MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN talks PUSCIFER’s “Existential Reckoning”

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Words by Olivia Reppas

 

As the portal between the parallel spheres opened on Halloween, the only thing potentially more bizarre than the times in which we live has been exposed: Existential Reckoning is here. Puscifer’s fourth studio album is ready for consumption. In the wake of this revelation, Heavy Mag’s Olivia Reppas got the intel from Agent-in-Training Maynard James Keenan.

 

“It was a lot of work,” Maynard recounts, “the desert is not forgiving, so to work in that environment in the hot sun, in the cold night or amongst the concrete and the critters is no easy task and so many moving parts to try to pull off, I’m pretty confident we pulled it off.”

 

And ‘pull it off’ they did. The vibration frequency and the textures and the layers that were put into this music is so powerful, it can take the listener into a bit of a time travel, healing so to speak. And Maynard agrees; each listener can embrace Puscifer’s music in their own way, he explains, “I think in general I feel like that’s the better way to present stories, is you bring yourself to the story, I can only bring so much of it. We like to establish a mood in this setting and kind of send you off in a direction and hopefully it’s a good direction. It’s for yourselves.”

 

Each Puscifer album certainly has its own character, its own setting, and its own vibe. Existential Reckoning is no exception. The alter-egos are ever-evolving. It must be extremely exciting and interesting to fall into that role and play that role for some time while on tour. On how he gets himself into the space to be able to execute the character, Maynard says “It’s just like you said, it’s like it’s about laying out and establishing those characters first, what’s the time period? What’s the costuming? What are you wearing? What are you eating? Where are you? And then you can kind of start to establish a character in that setting and what is that character going to be doing once we have set up in that entire space?”

 

Existential Reckoning incorporates very different instruments which has given it a different vibe yet still absolutely Puscifer. Offering us some insight, Maynard explains the evolution of a Puscifer album’s unique sound. “I think on earlier records,” he begins, “so like for example literally all of our set and what we see and what we are hearing will try to accomplish, is literally hotel after hotel room trying to get this thing done on the road, so the V for Vagina [2007] album was an album in motion with a lot of Frankenstein pieces, and it kind of feels that way. For the setting for Conditions (Of My Parole), 2011, you start to look at drum machine and banjo, mandolin, so if you start your film with the side of a banjo the story is going to unfold in a particular direction. So you’ve kind of started from that perspective – from the perspective of a mandolin a banjo drum machine – so for this album, the Fairlight, which is a beautiful instrument but very difficult to operate and wrap your head around and make go, and it has some pretty specific parameters that you’re operating within, and within those parameters, you find infinite solutions if you just kind of embrace the fact that this is what we have.”

 

To achieve the whole Puscifer experience requires much apparatus and co-operation. “Absolutely there is,” Maynard confirms, discussing what happens when he receives an initial piece of music from Matt [Mitchell – Puscifer’s multi-instrumentalist across guitars, bass, keyboard], “well there’s, of course, there’s a ‘course’, there’s key, what is being presented? But more importantly what rhythm? So I start writing stories and once my rhythm matches his rhythm he starts to expand where he’s gonna go with those initial thoughts. I have to kind of wait for him to get a little further along before I can start writing stories.”

 

So, how do they synchronize so well? “I think it comes down to listening,” Maynard reflects on his collaboration with vocalist/keyboardist Carina Round. He elaborates, “We have our ideas, but we are all good at listening to what is there and making sure that we kick it in an enhancing direction, rather than stomping all over where it’s going to go. You know I’m in the middle of it I’m trying to figure out rhythmic puzzles, nevermind lyrical puzzles yet, so when I paint myself into a musical corner, Carina’s been able to sit back and let the madness happen then she can come to help market perspective on it, like…you missed the others couple spots key back up here, that’s where you went right when you should’ve gone left.”

 

As most of us know, Maynard has established himself in farming on the vast Arizona landscape. For those of us who live on farms, life hasn’t changed during COVID-19, because of where we are, and the way we have chosen to live. For Maynard, this lifestyle choice has resulted in a similar sanctuary from the current pandemic, as he reflects, “I think if you live on a farm you’re one of the people that could share some of that information with people beyond talking to some self-absorbed rock stars,” he says, as he continues to reflect upon reconnection with the land. “You have a lot to offer in terms of just understanding, you know, how to feed a duck, how to grow basil, how to how to make sure that your apple trees survive, just those simple things and understanding that those things don’t always go the way that you wanted them to go. I feel people who have reconnected, figured out how to do community gardens, you know they’re in touch with those things, I feel like they are a little less affected by a lockdown.”

 

During these COVID-19 times, music is important to keep us connected with others and keep us somewhat fulfilled in our souls, and as Maynard says, makes us resilient, “In general, if you are a person that has seen change, extreme change in your life, things you thought were completely stable and you’ve had the rug pulled out from underneath you in some way. If you didn’t survive it, we wouldn’t be talking.”

 

So, will we see Puscifer on tour on the other side of this pandemic? “I think you know”, Maynard says suggestively, “we have some things pencilled in already for 2021, when touring is legal and available.”

 

Existential Reckoning is out now through Alchemy Recordings/Puscifer Entertainment/BMG

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