A Perfect Circle: Turning Corners

A Perfect Circle offers more than music. The band is a unique force and supergroup, oozing with musical talents: lead singer Maynard James Keenan (TOOL); guitarist Billy Howerdel (Ashes dIVIDE); guitarist James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins); bassist Matt McJunkins (Eagles of Death Metal); and drummer Jeff Friedl (Puscifer).

APC is one of the rare acts that while moving us through music, also teach us, potentially helping us evolve, grow, and ask deeper questions about our lives and existence. The band has been making music together for nearly two decades, honing their ability to create a conscious, responsive body of work that comments on culture, society, and human nature.

The band recently released the first single, titled “The Doomed,” from their forthcoming album (rumored to come in 2018). The song was born from an inspirational space after founding guitarist, Howerdel, composed his first score for the independent film, D-Love.

“The Doomed” offers high-impact music and messaging. You can rely on A Perfect Circle to take you on a magical journey through theatric sound, thought provoking lyrics, and superb instrumental application. Their songs conjure feelings that moves throughout the body euphorically. Or maybe it’s just that Keenan’s vocals over Howerdel’s compositions is good, like butter on fresh bread.

The song closes with a cosmic chant of injustice: “Doomed are the poor/Doomed are the peaceful/Doomed are the meek/Doomed are the merciful/For the word is now death/And the word is without light/The new beatitude/‘Fuck the doomed, you’re on your own.’”

The Aquarian caught up with Howerdel, just two days after the “The Doomed” was mixed and mastered. Howerdel was highly secretive in describing the song, which had not yet been released, but generously offered his perspective on working with Keenan, and his excitement for the new content.

APC fans have been waiting patiently for the next record. What can we expect?

That’s always a tough one. I’m the worst salesman in the world! We have a new single coming soon. I will say it’s big. The biggest song and feel that we’ve probably ever had. I’m excited for it to come out.

Last year I finished my first feature film score. In getting in that mode I kind of started this song [“The Doomed”] as a cue for film. Not for anything in particular, but writing for that format in mind, not writing for a rock band. I played a snippet of it to Maynard, not thinking anything of it. I said, “If we want to go in this direction, this is where my head is at,” and he really liked it.

He said to keep going with it. I kind of got inspired. He’s never responded so quickly to a song. I usually get kind of non-committal, cryptic reactions and he certainly reacted to this. It was nice. It kept the fire going for me and I think it translates to the finished product.

How do you collaborate, and what is your process for creating new content for APC?

  A lot of times we’re working separately. I typically start all the songs myself on a blank page in isolation and I just do a lot of writing; I always have. I work through those things. It becomes evident pretty quickly which songs are going to be well suited for APC. Sometimes I don’t have a finger on that pulse. Like on the last tour, we played two new songs: “Feathers” and “Hourglass.” “Feathers” felt like it was APC, but it could go toward my other project, Ashes diVIDE, or for another solo project I’m going to do — I don’t know what it’s going to be called — but “Hourglass” for sure was in the Ashes pile, so it’s interesting to see what Maynard responds to.

At the end of the day I get to work in isolation. I get to start songs. I get to make my musical statement, non-verbally. It’s not fully realized but it’s certainly well established. He can take it and then say I like this and he’ll give me notes. On [APC’s first record] Mer de Noms, Maynard just sang over what I had. On [APC’s second record] Thirteenth Step he gave more input. On this record, he is starting to have even more. It’s great to have those ideas. That’s what collaboration is. It can go as abstractly as sending him a song in the mail — putting it on a server, and in the studio he throws down a vocal scratch idea — I’ll respond to that. Add to it. He tightens it up. We go back and forth, and that method allows us work in our own worlds.

And sometimes we’ll get together in the same room. The new single — the first track record vocals were done here and it was awesome to be in the same room together. But a lot of times we’re working in isolation and then we’ll come together face to face. It’s nice to get your idea across without the pressure of someone on the spot.

Do you and Maynard share a rapport on the content and themes that inspire you?

  That’s something important to both of us. That’s how we connected. I like music that is absolutely not what we’re about, and is just about having fun. An escape. But the music I write, I guess you could write whatever [lyrics] you want to it, although I don’t know that a corny lyric would be the right thing over it. Or maybe it would have been great. I just think what Maynard did at the beginning and what he continues to do is write heartfelt and important sounding things. I think it’s unspoken that we’ve been on the same page.

You get it or you don’t. The references [in the songs] ring true to you or you don’t.

You’ve been through a lot of change in music — including the way people enjoy live shows. It’s merely impossible to find user generated content from live shows!

We’re the strict parents who put restrictions on the audience. Love or hate it that’s just our choice, so there are no cameras allowed at our shows. There are a few reasons. One, it’s just fucking rude to have the person behind you that paid to go to a show staring at a screen instead of being able to see the stage. I’ve been to shows like that. I get it. I see what people do it. But we’d like you to all be present. We’re present and here for you, and that’s just the way we go about it. I understand that times have changed, and that’s fine, but in our living room we’re asking for us all to connect. From a business point of view, it’s not why we did it but it’s another perk of it: Those videos look and sound like shit and I’d much rather, whether you love or hate us, that you go and see it.

Are you always working on multiple projects, or allocate specific time to support your different acts?

We’re in the full throws of a record right now for A Perfect Circle. There’s nothing else I’m doing — other than eating and sleeping — in making this record. Other times when I’m not in full force, I’m just writing. I stopped putting things in folders called “A Perfect Circle” or “Ashes diVIDE,” and now I just have a folder called “Billy” and that’s it. It’s still there. Until it’s done, it’s not moving. I don’t assign it until it’s done. Right now I’m completely focused on A Perfect Circle.


“The Doomed” is available now on iTunes, Apple Music and Spotify. A Perfect Circle is performing at the Petersen events Center in Pittsburgh on Nov. 17.