A Perfect Circle (Contemporary Musicians)
Though starting a side project while simultaneously fronting one of the world's most successful rock bands might be considered career suicide for some, such was not the case when Tool's Maynard James Keenan formed the alternative rock group A Perfect Circle. Tempering the angularity and complexity that Tool was known for with a more pop-minded sensibility, A Perfect Circle features the melodic textures of guitarist and songwriter Billy Howerdel, the propulsive drumming of Josh Freese, and Keenan's distinct voice front-and-center. Over the course of three full-length albums, A Perfect Circle have proved to be, according to the Hollywood Reporter, "a challenging and inventive band, driven by the underrated and forceful drumming of the talented Freese, the sinewy, muscular guitar work of Howerdel and the emotional apex that is Keenan. It's cerebral fare that smolders rather than burns as an all-out inferno."
As previously stated, A Perfect Circle front man Keenan is also the lead singer of modern rock powerhouse Tool. Formed in 1990, Tool consists of Adam Jones (guitar), Paul D'Amour (bass) and Danny Carey (drums). They released the Opiate EP in 1992, Undertow in 1993, Aenima in 1996, the b-side collection Salival in 2000, and Lateralus in 2001. Known as much for their artfully composed and slightly twisted videos as they are for combining thrash, metal, and prog-rock, the band headlined Lollapalooza in 1997 and has sold millions of records worldwide.
In 1996, Tool was faced with a long and drawn out legal battle with their management team, following the release of Aenima. Because of the stress caused by this situation, Tool went on an extended hiatus, returning with a full-length album five years later in 2001. During the break, Keenan and Tool guitar tech Howerdel began to collaborate on some of Howerdel's songs. Keenan and Howerdel first met in 1992, when Tool opened for funk-punk outfit Fishbone. Howerdel, who was working as a guitar tech for Fishbone at the time, played Keenan some songs he'd been working on, and both agreed to work together sometime in the future. Four years later, the pair decided to form A Perfect Circle, along with Argentina-born bassist Paz Lenchantin, ex-Vandals and Guns N' Roses drummer Freese, and ex-Failure guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen.
The band wrote, rehearsed, and recorded for the span of three years, finally making their live debut in August of 1999 at a benefit show at the Viper Room in Los Angeles. A little under a year later, the band issued their debut album for Virgin Records, Mer de Noms, in May of 2000. Featuring hits like "Judith" and "3 Libras," and coming off like a mixture between Nine Inch Nail's industrial grind, the Cure's moody pop, and the psychedelic nuances of Jane's Addiction, Mer de Noms showcased the unique songwriting and production work of the relatively unknown Howerdel (who did some previous collaborating with the Smashing Pumpkins before starting A Perfect Circle). With some production assistance from Alan Moulder (Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, U2), the album made rock history for being the highest charting debut for a rock band, appearing at number four on the Billboard Top 200. With Howerdel writing the music and Keenan composing the lyrics, each song on the record has a heaviness to it that would appeal to any fan of metal, but the songs also supply a melodic tension that made the record a hit on mainstream radio. In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, guitarist Leeuwen said, "Having that balancend to have the melody be memorables always a challenge. We don't even look at it as heavy music. It's guitar-driven. Maybe it's heavy in a sense that we play it well together, but it's not heavy because we're trying to pump up the crowd. It's heavy in the emotional aspect."
In a review in Arlington Heights, Illinois's The Daily Herald, Stacey Cara Cohen said, "Keenan's lyrics help illustrate the dark and atmospheric tone of the album. In 'Orestes' he sings 'Gotta cut away, clear away, snip away and sever this umbilical residue/keeping me from killing you.' A more sensitive side of the band shows in the music for delicate tunes such as '3 Libras.' Even the weakest song on the album has its merits. 'Sleeping Beauty' starts out with guitars reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkins, slowly winding its way to the chorus, only to later break down into some sort of '80s synthesizer pop. But, when the band returns to hard rock, it indeed sounds perfect."
Following the release of the album, the band hit the road, opening for the likes Nine Inch Nails and the Foo Fighters. In 2003, the band released the more melodic and straightforward Thirteenth Step. Upon its release, the Hollywood Reporter weighed in on the change in the band's sound. They said, "They were never a band who beat the listener over the head with metal brutality, but now they're even more song-oriented than before move that illustrates that the band has a knack for writing instrumental hooks that show off a melodic talent that was not as apparent on the first album. They still favor a droning, somewhat complex textural approach that, upon first listen, can sound tedious and pretentious. But for the patient listener, the band exhibits traits that will endear them to both classic rock fans and modern metal devotees. They owe a debt to the art rock and prog rock bands of the past like King Crimson, whose towering presence looms large in the band's musical makeup. They travel the Crimson path of being more subtle and cerebral than in-your-face heavy, though they can go down that road as well when the mood strikes. There's almost a sorrowful appeal to the band's songs that touches not only on classic prog rock but delves into the world of Goth as well. It's an interesting mix of songwriting that their hard rock contemporaries have not only eschewed but are probably not capable of writing. The various influences add up to a unique sound that both classic rock and contemporary metal fans can appreciate and enjoy."
After that album and the subsequent tours to follow, Lenchantin left the group to play with Billy Corgan's "supergroup," Zwan. Leeuwen soon followed her, leaving A Perfect Circle without a bassist or second guitarist. The band quickly reacted, recruiting former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and bassist Jeordie White (who was previously known as Twiggy Ramirez in the Marilyn Manson group) to fill the vacant slots. In 2004, the group issued Emotive, a collection of "protest" songs by other artists. For the album, the group covered John Lennon's "Imagine," Devo's "Freedom of Choice," Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On," and Joni Mitchell's "Fiddle and Drum," among others.
Mer de Noms, Virgin, 2000.
Thirteenth Step, Virgin, 2003.
Emotive, Virgin/EMI, 2004.
Billboard, March 18, 2000; May 13, 2000.
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 21, 2000.
Entertainment Weekly, August 18, 2000; September 19, 2003; November 5, 2004.
Guitar Player, November 2000.
Hollywood Reporter, June 8, 2004.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 27, 2001.
"A Perfect Circle," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 7, 2005).
"A Perfect Circle Storms Onto Chart," NY Rock, http://www.nyrock.com/worldbeat/06_2000/060200.asp (June 7, 2005).
"Tool Discography," Princeton Record Exchange, http://www.prex.com/biography/Tool-discography.htm (June 7, 2005).