Tool: Sea Change
Originally printed in Guitar World, June 2006
Tool return after a five-year absence with a transformed sound on their new album, 10,000 Days. Guitarist Adam Jones tries to explain the methods and madness behind metal's most mysterious and unpredictable band.
Under the record industry's model for success, Tool should have been dead and buried a long time ago. Whereas most bands “get it while the getting is good,” releasing albums and touring to support them every year and a half or so until the public loses interest, Tool disappear from the public eye for excruciatingly long periods between albums and tours. Some critics have even joked that their new album is titled 10,000 Days (Jive) because that’s how long it took them to make it—although 27-plus years is quite an exaggeration, even by Tool’s standards.
“Despite what everyone thinks, it didn’t take us five years to make this record,” says Tool guitarist Adam Jones during our interview in Los Angeles. His point of reference is the group’s previous album, 2001’s Lateralus. “We took a long time off after the last tour.” What’s more, he adds, during that time singer Maynard James Keenan participated in his numerous side projects, which include A Perfect Circle. “We started making this album a little more than a year ago.”
While their record label would undoubtedly love it if Tool released a new album every two years or less, Jones believes the ample length of time between albums works to the band’s advantage. “Our records don’t sound like other people’s records, where they release them a year apart and they end up sounding like a bad cover band version of themselves,” he says. “Each record sounds different from the one before it. Those long breaks we take give us time to absorb what’s going on around us and grow. I think that shows on our records.”
Tool have defied the record industry’s penchant for overexposure. They maintain their mystery by not plastering their faces all over their album covers and videos, and by performing mostly in the shadows of the stage while overwhelming the audience’s senses with stunning visuals and sound. Chances are good that even the most devoted Tool fan would not recognize Keenan or Jones on the street. But the band prefers that listeners focus on the music rather than on the group’s “image” or intimate details of its members’ personal lives.
“I get great emails from our fans,” says Jones. “My favorite was from this girl who wrote to me on MySpace. She said, ‘I finally figured it out: Lateralus was written to The Passion of the Christ. It’s so amazing how it links up. I want to thank you for doing that.’ I wrote her back and said, ‘Cool. You figured it out.’ Of course we wrote that album way before The Passion of the Christ came out, but I loved how she tried to link our music to something else.”
It’s hard to imagine what influences Tool fans will hear on 10,000 Days. Expanding upon the ambitious approach of Lateralus, the new album features dizzying polyrhythmic lines and epic song structures in which ideas weave together or simply crash into one another. Its vast palette of sounds includes Talk Box and “radio” guitar solos from Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor’s slithering fretless bass and off-kilter riffs and Danny Carey’s stunningly complex drum patterns, throbbing electronic noise and funky Middle Eastern percussion. Keenan’s vocals are often heavily processed with distortion or mixed down among the instruments so they’re more like an instrument themselves.
“This record sounds so huge,” says Jones. “That’s because the vocals aren’t mixed way out front. When you mix the vocals out front, it crushes the force of the band behind them.”
Whereas Tool’s previous albums were produced by David Bottrill (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson), this time the band chose to produce 10,000 Days itself, enlisting Joe Barresi (Melvins, Queens of the Stone Age, Bad Religion) to engineer and mix the album. Jones notes that, although other people may have previously received production credit, the band has actually produced itself from the beginning.