Dear Guitar Hero: Adam Jones of Tool Talks Tone, Gear, Videos, the Band's Anonymity, Time Between Albums and More
The packaging for 10,000 Days is so cool. Whose idea was it and what inspired it? — Paul Swanson
Each time we’ve put out a record, we’ve signed our souls away with the contract. Basically, the record company is like a bank, and they give you some money and you try and make your project. What we do is start with the music: we write a song, and that song has a feeling. Then we write 10 more songs, and each one of those has a different feeling or color. And then, collectively, all those songs have yet another feeling or emotion to them. So that base is where the influence and inspiration for the artwork comes from.
We always wait until we’re done with the music before we move on to what propaganda we’re going to use to work the album. As far as 10,000 Days, I’ve loved stereoscopic photos and 3-D movies since I was very young. When I was in high school, I got a Yashica camera with a 3-D stereoscopic mount and started taking pictures. When we do records, we always try to do something that’s not been done before.
We like to take our budget—the money from the record company—and stretch it as far as we can, even though the record company is like, “What? You don’t spend that much on packaging!” [laughs] That’s what I would want. I would want a band I like to really put it out there, like The Wall.
I like to give you more than your money’s worth and create something really collectible. I had a really great team working on it. The photos were taken by Travis Shinn, Alex Gray did the art, Mackie Osbourne did the layout design and Ray Zone was the 3-D consultant. It was hard work and I definitely lost sleep putting it together, but 10,000 Days is my favorite record and album packaging thus far.
I read that you’re responsible for creating Tool’s killer videos. I’m wondering why there haven’t been any to support 10,000 Days. — Carl Brookes
There are, we just haven’t finished them yet. We ran into a really big snag because the first video is all CGI [computer-generated imaging] and we had some vicious production problems. The company we started with kinda screwed us, but luckily my friend’s company is bailing us out. Since he’s helping us, they can only work on it when their schedule is clear. But it’s gonna be great. When I go home, practically all my time is spent on it.
I thought the CGI process would be a lot easier than physically filming something, which is what we’ve always done in the past. But it’s actually a lot harder to get action down and get it moving and looking right. Plus, you can say, “The character has 15 eye lashes. Can he have 16?” You can get super picky. So at some point you have to shoot for 100 percent and try to get 70. We’re also doing pre-production on the second video, which will be all stop-motion.
You and the rest of Tool seem to have a fixation with occult imagery. I read that Danny sets up his drums in accordance with sacred geometry [geometry used for the design of sacred art and architecture]. Does sacred geometry have any effect on how you live your daily life or how you write music? — Paddy Johnston
Yeah, but labeling it “occult imagery” is sort of a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t look at it as an occult thing. To me, sacred geometry is basically the study of existence, be it physical, spiritual or metaphysical. But to answer your question, yeah, the consideration of these things really connected the group when we first met. We were all searching for ideas, instead of just pinning down one idea and calling it the absolute answer. What we do is more like searching for facts where no facts can exist.
You can take anything and break it down to its simplest form. I think that’s what really drives our band. You can break something down and communicate it with a shape, color or vibration. Communication doesn’t stop at talking or sign language. There are different ways to get ideas across. That’s why the art is very important to this band. It sounds kind of pretentious when I talk about it. [laughs] But if you talk to us, everyone in our band has this completely dry sense of humor where we totally rip on everything. It’s like you get this together with three good friends. You have inside jokes that no one else understands. Tool definitely have those jokes.
Do you use any synth pedals for the guitar effects, or are they mixed in separately? — Robert Perry
Yeah. I use an Access Virus B that I have hooked up to a Moog Taurus [bass pedal synthesizer]…it’s basically an octave of pedals. I use the Taurus to trigger stuff while we’re playing. Sometimes I’ll play an underlying bass part to give a song more low end and a greater emotional boost.
Ever thought about taking your video directing to another level and putting out a movie? — Jerm the Worm
Yeah, we’ve talked about it. We had shot a bunch of live concert footage and were going to put out a DVD, but it turned out to not sit very well with our band. We were like, What can we do that’s more epic than just a live DVD? I think we’re just going to keep shooting stuff, and when we’re ready, we’ll put something out. Of course, we’d like to do something really epic, like the movie version of The Wall, but movie deals are really tough.
Here’s a hilarious example: [director] John Carpenter was putting out Escape from L.A. and they wanted an original Tool song. We said, “Well, you’re not getting an original, but maybe we’ll give you an older one.” But then we realized John Carpenter is a musician. So we were like, “Wait, let’s do a song with John Carpenter!” [laughs] The last thing we heard was the studio wanted half the rights to the song, our record company wanted the other half and John Carpenter’s people wanted the other half. [laughs] So we were like, “Ah, fuck it!” and gave them an older tune. Basically, there’s a lot of red tape in trying to get a movie made. But if we can—or if there’s anyone out there that wants to facilitate a Tool movie—I’m totally open to it.
What song do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment as a guitarist? — Joel Farris
That’s hard to answer. There are so many songs I’ve challenged myself on—songs that I can sleep well at night thinking, Yeah, I took that as far as I could. I think “Wings,” from 10,000 Days, turned out amazing. There’s also a song called “Rosetta Stoned” that’s a really great tune.
I love the lead in that one. Evil Joe Baressi brought in this thing called a pipe-bomb mic. It’s a one-inch diameter tube of brass with one old pickup in it. It’s capped at each end and really looks like a pipe bomb. [laughs] He just threw it in the room when we I recorded the lead for “Rosetta Stoned,” and it sounded amazing. That’s what you hear on the record, just one pipe-bomb mic with one amp.