Right from the beginning, A Perfect Circle never fit the shape of a conventional rock band. It’s no surprise then that the group has defied regular touring and recording cycles over its nearly 20-year history.
Often described by critics as an art-rock inspired alt-metal supergroup, A Perfect Circle melds the powerful, haunting vocals of Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan with the soaring, searing guitar work of co-songwriter/producer Billy Howerdel.
The duo famously first originated when Howerdel played Keenan some of the songs he had written after spending years working as a guitar tech for bands like Tool, The Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and others. Impressed, Keenan said he could hear himself singing on the tracks, and the project came to life in 1999.
“I’m not gonna lie. I am pretty pragmatic and shy when it comes to things. But when we went into this, I thought we had something special,” Howerdel said of the band’s beginnings.
At the time, Howerdel was a ProTools engineer on the long-delayed Guns N’ Roses album Chinese Democracy. But the feedback he kept getting from friends and peers in the music industry gave him the confidence he needed to step away from that high-profile gig and venture out with his own music.
“I had saved up all of my money at the time and put it into APC,” Howerdel said. “I had toured for many years, and worked at home, and saved over $100,000, and I put it all into this band. So if it failed, I was going to be screwed. I definitely was shooting for the stars.”
The effort paid off in 2000 with A Perfect Circle’s debut LP Mer De Noms, which launched at No. 4 on the Billboard Albums chart, becoming the highest-charting debut for a rock band ever. Then APC returned with its second LP, 2003’s Thirteenth Step, which charted even higher at No. 2.
The band quickly followed up with eMOTIVe, a politically charged covers LP released on Election Day in 2004, before going on hiatus in January 2005. At that time, Keenan returned to work with Tool, while Howerdel released his own album as Ashes Divide.
APC has since reunited, first in 2011 for a series of sold-out concerts and major festival appearances all over the world, and again at the beginning of this year in anticipation of a now long-awaited fourth LP.
“I don’t mean to get too fuzzy and heavy about it, but I got into music because the music I listened to meant so much to me,” Howerdel said of APC’s ongoing legacy and dedicated fanbase. “I’ve got to pinch myself sometimes when I hear people recounting stories of how (APC) was the soundtrack to moments of their life. Especially when it brings positive change to them.”
When Revue got ahold of Howerdel last month, he had just finished work on the latest batch of mixes for the new album, which has a tentative release of some time in 2018. He said the band is “full steam on a roll” with the new LP.
Going back as far as 2008, this project has been slow going due to the logistical and creative difficulties of Keenan and Howerdel living in different states and working on different projects. Still, they’ve shared songs and demos online over the years and have used their recent live performances as fuel for the fire of their new material. The band played two new songs — Feathers and Hourglass — on its spring tour earlier this year.
“I’m shocked sometimes how quickly he’ll respond to something I put up,” Howerdel said. “There was one (song) that went up two weeks ago and I think within 48 hours or less there was a finished song. And he hadn’t heard it before. These aren’t that simple of arrangements, so he’s unique like that. He’s a talented dude.”
Shortly after talking with Revue, the band cryptically teased The Doomed online, hinting at its first new material since 2013.
“On the spring tour, I started working on the record, and I’m bringing another studio on the road this time, so I’m going to be busy,” Howerdel said. “I wake up in the morning and get right in the studio in the dressing room, and try and capitalize on that kind of energy.”
In addition to harnessing the concert energy, Howerdel said the current political climate once again is having quite the impact on new material.
“(Maynard) said it very well on the last tour. To paraphrase him, it was something like, ‘Our job as artists is to be emotive creatures, and we’re here to interpret and report,’” Howerdel said. “But it’s our interpretation. It’s our report, and it’s completely subjective.
“For me, I would say most people could agree that things are more chaotic than ever, and more unsettled, and more uncertain than I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I’ve lived through the cold war. It takes a toll on everybody. There was a time, especially in early winter, where I wasn’t really working. … And so I think we all need a balance. People have to pay attention — they have to stay involved, but they have to keep a balance. You have to unplug for a moment and be healthy enough to make informed and wise choices.”
A Perfect Circle wsg. The Beta Machine
The Deltaplex, 2500 Turner Ave., Grand Rapids
Nov. 22, 6:30 p.m., $45-$65, Vip Tour Package: $225, Billy Howerdel + Caduceus Cellars Package: $325
deltaplex.com, (616) 364-9000