The prospect of interviewing Tool makes my nape-hairs bristle in a giddy Mexican wave, and not just because Lateralus heavily informed my formative years. Some moons ago in a time where I couldn’t yet construct a devastatingly handsome sentence but dearly loved all things metal and interesting, I somehow found myself at the listening party for the release of 10,000 Days. It was an exciting day, a surreal day; I unimpressed Maynard by falling through the curtained entrance to their bandroom, I annoyed Justin Chancellor with awful questions as the two of us shook inside the comfort of vibrating chairs, I wee’d on Danny Carey. Wait, what? Whilst relieving myself in the gents as Jambi thumped against the grim tiled walls, I felt the presence of a hefty gentleman weight the stinking metal at my feet as he too engaged the communal trough. Partially violating urinal etiquette I turned, ever so slightly, and the sight of all ten vertical metres of Tool’s percussive goliath doing his business a shoulder away caused me to, how you say, freak out like a little bitch. In so doing, a ponderous golden droplet flicked from the tip of my startled manhood and onto the toe of his boot, instantly darkening into a conspicuous blot. I recount this horrible moment in both our lives to him before I even say hello.
“Oh! My God. Yes,” Danny laughs, and I know then and there he’s never worn those boots ever again. “Yeah, I’m sure if we were in a toilet in a place like that, we were probably well hammered!”
While endlessly comical, it’s also a story that’s indicative of the kind of post-celebrity hubris that hangs over the members of Tool like a pall of mystique so paralysing it can choke the urine from even the most resolute of men at the stall.
“It kinda perpetuates itself, I guess. You guys are so far away and we don’t get down there that often. Here around town (that’s LA, for all those in the cheap seats), people are just bored of seeing me at the pisser and whatever! I end up playing with Volto about once a month now at The Baked Potato; they’re probably getting bored of me there, too!”
Hometown Carey-fatigue notwithstanding, fervent Tool aficionados are a far more peculiar breed than most. One need only visit the bizarre bowels of long-running fansite toolshed.down.net to ascertain that these people’s mothers may have smoked up big time during the first, second and third trimesters.
“Oh, that’s a gross understatement,” he laughs, and laughs hard. It sounds like stalactites thundering into the floor of a bear’s apartment. “I’m always amazed at the interpretations I see of, like, songs and things, or even some of Maynard’s lyrics. I’m just going, ‘Oh my God, are you kidding me?’ But, you know, you don’t want to put the fire out sometimes. For us it’s great to entertain it or even foster these people’s weird ideas, you know, so it kinda takes on a life of its own then. I think that’s a sign of... good pieces of art do that, whether it be a painting or songs or anything. They kind of do their job on their own once you let it go into the world, and that’s a nice thing.”
But the very worst, I propose, must be a story to tell.
“There was one, and uh, I couldn’t even describe it to you. I think this guy must’ve had a doctor’s degree in physics or something. It was this insane analysis of our music; it was all these mathematical equations and stuff. I was kind of beside myself, because I was wondering if he actually thought that we were operating on this mathematical level when we composed these pieces. Man, we don’t have time to be getting doctor’s degrees in mathematics for musicians! I think it was Wings For Marie, that was the one this guy had gone into this insane extrapolation over. I couldn’t begin to recite what it was!”
Convinced I can go one better, I relay a recent forum post I was unlucky enough to stumble over at the cult of delirious hero-worship that is toolian.com: ‘If you take the album letters
La Te Ra Lu S and match them to the elemental symbols on a periodic table, then find the etymological root for each of those element's names, it gives the hidden message, ‘Hidden beneath the city of lights lies hellfire.’”
Danny’s head explodes. “There’s something wrong with that, man! I know, I know,” he groans with good humour before his brow furrows into a puzzled trench. “What the hell was that message you read out again? Crazy. Look hard enough and you’ll find anything.”
Sure, like, I don’t know, the wild claim that Ænima synchs up with almost terrifying precision to select scenes in The Nightmare Before Christmas if you begin playing the both of them at very specific times?
“Of course there’s going to be enough coincidences if you’re looking for it,” he continues, and I start to feel a little sad, as if maybe we shouldn’t be demystifying Tool in such a way. It seems like it will crush people. “That’s what you’re gonna see; you’re not going to see everything that’s horribly wrong and doesn’t synch up, that’s not really the way the human mind works.”
While we’re in agreement over the enduring lunacy that attaches itself to the band’s output like a googly-eyed lamprey, it’s also something that continually shocks – if not actually frightens – Danny even after two decades of hearing the meaning behind Tool’s music endlessly defiled by the strangeness of others. “These are the kind of things I don’t think you could possible foresee, or you just don’t think about.
“Of course when we started out we were hoping to become popular and sell records and play for thousands of people, and share our art with that many people... but these little added bonuses, I don’t think we ever could have imagined,” he says, and ‘added bonuses’ is an interesting way to refer to the guy who believes that Danny is the human manifestation of Ares, the Grecian god of war. “I’m just always amazed at how people’s minds work.
“I think Frank Zappa once said something about how, you know, music is really there just to reinforce people’s lifestyle. You know, like the guy that listens to the ‘cool’ music so he can feel a little bit cooler than everybody else, or the guy that listens to jazz wants to be the cool old jazz guy, so he listens to music to reinforce that. People use it to reinforce all their psychosis, or whatever at the same time. It’s just kinda what happens, but I could never have imagined all the craziness I’ve seen. It’s gone way beyond what I ever thought it would.”
Intriguingly enough, however, it’s the peripheral interests of Tool’s personnel themselves that regularly adds fuel to the semi-provoked bonfires lit up by diehard listeners. In Danny’s case, his well-known penchant for arcane geometry and the occult – both things that decorate and inform Tool’s greater monolith.
“For me it just went hand-in-hand with what drew me to drumming, to do art; just being dissatisfied with regular, organised religion or just being dissatisfied with this reality, you know, it drives you to create your own through music or sculptures or whatever your medium is. It all fit hand-in-hand for me, but finding the point where it meets the other three band members is a whole different thing, too,” he muses, and my ears prick up at the words ‘fit’ and ‘point’, as if the mere mention of geometry has encouraged the drummer to talk in more spatial terms. “Those guys aren’t subtle; they won’t vibe on the thing that fires me up, you know, so it’s more difficult to find the common ground between us and that’s what people end up hearing in the end: where the four of us meet, not so much what I am.”
Considering the breadth of Maynard’s ongoing deification – helped along by his work with A Perfect Circle, that Puscifer thing, and the wine-making mania he insists on clouding each and every media jaunt with – it’s easy to wonder aloud whether all of it has had any adverse effect on this rocky creative trespass Danny speaks of, so I do.
“Not too much, as far as functioning within the band when we go into work on our art. That process is still kind of consistent, because it’s sort of out of our control. I think we kind of have to get in the room and sort of surrender to it. We have our methods of madness that work, and they’re kind of tried and true; but then there’s always a sense of experimentation or exploration that can happen too when we’re working, and we’re always open to that. When somebody comes up with some hare-brained scheme, we’ll have the confidence in each other from experience to go ahead and go with crazy ideas or something.”
What, exactly, could possibly constitute a hare-brained scheme in the Tool rehearsal room is something that you, me, and that guy simply must know.
“Well, we can be working on some song for a month, and then just decide that the guitar part now should be the bass part, or the verse now should be the chorus and just throw everything out! Maybe we’ll use some crazy instruments, or wipe the vocals out of a whole tune and turn it into an instrumental. It’s such a drastic musical situation when you’ve put in so many hours on something, and you’re just kind of horrified to see this work get thrown out the window – but it ends up being the best decision we’ve made, and the song becomes something really special and it takes it to a whole ‘nother place that we never thought it would’ve gone. I’m always proud of my band-mates when something like that happens, because it usually results in some weird thing like Jambi or something where I just go, ‘Wow. This is a song that no other band would’ve written.’”
Jambi takes me back to that uncomfortable memory that greeted you at the door of this interview, but Danny mentions it for a good reason: that song’s three divided rhythms provide a telling glimpse into the shape of Tool’s future – and yes, we’re talking the next album.
“It’s a typical Tool song to me; I remember when we were mastering the last record, that was one that I liked to play for people, like, ‘This is where we are, as Tool.’ It’s a good feeling,” Danny says, and Danny is pleased. “We’ve got a couple of great ideas like that that have sort of almost taken off from where that left off that we’re working on. It’s still in its infancy,” he admits, hurriedly, before I can even ask, “and we’re still at the point where we’re just jamming and logging ideas. There hasn’t been a lot of writing and arranging going on; it’s more just in the development, research stages. We’ve got three or four great frameworks that we’re having a lot of fun with, that’s for sure.”
That’s all well and good, I tell him on behalf of us all, but in five years’ time I’ll be over this brooding metal racket thing and courting the sounds of Ornette Coleman in a bid to reinforce my advance into mandatory maturity.
He laughs that deluge of a laugh again, then one he saves for when he’s truly amused. “That’s like the norm, isn’t it? Usually the first two or three songs are the hardest ones, and every once and a while we can get stuck and we’re working on one song for two months or something. I’m hoping it’ll be out... definitely before the end of 2011.”
The almighty TOOL return to Australia to headline the BIG DAY OUT. They’re joined by Rammstein, Iggy & The Stooges, Deftones, MIA, LCD Soundsystem, Grinderman, Lupe Fiasco, John Butler Trio, Primal Scream, The Black Keys, Wolfmother, Angus & Julia Stone, Plan B, Andrew WK, Crystal Castles and heaps, heaps more at Flemington Racecourse on Sunday January 30. It’s sold out – but check out bigdayout.com for ballot info.
TOOL also play a sideshow at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Wednesday February 4... which is also sold out. Hopefully you’ve got your stubs already sorted. As mentioned, they’re hoping to have a new album out by the end of the year.