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Tool’s Maynard James Keenan on Climate Change, AC/DC, Puscifer’s New LP

Hear title track from ‘Money Shot,’ Puscifer’s upcoming third LP.

Hear title track from 'Money Shot,' Puscifer's upcoming third LP.

Of all the endeavours that Maynard James Keenan has launched over the years — including Tool, A Perfect Circle and Caduceus Cellars, his winery in Jerome, Arizona — Puscifer has been the most consistently difficult to define. Electro-industrial rock project? Absurdist in-joke? Desert-fried collaborative collective? Raunchy repository for Maynard’s bawdier lyrical excursions? Party jams for the impending apocalypse?

Elements of all the above have certainly been in effect since 2007, when Puscifer made their recorded debut with the hilarious hoedown “Cuntry Boner” and released their first full-length, V is For Vagina. Subsequent Puscifer releases — including 2011’s Conditions of My Parole and several EPs and remix albums — have continued to defy expectations and easy classification; ditto for the band’s ever-evolving live shows, which (as captured in their 2013 DVD, What Is… Puscifer) typically meld music, sketch comedy and sardonic social commentary in a manner that’s both thought provoking and highly entertaining.

Money Shot — Puscifer’s latest album, out October 30th — takes a more refined approach to all the things that make Puscifer Puscifer. The raunchy sense of humour is still there (most notably in the lustily grinding title track), but the overall mood of melodically pulsing songs like “Grand Canyon,” “Galileo” and “The Remedy” is darker, more somber and more reflective. Concocted with co-producer–multi-instrumentalist Mat Mitchell and singer Carina Round over a three-year period — with help from a cast of musicians that includes keyboardist Juliette Commagere, Maynard’s son, Devo Keenan, on cello, and drummers Tim Alexander (Primus), Jon Theodore (Queens of the Stone Age) and Jeff Friedl (A Perfect Circle) — Money Shot feels like the most focused work the band has created to date, and maybe also the most personal. In advance of Puscifer’s upcoming U.S. tour, which kicks off November 1st, we’re premiering the album’s angular, aggressive title track.

“There was a little more schizophrenia with the first record,” Maynard tells Rolling Stone. “We were in hotel rooms, and we were recording in a different studio every day on the road, but the hardest part was, ‘Okay, you’ve got two other bands; how do we make this third thing not sound like the others?’ With the second [album], I felt we kind of settled into ourselves — and this one is more about me in that place, if that makes sense.”

It seems like Puscifer’s trademark sense of humour has taken something of a back seat to heavier themes on this record.
Yeah, I guess so. I can see how someone would think that, but I see the humor all the way through it, even in the heavier tracks. On our earlier stuff, we completely separated it — “Cuntry Boner” over here, and then “Indigo Children” over here. Here, they’ve been integrated more. It’s like a fine wine that’s been aging in a large cask for two years, instead of being right out of the press and into the bottle. 

But with tracks like “Galileo,” “The Arsonist” and “Life of Brian,” you’re clearly taking a hard look at the current state of the human race.
Yeah, I feel there’s a lot of disconnect. We’ve kind of gotten away from the nuclear family — the “It takes a village to raise a child” mentality. You see local food movements, “local first” movements, farm-to-table movements, and all those kind of things. But no one’s really going farm-to-table with family, anymore; they don’t understand what it really takes to raise a child. A little bit of discipline, maybe, so when you open your mouth and say something that’s not cool to an adult, maybe you get smacked in the teeth.

I don’t know about you, but I had the orange Hot Wheels track across the back of my legs… nobody’s advocating child abuse, but that shock to your chakras in a moment where you think you’re right, that’s part of learning; falling down is part of getting up. I feel like any problems that are coming up nowadays can easily be navigated with logic, a sense of responsibility and coming from a position where maybe you’re wrong — “What did I do to provoke this? What can I do to make this better?” Take responsibility for what you’re putting in the world, and stop confusing your opinion with fact in a debate.

Is your song “The Remedy” advocating the use of fact and logic as the remedy for what ails us as a society?
“The Remedy” really is a borderline-extinction-level event where we’re worrying about food, clothing and shelter rather than worrying about whether or not you should use the word “retard” [laughs]. We’re so far away from the reality of what it means to survive, and buying into the polarized crap that goes on in the political arena, and also caught up in what you think you deserve. “I deserve free shipping!” You know? It’s just so disconnected with real life, and what it takes to survive. And maybe because I grew up on a farm, and maybe because I’ve done that work and maybe because I live in Arizona, where everything will kill you if you’re not aware… maybe I just have a different perspective than most people. Kids that spend all the time on their phone have no idea that it’s raining — they have to wipe the water off of their screen to check and see if it’s raining on their fucking app!

Social media does seem to have significantly lowered the ability for human beings to engage in intelligent discourse.
Yeah, it’s pretty brutal. I guess I’ve just kind of turned into the old curmudgeon. “Back when I was a kid!” [Laughs] But I feel like we really are far removed from social responsibility — and spiritual responsibility, I guess. So all you can really do is just try to be a better person every day, try to improve yourself every day, and your perspective on the world. And then, whatever you put out into the world, hope that it might inspire somebody to try to be a better person. There’s really nothing else you can do.

Well, I suppose another option would be to lock yourself away in complete solitude, and try to avoid the human race as much as possible.
Yeah, but I don’t think that that’s the right thing to do. I can’t do that. I mean, I’ve locked myself away in my bunker, but I’m doing things. I’m showing you that, with a little effort and ingenuity and thinking outside the box, you can change an entire state’s economy. I did that by making wine in Arizona — a place that was suited for grapes, to begin with, but nobody told you that because it wasn’t on their radar. We’ve changed the economic landscape in Arizona, and eventually we will influence votes, we will influence politicians. Because money changes things. And we’re changing it from a perspective that is rooted in artistic and utilitarian practices that erase the colour lines, political lines, social lines, economic lines in the form of farming and winemaking.

Speaking of Arizona — was the song “Grand Canyon” specifically inspired by a visit to the Grand Canyon, or is it just the perfect metaphor for the awe-inspiring majesty of nature?
It’s a perfect metaphor for understanding how insignificant you are in the big picture. Once you can embrace your nothingness, you can move forward to a positive end. Standing at the edge of a thing like the Grand Canyon puts things literally and figuratively in perspective — you’re just a blip on the screen of what all happened here. I feel like, if that doesn’t move you, then something’s wrong with you. So literally the Grand Canyon, and figuratively the Grand Canyon, in reference to the track. It’s meant to bring perspective, in some way. And, you know, the video [for the song] can only do it so much justice. You have to get off your ass; you have to get out of the rut that you’re stuck in, and make the journey to some other place.

I feel like our school systems are just training people to be obedient for factory work. I feel like, if you really want people to learn, every kid at the high school level should travel. That should be part of the curriculum, going to other places — great places and awful places — to learn world perspective. Because if they have a wider perspective on what goes on in the world, they’re going to be better people for it.

And perhaps a greater respect for the power of nature, because that’s something that also seems to be getting lost.
I mean, it’s lost on some — but when tsunamis hit, it’s not lost on the people who just had their asses handed to them. You can’t just build a wall to keep it out, or construct an app to stop tornadoes; Mother Nature’s gonna win, and it’s going to continue that way. I’m pretty convinced that that’s just the way it’s gonna be. That disconnect — whether you like it or not, you’re going to get reconnected soon! Those impending things are coming your way. You cannot argue with climate change! I know there’s a bunch of people out there who are arguing that it isn’t happening. But I’m finishing my harvest almost a month and a half early, because of the weather. Everything was in line and it ripened properly; it’s not necessarily because of the heat, but something’s different, and I’ve been watching it get progressively different every year.

Why do you think people have such a hard time grasping the concept of climate change?
I don’t know. Fear? They’re not prepared? They don’t know how to make fire or find pure water? God bless ’em, but I’m gonna be taking head shots from the porch [laughs]. That’s what’s going to happen — the larger cities, they’re all going to start eating each other and wandering across the vast wastelands outside of the city, going towards the places where people know how to grow food. Those are called zombies. And I’m ready! We welcome you with open scope [laughs]!

Mat and Carina have clearly become integral parts of Puscifer. What are the special qualities that they bring to the table?
Mat listens almost as well as he executes. He has ideas, and he’s stubborn like me, but he’s open to hearing ideas. So I feed him information — “Watch this film, read this book, listen to these songs, and just come up with a vibe.” And then maybe I come up with a basic tempo or time signature. I just want to hear what you do when you’re forced to write something in 5/4. Because it’s going to be different than something I come up with. And then I react to that, and we build on that seed. Carina, the same thing. Once everything’s in place and we’re starting to explore harmonies, when I hit a brick wall, she’s going to come up with a note or a harmony that I didn’t think of, because her range is out of my range. So she’ll come up with a thing, and maybe I’ll bounce back with another one on top of it.

You recently announced North American tour dates for November and December. Can you give us any clue as to what we can expect for the new Puscifer stage show?
Yeah! I could!

Will you?
Uh, no… Nice try [laughs]. With Puscifer, we realize that the digital age is just endless possibilities, and nothing is written in stone. So whatever stage show we start off with on this tour, it might change and go in a complete opposite way. We’ve built an audience that, for the most part, is open enough to whatever we present them. They’ll go, “That was awesome,” even if it’s something like us playing AC/DC covers for the entire show.

I would totally pay to see you guys do a set of AC/DC covers.
Right [laughs]? Like, Let There Be RockPowerage and High Voltage all in a row? Now, I wouldn’t do that — and if we did that every night, then that would be boring. But to do it one or two nights on a tour, when no one knew it was coming? You’d get a bunch of people who’d be pissed off because we didn’t do any songs from the album, but you’d get a bunch more people who were like, “We got to see that thing!” And that’s what life is, assholes! It’s change, it’s chaos — it’s not what you expect and what you think you deserve. Your entitlement isn’t relevant at the Grand Canyon. It just isn’t. 

So, last question… what’s up with the new Tool record?
I write lyrics and melodies to music. If I don’t have music, I can’t.

Fair enough. Well, I’m looking forward to seeing Puscifer on this tour; maybe if I’m really lucky, I’ll catch you on AC/DC night.
It might be the Cars, I’m sorry [laughs].