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  • Interview: Puscifer's Maynard James Keenan

    Mon, 29 Oct 2007 15:47:47

    Interview: Puscifer's Maynard James Keenan - The Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman talks about his latest project, the industry and battling censorship

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    Maynard James Keenan is a larger-than-life figure in the eyes of many rock fans. As the frontman of Tool and A Perfect Circle, he's been at the forefront of the genre for over a decade, operating outside of the mainstream but still able to draw festival-sized crowds. Keenan is an indomitable presence—and one that's taken extremely seriously, despite sporadic joke songs, Bill Hicks references and Mr. Show appearances.

    Keenan's new project, Puscifer, very clearly isn't aiming for academia. To hear him tell it, Puscifer's first album, V Is for Vagina, is "groovy" and is meant to make you feel good, no strings attached. Keenan sat down with ARTISTdirect to tell us more about Puscifer, his attempt to go it alone in the music industry, and the unwelcome discovery of censorship in an unlikely location.

    The buzz that's still on everybody's lips is the new Radiohead album. As someone with a keen interest in escaping what you've called the "tar pits" of the traditional music industry, what are your thoughts on how Radiohead approached that? And do you think it's adaptable for your own ends?

    I have no idea where that's going to go, but I think it's an incredible marketing plan. I don't necessarily agree with the idea of music being free. I know what goes into it, and I know how much it costs to produce it and make it and market it and duplicate the CDs and ship them—it's expensive. Of course, we're speaking in terms of physical items, but even if everything went digital, there's still a lot of expense involved. It's easy for me or Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails to be flippant about how we're going to go about it, because we have a little bit of a bank account and we have the luxury of touring and drawing lots of tickets.

    But I think who gets hurt are the guys in between—those guys who aren't just a local band, who are starting to get around a little bit, and people are saying "Well, the standard for paying for somebody's CD online is two bucks." What?!? That thousand bucks is the difference between those guys going on the road or not going on the road, or being able to make the next record or the next song. That's huge. There's going to have to be a happy medium, because the misconception is that people can make music for free. You make a lot more money touring or selling shirts, yeah, but that's when you get to a certain level. That in-between spot is tough.

    When people write about record labels nowadays, a phrase like "last throes" or "dying days" often can be found nearby. Do you think the industry can find a way to harness this new distribution and maintain their place as gatekeepers?

    I think they will. I think the industry will figure it out. This is the X-factor that the industry is counting on: for the most part, generally speaking, musicians are kinda dumb. They're not really trained in business, they don't have a degree in marketing or law or any of that stuff. They're their own worst enemies. Just because they wrote a song that made this girl cry… [laughs] that doesn't mean they're successful businessmen. They'll screw themselves or drink themselves to death, so the industry will always have a leg up. Most likely the reason that guy wrote that song is because he's damaged goods to begin with, and he needs someone to help him out on those levels.

    Now labels are exploring this so-called "360" approach to handling bands, and really getting their hands in all the cookie jars.

    Yeah, they're going to get their fingers in that. "Well, let me just get a cut of your merch." [Laughs] "And your touring." Some stupid band is going to come along—and, like I said, they're dumb, for the most part—and their lawyer is going to be the guy who plays golf with the guy from the label, and the booking guy plays golf with the merchandise guy or the business affairs manager. They understand that the dummies come and go, and that they're the ones running the business. I think that's less relevant at the moment, but it will go back to being relevant at some point. When they figure out the new model, they'll trick these dummies into giving up huge percentages of their bread and butter by dangling this carrot in front—"We're going to give you twenty million dollars." Of course, they don't tell you that, by the way, it's standard for the lawyer to take five percent of your life, and the lawyer will tell you it's standard for the manager to get twenty percent of the gross, and of course the taxman takes half. All of a sudden, your twenty million dollars turns into twenty bucks and some fucking Starbucks coupons.

    And then somebody in the band says something about illegal downloading and some blogger says "They got a twenty million dollar paycheck—fuck those crybabies!"

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