Tuesday, 01 March 2016 10:10

Tool Frontman Comes Home with Puscifer: A Chat with Maynard James Keenan

Written by  Eric Mitts
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Maynard James Keenan Maynard James Keenan Tim Cadiente

Although he’s now revered as the enigmaticfrontman for multi-platinum prog-metal juggernauts Tool and A Perfect Circle, Maynard James Keenan has a long history here in West Michigan.

This month, his current project — the performance-art meets alt-rock outfit Puscifer — plays somewhat of a homecoming show at DeVos Performance Hall.

Born in Ohio, Keenan later spent his high school years in Scottville, a small town in West Michigan’s Mason County. He later attended Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, before relocating to Los Angeles, where he ultimately formed Tool in 1990.

Currently, Keenan lives in Jerome, Ariz., where he’s owned Merkin Vineyards and Caduceus Cellars since 2004. He works completely hands-on at the winery, embracing everything from the challenges of the harsh Arizona climate to the daily labor of creating something literally from the ground up.

Meanwhile Keenan has also worked on Puscifer, cultivating the group from a fictional joke band on HBO’s legendary sketch series Mr. Show into a clothing line, personal creative outlet and collaborative multimedia experience — complete with recurring characters, costume changes and scathingly dark music.

Here’s what he had to say about Puscifer’s decade-long development and the band’s new Money Shot LP.


Having grown up in the Midwest, what was it about Arizona that you identified with so quickly?

The small town feel. I live in a population 500 town and I come from Scottville, population 2,000, so it just kind of resonated with me… There are a lot of similarities where I live now to Michigan. I mean, I get to enjoy the snow. You poor bastards have to endure the snow. But just in general there are a lot of fruit trees that are grown in that area too. I grew up picking fruit in the orchards of West Michigan so there’s that connection, the farming connection.


How would you compare life in Arizona to life in West Michigan?

Money Shot Round 2 Tour
DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
March 26, 8 p.m.
$35.95, $49.95, $75.95
devosperformancehall.com, (616) 742-6500

I guess just what you see. It’s wide-open space. It’s a place of struggle. And I guess that’s the bigger connection between Arizona and Michigan. To be able to get to school in Michigan you better be able to shovel snow. Not going isn’t an option; there’s an obligation like there is for teachers, so you had to go. And in Arizona it is definitely hostile territory in terms of you can’t just wander off into the desert. You better be prepared and willing to do the work to survive.


How would you say the performance side of Puscifer has evolved since you started the project?

There’s definitely a campy side to what we’re doing. We want to entertain and we want to entertain impressively, but we also want to tickle your funny bone a little bit. All those elements have to work together. If we’re doing something and it’s funny, but the music’s suffering because we’re doing these other things, we try to make the adjustment. The songs have to be solid and the bits have to be entertaining.


With a song like “The Remedy” [off Money Shot] you explore and almost embrace the idea of an extinction-level event. As a species, do you feel that’s something we’re almost craving now that technology has met so many of our basic human needs?

I don’t know. It just sucks when there are solutions for kids to learn pretty basic things to survive in a world without the Internet, but there’s such a negative connotation to things like the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts and the Cub Scouts. I mean those things actually used to be good — things like learning how to tie knots and actually survive in the forest and raise chickens. You’re just kind of learning in a social environment because your mom is dropping you off at Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts to get you out of her hair. But you’re actually learning something while you’re there rather than just playing a video game. All it takes is one large massive electromagnetic pulse and there’s no Internet, no video games. What are you going to do now, other than start eating each other? Then we get to have all kinds of fun taking headshots at zombies.


With how Puscifer operates at this point, how much does it allow you to pursue your other projects and endeavors?

The beauty is that my partners in Puscifer, [co-producer/guitarist] Mat [Mitchell], [vocalist] Carina [Round] and [drummer] Jeff [Friedl], are very flexible. They understand there’s a winery element. I will be checking out mid-July and I won’t really be coming up for air until mid-October. They work around it. They understand that you can’t really force creativity — or that’s what they say. I disagree. You can really come up with some stuff if you just gut it out, have some revelations, really put your feet to the fire and have a deadline.

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