it. Like,‘i’m not hear­ing what you’re hear­ing, sorry.’ But the good news is that we wouldn’t be stand­ing here if I didn’t hear it in other things, so, that part you just have to fig­ure out how to let it go.” Billy con­fesses that the process isn’t al­ways easy. “I feel more creative around May­nard,” he says. “He frus­trates me, too. Just like any friend, you

have both sides of it – it’s not just a one-way street. I’m sure I frus­trate him in ways, and he frus­trates me.and we hope­fully in­spire each other to move for­ward and I hope­fully get him out of his com­fort zone. He cer­tainly gets me out of my com­fort zone.and that comes with cuts. It’s not al­ways so’re hear­ing it in my voice prob­a­bly now be­cause we’re at the end of it and it’s time for me to drop and sleep for about a month.”

The songs that you will hear, how­ever, are ones that cap­ture their creative spark in jaw­drop­ping fash­ion.when Eat The Ele­phant formed, it of­ten did so quickly.when it comes to writ­ing, May­nard says he likes to take a CD –

“Yes, I still use CDS,” he dead­pans – and sit in his car and drive around for hours on end lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic. He waits for a melody to strike him.

“Nor­mally that process takes a week, a year, 10 years, you know… it could take any amount of time,” he says.“but for some rea­son these just fell in place.”

The Con­trar­ian, Dis­il­lu­sioned and Eat The Ele­phant, for ex­am­ple, all came to­gether within 36 hours re­spec­tively.a com­bi­na­tion of high­speed writ­ing and la­bo­ri­ous at­ten­tion to de­tail, it’s lit­tle won­der Billy strug­gles to put the record into words now it’s done.

“I’m too in the mid­dle of it [right now],” he laughs.“i’ll lis­ten to the record in three months once I de­com­press.”

He says he’s hop­ing to at­tain the 40,000-foot view of the al­bum they’ve just made, where every­thing will be clear to him. For now, he just needs some sleep.when he fi­nally does lis­ten back, you ex­pect Billy – as will the rest of the world – will deem A Per­fect Cir­cle’s new al­bum as some­thing that was worth the wait.



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