Maynard James Keenan – On Puscifer, Wine, Columns And Comedy
Written by Marc Zanotti on 25th November, 2012
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Maynard James Keenan is the frontman for alternative metal titan Tool and the Soundwave 2013 bound A Perfect Circle. However, neither of these wildly popular bands are up for discussion today.
Instead Keenan’s focus is currently on yet another band the versatile singer fronts. Puscifer may not be as widely known as Keenan’s other aforementioned bands, but the origins of the self-described “uncertain creative space” stretch back to 1995.
With songs such as C**try Boner and album titles like V Is for Vagina, Puscifer is perhaps the most overt manifestation of Keenan’s sense of humour of all his musical projects. Now with Puscifer’s third EP Donkey Punch the Night expected out in February, Keenan and co will be bringing their intriguing show to Australia.
Speaking with Keenan about Puscifer, the conversation segues into his award-winning wine, his newfound vocation as a columnist, and the 90's LA comedy scene that first inspired his ‘International Multi-Media Project’.
Puscifer just announced a new EP for February next year called Donkey Punch the Night – What exactly is a donkey punch?
Maynard James Keenan: (Laughter) That’s a Google trick for ya. Some homework. From what I understand the PG version of that would be ‘donkey punching’ the night.
Is the lineup on Donkey Punch the Night the same as Conditions of My Parole?
MJK: For the most part yeah, we had a couple other people kind float through on this one. But for the most part, yes, it’s all people from the previous recording.
Who were some of the extra people that floated through?
MJK: Claire Acey, who actually tours with Carina Round, was involved this time around. Of course Juliette Commagere was on there again. We like having her around, fantastic singer.
In addition we had a couple of people who guested on it. Josh Monroe, a gentleman (who) played bass. Zach Rae played piano on Bohemian Rhapsody, a fantastic player as well.
Is that the same Puscifer lineup you plan to tour Australia with?
MJF: The corner pieces, yes. Matt McJunkins and Jeff Friedl from A Perfect Circle and Puscifer and Ashes Divide will be there. And of course Carina Round, Mat Mitchell and Josh Eustis for the touring band.
Reportedly Donkey Punch the Night, like Conditions of My Parole, was recorded in your barrel room . Did you record there to capture a certain sound or to tap into the creative atmosphere of your winery, Caduceus Cellars?
MJK: Most of the tracks weren’t actually recorded in the actual barrel room this time around. It was more the side building next to it, but it is part of the winery.
We just finished up building a new space. We kind of wanted to try it out, hook up a microphone and see what the space sounded like and we just kind of got on a roll, and here we are.
Given that you sign off your Phoenix New Times columns as ‘Chicken Little’ and Puscifier’s manifesto includes a reminder to dance before the end of the world, has 2012 held any creative significance for you?
MJK: Yeah, I get to write about all that stuff and then when it doesn’t happen I get to change my tune and pretend like I never wrote about it. I get to be a hypocrite, awesome!
Have the columns been a cathartic experience for you?
MJK: Yeah, it’s good coz, you know, there’s a lot of wonderful things going on in Arizona that aren’t necessarily publicised. You hear some of the negative stuff, but some of the positive stuff with the wine industry, not a lot of people have some of the inside details on it and some of the inside tracks to know what’s actually happening on the ground.
So it’s nice to have that blog to be able to express some of those things and some of the more romantic and lofty notions that come along with a wine industry. Especially a fledgling one at this small level and how connected that can be with your area and your community.
The blog’s been a really good tool to express some of those ideas that aren’t necessarily expressed otherwise.
Did your wine Caduceus just win four medals and seven ribbons from the Arizona Wine Growers Association?
MJK: There’s a couple of competitions that we just went through. The San Francisco International Wine Competition, I won a gold medal and a silver medal, but that was about a month ago.
Just this weekend, down in Southern Arizona in the Phoenix Area, I won kind of our backyard competition. I won four medals and seven ribbons, yeah.
Given that making wine and making music are both a creative process, is it the same satisfaction to be awarded for your wine as it is to be awarded for your music?
MJK: For me, yeah, it’s quite rewarding. Especially since I made these wines. I’m not just putting my name on the label, I’m the one who’s in the bunker with my wife doing this work.
So it’s very satisfying to know that somebody out there agrees that you made a proper decision when the grapes came in, depending on the conditions of the grapes. You know, in a perfect world you get the perfect grapes in and everything works out great.
The reward ceremony – it’s kind of fun to see all your other peers down there. The difference is that maybe at a music awards ceremony you might get to run into Beyoncé. She’s not going to be at the wine thing.
Do you have any Australian wines in your private collection?
MJK: Oh yeah, absolutely! Quite a few. I have magnum verticals of Moss Wood and Cullen. Mount Mary, Penfolds of course and Henschke and quite a few of that era of winemaking.
There’s a whole new generation of winemakers now that I’ve only just now been able to tap into. So I plan on doing my best to dive on some of those.
So you’ve got plans to see some Australian vineyards while on tour?
MJK: If I have the time, for sure. I think with the festival schedule and with this touring schedule I believe there’s some down time in there and of course I’m bringing my Wellies coz I plan on diving in and helping make some wine wherever I can, coz’ you gotta keep your chops up, right?
To get back to Puscifer, the band is an ‘International Multi-Media Project’ dating back to 1995. The Internet was only in its infancy; what inspired you to create the multi-platform project back then?
MJK: Just watching what was happening around the LA scene. The comedy scene was good; there was kind of a pocket of people that were doing some cool things. The music scene … I wasn’t quite sure where it was going to go.
And then when I saw things like Tenacious D coming out of that same era, we used to play shows opposite Tenacious D. Naked Trucker was still doing his thing, you could kind of see some of those more music-comedy related, sketch comedy things happening at that time.
(It was) very inspirational and it seemed like it had infinite number of directions it could go. So I was kind of trying to dabble in it a little bit and then Tool ended up paying the rent so the rent went.
I understand you’re a big fan of Bill Hicks; which other comedians inspired Puscifer?
MJK: Back in those early days of course it was Mr. Show, David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Brian Posehn, all that crowd from the Mr. Show days.
As well as of course Jack Black and Kylie from Tenacious D, quite inspirational. Also Craig Anton; there was just a whole bunch of awesome people that were doing their thing right around that same time.
Laura Milligan of course. I worked with Laura Milligan on the Puscifer project and she was the one that kind of ran a comedy club where a lot of those guys went to kind of work out their comedy.
Have you ever considered doing stand-up or do you prefer delivering your comedy through music?
MJK: The stand-up, that’s a huge pill to swallow. I think it takes somebody with a little more iron-gut than I have. I don’t think I could do it, it’s too much.
People who do stand-up are absolute heroes to me because that’s a tough thing to do.
Multi-media has made many advancements since 1995. Has the advent of social media and methods of delivery such as podcasts expanded the possibilities of Puscifer in ways you at first hadn’t envisioned?
MJK: Yeah, I mean coz back then you would’ve had to like have some kind of several million dollar bank account or sign with a record label to do anything. I mean back then just to do a video would have cost ya half a million bucks.
We’re an independent project, we don’t have that. So it was very limiting, and like you mentioned, the technology just caught up with it. So back then we couldn’t have done it.
In your Phoenix New Times article Events and Rituals you speak on the importance of oral tradition. Considering that Puscifer seeks to reconnect the bond between artistic and utilitarian endeavours, have you considered using Puscifier to create a spoken word album that consists of classic nursery rhymes or, say, the steps to making a cup of tea?
MJK: In some ways that’s kind of what we’ve been doing since the beginning with all the poetry. We’re kind of filling in important ideas that hopefully will be passed on through rhyme and verse and rhythm.
And that way if it’s being passed down as it is, in that way if somebody’s repeating it by singing it or playing it then, yeah, hopefully it’s surviving bad weather.
Reportedly you have a very strict no photos or footage rule at your shows, is that correct?
MJK: For the most part, yeah, we want people to be involved. We want them to be there, to be present … We understand you want to take a memento home for you but, I mean, first off it’s just rude for the person behind you trying to watch the show.
But more importantly, this whole idea of this oral tradition, of your understanding and absorbing the information around you, you should be able to go home and in detail recount what you saw rather then having to look at your phone to tell you what you saw.
If you lose your phone then you lose the experience, coz you were too busy f**king with your phone to really pay attention to what was happening in front of you.
So put those things away and join us in that ritual and you might actually walk away having had a better experience.
So it stems more from wanting fans to experience the show rather then necessarily ruining the surprise?
MJK: There’s that too. I mean, there’s idiots putting stuff online and kind of blowing some of the jokes. It’s like when you start to tell a joke and somebody yells out the punch line. It’s like, ‘Well, that’s kinda’ dumb. It doesn’t help anybody.’
So in that respect it kind of sucks, but it’s more about paying attention to the space you’re in and just engaging where you’re at and not disturbing other people around you while they’re trying to engage in the experience.
Do individuals that film the set motivate you to make Puscifer’s shows more innovative so fans don’t know what to expect?
MJK: Yeah, I guess, kind of. We’re going to do what we’re going to do. We’re not really reacting to what people are doing in the audience per se as far as trying to outrun their cameras, no. We’re gonna be writing the sets and doing the shows based on what we want to express.
In the past you’ve spoken about music privacy as being built on a foundation of entitlement. I was interested to know your thoughts on subscription services such as Spotify that allows artists to be paid per play?
MJK: I’m not a big fan of Spotify. When you start doing the math and, (I’m) not a fan of Lady Gaga by any stretch, but when she has a million plays and gets five bucks you kind of wonder what’s the point of that?
What about initiatives that allow fans to pay back artists for music they may have downloaded illegally?
MJK: I have no idea; I haven’t really looked at it long enough to really know all the details of whatever it is, that is.
But, you know, fundamentally if you’re making an effort to do a thing you should be compensated for that thing you’re doing. Especially in a situation where bands are independent with no funding, if you want them to make more (music) you kind of have to support them.
(Photo by: Tim Cadiente)