Tool: Sea Change
GW You explored a lot more textures and tones this time. You even played a few genuine guitar solos.
JONES We had a little more time to experiment. We had everything written before we went into the studio. Maybe only five percent wasn’t ready, and we always have at least one song that we build in the studio. That’s been a rewarding process. I talk to people who are in bands and who write their whole record in the studio. They don’t know what they’re doing, and they have a producer come in to help them write songs. We didn’t have a producer this time. Joe Barresi just recorded the record and mixed it, although he did have some input in the process.
GW The album features a lot of interludes in which the guitar or drums drop out entirely and the sounds get very small and intimate. Then when everything comes back in, it sounds even bigger because of the contrast.
JONES That’s the Melvins school of writing music. You learn very quickly that discipline plays a huge part in your writing. You learn that not playing can be just as powerful as playing. You need to let things breathe. I could fill up every little space with feedback or something, but why? That silence just makes the times that I do play have much more impact.
GW Sometimes you play your guitar more like a percussion instrument.
JONES I’ve always been interested in rhythm. I wrote the main riff to “Aenima,” but it was based on Danny showing me how to play three-on-four [i.e., three beats against four]. One hand is doing three and the other is doing four. And he taught me this rhythm that goes “Pass the goddamn butter.”
That made me wonder what other rhythms I could explore. My nephew Joe was in this Arizona drum corps, and his teacher really liked our music and Danny’s drumming. They played Tool arrangements. Joe sent me a tape of it, and we loved it. When we played in their town, we had them open for us. I hit up Joe to show me some rhythms, and he showed me weird beats you can play with one hand while you play straight four with the other hand. That really comes in handy. It’s like playing a Chapman Stick or a Warr guitar [both instruments are played via two-handed tapping]. I’m nowhere near that level, but I really enjoy that mode of thinking.
GW The polyrhythms, arpeggiated patterns and mathematical aspects suggest the influence of King Crimson.
JONES There’s a little bit of that. [King Crimson guitarist/founding member Robert] Fripp showed me some stuff. So did [King Crimson/Mr. Mister drummer] Pat Mastelotto and [King Crimson multi-instrumentalist] Trey Gunn. Those guys are giants, and it was great to learn from them. I’ve also learned a lot from Meshuggah. They’re not so much about polyrhythms as they are about trying different things together and seeing where they meet. They may play in three, then in five, then in four in one progression of riffs; if the drummer is playing over that in four, they’ll see where the rhythms meet up. It’s so exciting. Meshuggah are modern prog-rock as far as I’m concerned. That influence is also on this record.
GW Some of your guitar tones are very focused in the midrange and sound small, almost like they’re coming from a radio, whereas you previously went for a wall of sound. Did you experiment with a lot of effects or amps?
JONES When I play I’m constantly using my volume control. That’s why I use tube amps instead of solid-state amps. When you pick softly it’s clean, and when you pick hard it’s distorted. I’ve started using a volume pedal so that I can manipulate the attack by swelling the sound. It’s something I learned from Robert Fripp. And a couple of times I used a weird tiny speaker that Joe had.
My second favorite lead on the record was recorded using something called a “pipe-bomb mic,” which someone built for Joe. It’s a footlong piece of round brass pipe that’s maybe an inch and a half in diameter and sealed on both ends. An old guitar pickup is mounted off-center inside of it, and it’s hot-wired, so it works as a mic. Joe put it out there with the rest of the mics and the gear that I was using, and it got this beautiful radio-like distortion. We ended up pulling out everything else and leaving in just that mic.
We had a good time. I’ve always admired the guys in King Crimson because they always pulled new technology into their sound, but they were so tasteful with it. They were intrigued by it and used it artistically. I’ve seen a lot of other bands use new technology, and I often wondered what they were thinking. I don’t want to rag on [producer/guitarist/synth pioneer] Todd Rundgren—I like him—but I thought he was working too hard on the modern stuff. I saw him in 2000 and I was really disappointed.
You’ve got to try new things, but we didn’t want to go into the studio and turn on every plug-in and try every new pedal. It was a matter of figuring out what the song needed. It’s also about experimentation. That’s the process with us. People ask us to explain what we do, and I can’t. The only thing I can explain is that it’s completely experimental and based on the most concentrated aspects of what we like. After it’s done, we connect the dots; that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re putting the songs in sequence for the album; we’re connecting the dots. It’s not like we wrote a song knowing that it’s going to be the last song on the album.
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