Tool’s Maynard James Keenan Speaks on Trump, Tool, the State of Humanity, Meeting Fans and More


Tool and Puscifer vocalist Maynard James Keenan was a recent guest on The Strombo Show, a podcast put out through the music arm of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. And boy, did he have a lot to say about a lot of things.

Maynard’s always been particularly pointed and acerbic when it comes to social and political issues. He so rarely gives time to the press, but it’s clear that the 52-year-old hasn’t lost his biting tongue one bit with age. This one’s a doozy, and you’re gonna wanna listen to in full, but here are a few choice quotes on everything from Trump to over-population to religion to meeting fans to updates on Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer and way, way more:

MJK on what is next for Tool, A Perfect Circle:

“Lots… For some I see a plan and for others, I just see roadblocks. I can’t say [which one has the roadblocks]. Respect.”

MJK on President Trump, when he was President Elect:

“Oh God. Beyond. That’s terrifying. I don’t know if I want to go into that. The bigotry and the racism and the negativity and everything about it. There is a war coming. There is a war coming and it is not going to be pretty.”

MJK on Muslims, humanity and how we “need a meteor” 

“Those people in the states that would marginalize Muslims around the world and denounce them for they archaic views, they’re demonstrating the exact same archaic views – the fundamentalist, crazy, extreme Salem witch trail mentality that we thought we were beyond. I guess that’s the message that I’ve tried to explain to people in the past is that we are not beyond that. We are the same people that did those awful things to each other. We’re not beyond that. Our genetic makeup is no different to what it was thousands of years ago. There is no difference. We are still monsters that trick us to keep your monster in check. There is no way out. We need a meteor, and that is just metaphorical – I don’t think it is the meteor of hate because I think that is going to make things pretty awful. What we need is something that is an outside meteor that brings people together to start realizing that they need to help each other and let go of some of that crap.”

MJK on if he can perform, write, run his business from the same place emotionally:

“No. I think my creative process is going to be unconsciously similar, just because it is coming from me, but I think a lot of these things are – especially with the winery, especially with all the other businesses and with Puscifer, there’s definitely a freedom and a breath that is attached to those projects that is meant to be not quite as constrictive, not quite as it is structured, but not in an inflexible way.”

MJK on Puscifer and his approach, thoughts toward the audience at large: 

“I think we are presenting options. I think, as an artist, if the audience follows then that is great, but at the end of the day that might be a collatoral benefit, but it really is just our attempt to look at things from different perspectives and approach things in different directions and just create from what we know. Putting ourselves in situations where we have to reinvent ourselves a little bit or think outside the box to complete a puzzle, I think that helps for us as artists to expand our horizons, but as far as most selfish artists and I mean that in a good way, their goal is to get into a puzzle and think through that process themselves or with their tight group of people, close group to solve those puzzles whether it is with technique, digitally, emotionally – trying to figure out those puzzles and then if it resonates with people, then great! Hopefully it inspires you to do something or see a different solution. Us having shed a light in a particular way and again, be it what it may. Cuisine, wine, music, art, performance, video, animation – all those things, I think that is kind of the goal of the artist. To let the audience dictate how you move, what you do, how you say it, when you do it – now you’re just a commercial. Now you’re Wal-Mart in a way. That doesn’t really help anybody.”

MJK on his struggle as an artist with an audience:

“A friend of mine described it really well, she went to a show and it was – she is very tapped in, a breath of fire, yoga, up at 4AM with the sun, very tapped in, but is doing her own work and moving things in her own body that most people are incapable of moving on their own, need little help. That was her observation at one of the shows, there is so much energy and there is so much volume and so much aggression and so much happening that what is happening is there is people there that can’t move a thing in them and they are relying on this bombastic assault to move those things in them that they can’t. Where that leaves me is that now I’m stuck to move that thing in you. I didn’t teach you to fish and as an artist, that is crippling. That is a very daunting think, I feel like I failed if I didn’t get you to move that piece on your own and you’re hanging your next moment on some poems and some bulldozers. So yeah, that’s not a good feeling to feel like you haven’t done your job… [I started to feel like that] in late 1900’s, 95-98. You can start to feel it. We painted ourselves into a corner as far as that bulldozer.”

MJK on his evolution as an artist and his work:

“When you’re an artist who is aging, you’re just in a different place so those puzzles are going to be different. Absolutely. Leonard Cohen’s early work is not the same as Leonard Cohen’s later work and it shouldn’t be. It just shouldn’t be… I think it just comes naturally cause I’m just making. I’m not thinking about it being my old lion’s stage. I just am and I do. Fifty-two is not a spring chicken, but I think all those things – the creative expression of wine, I think there is nothing that speaks more of a place more loudly and clearly than a well-made, regional wine. So with that comes and entire community, an entire economy, an entire social network of people working together. Farming – it breaks down so many political, financial, religious barriers – that endeavour. So I think that we’re starting to think about those things that are not necessarily an ego legacy, but they’re a community legacy that we can leave behind in a way. The music is there, but I think the music can be seen as being selfish moreso than an endeavour like wine making.”

MJK on being selfish and making mistakes:

“It doesn’t have to [have an negative implication], but when it comes to now – me talking here, it is about what I have to say and it is about me and blah blah blah. We are talking about my life story. It is very self-indulgent and it is very rooted in ego, but as an elder, as a person who has journeyed and has seen a few things, I feel these things are worth sharing and some of these moments are worth looking at, in terms of the biography, just to help a frame of reference, but I’d suggest if you’re going to read this one then read another dozen of other people’s decisions and make your own decision. That is what it really comes down to. What I mentioned earlier, when you’re in that moment and you make that decision for yourself – no one is there for you and you cannot let anybody be there for you. I guess that is the point. You have to make your own decision and when you make the wrong decision, you have to be able to live with that mistake because you either win or you learn. If you lose, that’s on you… Don’t be a loser. Learn from your mistakes and then you didn’t lose and you didn’t make the wrong decision, you made a decision that went in a way that you didn’t expect it and it cause you extra work… You’re not going to learn anything by hitting 100%. You have to make mistakes. Of course, learning from other people’s experience is important as long as you don’t completely worship or follow that person’s decisions and choices, mistakes or otherwise because then you’re living in their shadow, the Life of Brian and chasing him around with a sandal that doesn’t make any sense.”

MJK on confidence and questioning himself:

“Maybe [I was] for a minute. When you’re drunk in a party. No, not really. I’m always questioning what could I have done better, what could I have done right. Did I do it wrong? How can I improve? … I definitely take the time to enjoy those things, but it does take a conscious effort to enjoy them rather than to just seeing them for all the things that would’ve changed in them. I think Matt is the same way, Billy is the same way. The guys in Tool are the same way. Carina is the same way. We have a hard time looking, listening back and just enjoying the piece. When we’re performing it, it is different because you’re in the middle of correcting it and you can just live in it and work with it…”

MJK on investment of interest when inside a band:

” It’s a mess. It’s a train wreck. It is like herding cats. There’s too many egos involved and most artists in general, band or otherwise – painters, actors. There is only a specific discipline that those artists focused on and generally speaking out of balance with other disciplines in general. That is what I love in high school sports now in Michigan, there is an award for academics so you actually have to be performing academically to be part of the sports teams. There is a balance there. They don’t just let you take off in one direction in terms of just athletics, they force you to keep the other part up.”

MJK on meeting fans on the street:

“I’m busy trying to figure out all the voices in my head, so the idea of somebody coming, giving me extra props or acting weird over a person who is a mess doesn’t make any sense to me. When people give their power away like that, I feel like I failed because you have your own power and to fawn over somebody who is as much as a mess as I am or whoever – Joni Mitchell or Jimi Hendrix, Steve Carrell – name a person who is working and just trying to puzzle things out. Sometimes that is okay. You can read that, in general, but it is when it is the weird fawning that is strange.”

MJK on what people are not getting about where he is at that makes questions about Tool or A Perfect Circle not what he wants to deal with:

“I have no idea. I think those – where’s the fucking album – there’s a much larger symptom in our culture that goes way beyond that question and that specific band. Just the entitlement that you are owed something or due something. It is unfortunate that voice that social media has given people that they are so disconnected from the bigger pictures and the movements of things. We really need a meteor, we really do. Something that is going to get people organized with each other.”

MJK on how art will survive, religious practices and disasters: 

“I’m at that age where I can’t see it. I can’t see it yet. I know it is going to be in a form, I’m just probably not included in the solution. I think that we’re dancing around a little a bit – one of the opening monologues for the Conditions Of My Parole tour was about how we had to use our creative juices, we had to be intelligent, we had to be resourceful in order to stay ahead of the things that were trying to eat us. We weren’t faster. We weren’t stronger. We had to be more clever and that is why art is so drastically important and throughout the ages, you have had crazy things happen. A meteor or a series of astroids or the blackening of the planet with volcanic activity. Ice Ages. All these things that sort of hit – tsunamis in certain areas, isolated areas of the world where waters contaminate. All these things that get zoned into culture through a religious practice or a ritual to help you survive in case that thing happens again, the argument people have made is there is clothing, food, shelter everywhere you turn now so why would we need to continue to develop that creative muscle and the answer is – it is never going to come in the way that you thought it was going to come. It is not going to come for those areas that have tundra, part of their religious or ritualistic practice to survive. Ice Age – it won’t be an Ice Age for them, it would be something that you had no idea it was coming – a virus, an alien culture, some other thing. That’s how we as a creature have survived is our creative, think outside the box processes and I think that is gone… Social media is the biggest, glaring soar in terms of that. You can put a post that all the information is in the photo and the post and someone will ask you the question about, didn’t you read what was right in front of you. They didn’t read it. They didn’t look. They just want them to hand you the answer. You are going to be food sir. You are going to be food for something because you can’t puzzle, you can’t figure out these things that are right in front of you. Now I’m sounding like the old lion, the grandpa that is – back when I was a kid, but it really was true. There’s things there for you. I know there are a lot of people that get this and a lot of people that are doing work and trying to remain present, conscious and breathing, but there is hell of a lot people that aren’t and all we can do it hope that somehow when the slate is wiped that some of those people survive, I’d encourage you to breed and teach.”

MJK on what shifted culture to welcome misogyny in lyricism and beyond: 

“I think it is a growing pain. I think it is hopefully a last gasp or it never went away and we had a little heyday for a minute where it was coming and going. I would argue that we are going into a more matriarchal society and this is our last gasp, especially with Trump coming into play. Maybe that shift is happening of a more nurturing. Doesn’t mean that things are going to be all cozy and we’ll all be hugging. There is still going to be night and day and there is still going to be things consuming each other to survive. That is the nature of our reality here. Even plants consume other plants and other things so that is not going to go away. That struggle will remain, but I think there is so many things. There’s gotta be some kind of breaking point and I don’t know if we are over populated, I have no idea – but as far as the world is concerned. Is the earth going to say, yes there is too many of you? Or is it going to say – I can completely sustain. Just get along. If you can just get a long, there is plenty of space.”

MJK on the music that he is listening to: 

“When I’m listening to music, generally, is in the cellar when I am working on wine so I’ll have soundtracks. One particular day, when we’re bringing in fruit – I’ll choose an album or an artist and that’ll be on repeat that whole day for the wine and when we go back to do the tasting, even though it is two years later. I’ll go back and look at the notes and that’ll be part of the tasting note of what was playing the day that fruit came in. It can be anything – Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch, Joni Mitchell, Chemical Brothers. Generally, it doesn’t end up being anything aggressive… I just think it is more for people who are drinking it, they can see the note of what was playing and play it…”

MJK on if he listens to aggressive music: 

“Not really. Sometimes. Not really. Normally I’m doing something and I can’t. That noise doesn’t help get anything done. It doesn’t leave space for decisions.”

MJK on if he is writing songs now:

“Always. That has changed for forty years… In my head. It just doesn’t matter… As long as the thought is complete and it moves us in some way, absolutely. There are so many more important things. Differently important things… Those conversations happen and then we complete them.”

MJK on writing his memoir:

“It’s not easy. You don’t really know where to start and the book only really touches on some thing, it doesn’t touch on everything. It just gives you a small map. We chose to focus on pieces of crossroads, pieces of decisions. I think Sarah was an accurate in helping putting you in the shoes of that person, walking unless you’re actually in it – that’s different, of course. 20/20 hindsight – the decisions seemed obvious, but not when you’re standing there.”

MJK on trusting himself, being honest when reflecting on his past: 

“Only in reference to this publication, I think. It is a loose map. Figure out where you were, where you are and maybe where you’re going. It is difficult to – you want to trust every intuitive decision that you have. Although that is what the book is saying, I trusted my intuition and got here, but I think things just change so you have to always be conscious, aware and breathing in your own body to make those decisions regardless of what decisions came before. It is never going to be the same… Hopefully learn from those things and go forward.”

MJK on struggling with the idea of reflecting in the book:

“I think that the reason I approached it the way I did, Sarah and I, is because it is kind of a milestone. Fifty years. There is a lot that is going on. I think that there is a disconnect in Western culture in terms of celebrity. They think all of a sudden you wake up someday and you got there, they dismiss everything that came before and everything that you do with that opportunity of success – they say there’s no way you could’ve done that thing that you’re doing now without that thing we knew you about… All the things that came before that you don’t know about. I’m sure you have female Olympians here, wrestlers, all the struggles that took for them to get to the Olympics. They didn’t just try out one day. All the adversity of females trying to be in wrestling in general, coming up in high school. All the pushback of that, all the stigmatism and all the negative shit that they had to go through. Yet, they persevered and got on the Olympic team and went and competed. They didn’t show up that day. A lot of work went into it. That is of course not dismissing male Olympians, but as far as the female struggle to get to that event in that sport had to be a tremendous amount of work, hurdles, resistance… There’s a lot of pattern when you start looking at the broad strokes. Metaphorical references.”

MJK on writing the memoir for his children: 

“It isn’t for me, it is more for my children so they can see unless I don’t get to tell that story. It is more for them. I guess it ends up opening yourself to other people, reading it and directing in strange ways those stories. It is worth it as long as my kids have a frame of reference.”

MJK on reflection upon his adolescence coming into consciousness:

“The input of your childhood is going to dictate where you go. I feel like, I’m not a psychologist, but I always say that those early years – your pre-school and elementary years are kind of where those formative years or damage or structure is established and you and your junior high, high school years, you start to navigate those hurdles, those limitations, those hangups, those strengths, those triumphs. You start to become who you are in a high school setting and I think by the time you graduate, in theory, you should be in a place where you’ve started to crack the ice on where you’re going to do, what you are going to do. I don’t think any of that really comes anywhere need your conscious mind or forefront until maybe you are 27 or 28. You’re pretty convinced that you know everything at eighteen and then you’re pretty convinced that you didn’t know anything at eighteen at nineteen and so and and so forth, until after twenty five. Every year is a new – oh, now I know everything.”

MJK on how he learned to question authority and challenge his thoughts:

“I had the benefit of growing up in Michigan. We’re snow shovelers as our big brothers, big sisters to the North are. You have to, there’s a point a and a point b and you can’t get to point b without a something in your way. You in some cases, have to physically remove it. That work ethic helped and that dissolution meant we started to see where social security was, what it was cracked up to be. Retirement wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. Food, now your food kills you. There is definitely, I think we have it a little better off because we understand as Northerners, how to survive those harsher weathers and understand how to overcome the barriers. I think we have a little bit of a leg up because we understand how to grow food, how to survive in these circumstances – hunt, gather, grow, cultivate. I don’t think we are quite as disillusioned as people that might… polarity in the Southern States or the midwest, when the bottom drops out and you’re like, what the?”

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