A Perfect Circle rise from the dead with a new single and tour 

click to enlarge A Perfect Circle, with The Beta Machine, Monday, Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m., Broadmoor World Arena, 3185 Venetucci Blvd. Tickets: $54.50-$69.50; broadmoorworldarena.com - TIM CADIENTE
  • Tim Cadiente
  • A Perfect Circle, with The Beta Machine, Monday, Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m., Broadmoor World Arena, 3185 Venetucci Blvd. Tickets: $54.50-$69.50; broadmoorworldarena.com
A Perfect Circle founders Billy Howerdel and Maynard James Keenan know how to catch their fans off guard. They did it when they announced earlier this year that the band would be touring for the first time in six years. And they did it again just yesterday, Oct. 17, with the surprise release of their new single “Doomed.” Even the press was kept out of the loop, except for a handful of interviewers who were all sworn to secrecy.

Why the shroud of mystery?

“You only have one chance to make a first impression,” explains guitarist Howerdel, who’s also the art-metal band’s primary composer and arranger. “It’s a big song, in a lot of ways, and we wanted it to have a lot of impact sonically. But I think the more you hear about a song, before you actually get to hear it, the more that waters it down. So yeah, I’d like it to come out of the gates strong.”

And it does. “Doomed” is a track that’s made for both huge speakers as well as headphones that have really good bass response. It opens with big drums that get bigger as the song goes on, while Howerdel’s ambient guitar tones drift into the left channel and Tool frontman Keenan comes crashing in from the right with his characteristically urgent vocals:

Behold the new Christ
Behold the same old horde
Jabber at the altering
New beginning, new word
And the word was death
And the word was without life
The new beatitude
Good luck, you’re on your own

Hopefully all that won’t happen before the second quarter of 2018, when Howerdel anticipates the band will finally be releasing a new album. The as-yet-untitled recording will be the first album in nearly 15 years from the band, which also features James Iha on rhythm guitar and keyboards, Matt McJunkins on bass, and Jeff Friedl on drums. In addition to “Doom,” the album will include “Feathers” and “Hourglass,” both of which the band has begun playing live.
It’s just a few days before A Perfect Circle embark on their 20-city national tour, and Billy Howerdel is operating on 41/2 hours of sleep.

“I went to bed at midnight and got up at 4:45,” he half-yawns, “and I’m running on vapors, because I’m doing 14-hour-straight days without even stopping to eat. And my mind’s racing. I’m waking up thinking about what I have to do, and worrying that I can’t finish everything in time.”

Eating on the run is bad enough, but not having time to meditate is worse. Howerdel has been practicing Transcendental Meditation for more than a decade, but not as regularly as he feels he should.

“I wish everyone could experience what I’ve experienced in doing it,” he says, vowing to do so immediately after our interview. “It gives you a much clearer perspective, so that you’re coming from a place of understanding, but still have your own values. It’s the equivalent of shutting off your computer — if you’ve got a bug or a virus or something making it act haywire — and then you’re just turning it back on and you reset. It’s like, “Okay, now we’re operating as normal, and you’re more efficient at what you’re doing.”

After A Perfect Circle went on hiatus, Howerdel put together his own band, Ashes Divide, and recorded their 2008 debut album, Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright, for Island Records.

But right now, it’s all about A Perfect Circle. Howerdel and Keenan are both focusing on writing and recording material for the next album.
So far they’ve been collaborating mostly long distance, with producer Dave Sardy — whose credits include Helmet, LCD Soundsystem, and Nick Cave — taking on the role of Howerdel’s real-time sounding board.

“I’ve always sort of self-produced, but I knew this was going to be a bigger-sounding record, and I wanted to see what this would be like,” says the musician, who hooked up with Sardy on his manager’s recommendation. “Dave’s got really strong opinions, so I have to pick my battles and see how compelling I can make my musical argument. He’ll sometimes have ideas that I didn’t have, and he’ll also interface between Maynard and I. Maynard’s not physically here a lot — he’ll track some things on his own and send them over — so it’s just nice having someone overseeing the whole process. I felt like I was able to dig in a little deeper on this record.”

Howerdel also expects this new album will show the influence of creating his first feature-film score, which he composed and recorded for the 2017 film D-Love.

“Scoring that movie helped, especially in a song like our first single,” he says. “It was written in a film-score cue kind of way in the beginning — with all those little pieces in it — and then, after the fact, we kind of fleshed it out so it’d have some teeth in it. That’s kind of a new approach, but it’s something I always wanted to do on the first record. That song “Renholder” was the beginnings of that intention, and I’m kind of expanding upon that going down that road. But I do keep the same Marshall amp and the same Gibson guitar to help keep me connected to what this band is about. So it’s trying to find that connection to your past while moving forward.”

Like Keenan’s other other band Puscifer, A Perfect Circle initially went through a period where it was regarded by the press as a Tool side-project. That characterization overlooked the fact that A Perfect Circle is Howerdel’s brainchild.

“I have no complaint,” says the musician, who became a fan of Keenan’s when he first heard Tool and remains so today. “Maynard from day one always gave me a lot of credit, and I feel appreciated. I mean, yeah, I’ve had some people come up and say that to me, like, ‘Oh you’re underrated” and this or that. And I just think, ‘Okay, whatever.’ Just as someone could say, ‘Oh you’re that band that sucks,’ or ‘You’re that band that’s great.’ You can’t get too wrapped up in anything like that.

“A lot of things are non-verbal for me,” he continues, “whereas one of Maynard’s strengths is communicating things in words. My job is different. I find my role to be communicating without words, you know, to hopefully create palpable kinds of emotions through music. I mean, that’s the goal. I don’t know if it ever really happens, but that’s the target I’m aiming for.”
click to enlarge APC co-founder Billy Howerdel aimed for a bigger sound on the band’s forthcoming album. - JENNY JIMENEZ
  • Jenny Jimenez
  • APC co-founder Billy Howerdel aimed for a bigger sound on the band’s forthcoming album.
Personality-wise, Howerdel doesn’t really mind being “the quiet one,” a kind of industrial-strength equivalent to the lesser-known members of Wham and the Pet Shop Boys. In fact, one of his all-time heroes, Marco Pirroni, plays a similar role in the band Adam & The Ants.

The Kings of the Wild Frontier album is one of my top three records of all time,” say Howerdel, who was thrilled to catch the recent tour in which the British group performed that album straight through.

“When I was a guitar tech for Trent during Nine Inch Nails’ ’94 Downward Spiral tour, Adam Ant and Marco came to the sound check at Madison Square Garden, because they were going to play that night. They played “Physical,” which was a cover that Trent has always played. And, you know, I was just keeping my head down. I was a tech, just trying to be invisible in every kind of way. But it was the one day that I fan-boyed out on somebody. I went up to Marco and just said, “Man, you’re such a great musician and you’ve raised the bar for what I’m trying to figure out how to do.” Or something along those lines. And I remember him being very humble about it and just like, ‘What? Really? You’re not here to gawk at Adam Ant?’”

Howerdel — who’d also served as a tour guitar tech for Smashing Pumpkins, David Bowie and, yes, Tool — was working on songs of his own when Keenan offered to sing on them. That was in 1999. A year later, A Perfect Circle’s Mer de Noms made rock history by debuting at No. 4, selling nearly 200,000 copies in its first week, and staying on the charts for one week short of a year.

Mixed by NIN producer Alan Moulder and buoyed by the singles “Judith,” “Three Libras” and “The Hollow,” the album was also one of the first to successfully mix grunge and metal elements with prog-rock passages that feature violins, tack piano, and xylophone. The band’s sophomore album, Thirteenth Step, climbed even higher up the charts to No. 2, and, like its predecessor, sold more than a million copies.

The band switched gears with 2004’s eMOTIVe. Released a year after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the album was largely composed of anti-war cover songs. From its melodramatic reading of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” on which Keenan’s vocals ventured into Kurt Cobain and Michael Stipe terrain, to unlikely renditions of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” and Fear’s “Let’s Have a War.” There’s also a Joni Mitchell cover.

With only two original tracks, the album was clearly a departure from A Perfect Circle’s previous work, and only sold half as many copies. The group didn’t tour on behalf of eMOTIVe, and, its contract with Virgin Records now fulfilled, went on the kind of hiatus that bands like to call indefinite but usually are anything but.

Decades later, Puscifer, Ashes Divide and Tool are still very much in action, but A Perfect Circle has definitely moved to the front of the queue. The six-week trek should give Howerdel and Keenan more opportunity to bond on the road, while continuing to try out new material live.
Meanwhile, Howerdel is still amazed that the band has been able to pick up where it left off, and is playing arena-sized venues.

“I’m still shocked,” he says. “I feel honored that so many people remember us.”


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