Unwa­ver­ing in their often industry-counterintuitive resolve for over two decades, Tool have risen to the ranks of one of the most wor­shipped rock acts on the planet with their ornate brand of pro­gres­sive metal. In the week ahead of the out­fit announc­ing their wel­come return to Aus­tralia, I spoke with drum­mer Danny Carey in the AM before being con­nected with vocal­ist James May­nard Keenan in the PM. The one pro­viso of the inter­views was to avoid the ques­tion of when the next Tool album will arrive. But as Danny and May­nard reveal, the band is cur­rently putting together the pieces for the long-awaited follow-up to 2006’s 10,000 Days.

Do you still take the time to prac­tice drum­ming at this stage in your career?
I used to prac­tice quite a bit, but I don’t do it so much any more. Usu­ally I tend to play, show up at gigs and play. I do that around once or twice a week. Between that and rehears­ing every day, writ­ing on the Tool record, I don’t have time to sit down and prac­tice. I need to though, these lit­tle kids com­ing up doing the drum stuff are run­ning cir­cles around me now. The new gen­er­a­tion have gone beyond what I’m doing. You have to have a dif­fer­ent approach, and peo­ple dig what I’m doing.

How dif­fi­cult is it com­ing up with and nav­i­gat­ing these time sig­na­tures?
I mean I’m lucky enough to be play­ing with Adam [Jones, gui­tarist] and Justin [Chan­cel­lor, bass], and they come up with a lot of these time sig­na­tures with their riffs and what they write. I’m just try­ing to remain com­pletely flex­i­ble and not bend it into some­thing square. Maybe some­times I do try to push it and make it even weirder, cre­at­ing a polyrhythm or some­thing rather than play­ing in uni­son with them and think­ing the same thing, try­ing to take things to a place that’s inter­est­ing as pos­si­ble. There’s nat­ural flow of things, the way things work in the band. It’s funny, some­times we hear things dif­fer­ently. If Justin comes up with a weird riff and I can hear it in a dif­fer­ent time sig­na­ture than what he’s hear­ing it in. That’s the magic of the whole group effort – peo­ple can hear meters in dif­fer­ent way, or hear it twice as fast or twice as slow, or sub­di­vide in dif­fer­ent ways. It keeps it inter­est­ing, it can lead to train­wrecks when writ­ing. But we always suss it out before it reaches a crit­i­cal stage. Some of the best things we come up with are mis­takes, then they become parts of the song that we really like.

Are you still explor­ing elec­tronic pads?
I lean on them pretty heav­ily, par­tic­u­larly with new mate­r­ial. It’s pretty much the same setup I had before with my Man­dala pads that were made for me. I use a pro­gram called Bat­tery and I can just dump sam­ples in and out pretty eas­ily on to all these dif­fer­ent pads and save it for each song. Just the other day I got almost 100 new sam­ples of eth­nic drums and pieces of metal. I always try to keep my palate fresh so I can add tex­tures to the new things we’re work­ing on. I still use the old Korg Wave­drum that I’ve been using for years, plus I just picked up a new one, and Roland Octopad. Plus I still have all the acoustic ele­ments – I got a bunch of new cym­bals from Paiste this year, so I’ve been tri­alling those out.

Have you set­tled on the acoustic ele­ments of your kit?
I’m always keep­ing my eye out for new things, but for acoustic drums I’m pretty happy with what I’m get­ting right now. I guess the cym­bal thing is a con­stantly evolv­ing process, peo­ple are always com­ing up with new things so I try to keep my eyes open. But I have most of my acoustic drums dialled in.

Do you think the dynamic between record­ing an album and tour­ing the album has changed since Tool first began?
Yeah it’s kind of tricky. The mar­ket def­i­nitely has shifted. When we first got signed, we did live shows to sell the records. Now we do records to sell the live shows because there really isn’t that much money in record sales any­more. We still have the old school approach of mak­ing albums. From the begin­ning, we never did sin­gles, only albums. We’ve always been kind of archaic in our approach to the sys­tem, and I think peo­ple are hun­gry for that. Peo­ple can still sit down and lis­ten to a whole record, and that’s how I pic­ture our fans.

Where are you call­ing from today?
Just fin­ished up in the bunker, in Arizona.

How are things at the win­ery?
Solid. We just did a bunch of pre-filtering and get­ting ready for bottling.

You’re in the midst of prepar­ing new Tool mate­r­ial, how does that fit in with your wine­mak­ing duties?
It’s more about being a slave to the sun and the rain. There’s a spe­cific sched­ule that you’re on when it comes to har­vest and pro­cess­ing, and mak­ing music can be sched­uled around that because mak­ing music isn’t nec­es­sar­ily sea­sonal. It does flow with moods, that’s for sure. You can’t really force art. But with the wine, you’re def­i­nitely on a clock.

Do you take com­fort in being sub­servient to nature, to have things out of your con­trol?
It’s great. It’s nice to be in the midst of that chaos and nav­i­gate it wide awake.

Dis­tri­b­u­tion has changed dra­mat­i­cally since the last Tool album, and Tool has always gone above and beyond in terms of pack­ag­ing. How do you see that fit­ting in to the dig­i­tal realm?
It’s funny, I grew up with vinyl and that was the medium, and of course there was the embar­rass­ing thing called the 8-track too. But vinyl was the main medium. But even back then, I remem­ber look­ing at the 8-track and think­ing that, ‘this is kind of awful’, because you don’t get all the fun images with it. With the album you could have the dou­ble gate­fold with all this extra infor­ma­tion and images that leant them­selves to what was going on with these par­tic­u­lar songs, you could find out who wrote what, who per­formed what, who mixed what. It was always a nice com­plete pack­age, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, with vinyl. I feel that, these days, that is miss­ing with the iTunes experience.

But it could be argued that there is a sort of lim­it­less pack­age that can be offered in the dig­i­tal form in terms of mul­ti­me­dia, cor­rect?
Yeah, in a way. But gen­er­ally speak­ing, peo­ple aren’t sit­ting there at their com­puter look­ing at that infor­ma­tion. It’s not phys­i­cally not in front of you. You didn’t have to pick up that infor­ma­tion to lis­ten to that music, you know what I mean?

I was speak­ing to Danny ear­lier about how it used to be a case of tour­ing to sup­port the album, but now it seems to be a case of record­ing an album to sup­port the tour.
They’re still hand in hand depend­ing on the project. There are some peo­ple who make a liv­ing per­form­ing live, but there are def­i­nitely a lot of peo­ple that rely on their dig­i­tal pres­ence to pay the bills. I kind of find a happy bal­ance of that with Pus­cifer. I think both points could be eas­ily argued. My tour­ing sched­ule is wrapped around my win­ery activ­i­ties, or I just don’t tour at all. I put out things dig­i­tally, and I still do vinyl with all the projects because I just like that medium.

You’re cur­rently work­ing on putting together a biog­ra­phy. Is it daunt­ing to think about your mor­tal­ity and legacy in that way?
If you read the Mot­ley Crue biog­ra­phy, it’s what you would expect – crazi­ness, hos­til­ity, drugs, break­ing things, fun times. They’re not the biogra­phies I end up get­ting in to. I lean toward more story-oriented biogra­phies. Not like a diary of sorts, those can be kind of bor­ing. But I do find that the process is inter­est­ing in terms of legacy. You don’t want it to be air­ing dirty laun­dry, because that is bor­ing. You want it to find the pos­i­tive aspects and influ­ences, then high­light those. I’m work­ing with a writer friend of mine, I’ve known her for decades. She’s the older sis­ter of one of my best friends from high school. We’re going through it and putting in all the infor­ma­tion then sift­ing through it, work­ing around it like you would a song.

How do you react to the intense fan dis­course in regards to Tool’s body of work?
I guess some of the best chefs in the world have many lay­ers to what they’re pre­sent­ing in front of you. There are def­i­nitely nuances to what you enjoy in that dish, many lay­ers and expe­ri­ences depend­ing on your palate. That’s what I grav­i­tate towards – that exe­cu­tion of art in gen­eral. Whether it be a chef, a wine­maker, a painter, a film­maker. I guess it would come nat­u­rally that I would want some of that rep­re­sented in what­ever I do.

Do you sub­scribe to Barthes’ notion of Death Of The Author, that your work should be inter­preted sep­a­rate to your iper­sonal iden­tity?
I don’t know if I’ve actu­ally thought about it too hard. There’s cer­tainly a mis­con­cep­tion when it comes to col­lab­o­ra­tive work. When there’s more than one per­son work­ing on some­thing, peo­ple tend to assign their ideas on who the peo­ple are based on the col­lab­o­ra­tion, when the col­lab­o­ra­tion has noth­ing to do with the indi­vid­ual pieces. The col­lab­o­ra­tion is pure, some kind of alchemy that takes it to a dif­fer­ent space.

You’ve dab­bled in film, most notably in the doc­u­men­tary Blood Into Wine. Could you see your­self becom­ing more involved in screen work in the future?
Only when it makes sense. I don’t fore­see myself being an actor. Though I don’t mind play­ing dress-up and pre­tend as long as the part is right and the peo­ple involved are fun to work with, that it’s a chal­lenge for me. But as for it being a new career, no. I don’t think that’s a great idea.

There is a lucra­tive trend of repack­ag­ing and rere­leas­ing albums. Is that an avenue you have con­sid­ered for Tool?
I haven’t really thought about it. I’m still in the mid­dle of cre­at­ing new things. The idea of going back and rehash­ing old things doesn’t really fit on the calendar.

There’s not really a pat­tern in terms of Tool tour­ing, how do you decide when it’s time to hit the road?
I base it on my back. What­ever the back can take. What­ever set we’re con­struct­ing, whether it’s A Per­fect Cir­cle, Pus­cifer, or what­ever it is I’m doing, you have to con­sider the age. Again the inter­net, peo­ple don’t realise what’s hap­pen­ing, and we’re quickly clos­ing in on 50. We’ve been doing this for a while.

What is the plan for when age becomes a more promi­nent fac­tor?
I just won’t do the things that are tir­ing. That’s the dan­ger with some of these projects, you see peo­ple out there, some age­ing rock star try­ing to do the pow­er­slide. It’s embar­rass­ing, just don’t do the fuck­ing pow­er­slide. Do some­thing else. Present your strengths, not your weak­nesses. We’ve already heard about your weaknesses.

[The phone oper­a­tor inter­jects to advise there is time for one more question.]

Do you think you’re a funny guy?
I wish I was. I wish I was fun­nier. And the act of wish­ing that makes you not funny. I think there are peo­ple that have a nat­ural tim­ing and nat­ural abil­ity to be funny. I tend to think of myself to be more like the idiot radio announcer in Good Morn­ing Viet­nam who thinks he knows funny.


Tool will tour Aus­tralia this April and May.

April 27, 28 – Rod Laver Arena, Mel­bourne VIC
April 30 – AEC Arena, Ade­laide SA
May 3, 4 – All­phones Arena, Syd­ney NSW
May 6 – Enter­tain­ment Cen­tre, Bris­bane QLD

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