Puscifer: Trading Shots With Maynard James Keenan

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By Daniel Tucceri

For a guy who’s famous for singing in a band effectively named ‘vagina’, and is better known for singing in a band named ‘dick’, Maynard James Keenan is a pretty serious bloke. Despite being known for the kind of humour that’s seen him play Satan in a Bikini Bandits movie, or announce that he’s found Jesus, Keenan chooses his words carefully and is direct to the point.

The Puscifer and Tool frontman, who occasionally moonlights for A Perfect Circle, has released Puscifer’s most mature effort yet in the form of Money Shot. Aside from the concupiscent title, a cynical air pervades the album within a bleak aural landscape. As Keenan’s grown older, he certainly hasn’t walked the path of the eternal optimist. He has little time for small talk and there’s certainly no mention to be made of the ‘T-word’. With Keenan, you get the sense of a man who is acutely aware that time is short and the world hasn’t changed much. There’s an undeniable air of pessimism both in his music and words.

Notwithstanding his worldview, Puscifer has galvanised as the members have settled into each other, as he puts it. “We’re not just a band, we’re kind of a theatrical piece. So, we’ve got many, many things going on and many irons in the fire”. As to whether having a friend like Bill Hicks informed his sense of humour, Maynard clarifies that sketch comedy played a bigger part in influencing Puscifer. In particular, the obscure Canadian sketch team Kids in the Hall.

Kids in the Hall are more of an influence, as far as the Puscifer stuff is concerned”, he points out. “‘Monty Python, League of Gentlemen. Bill was just more stand-up. Those things were a much bigger influence as far as what we’re doing.”

Versatile as Keenan is, he is adamant that keeping the fans guessing isn’t intentional. “It’s not really the agenda. This is the kind of humour I appreciate, this is the kind of music I appreciate, this is the kind of theatre I appreciate. So, that’s what I’m emulating.”

“If people can keep up, they can keep up”, he adds unapologetically. It’s a little more diplomatic than telling those who still remained perplexed to “pull their fucking heads out of their asses”, as he bluntly put it in the EPK for Money Shot.

Along with his now infamous comments calling his fans ‘retards’, it’s inconceivable that the same people comply with Puscifer’s ‘no filming’ policy. However, a cursory glance at Tool-related threads on Reddit proves them to be respectful of this rule. “When people want something, and they want to do something, there’s nothing you can do”, Keenan explains. “Nowadays, everybody’s just thinking of what they want, when they want it, especially online. Just instant gratification.”

For Keenan, it’s logical. “You paid for your ticket to come in, and you were probably surprised by some of the things that you saw. So, you’d think out of respect for other people that you would not want to share this thing”. His speech gradually hastens and indicates the exasperation of having a surprise spoiled. “It has nothing to do with our franchise and us making money. It just has more to do with, can’t you just let somebody be fucking surprised?”

Generally, loyalty and fanaticism tend to go hand in hand. At the level of success Maynard enjoys, there resides the perennial dilemma of balancing both the artist’s and fan’s expectations of one another. “There’s nothing you’ve been exposed to that didn’t in some way change over time. Whether your perception of it changed, or whether it continued forward”, he points out. “There’s always going to be someone who has this word that I just despise, which is ‘expectation’.”

Again, Keenan adopts a more conciliatory approach but the frustration in his voice remains. “Remember the thing you enjoyed and just go with that. If there’s more, then there’s more. If there’s less, then there’s just less.”

Keenan pins Puscifer’s evolution down to simply getting older. “We’re gonna approach things differently. We’re probably not gonna repeat ourselves in some way. I couldn’t have written those lyrics ten years ago”, the frontman maintains.

Would he regard himself as a pessimist? “Well, I think anyone who’s over forty has that in them. Part pessimist, part optimist. I think because you’ve seen some things, you want to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Or prepare for the mediocre”.

While Keenan has previously looked upon the ubiquitous dependence on technology with disdain, he admits Puscifer wouldn’t exist without it. “We were trying to do animation and film and record our own music in the mid-nineties, but the tools weren’t available to us. Back in 1996, to do any of the videos that we’ve done with Puscifer would’ve cost us half a million dollars minimum. Now we can do it for five grand.”

“Because the technology’s there, you’re no longer paying the gatekeepers to get it done”, adds Keenan. A greater sense of independence is achieved with one’s work, but at the expense of time. “We don’t just shit stuff out, we take our time to get it out. We slowly do it. If you have an idea and it doesn’t work out, then do another one. Don’t be so married to it. You make mistakes, that’s how you learn.” In any case, the final call rests with Maynard, but Puscifer is very much a collaboration with guitarist Mat Mitchell at the helm. “I trust him with my life in there”, Keenan states assuredly. “Mat Mitchell is definitely driving the ship as far as producing and engineering”.

Given the autonomous nature of Puscifer, it’s a job for the accountant to determine whether Australian audiences will have a chance to witness the elaborate live show. The path to total independence is a harder road travelled, as Keenan describes it. However, the quality of ‘Money Shot’ is proof of it being well worth the trip.

Money Shot is OUT NOW.

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