The eMOTIVe era found you guys taking a very pronounced political stand. Where, if anywhere, does the band stand politically now? And how might it come out in the music?
Yeah, that record was obviously very charged politically… As far as where it goes in the live set, we haven’t really… I mean the lighting director and the band have talked color and aesthetic more than ‘shove this message down everybody’s throat.’
I certainly think we’re in a more hopeful place. The world is extremely complicated, and when you’re setting out to say something politically, unless you’re the one dropping the bomb so to speak, you’re not going to see immediate results. If you’re trying to do the right thing, it’s a long, drawn-out process of making change and certainly I think we’re in a more hopeful place than we were in 2003, God help us.
It’s weird… I mean, as mad and scared as one half of the country was back then, I feel like the other side is just as mad and scared now. It’s real hard not to just feel jaded about everything, to say, ‘oh, the shoe’s just on the other foot now, it’s all the same shit in the end anyway.’
Politics are ridiculous to talk about, but they need to be talked about… It’s ridiculous to critique it. It’s almost like you go into this ring, you remove all your clothing so to speak, and know that when you come out of that ring, you put them back on, and you’re man enough to not be critical of the other person’s whole being because they think this one thing…
You know, whether it’s religion or politics, everyone’s striving for the same thing at the end of the day. We all have different things that we’re fearful of how they might have affected us, and how we’re going to be a cheerleader for this position or that. But nothing’s perfect, and how could anyone come and fix all of the problems in the world, ever? It’ll never happen. It’s just the nature of who we are. And if it did happen, the world would be a boring place.
You pray for peace, and pray for all of these things… There’s always going to be a friction. It doesn’t mean you need to go out and create it, because it’s just going to be there without anyone going out of their way to be a dick or to be evil, or whatever. All we can do is be the best people we can, and try and counter all the psychos.
While there’s definitely much appreciation for eMOTIVe in the fan community, everyone generally figures that it and aMOTION were sort of rushed out, at least to a certain extent, to fulfill the contract with Virgin…
I would say that eMOTIVe was rushed out a little bit, to meet the election deadline. I mean there was certainly the intention to get that out a couple weeks before November 4th, 2004.
I read stuff, I read fans’ reactions. And I know that… There was a weird emotional side of me as far as eMOTIVe goes, as far as the reaction to it. One thing was, you know, you put out a record, and a lot of your fans go to your website, and a lot of your fans give you positive press. And there’s always someone who is being inflammatory or trying to be a dick, but you can kind of see it though, because it seems to be pretty transparent.
eMOTIVe came out, and a lot of… Too many people maybe, said critical things about that record… One part of me said like, ‘wow. These guys really did like our first two records.’ It’s like when your Mom keeps saying ‘oh you’re the greatest honey.’ And one day your Mom finally says, ‘you really sucked tonight, but you can do better next time.’ It’s like ‘whoa.’ You know, and it hurts, and you start crying because you’re six, you know. (laughs)
On the other side of that, I was really pretty psyched about that record. A) It was a covers record. So right off the bat… I think Maynard kind of warned me, because he had experienced with Tool, with releasing covers; You get a mixed emotion from it anyway. I thought we bit off a lot, in trying to reinterpret those songs.
Somebody was just asking me the other day, ‘how about that music for People Are People, or this song or that, can you go and put it in, like, a soundtrack?’ I said I don’t think so. I messed up by not copyrighting it beforehand, I guess, you know. I don’t know, there’s some debate I guess… I wrote new music for these songs, just to try and make them unique and make them their own, and not just rush them out. Rushing that record out could have been learning how to play the songs and playing them.
Honestly, I didn’t listen to any of these songs to try and figure out how they went or what the words were, or anything. It was like, songs that we knew, that were pretty iconic, at least to us, and there’s some… I mean, Annihilation? Still, to this day, I’ve never, ever heard that song. I wrote some music based on Maynard saying ‘I’m going to whisper this thing over this, and let’s set up the record being a really creepy, kind of ominous overtone.’ Done. That was it. I wrote some shit, he added to it, and we went from there.
I don’t know, maybe I’m getting a little defensive about it, but then again, you can’t please everybody, and for us it was an exercise where we wanted to do something pointed, which was you know, pretty political, there’s no hiding that. But taking songs that someone might not necessarily see as political but doing reinterpretations where the mood would be the theme. Not even necessarily even the lyrics, it was like the setup and the aesthetic would be something unique to us.
Well not to be the kiss-assey fanboy, but the way you approached the music definitely added something new and unique to the narrative of the songs, and I think everyone gets that, and certainly the defenders are quick to point that out.
Yeah, I mean Imagine couldn’t be further from the feel… The words didn’t change, I don’t think… We were just like, this is scary- We were truly frightened at the time, and that song was… Hopefully, it came off that way because that was going on.
There was also the perception that these releases, fulfilling the contract with Virgin, may have been borne of a necessity… Was that the case? How was the relationship with Virgin at that time?
No, honestly… I mean I’ve heard that too. But think about it, what would be the point of getting out of the contract? If we released that record then, or released it a year from then. We didn’t come out with a new record right after it. The intention in 2004 was for me to do my solo record, which was Ashes Divide, for Maynard to do his solo record, which was Puscifer, and I didn’t need to get out of an APC contract to do it; I could do whatever, and so could he. So there was nothing to get out of the contract for.
I mean I’ve heard that…
Well people assume; It seems almost obvious.
That could just illustrate, again, that it wasn’t the record people wanted for the third APC record… I don’t know, I’m sitting here probably spending too much energy thinking about it.
Because it’s you, you have an intimacy with this band throughout the years, and I’ve always appreciated you looking out for us and taking the time to spread the word in the beginning, I only feel compelled to answer to you about this. (laughs)
Does Virgin own the music? Can you guys do what you want with the songs?
I think Virgin still has them, I believe. I don’t know, I could be wrong.
Well I mean, for instance, let’s go back to the YouTube thing. Someone puts up a bootleg of Judith… Is EMI going to go after them, or is it up to you?
We’re the writers, and they’re the master owners… I would imagine that’s their concern.
I didn’t have a whole lot of issues with Virgin, to be honest. Especially in the beginning. The Nancy Berry era / regime at Virgin… I always attributed, then and I still do, a lot of the success we had was from how much attention we were given from the record company.
It was a big debut.
Yeah, and it was more than just dollars. There was real love and real passion. [Berry] was a chairman of the record company, and she was listening to the music in the car, and calling around, figuring out creative ways- ‘how are we going to crack this band?’ It might not be (at the time; You’ll have to give these references weight) Britney Spears or N*Sync, but I want to crush with this. So how are we going to do this?
And I’ve heard that before, from a lot of record company people… They say it, and then they lose their steam and their patience very quickly. But at Virgin, they didn’t. They got that this wasn’t just a one-hit band, and there was some density to the music, and that it was going to take time to approach it from a business standpoint. I always thought that that was extremely kick-ass. You hear a lot of complaining about record companies. I just have to say that we were very fortunate to have a great one in the beginning.
I think the fans especially like to see that beef, even when it isn’t there, where the record companies are being dicks. I think that fueled some talk, like these seemingly rushed releases got them out of a contract, so there must be bad blood there, et cetera.
But there are definitely bands on major labels that are happy because they have the right team there. It’s something we’ve talked a lot about on Antiquiet, how it’s not about bad labels or good labels but just about having the right team.
Right. As time goes on, record companies have kind of become these dysfunctional things, but you know, I think there’s a lot to be said, there’s a function of a record company that’s important for the development of a band. And without it… I still think we’re in the very beginning stages of a revolution of music that we can only look back on in a decade, or two or three, and say, oh, that’s what the aughts were, or that’s what the teens were… They definitely serve their purpose… They definitely over-step their bounds and do terrible stuff like a lot of businesses do. I’m not trying to totally defend record companies, but I think too much shit is talked about them…
There’s leaner, meaner record companies now, or so it seems, and they’re independent, and they can make records without having executives with private jets at their disposal and having a big waste of money. But then again, when you look at someone who has worked really hard and has had great success, they should be rewarded with a lot of money, if that’s how they’ve chosen to do it. Otherwise, you’re getting into some socialist society mentality where like, [you’re saying] somebody shouldn’t have this or that. Well, what are you working towards? I get that people like to take a utopian, socialist approach to things, but if you don’t, and you truly love this country and what it’s about, and accept that if you work hard, and you’re not cheating somebody, that you can really make a good living, those are some of the people at record companies.
Granted, some of those people went too far, but it’s like any other business.
Exactly. That’s the way I always come at it. If you’re starting a band, in a sense, you’re an entrepreneur. And the music industry is not inherently any more cutthroat than any other industry necessarily, but when you have a lot of naïve entrepreneurs coming in, they’re going to get taken advantage of.
It’s also a numbers thing. You hear of people getting a “million dollar record deal.” You’re in the business enough to know; What does that mean, a million dollars for a record deal?
You’ve got a million dollar loan.
Yeah, a million dollar loan. And if you’ve got four people or five people in a band, you’re probably going to make $50k per year for let’s say, the first two years. And somebody could look at that and go, wow, that’s great… But no, that’s not what a “million dollar record deal” sounds like. That’s a thousand dollars a week, for a good job… But it’s not like you’re jet-setting or conquering the world, that comes from a much luckier, long-running situation in the record industry, and not everybody gets that. It comes from making bold decisions, and smart decisions, and also being in the right place at the right time.
And that’s why, again, I go back to… We made a living from Nancy Berry putting us in the right place at the right time, from Trent Reznor taking us out as an opening band on the Nine Inch Nails tour in 2000, was crucial and key, and a lot of things… I can speak, from Ashes Divide, like setting up a new band, and I’ve got fans of APC that were interested in what I had to say, and I sold… enough records that it was “good,” from today’s standpoint, but looking back at the old numbers, 70,000 records would have been disastrous back in 2004. You know, In 2008, it wasn’t that bad…
But I’m telling you, I sunk a lot of my own money into that band, and didn’t really make much, if at all, from it. So unless you’re ready to get into a van and ask from the stage to stay at somebody’s house and have them cook you dinner that night, I don’t know how you’re going to go out there and make any money, or at least not have to come out of your own pocket to do it.
It’s tough, if you really add up what it costs to tour and to break a new band, it’s near impossible. That’s what we worried about years ago, I mean no offense if you love Miley Cyrus, but it’s like that kind of corporate sponsored, boy-band kind of put-together thing will be the formula that popular music will come to, because financially it’s hard to break through.
There’s just too many kids that are great musicians that just don’t get to break through. And sorry, I’m rambling…
Nah, this is a topic we’ve tackled many times… As things get more dire, everyone starts taking less chances, and so things just get more dire. Everything gets more formulaic, because that’s what you can bank on, and that’s how you stay in business, and everyone’s blaming the labels, but… How can you blame them, you know?
Yeah, let’s blame ourselves for being greedy and shortsighted. We’re consuming music in a way that is not the way we used to consume music. It’s completely fast food. I live in LA, where the the ideal is trying to go greener and be more civic and self-conscious, and trying to get that mentality in place… But it seems that music has gone the complete opposite way. Where it’s… ‘I’ll check out a track or two, and if I like it, I’ll buy it. Or I’ll get to it later.’ And people don’t. I’ve heard so many times, ‘I’m going to go out and support your record and buy it.’ But how many times does that really happen?
I think… Look, the great thing that happened is the internet made it possible for everybody to be into a lot more bands than they used to be. I maybe liked ten or fifteen bands when I was sixteen. Now I like hundreds, maybe a thousand. And so I think that just unfortunately takes down the value of each piece of music for each fan who is playing with the same small amount of money. It’s not that they don’t appreciate the value of music. I think they can talk idealistically, but at the end of the day, I don’t know if they have a way to make it work, either.
Yeah… I’m just looking at it from the standpoint of, you know, when you’re growing up, you cherish that record you worked hard for. When you pay for something, it means something more. I’ve obviously got an axe to grind with this. But I’ve also got a love for music, and I just find the diminishing returns… the desperation can really start to disintegrate what it is that’s great about music.
I know there’s a mentality, and there’s truth to it, that if you’re getting into music and you know that there’s no financial gain from it whatsoever, well you’ve probably got rich parents (laughs) or you want to be the hippie and just play your acoustic guitar songs and that’s it… Maybe that art can be pure…
That’s the worst kind of music, the trust fund kids and the hippies.
I try to break that… I didn’t have some fucked up childhood, as far as I know. I’m told I did, but I don’t feel that way, but then again, usually great art does come from some kind of adverse situation that someone’s kind of working through in a therapeutic kind of way. And yeah, when you get into it and you just have a desire to be a socialite or just be popular or this or that, usually people can sniff it out. We’re all in tune emotionally enough to sniff out the…
I started working for bands because I was probably too shy and nervous to really go out and take a chance and make a band. So I took a different route. And I did want to be a musician, but I wanted to do it in a way that was comfortable for me. I like to learn and turn over every stone and figure it out, and not come out with my worst foot forward. I wanted to have it be something done and solidified.
And once I started working for bands, I realized I liked doing it, so I kept doing it. Then I’ve had a lot of musicians kind of say… What are you doing working for me? (laughs) It was kind of a nice compliment…
Figuring out that you were a little more than a roadie?
Well, I was just talking to somebody the other day, I named eight names, and I go, ‘who do you know with higher IQs than everyone I just named?’ And they’re all guys I’ve toured with. There’s really smart… I guess it’s like any field; When you get to the top, there’s really intelligent, forward thinking people there. And there’s no difference with roadies.
I didn’t get into music to be doing scissor kicks and wearing spandex and trying to get a Lamborghini, it was because bands influenced me, and I wanted to… I got my dream, literally, what I set out to do was to inspire somebody as much as I’ve been inspired. Like I could go up to someone, like Robert Smith, and go ‘you’ve changed my life.’ That’s such a… stupid thing to say, but it’s true, the soundtrack to my early childhood was listening to The Cure and other bands like that, that made it interesting and colored it.
Without music, the world would be a very uninteresting place. And it got to the point where people were coming up to me and going like, ‘you changed my life, you were the soundtrack to my life.’ And all the things that I wanted to do… I completely succeeded in the music industry, as far as I’m concerned.
A Perfect Circle’s current touring lineup is: Billy Howerdel (Ashes Divide), Maynard James Keenan (Tool, Puscifer), Josh Freese (The Vandals, Devo), James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), and Matt McJunkins (Ashes Divide, Puscifer). Former members include Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens Of The Stone Age, Sweethead), Paz Lenchantin (Entrance Band), Jeordie White (Marilyn Manson), and Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails). Dates and on-sale details for the new 2010 tour can be found here.