One of the more recognizable names in hard rock and heavy metal since the early 90s is Maynard James Keenan. Even if you’ve never heard him spit out a single lyric, you may have seen him show off his comedic charm in the 90s sketch series Mr. Show or the utterly ridiculous action fest Crank: High Voltage. You might have also caught the fascinating documentary, Blood into Wine, highlighting himself and his flourishing Arizona-based wine business.
But no, above everything else, he’s primarily known for being the front man for the multi-platinum selling band, Tool. This man is partly responsible for the artistry of such tunes as Sober, Pushit, Forty-Two & Six, H., Parabola, and the Grammy-award winning Schism just to name a few. Well sadly, it’s been almost a decade since the last Tool record due to a legal dispute that hopefully will be settled soon. I briefly reminisced about them in my debut article for CXF so now I want to shine some light Maynard’s popular side project, A Perfect Circle, which showed off a less peculiar side of Keenan.
I cannot believe that it’s been 15 years since A Perfect Circle’s debut album, Mer De Noms. I remember when its lead single, Judith, hit the radio in 2000, the disc jockeys on the New York FM radio station, 92.3 K-Rock (RIP) constantly touted them exclaiming “Hey, you know the dude from Tool? Well he’s got a new band now…and they’re actually pretty good!”. The station would play the song constantly and Judith would eventually dominate rock radio for pretty much the entire year. Two equally successful singles followed, 3 Libras and The Hollow, with the latter being a personal favorite of mine. A few other understated tracks from that record were Thinking of You, which made me the most accessible tune Keenan has ever composed, and Magdalena, the LP’s second track that ensures that the debut has no intentions of slowing down. The strength of the singles and good word of mouth payed off as the album peaked at number four on the Billboard Top 200 and later achieve platinum status. This drove home the fact that the group wasn’t just a gimmick or vanity project, that they were here to stay and make great music together. A decade and a half later, Mer De Noms holds up extremely well and yours truly still listens to it regularly.
Let’s backtrack a little for a second and see how everything originally came to be: A Perfect Circle formed in 1999 while Tool was on hiatus. Their last record had been 1996’s Aenima and they wouldn’t release another one until 2001’s Lateralus. In the five year break, Maynard joined up with guitarist Billy Howerdel and started writing tunes. They decided they would ultimately unveil this endeavor to the world and later joined up with Argentine bassist, Paz Lenchantin, current Queens of the Stone Age axeman, Troy Van Leeuwen, and prominent session drummer, Josh Freese to complete the sound.
Following the release of Mer De Noms, the band set out to support Nine Inch Nails on a U.S. tour to promote the then latest NIN album, The Fragile. This included a date at Madison Square Garden which my mother forbid my 14-year-old self to attend. Add that to the rising pile of concerts, most famously including the Metallica/Guns N’ Roses/Faith No More stadium tour of 1991, I wish I had been old enough to see. APC would headline their own tour later that year with most dates being sold out. British band, Sunna opened for them. I remember hearing quite a bit about Sunna in the early 2000s but they quickly seemed to disappear off the face of the planet. Upon researching what they’ve been up to, I see they’re still together and still perform to this day. It’s weird hearing so much hype about them one day and then virtually nothing the next. That’s how the business works, I suppose!
Internal strife caused the line-up to be tweaked before the band’s second and last release of original material. Not only did Paz leave but Freese had gone on to other commitments. Interestingly, Van Leeuwen also left and in his place was former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist, James Iha. The record, The Thirteenth Step, came out in 2003. This is one of the albums I associate with my senior year of high school. Two of my favorite songs off that album were The Noose and Blue, both of which were blasted many a time from my disc-man on the bus to class and remain two of my favorite APC tunes. The first single featured was a number entitled Weak and Powerless which reminded fans why the group was so awesome in the first place. Maynard’s vocals were in top form and the musicianship was crisp. The LP also featured a cover of the Failure track, The Nurse Who Loved Me. Tool and Failure have had a longstanding relationship dating back to the early days of the former. It peaked higher than Mer De Noms, reaching number two on the Billboards and like its predecessor, also wound up going platinum.
The Spring of 2004 would be the last time that A Perfect Circle would perform together live for many years but that didn’t mean they were staying out of the limelight for too long. The band returned that Winter with eMotive. It was a compilation of cover songs with a whole different spin. Some of the tunes re-envisioned are Depeche Mode’s People are People, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and When the Levee Breaks, a song made famous by Led Zeppelin off their famous IV record. I want to shine some light on two of the covers. The first being Black Flag’s Gimme Gimme Gimme. This was a real heavy version more in the tone of heavy metal than its punk counterpart. Henry Rollins, the Black Flag singer who spewed the vocals on the original is a longtime collaborator of Maynard and contributed his voice to the Tool track, Bottom, off their first album, Undertow. The other cover was a real haunting touch on John Lennon’s Imagine. Two original songs also made it onto eMotive with one of them gaining recognition due to its involvement with… Keanu Reeves?
The tune in question, Passive, was released on the soundtrack to the 2005 supernatural film, Constantine. A music video featuring John Constantine himself, played by Mr. Reeves, was filmed to promote it. The song was originally written while Maynard was apart of Tapeworm, a mid-90s side project featuring himself and NIN’s Trent Reznor.
After eMotive, the band was put on hold. During that time, Tool released their last album, 2006’s 10,000 Days. Billy Howerdel went on to work with Josh Freese and Paz Lenchantin in a new band, Ashes Divide.
APC reunited in 2010 with a tour and periodically perform live together to this day. No new music has been on the radar but with the way the music industry is, I say it happens sooner than later. It’s alright though, since I have many fond memories of A Perfect Circle. Now if we can just get another Tool record…