Maynard James Keenan of Puscifer Talks "Conditions of My Parole", Wine, and Shakespeare
Thu, 20 Oct 2011 15:58:55
"It's a pretty fantastic area," Puscifer mastermind Maynard James Keenan says of Arizona. "There's lots of good friction."
Keenan is something of a wizard when it comes to friction.
In fact, it's that very friction which fuels Puscifer's brilliant new offering, Conditions of My Parole, recorded in that mystical state. Keenan's musical collective thrives on painting ethereal sonic dreamscapes that teeter between trembling aural bliss on "Monsoons" and "Tumbleweed", crazed electro outlaw country during "Conditions of My Parole", and visceral industrial battering via "Telling Ghosts" and "Toma". There's a constant juxtaposition of the gorgeous and the guttural, the haunting and the hypnotic, and the dark and the light. In the middle of those extremes, Puscifer created not only one of the best albums of 2011, but one of the best of Keenan's career. It's just as wondrously rewarding as anything he's done with Tool or A Perfect Circle.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief and Dolor author Rick Florino, Puscifer's Maynard James Keenan discusses the process behind Conditions of My Parole, parallels with winemaking, inspiration from Arizona, William Shakespeare, and so much more.
Did the process behind Conditions of My Parole differ from "V" Is For Vagina?
Well, on the first release, we were basically traveling. We wrote that and tried to record it in various cities. We were in different hotel rooms every day, and we were in different studios every week. I was actually on tour with one of the other bands when we did all that. You're a little exhausted, and there might not be quite as much focus. We had some basic ideas of what we wanted to do, but for the most part, we were focusing on trying to survive traveling and recording at the same time back then. With this one, we had a lot more focus in one space and one period of time.
Was it much more relaxed since you were at home?
With the recording process, when you have a deadline all of a sudden, things start to get a little nervous. For the most part, there was less travel involved. Being able to sleep in your own bed certainly helps.
What fostered your lyrical evolution on Conditions? Were you coming from a different perspective in terms of writing?
No, the focus was definitely on the area that we were writing it in. We were just looking out the window and knowing our valley—kind of writing from some of those perspectives. Once you have the story in mind, some of those songs fall into place. I was talking to a friend who does a lot of work with Adult Swim. He does a lot of animation and various characters. He said the easiest thing for them is when they really figure out who the character is and they get the character developed. The writing happens on its own because you know who that character is. I think if you know a space like that, really understand what sums up the area, and know where you're going with the idea, all of that other stuff falls into place.
It's more about understanding the atmosphere and vibe and then communicating through that.
Yeah, it's almost like cooking. In an Asian style of cooking, you want the sweet, you want the sour, you want the crunchy, you want the smooth, you want the soft, and you want the spice. You want all of those elements involved. You just pay attention to what's happening and realizing what's missing.
How important is preserving numerous identities within the music?
We definitely have some characters that are kind of the core for this project in terms of animation, film, storyboarding, and what we have in mind for the tour. Once everybody involved has an idea of what that is, it makes their musical decisions a lot easier. Of course it's an easier conversation when you say, "Remember this thing we had going on?" They go, "Oh yeah! I went too far", "I got too busy", or "I didn't get busy enough". It's easy to reel it back in and get it back on track if you have a story, characters, or pieces in mind.
The interplay between you and Carina Round is definitely crucial. Was that something that really evolved over time?
We toured together so that definitely helped develop the relationship in that way. I came up with some of the harmonies on my own and she expanded upon them. A couple times, she was shooting in the dark to figure out where we were going to go with a harmony. She'd come up to me with two or three different ideas. She'd play them, and I'd go, "That one!" It was an organic process.
Have winemaking and songwriting inspired each other at all?
I played some of these songs when they were just sketches for Time White, my winemaker over at Arizona Stronghold Vineyards. Then, I played them when they were more developed, when they weren't quite mixed, and finally mixed. Of course, his review, if you will, of it is how parallel it was to winemaking. When you get the grapes in, they're in a certain state. They go through their fermentation. They have some awkward states that they're in. They finally settle down and start to fall into place and clearly have a home in this or that blend or even on their own. None of those things taste exactly like they're going to taste, until you've actually bottled it, let it sit, and opened it up later. When it's completely finished, you go, "Oh okay". He drew the parallels from watching it grow piece by piece. There are definite parallels between writing and recording and making wine.
Had you been deep into the winemaking process while making an album in the past? Was this the first time you balanced them both simultaneously or is that commonplace?
It generally has been one or the other. I built the winery three years ago and made my first wines in it last year on my own. This year was completely solo. Being in that space and being familiar with it, it was a lot easier to go back and forth. Although, when we're focused on one thing, we're pretty much focused on the winemaking or the music-making. However, it's an easier shift when it's right there.
Is it important for you to balance the comedic and dramatic moments musically?
I think everybody, unconsciously or consciously, always tries to aspire to be as well-rounded of a composer or a writer as William Shakespeare. That's why it's the cornerstone if you're going to really get into stage acting or theater. You've got to study Shakespeare because there are so many nuances. There are layers and layers of comedy and tragedy within a single scene. As a writer or composer, that's the bar you want to aspire to. I don't think anybody's actually achieved that yet. Your eye is definitely on that bar.
Have you heard Conditions of My Parole yet?
Watch our exclusive premiere of the music video for "Conditions of My Parole (The Director's Cut)" here!
Purchase Conditions of My Parole on the official Puscifer site here! Purchase the album on iTunes here! Become a fan of Puscifer here!
See our review of the album here!
See our interview with Carina Round here!
See our interview with Maynard about Blood Into Wine and Sound Into Blood Into Wine from 2010 here!
See our interview with Maynard about the 2009 tour here!