Layne Staley, Kat Bjelland, Les Claypool & Maynard James Keenan @ Lollapalooza 1993
Keenan, now 39 and a veteran of both the U.S. Army (he soldiered for a few years in the early ’80s, when he adopted the “Maynard” moniker on a whim) and art school (he was into print-making), is hardly the grim and alienated character that early Tool compositions might suggest. Today, he’s a happily unmarried father (his 8-year-old son, Devo, has a tiny cameo on the current APC album, Thirteenth Step); a knowledgeable wine enthusiast (his home cellar is stocked with more than 2,000 bottles); and a man who treasures his friends, many of whom, naturally, are musicians — or, like the late Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley, were. He has enemies, too, of course — chief among them, perhaps, Courtney Love, whose daughter Frances Bean (her child by the late Kurt Cobain) was the object of an attempted T-shirt intervention by Keenan some years back.
Maynard’s bands aren’t exactly prolific: Tool have released three studio albums since 1993; A Perfect Circle have released two over the last four years. Not a lot of product, maybe, but Keenan makes no apologies: The music is singularly powerful, in some respects visionary.
Maynard is a smart and witty man, equally at ease discussing history (his parents were both teachers) or bad, bad movies (here, such towering fiascos as Kevin Costner’s “The Postman” and the John Travolta abomination, “Battlefield Earth”). In short, a fun guy to talk to.
Kurt Loder: Was it really you who created the “Free Frances Bean” T-shirt?
Maynard James Keenan: Oh, yeah, back in ‘96, ‘97. Everybody at that time was trying to get us to do all these benefit shows — you know, like “Free Tibet.” And I was like, “I’m gonna have my own platform: Free Frances Bean.” Because just watching the tornado that is her mother, my first thought was, “Oh my God, how is Frances Bean gonna survive this insanity?” Because artists can be extremely eccentric and insane, and unfortunately, the people they hurt the most are the people that are closest to them. The shirt was kind of a flippant joke, and then it just spiraled out of control — everyone wanted them, and I was giving them away. Courtney hates me. She called me a media whore once. Isn’t that great? I have the distinction of being called a media whore by Courtney Love.
Loder: The album title, Thirteenth Step, seems to be a reference to the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step rehab program.
"Many of the songs are sung from the perspectives of recovery…"
Keenan: I don’t think the album is specifically for people who are going through recovery, although that metaphor is absolutely present. Many of the songs are sung from the perspectives of recovery: from the perspective of a person who is in denial about a loved one, and from the drug perspective itself — the perspective of a person who is starting to realize that there is an issue, and of a person who is ready to deal with it.
This was a very difficult task for me, because I don’t know what [drug addiction] is like. I drew on the experiences of friends who have gone through recovery, and friends who will never go through recovery. Layne Staley, for example, who was an old friend.
Loder: You must have seen that coming with him, right?
Keenan: Yeah, absolutely. But there was nothing you could do, and it’s very difficult to understand. Being a friend to someone like Layne, it really kind of does your head in. I don’t understand it, but I do want to help other people who are on that borderline, who might hear [a song] and go, “You know what, I think I want to try to live.”
Maynard James Keenan