Though best known for mammoth art-metal bands Tool and A Perfect Circle — which have performed live recently but haven't released albums in a half-decade or more — musician Maynard James Keenan's primary musical outlet in recent years has been Puscifer, a more playful and theatrical multimedia outfit that's featured a revolving collection of ace musicians working alongside Keenan. (His primary outlet in general seems to be his winery at his northern Arizona home.)
Last fall, the band released its second full-length album, Conditions of My Parole, and has only recently begun to tour outside the West Coast. We talked with Keenan by phone in advance of Puscifer's Memphis debut this week at the Orpheum:
Flyer: For people familiar with Tool and A Perfect Circle and who don't know much about Puscifer, how would you describe this project?
Maynard James Keenan: I wouldn't. There's a lot of stuff online. The best thing to do would be to just go listen to the music and look at some of the videos we've done. I try to avoid all comparisons [to the other bands]. Just pretend I'm not involved [in them]. It's a trap. If you're a person who's been attracted to this one thing for whatever reason, you're going to be comparing this other thing to that. It is apples and oranges in a way. So you're better off comparing it to Mr. Show or Monty Python or Adult Swim. Or somewhere between Van Halen and Merle Haggard.
You just have to take it way outside of itself, because it's a full multimedia project with various elements. That's the biggest hurdle we've run up against. People don't know where to put it.
My understanding is that a bit on the Mr. Show program was partly the origin of Puscifer, or at least there's a connection there.
Yeah. It came before our appearance on Mr. Show, but [Puscifer's inception] was definitely that same era.
Was it conceived initially as more of a solo project?
Well, if you consider that it was somewhere around '94 that it started rearing its head, I guess. But not really. Tool was as much an infant as this thing was back then.
You've worked with a revolving door of musicians with this project, many of whom are established and well-known for other work.
Right, but it's not just musicians. We also have animators and actors and comedians and writers and filmmakers who have been intimately involved from the beginning.
Puscifer hadn't really toured beyond the West until fairly recently. Has doing a bigger tour turned it into a more conventional band?
A little bit. But some of the presentation is definitely not your average rock show, by any stretch. The one thing we've really been focusing on — partly through necessity but also because of the collateral benefit of it — is that the show really has to be presented in a theater that does plays. The vibe of the stage. The layout. We can't do this in a rock club. It just won't work.
I've seen some of your recent television appearances — on Jimmy Kimmel, where you and [singer] Carina Round performed behind large picture frames that gave the appearance of magnifying your faces, and earlier on Letterman, where you're in this cream-colored leisure suit and blond wig. Is that an indication of the staging and theatricality that goes into the concerts?
Yes. And the collateral benefit of going into those spaces is that whoever's coming and expecting whatever it is they expect ... they're automatically put in a different space. Because if they're used to going to stinky, beer-soaked rock clubs and all of a sudden they come through a door where there's a nice lobby and seating and ushers, already they're in for a new experience.
In my listening, I hear what I would describe as more of a Western sensibility and not just in the overtly country stuff. I know you live in Arizona. Does that sense of place have an impact on this music?
Absolutely. We're all writing from this space that we're witnessing every day ... in the way we approach things, especially with it being so connected to the winery. The wine is expressing a specific place. And in a way, that's crossed over into the music. We're expressing a place through sound.
Conditions of My Parole was recorded in your wine cellar, right?
Parts of it, yes.
Had you recorded there before?
The first album has a couple of drum tracks recorded there, but not to the extent we did here.
Is there a certain sonic quality to that space that you like or is it about convenience and comfort?
It's just a bombastic sound. It's a big room. A big cement box. And it's convenient. It's right here. It's where we are.
Puscifer, with Carina Round
The Orpheum, Sunday, February 26th, 7:30 p.m.
$38 and $46