I remember seeing Tool for the first time back in 2001 in Melbourne, at the Tennis Centre of all places. I’d been a fan of their music since they’d released Undertow almost a decade previously and all through high school I’d been aided in my studies – or lack thereof – by that album, by Aenima and Lateralus, three records all up which epitomised my world view at the time and which kept me sane through those adolescent years, a soundtrack to the life and times of myself. At the Tennis Centre that night, those three records came alive for me and the thousands who’d flocked in all their black majesty – the entire GA section heaved and writhed like a giant serpent bent on it’s own self-destruction, a sweaty mass in ecstasy and awe as these sounds rained down around them all.
Today sees Tool as one of the big bands of our time. They took heavy metal and applied, for wont of a better term, some intelligence to it. Not to say other metal bands – thrash bands, black metal bands, death metal bands – weren’t using their brains, but what Tool managed to coax from the recesses of their collective mind was a step above, something ethereal that kept on going and no matter how hard you tried, you’d never get to the bottom of it, and that was just fine by us. These four purveyors – Maynard James Keenan, Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor and Adam Jones – are monsters of their time and the music they’ve created is as timeless now as it ever has been.
It’s now 20 years since Tool first exploded onto the scene with Undertow, changing the way people, the world, viewed heavy music. They have, of course, released another record in this time, 10,000 Days, and it’s in the aftermath of said record that we find them now, coming out of the dark and back into the light, finding their feet once more and testing the waters. For this is what the band do – they release and then they tour, and then they part ways, each time taking longer to come back into the fold, and this isn’t to say they’re bored, but as bassist, Chancellor tells, it’s just a natural thing, just the way the band works.
“Every time we tour, it’s always a different world that we come back to,” he muses. “We tour for a long time, so we really age quite a bit over those cycles, and I think each time you get back, everyone kinda sits down and wonders what the future is for the band. It’s a bit of a strange, insecure feeling I guess, for a while, because we go away from each other and we don’t really know what each other is up to. So after a year or so, we get back together and talk about it and more importantly, you find out if everyone is hungry to do another record with Tool. And that’s a really good moment when everyone is excited and has all these ideas, and sure enough, you find out everyone has been working on other stuff, but they’ve been writing for our band as well.”
It’s strange to think that a band like Tool would worry about whether or not each other was up to carrying on – as a fan, it just seems like they always will, they’ll always be there making these epic records and putting on mind-blowing live sets. But it’s not like that, and listening to Chancellor talk, it makes you think you shouldn’t take this music, this band, for granted. Drummer, Danny Carey, who I also spoke to (the day after Chancellor, oddly enough), has his own theory. “I guess it’s as you get older and you have to put up with people’s idiosyncrasies just that much longer,” he smiles.
“It takes a little longer maybe to come up with new things to say to each other I suppose,” Carey adds. “We won’t do a record until we do have that, so however long the sabbatical takes, that’s what it’ll take.” Carey seems somewhat more downbeat about it all than Chancellor, and you can’t really blame him – it’s been a long time and this music, it’s not easy. Having said that though, where both Chancellor and Carey agree, is on the feeling in the band when they come back from a break and it’s all systems go, all cylinders firing, as it is now – they’ve been away for a while, but Tool are slowly but surely coming back.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s right,” Carey enthuses on that feeling. “I mean, it’s a little strange at first, sorta like a guessing game, wondering where we’re all gonna be…and it’s interesting wondering if what you’ve got will translate with the other three guys…so it takes a while, it took about three weeks of jamming this time around to really lock in that groove, to find something that sounds like Tool again.” What this means of course, is that he band are working toward another album. It’s still very much in the early stages, the writing stages, but give them time, give them space, and there’s no doubt Tool will once more deliver the goods.
“Well, we’ve been playing all year and I can tell you that we have a really monumental amount of interesting material,” tells Chancellor. “But we’ve only recently started to put those piles of ideas into song structures, so I think we’ve taken more time over this one than we ever have before and I think that’s because our responsibility to ourselves is to come up with something that we’re really proud of again.”
“Yeah, it’s hard to pick, we are quite early on at this point,” says Carey when I ask how the material so far is a sonic evolution from 10,000 Days. “One of my favourite tracks from the last record was ‘Jambi’…that had a great melody and this pretty extreme polyrhythmic stuff going on, and so we’ve got three or four ideas that are kind of heading in that direction…I’m liking it, that’s for sure.”
“Whether or not it’s intentional, but we come up with ideas that are in unconventional timing when you count them out, and it can be a struggle to put them into a song, but I feel in the last few months we’ve been playing, that there’s a lot more fluidity to it,” Chancellor expands. “Before I think, the mass, you could feel it fighting against the melody. So it’s got this smoothness to it that I haven’t noticed before.” Obviously this is a record which is a long way off, and whilst pieces are beginning to fall into place, whilst the band are definitely in it 100%, it’s still a fledgling being, something even these four aren’t sure how it’ll turn out.
For a band like Tool then, and indeed any band of such standing with a back catalogue bursting at the seams with modern classics, I imagine going in to make a new record would be a daunting task – how do they go about doing this, with the success of the past work, forever sitting behind them, peering over their collective shoulder? “We don’t think about it too much,” muses Chancellor. “Because we know that people are going to give us the patience and the time to do what we need to do in order to be true to ourselves and our art. And that’s the really awesome thing about the people who buy our records – not only are they waiting for our art, but they’re actually allowing us the time to be that artistic.”
Time is of no nevermind for Tool, and truth be told, Chancellor is right – as long as we know it’s coming, we know it’s worth waiting for and we’ll wait patiently until it’s done. For that is what Tool do, and have been doing for the past 20 years – slowly but surely moving forward, a monster of it’s time, only getting better with time and age.
Samuel J. Fell