I can’t believe I’m broadcasting this, mainly because it’s ridiculous, immature and silly in comparison to the ridiculous, immature and silly things that I come up with now. I think I was about 20 when I wrote this, and it’s a window – A WINDOW, I TELL YOU – into my personal evolution. Yes, I know, Tool did end up calling their album 10,000 Days (that prediction earnt me the nickname of ‘The Oracle’ for many centuries after) and yes, I really did piss on Danny Carey’s foot. At the time, I was just getting my start as a writer for now-defunct alternative website, Sinister Online.
Steeped in otherworldly mystique and ridiculous amounts of pre-exclusivity – no less than three contracts had to be signed before anyone was even allowed to look at the venue – the Listening Session for Tool’s forthcoming May album was the Alcatraz of all Listening Sessions. Originally present via the lovely Emily Cheung at Sony BMG so that Sinister Online might perhaps interview the band, it was then decided that no websites be permitted to publish anything actually resembling an interview due to the devious machinations of a German website whom went ahead and did that very same thing against Tool’s explicitly stated-in-triplicate wishes. “Scheiss auf dich, du scheiss Arschloch!” to you guys.
Nevertheless, [Sinister Online editor] Janelle and myself miraculously find ourselves staring up at the dilapidated exterior of the Altitude Bar – a wretched hive of scum and villainy on the outside, a hive of rich opulence and bottomless beer within. We’re initially joined by the frantic excitement of Shock Records rep Andrew, who’s ditched his entire life to be here. A writer from New Zealand’s famed Hero mag – with perhaps the most incredibly defined cheek bones in the universe – saunters up the alleyway towards the entrance in a manner that is so professionally world-weary that my impending sense of inadequacy is multiplied tenfold. A notice on the door informs us that we’re required to call ahead to announce our presence before entering, and Janelle does so with a barely suppressed twitch.
The four of us wait with baited breath before the door creaks open and we’re promptly ushered quietly up the stairs to sign yet another contract, hand in our mobile phones, and mingle with the likes of Triple J’s Andrew Haug, The Haunted’s Jensen, label hounds great and small, retail bums and various droogs from InPress and Beat. A certain forty year old arseclown vocalist (who shall remain nameless because I’ve been getting sued for liable a fucking lot lately) from an infamously terrible local “band” (nameless, nameless is the ke7y here) is here too, and wow does he ever remind everyone around him of that fact. Throughout the entire day he’s flailing his grubby limbs around with GAY abandon, air-drumming, air-guitaring, and generally just setting the bar for irritating spasticism unnaturally high. I keep hoping that some kind of deadly projectile (alright, a bullet) will whiz through a window and VIP! itself straight into his deeply lined face, but all the freelance snipers are off today or just chilling back with a mocha. After plenty of delicate schmoozing, cursory introductions and much flagrant abuse of the free-for-all bar tab, we jostle amongst ourselves as we descend into the darkened listening pit like the pack of eager vultures we so closely resemble. Some ridiculous business school graduate A&R bloke in a pink (sorry, “salmon”) shirt gives us a laughably wanky pre-amble about how many albums Tool have sold and how great they are and how much he just wants to choke on all of their cocks simultaneously. Thankfully he soon adjourns to a sack of caviar to make way for none other than the dishevelled and heavily jet-lagged Justin Chancellor – Tool’s terminally spiritual bassist and Jesuit replica. Straggly-haired and bearded to the max, his heavy English drawl crawls up the walls and rolls over the ceiling as he addresses his many disciples.
“So, you know, hello.” There’s an awkward moment of silence which lasts for a full earth minute, but for Justin it’s probably more akin to a few seconds. “Musically, there’s a lot to take in,” he continues suddenly, gesturing at himself. “Feel free to walk around, close your eyes.” No album title is given (I really, really don’t think “10,000 Days” is the go, lads) and track names are frustratingly absent. With the day’s bluntness behind him, Justin ascends to the heavens and Tool’s latest pounds out of the P.A with production values worthy of Ben Hur in album form.
“Holy fuck!” I exclaim, flying against the back wall and bouncing into the lap of someone extremely warm. It’s suddenly very huge in here, and Janelle’s heroic alcohol intake is worth mentioning just because she was supposed to be driving. The album, right, the album.
In a word, “roar”. And no, it isn’t the political paradigm of Maynard dogma bewitched by lopsided commercial undertones that many were expecting – specifically after witnessing his less than agreeable turn on A Perfect Circle’s eMOTIVE. It’s, well, it’s Tool; as they’ve been known in the past and as we’ve known them recently. The harmonic infrastructure of Lateralus is still present and accounted for, albeit heavily elaborated upon by some fantastic compositional tricks such as polyrhythmic (the art of two or more contrasting rhythms being played “against” each other) barrages that leave similar experiments in the past for dead. What’s immediately interesting to note is how Maynard has presented himself. His signature vocals are barely discernible during the first few tracks – indeed, it’s sometimes difficult to correlate them as being definably “Maynard” – and he’s taken to assuming a multitude of vocal guises, disguising himself by way of rasps, guttural murmurings and a position in the mix which is frequently overwhelmed by the musical tides above and below. It’s almost if – and excuse me if I sound like yet another Tool conspiracist fanboy here – he’s reintroducing himself; easing himself back into the public consciousness as the enigmatic centrepiece of the equally enigmatic Tool. For many moons now he has been deemed comparatively redundant – the product of endless derogatory speculation and a lingering faithlessness by jaded fans, and evidently the furor hasn’t escaped his notice.
Whatever the case, it’s a highly effective and unothordox approach and by track four or five he’s starting to swing around to the front where his soaring bellows and philosophical melody subjugates all before it once again. The opening number is something of a post-modern jab at those cynics expecting a mainstream reinvention, with its bombastic introduction, rolling verses and triumphantly crusading chorus figures (think Parabola) – but when the bridge hits, it fails to stop or revert to anything previously established and instead begins to take on a life of its own, coursing through exploratory ambience and through-composition that comes to form the bulk of the music on display. It soon becomes clear that the album lacks the immediacy of Aenima, or to a lesser extent Lateralus; the journeys are longer and fraught with much more intricacy, perhaps a little too much for some. It’s demanding, involving and an absolute spit in the face to trollish naysayers everywhere. Both accessible and alien at a 1:10 ratio, it’s all too easy to get utterly lost in whatever the hell is going on, but the fact that Tool seem to have looked to their back catalogue for inspiration means that there is plenty of familiarity to offset the more Isis-like divergences. The second track harks back to the days of Undertow, replete with crushing stoner rhythms and a very out of character Morello-esque solo from the usually subdued Adam Jones (the only member of Tool not in attendance today). Further along there’s elements of Opiate-era intensity in the fourth round, with Maynard coming on much like a frenzied Indian woman and a bass-heavy presence the likes of which Paul D’Amour would thoroughly enjoy – in the growing tradition of “the one track which doesn’t fit” (ala. Hooker With a Penis and Ticks & Leeches), it’s a killer which sits uncomfortably within the album in a very intentional way. The bridging tracks (you know, Eon Blue Apocalypse? Useful Idiot?) make their effective appearance throughout, with one in particular sending a wave of betwixt awe across us all – even the unnamed colostomy bag stops fucking air-mimicking every bloody thing that’s going on for this one. About a minute or so of bizarre, tribal chanting – which could not possibly be the work of anyone in the band – crops up out of nowhere, accompanied solely by the arrhythmic tinkling of various bells and chimes. That’s it, I decide. I’m far too stoked to remain in one place any longer. Through the curtain leading out of the pit I spy Justin Chancellor attempting to relax in a coin-operated, vibrating lounge chair. Excellent. Let’s go and hassle him.
“Hey, mate. What’s going on?”
Justin swivels his head slowly around to regard me, his face a blank mask of possible acrimony. He merely nods, imperceptibly, and continues to weigh the value of my soul with his eyes.
“Uh, what’s with the whacky chanting stuff?” I mumble, averting my eyes from his voodoo.
“Apache Indians,” he exclaims abruptly, his unblinking stare continuing to bore into the side of my face. I shrink back in fear.
“Apache Indians. It’s a tribal ritual they would do whilst preparing for a trial, or before going to war.”
I assume the façade of Neo, and the world goes into bullet-time. “Whoa.”
“Say, what’s going on rhythmically in that song where…”
Justin looks as if he wants to roll his eyes, but presumably has to maintain his voodoo stare for the sake of being a member of Tool. “Rather than me telling you, you’ve just got to discover it for yourself. Sit down and discover it.”
It’s a well-rehearsed line, and one he presumably rips out with a consistent amount of annoyance to everyone else who asks him probing musical questions. It is here where I say perhaps one of the most awkward things I have ever said in my life, to anybody.
“You’re like an artist!”
“I am an artist,” he replies, his brow darkening. There’s a lot of emphasis on that “am”, too. So much so that I toss him the office copy of Aenima to sign and retreat to a foxhole to plot my next move before I start feeling pinpricks in my nutsack. It eventuates that my cheerful enthusiasm for bottled water and the day’s excitement has culminated in an urgent need to piss absolutely everywhere.
Unable to contain myself I bound headlong towards the toilets, relieving myself messily into the communal trough. No sooner have I swung around post-piss, mid-zip do I come face to face with all ten metres of Danny Carey. A fine droplet of urine lets itself go, soars ponderously through the air, and buries itself deep into the dark maroon of his massive, arse-stomping boots; oh, Christ. I just pissed on one of my boyhood musical idols. Fortunately for the length of my existence, he’s too busy trying to thump the hand-dryer into action to notice.
“Hey, how do you get this thing to work?” he booms, frowning spiritually.
I give the stubborn machine a tap. A random PR rep, having heard of Danny’s plight, emerges swiftly from the cubicle beside us mid-shit to lend an enthusiastic hand. Someone else enters, observes what’s going on, and immediately forgets the urgent need to expunge waste from his body in favour of jabbing incessantly at the hand-dryer whilst looking to Danny for approval. With a the four of us coming at it from all angles, it has no choice but to relent. We all stare at each other (somewhat uh, self-consciously) and breathe a collective sigh of relief; Danny’s maniacally huge hands are finally able to warm themselves. On the way out I manage to get his ear for a few minutes, all the while marvelling at how much bigger it is than my entire head.
“Mr. Carey, sir, you’re magnificent.”
He looks at me as if he wants to take two steps back, but suddenly realises that taking two steps forward would achieve a much more desirable effect as I would be immediately crushed. I still can’t help looking at the persistent dark blot on the toe of his boot.
The Danny Carey Bathroom Piss-Boot Farce of ’06 was subsequently revisited, some five years later, in a cover story with Danny for Beat magazine.
“Do you mind if I engage you in a musical conversation of sorts?”
“Sure,” he rumbles, walking as we talk.
What conspired over the next few minutes will surely befuddle every drummer that has ever held Danny Carey up as a paladin of percussive excellence. The man does not count time – ever, and nor does he particularly care for technical definitions and guff that may obscure what he feels is the root of all music from behind the kit. He speaks of it all as a cosmic entity.
“It’s all about hearing the melodies and progressions; the feel of the thing. Eyes closed and visualised.” Danny Carey’s a drum hippie. Really, not what I was expecting. These guys are on another planet, but before I can get any more out of looming D.C Andrew Haug busts my arse and I’m suddenly transported back into the dark den of the listening pit. Alas, the album is drawing to its penultimate final moments and everyone is looking a little pale and drained. Except the nameless arsehat, of course. He’s combing his hair and checking it in a small, pink hand mirror for any signs of recession.
As the album grinds to a halt some crazy homeless guy, his face obscured by an enormously ludicrous beige cowboy hat and oversize sunnies, steps up to address us all post-Tool experience. It turns out that it’s Maynard, and he quips something that isn’t particular funny – but which has everyone in hysterics anyway –before loping off into the darkness of the “Staff Only” area to join Danny and Justin in some astral plain R&R.
So, it’s all over and everyone begins to adjourn outside near the bar to chat, confer, compare notes and possibly share Rogaine prescriptions – but my work isn’t done. In all the hoo-ha and the gee-wah I neglected to get my own copy of Aenima signed, and fuck me if I’m going to meet Tool and not walk away with a few signatures to show for itsell on eBay. Through a combination of the inherent stealth, guile and animal cunning we music journos are famous for, I eventually find myself hopelessly tangled up in the thin black curtain separating the private room from the listening pit. It’s highly embarrassing and just about everyone saw me on my way in, but as I unwind myself from my predicament I fall flat on my arse and come face to face with… crap, it’s Justin again and he’s staring straight through me with terrifying power. To his right lies Danny Carey, taking up at least two couches as he dreams of abject paganism. To the left slumbers Maynard, evidently gearing up for the million or so interviews he’s about to take part in. Tentatively I approach Justin once again, CD and marker in hand.
“Are you leaving?” he asks me intently.
“Yes, yes I am. Forever.”
Was that a smile?