Maynard James Keenan: Blood Into Wine

By: Andrew Bruss

Maynard James Keenan
On a stormy Monday night at Boston's Berklee Performance Center, Maynard James Keenan was dressed in a fashionable black suit, his iconic bald head was recently shaved, and he was cradling a glass of his own Stronghold wine. Keenan was performing as Puscifer, an act all his own, that allows him to incorporate humor and improvisational theatrics in a way he couldn't as the frontman of both Tool and A Perfect Circle.

During a phone interview prior to his performance at Berklee, Maynard described Puscifer as having "more to do with Saturday Night Live and Monty Python than Led Zeppelin." Keenan continued, "People don't get [that] we're a troupe not a band. It's a performance, not a concert."

Although in reality Puscifer is more Led Zeppelin than Monty Python, in the sense that the project incorporates guitars, drums, bass, keys and vocals, but the troupe does utilize comedy, multi-media and improv antics that traditional hard rock projects do not.

As the writer of lines like "Fuck your god" and "Wear your grudge like a crown," it's easy to believe that most people miss out on the bulk of Keenan's humor. He refused to speculate on whether or not people appreciate his humor, saying, "I have no idea. I think there's humor throughout everything I've done, but it would be hard to get into someone's head and see." However, he did make a point of acknowledging the importance of humor to his and all art. "In general, as an artist, all good art involves comedy and tragedy. That's just a Shakespearean way to write. It's always there; it's a good balance."

Maynard's got a rep for being a real tough interview. YouTube is littered with video clips of Keenan being interviewed by unprepared reporters who get their asses handed to them, and that's part of his allure. Unlike most rock stars churned out by the industry machine, the members of Tool have never done things by the book. When asked about doing press, Keenan said, "Frank Zappa always resisted talking about music. It just didn't make any sense to him, and sometimes I feel the same way. Just talking about these things is far from the actual experience of tasting and hearing and seeing."

For the better part of Tool's career, Keenan has performed in various disguises, ranging from blue body paint, drag and kabuki masks, as well as an array of wigs he wore while touring in support of A Perfect Circle, his other multi-platinum act. Performing as Puscifer, Maynard sang behind a plasma screen that had a camera fitted to the back, allowing his audience to see him sing in real time but through the filter of a television. Maynard James Keenan has never accepted that by being a rock star he has to forfeit his identity as a private citizen. He's pulled this off in large part by insulating himself from the usual trappings of fame, by denying the rock star perks Los Angeles surely would have bestowed upon him, and by moving to Jerome, Arizona, an old mining town that, according to the 2006 Census Bureau, boasts a population of 343. As someone whose spent time in Ohio, Massachusetts, West Point Prep School and L.A., Maynard said, "I've been rooted in Northern Arizona for 15 years now. There are very few places I've lived longer than that. It's been home since '95."

Maynard James Keenan with Tool
Maynard likes to joke that he "shoots trespassers on sight," but recently, he's had to give up a lot of his hard won privacy and smile for the camera. Directed by Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke, Blood Into Wine (being released on DVD September 4, 2010) is a documentary about Keenan's experiences as a winemaker. The film tells the story of how, with the help of winemaker Eric Glomski, Maynard's Caduceus Cellars got off the ground, what brought him to plant grapes on Merkin Vineyards, and what wine means to him. Although Maynard feels the film was overall a positive experience, it wasn't something he enjoyed doing.

"You don't want to do that [be a part of a documentary film]," he said. "I don't recommend it." When asked if he regretted being a part of the film, he said, "No. It's something that we needed to do for the area."

More than being good for his business, Maynard said the film is "good for Arizona, and in general, for people thinking about doing something in their area in any state. If we can tell that story and inspire people to drop back, dig in and figure out what works in [their] area, we can really understand what it means to be local and sustainable."

A Perfect Circle has been on hiatus for years, and Tool's last release, 2006's 10,000 Days, was the follow up to 2001's Lateralus, an album many Tool fans thought would be the avant-garde prog-rock act's last. Something most Tool and APC fans fail to take into account when awaiting a new release is that for Keenan all of that work exists within the context of the seasonal wine making process.

"More recently, in the last ten years, some of that [time management between Tool, APC and wine] has depended on pure timing," he said. "The grapes are harvested within a certain window of time, so I turn my phone off for that period because I can't wait for them to be harvested. When they're ready you're a slave to the sun and the rain at that point. [The weather] pretty much calls the shots."

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