All posts tagged tour

  • Maxim Australia story: “European Union: Riding shotgun on a Ukrainian summer romance tour”, December 2011

    A story for the December 2011 issue of Maxim Australia. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Travel: European Union

    Maxim rides shotgun on the world’s premier romance tour. Truth by told, we left feeling weird and depressed.

    Words by Andrew McMillen, photographs by Rachael Hall

    Odessa, Ukraine

    “Beautiful women grow in certain parts of the world more than others, and you’re in one of them. Maybe six or seven thousand guys in the world have experienced what you’re going to experience: Being put into a situation where you have so much choice that it’ll be mind-boggling. So be prepared, gas up, and I guarantee you’re going to have a wonderful time.”

    These are the words of Larry Cervantes, public relations manager of a website named Anastasia (anastasiadate.com), which claims to be “the world’s leading international dating and romance tour company”.

    My girlfriend – we met in Australia, but thanks for asking – and I are in a seaside city called Odessa, in south Ukraine, as guests of Anastasia. They invited us to check out their ‘Summer Romance Tour’ – a weeklong leap into the exotic abyss in search of love… or something like it.

    The tour is centred around three “socials”, which are parties arranged by Anastasia in conjunction with local dating agencies. Really, it was a heart-warmingly wacky offer we just couldn’t refuse.

    Friday

    Our first social is at The Park Residence, a luxury venue with a swimming pool and tennis courts. The touring men aren’t just outnumbered by prospective partners but 45 female interpreters are also in attendance. They’re a necessity, as few Ukrainian women speak English, and none of the men (mostly Americans) speak the local tongue.

    As the day begins, the atmosphere is more awkward high-school disco than adult social. But most of the guys are mingling within the hour. Larry’s initial prediction about the nature of this event rings true on two counts: The women are improbably attractive, though they are all members of local agencies whose clients consist entirely of beautiful women. And secondly: They all know they’re here for the sole purpose of meeting men.

    The median age of the tour group sits between 40 and 45, so it’s likely these guys haven’t been in this kind of environment – artificial as it may be – since they last had a kegger at the frat house. It’s ironic, since many of the girls appear to be college freshmen age at best.

    Sure, there’s a Willy Wonka factory’s worth of eye candy on display, but the likelihood of a “romance” blossoming between a middle-aged American man and a barely-adult Ukrainian woman? Call me the anti-Cupid but I’m a little sceptical.

    Saturday

    Today’s social is a four-hour bus ride away, in neighbouring city Kherson. Like the testosterone levels, group morale is high as we arrive at a club named Amigo. Unlike yesterday’s opulent surroundings, housing commission-style flats and a couple of convenience stores are Amigo’s only neighbours. As you may have guessed, there aren’t any tennis courts and swimming pools here.

    Walking into a dark, hot, smoky club in the middle of nowhere at 1pm feels and smells just like it sounds. To make matters worse for the potential Romeos, the babe ratio is a measly two-to-one – around half of yesterday’s embarrassment of female riches. Still, those are better odds than most real-world nightclub situations.

    Spending six hours inhaling the Amigo air is a tall ask for non-smokers. If, unlike myself and the missus, you are a smoker, I can’t recommend this place highly enough – 12 packs of gaspers here cost about a dollar.

    Through the haze, Anastasia’s Ukrainian tour rep Olga leads a dance-off, wherein one of the tour’s oldest – and heaviest – men is relieved of his shirt and tie by a cunning local. A topless, sweating fat man is not something I thought I’d ever witness on a Saturday afternoon in south Ukraine. Mum always did say I was lucky, though.

    In what I would call proof that a higher power exists, the 7pm finishing time draws near. Adios, Amigo. As we drive away, there’s a striking contrast between the tour’s mood upon arrival and departure. Under the blazing July sun it was all laughs and optimism, but as night falls on the ride home, there’s a distinct air of crushed expectations and the sound of hearts beginning to break. Or that could be the shonky bus suspension. Either way, there’s a noise.

    Sunday

    The tour’s third and final social is going to have to be something special to recoup the battering team morale took in Kherson. It’s also the group’s last realistic opportunity to meet local women and set up dates for the remainder of their stay in Odessa. If that doesn’t happen, it means being stuck with just your stockpile of cheap ciggies for company and nothing else.

    Outside the venue – a beachside club named Itaka – the group pauses for a brief photo opportunity in the twilight, before venturing into the belly of the beast. We’re threaded down three flights of stairs and through a busy bar to the poolside bottom level, where 22 bikini-clad models are fanning themselves and posing for photos. It looks promising for the lads…

    Tonight’s, we are here to behold the Miss Bikini 2011 contest. One of the judges is Dasha Astafieva, who was Playboy‘s 55th Anniversary Playmate in 2009. The winner is a petite blonde from neighbouring city Nikolaev named Natalia, who earns a Yamaha jet ski for her efforts. Post-ceremony, we’re treated to the musical stylings of Dasha’s pop group, Nikita. The mosh pit consists of around 50 local girls… and five tourists. After the eight-song set – performed alternately in English and Ukrainian – the stage is broken down and a dance floor emerges in front of the bar. The starter’s pistol has been fired. Party time!

    Itaka could be any club anywhere in the world. Some guys pick up, some don’t. Looking across at the men clumsily dancing poolside or trying to converse with the opposite sex, it seems a bit of a stretch that it’s all worth it, romantically speaking. Finding a long-term partner – let alone a casual sex partner – in Odessa seems no more likely for these men than in their hometowns. True, you won’t be treated to a Euro pop performance or have access to dirt-cheap smokes, but if you’re looking to have a ‘Summer Romance Tour’ that’s affordable and where the women understand what you’re saying, I’d say do it domestically.

    Sidebar: Love Bytes

    An Odessa veteran gives us a hard dose of romantic reality

    Roger – a personal trainer from St Louis, Missouri, in his early-40s – has toured Odessa with Anastasia four times. This’ll probably be his last trip. He says he only returned this time because his recently divorced friend Derek begged him to. He believes that every man on this trip will return home alone, because “you ain’t gonna meet somebody and fall in love in five days”. He hasn’t used the site in 11 years, but still gets weekly notifications from Ukrainian women trying to connect with him – which he deletes, unread.

    His take on Anastasia is that it’s simply “bringing a bunch of old men a little bit of happiness. It’s money [for Anastasia], but it’s also happiness for the old guy on the computer thinking he’s writing a cute girl”. This is not always the case: often, the girls’ interpreters answer mail on their behalf. Physically, these tours are rarely a try-before-you-buy scenario for guys seeking potential brides; Roger guarantees that “95 or 96 per cent of the guys never sleep with the girls”. He laughs, saying, “All men are lonely old fools. You’ll get there one day.” Can’t wait!

    For more on Anatasia and their romance tours, visit anastasiadate.com.

    This 1,200 word story was edited down from a 5,000 word version, which can be read here: “In Search Of Ukrainian Summer Romance: Inside Anastasia’s Odessa Odyssey”. This link also includes many more photos, taken by Rachael Hall.

  • The Courier-Mail artist profile: Reggie Watts, March 2011

    An arts profile for The Courier-Mail. Excerpt below.

    Reggie Watts: Unscripted, but well prepared

    BEFORE American performer Reggie Watts even opens his mouth, you can’t help but form preconceptions.

    Watts is keenly aware of this, which is why he does his best to challenge those who try to pigeonhole him based on his appearance, performance style or surroundings.

    Watts’ act is unique; a compelling fusion of comedy, music, vocal prowess and impressionism, all delivered at a whirlwind pace.

    “I like it when people are laughing hard,” Watts says, “but I also like it when audiences are confused.”

    During his well-attended appearance at the Brisbane Powerhouse in May 2009, a bound-and-gagged Spiderman struggled to break free from his bonds throughout his set; he succeeded during the encore break, to wild cheers from the crowd.

    Watts made no reference to the character throughout his act.

    “It’s good to have things happening ambiently in the background,” he laughs when reminded of that night.

    Much of Watts’ act is improvised. While he has a handful of snippets he can bring into the set at any time, for the most part he prefers to make it up as he goes along.

    His inspiration comes from driving around and absorbing the sights and sounds of the city, or listening to his driver, who most likely will be local.

    “He’s driving me around and telling me stuff about the city. A lot of this stuff will show up in the show,” Watts says. “I don’t really write down notes. I experience something, find a funny thing about it, and then log it.”

    If it’s funny – or important – enough, Watts trusts that his memory won’t fail him while he’s on stage.

    For the full article, visit The Courier-Mail. For more Reggie Watts, visit his website. The music video for his skit/song ‘Fuck Shit Stack‘ is embedded below.

    Elsewhere: an extended interview with Reggie Watts in May 2009

  • The Vine interview: Adam Franklin of Swervedriver, February 2011

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Interview – Swervedriver

    “In their nine years together, Swervedriver released four startling albums, ranging from storming guitar experimentalism to mind-blowing psychedelia – all dedicated to the nihilistic joys of the open road.”

    That’s a line from the band’s 2005-released two-disc compilation, Juggernaut Rides: ’89-’98. It’s an entirely apt description of the sounds and imagery summoned by this British four-piece, whose core duo consisted of singer/guitarist Adam Franklin and guitarist Jimmy Hartridge. Formed in Oxford in 1989, they soon prospered in a time when interest surrounding guitar-led alternative rock and the nascent genre of shoegaze was at an all-time high. They were signed to Creation Records – home to My Bloody Valentine – and released two genre-defining albums within two years: 1991’s Raise, and 1993’s Mezcal Head. Despite their British upbringing, Franklin et al were fascinated by American muscle car culture, and sought to provide the soundtrack to imagined high-speed jaunts across the States. Their first single, ‘Son Of Mustang Ford’, sums up Swervedriver’s ethos in four minutes of scorching guitars and breakneck percussion.

    Label woes and band instability eventually brought them to a halt in 1998, following underwhelming sales for Ejector Seat Reservation (1995) and 99th Dream (1998). As it turns out, the band’s final shows took place in Australia while supporting Powderfinger, ending in December 1998 with a last show in Margaret River, outside of Perth (or “self-destruction on a desert highway just outside the world’s most isolated city,” as the Juggernaut Rides liner notes dramatically put it).

    In the intervening years, Franklin continued to record and tour as a solo artist, also under the name Toshack Highway, as well as under Magnetic Morning, a collaboration with Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino. Swervedriver reformed in 2008, and three years later – ahead of their first Australian tour since 1998’s ill-fated expedition – TheVine connected with Adam Franklin.

    To begin, Adam, I want to quote a song lyric. “And the photographs of God I bought have almost fade away”. [A line from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Snakedriver’.]

    Oh, yeah. That’s a good line.

    I mention this because I read your Magnet Magazine guest editorials, and I was particularly interested in what you had to say about that song. You said it’s one of the greatest lines ever in a rock and roll song, which is pretty high praise.

    Yeah, I think it is. Like I said in that blog, the lyric is a surreal sort of thing, and I wonder how it crossed Jim and William’s mind to have that lyric in there. I guess they might have thought of all these things that could happen that’d really suck, and one of them would be if you bought these photographs of God, and then they faded away. I thought it was a great tune, as well.

    I’ve got a favourite Swervedriver lyric: the opening two lines to “Last Train To Satansville” (“You look like you’ve been losing sleep’, said a stranger on a train / I fixed him with an ice-cold stare and said, ‘I’ve been having those dreams again”). To me they’re a wonderfully evocative couple of lines. Are you particularly fond of those lyrics?

    We probably were at the time, because I think that those lyrics were reproduced in full on the [Mezcal Head] album sleeve. But it was inspired by this song ‘They’re Hanging Me Tonight’ which was a song by a country singer named Marty Robbins. They both have a similar sort of narrative. The key line in that song was “They bury Flo tomorrow, but they’re hanging me tonight.” He’s in a prison cell, waiting to be sentenced. That song just seemed to have that twangy sort of vibe.

    Speaking more broadly, what do you think when you look back to some of the material you recorded as a younger man?

    Well, I think most of it stands up pretty well. I haven’t really listened to the recordings that much. We’ve been searching around for slightly more obscure b-sides and album tracks to play live, and there are some good things tucked away. There is quite a good catalogue for Swervedriver, really. I’m quite impressed by how many songs were written in that short two years, or whatever, because I think we released four EPs that all had four songs on them, and a nine-song album [Raise] as well. It’s actually quite a lot of stuff. And that stuff was written – it wasn’t like we had songs lying around for five years before. They were all pretty much written around that time.

    We got quite prolific. It’s quite different now, because now I have songs I’ve had lying around for two, five, or ten years. And it’s good having those things, because every now and then you think “Oh, actually, I finally found a way that this song might work”. Our recent albums are sort of a mixture of new songs as well as things that can be up to 10 years old.

    I came across the compilation Juggernaut Rides. I had to order it off eBay because there’s pretty much no other way to get it these days. It’s great, I love it. It’s a really good summation.

    People ask me what my [Swervedriver] favourite album is, and people think you shouldn’t say compilation albums, but to me it’s a good selection of everything, really. It doesn’t have all the best stuff on it. I quite like the fact that it’s not chronologically laid out, so you just jump straight into the middle.

    What does it mean to you to know that songs you guys recorded together are still extensively a part of peoples’ lives?

    Oh, it means everything. It’s great. The music proves it has longevity. In the early nineties, you’d get little snipes in the press sometimes and people talk about the bands that supposedly were more important that I suspect aren’t still being played by anybody 20 years later. It never ceases to amaze me when people say this song or that song moved them in a way, or helped them through a period of time, and all that kind of stuff. Or that they sort of rocked out to it or whatever. It’s great.

    For the full interview, visit The Vine. For more Swervedriver – highly recommended – visit their website. The music video for their song ‘Son of Mustang Ford‘ is embedded below.

  • The Vine interview: Chino Moreno of Deftones, January 2011

    An interview with Chino Moreno of Deftones, for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Interview – Deftones

    January 2011 is an interesting time for Australian fans to be witnessing Californian hard rock act Deftones. Here in the country for their first tour since 2007 – they headlined the Soundwave Festival that year – it’s been eight months since the five-piece released their sixth album, Diamond Eyes, to extensive critical acclaim (TheVine included). They’ve been on the road for most of that time, seemingly becoming comfortable with splicing new material amongst enough tracks from their big-sellers – second album Around The Fur (1997), and follow-up White Pony(2000) – to keep the long-term fans happy. 

    Diamond Eyes holds some of the heaviest tracks the band have ever committed to tape. Built around Stephen Carpenter’s Meshuggah-like downtuned guitars and Abe Cunningham’s punishing percussion, the album’s 11 tracks marry beauty and brutality in a way that Deftones had never – up until this point – fully realised. Despite the melancholy the band had been confronted with in the last few years – an underwhelming fifth album in 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist; drug addiction; and bassist Chi Cheng’s car accident in 2008, resulting in a severe head trauma that has kept him in a semi-conscious state ever since – Diamond Eyes, against the odds, is arguably the band’s most uplifting and optimistic release in their 23-year history.

    In the middle of the national Big Day Out tour, The Vine connects with singer – and occasional live guitarist – Chino Moreno on Friday 28 January, the eve of their first BDO sideshow at the University of NSW Roundhouse.

    Andrew: I’m interested to know what an average day as part of the Big Day Out tour looks like.

    Chino: It’s pretty mellow. We play semi-early, in the middle of the day, and I’ve not yet adjusted to the time change here, so I’ve been waking up every single morning at like 5 or 6am. So I’m up super early. I go out, I get coffee. I usually go for a run or something, and cruise around. I don’t get there until a little after noon. I get to the venue, and there’s usually a little bit of press or something like that, and then I get ready to play. We’ve been averaging to go on stage between 4 or 5pm. We play our set, and then hang out, and check out some of the other bands. There’s a few good groups who I’m into who’re on the lineup this year. So I cruise around and see some good stuff.

    I saw a video interview with a New Zealand website from last week, where you mentioned that you’re digging a band called The Naked and Famous.

    Yeah, I actually met them on the first night of the tour. They gave me one of their records, and I’ve listened to it, and I’m digging it. It’s similar to a lot of the stuff that I listen to, when I’m not listening to very loud music [laughs].

    Have you made any other musical discoveries while here on tour, so far?

    I wouldn’t say ‘discoveries’, so much. I got to see some bands live that I’ve never seen, like Crystal Castles. I got to see them perform live, which I was really into. I really like the records, so it was good to be able to see them live. Tool, as well; a lot of the time, I get to see them.

    Has Rammstein’s stage production convinced you to look into including pyrotechnics in your set?

    [Laughs] I don’t know, man. I don’t know if that’d work for us. I don’t know if we have the finances for that. They have, like, flames that go off every three minutes. That’s gotta be pretty pricey. But no, it’s cool; I always enjoy watching them play, because it’s very theatrical. They’re great dudes; they’re super nice. When you watch them on stage, you think they’re these huge beasts. But they’re very humble.

    For the full interview, visit The Vine. For more Deftones, visit their website. The music video for their song ‘You’ve Seen The Butcher‘ embedded below.

    Elsewhere: an interview with Abe Cunningham, Deftones’ drummer, for The Vine in April 2010

  • Scene Magazine cover story: ‘Foals’, February 2011

    The cover story for issue 881 of Brisbane street press Scene Magazine – an interview with Yannis Phillippakis of Foals. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Foals – Lobotimising Consciousness

    Oxford-born quintet Foals had a spectacular 2010. In May, they released their second album, ‘Total Life Forever’, which followed their 2008 debut, ‘Antidotes’. They toured the world, including extensive treks through North American and Europe, before playing Australia for the first time as part of the mammoth Splendour In The Grass line-up. Anyone who witnessed their set that weekend would testify it was one of the festival’s best sets.

    Over the years, the band’s sound has morphed from a danceable form of math rock, to a more refined style of indie pop best exemplified on ‘Spanish Sahara‘, ‘Total Life Forever’s beautiful centrepiece. Ahead of their appearance at the 2011 Laneway Festival, Scene connected with Foals’ singer, guitarist and lyricist, Yannis Philippakis.

    When I compare ‘Total Life Forever’ to what I first heard on ‘Antidotes’ a couple of years ago, the two sound like entirely different bands.

    I don’t really like the idea of making albums adversary to each other. I find the whole ranking, hierarchy thing that happens every year repellent. I don’t really have the same perspective on it, obviously, as an externalist, but to us in the band, it’s been a very linear progression. It never really felt like we had a break, even after we finished ‘Antidotes’. I think the production is a hell of a lot more fully realised on ‘Total Life Forever’. I still have a fondness for a lot of the songs on ‘Antidotes’, but I don’t listen to that record largely because of the production. I think that it’s great that people are acknowledging the progression, but to us it is one linear thing. We want to make a body of work. It’s not us trying to eradicate our past, as such.

    Was there any self doubt within the band when the band’s style of songwriting started shifting, after ‘Antidotes’?

    There’s self doubt every day; it’s part of the game. It’s been there always and unless we write ‘Symphony No. 3’ by Gorecki – which we can’t, because it’s already been written – I don’t think we’re ever going to feel sated or complete. It’s just part of the fun as well, the masochistic element of it. The moment we stopped recording ‘Antidotes’, we started doing b-sides for ‘Antidotes’, it started to change a lot, and there was much more experimentation. We started to implement a lot of the things that we learned from [TV On The Radio guitarist/’Antidotes’ producer] Dave Sitek, and make stuff that I think actually bridges the two albums quite closely.There are some b-sides; one in particular called ‘Gold Gold Gold‘, and another two called ‘Titan Arum‘ and ‘Glaciers‘. That’s what I mean; it felt linear. It didn’t feel like we ever stopped.

    When we started the band, it was a very definite and conscious process. We wanted a conscious aesthetic: it was to do with techno, with a style of guitar playing, and with a visual aesthetic. Everything was very conscious, and we wanted to have parameters on it. We were in love with the idea of bands like Devo, who occupied a distinct world. Once we felt like we attained that, everything is now about undoing that process, and getting to a point that’s almost the reverse of that: where nothing is conscious. If I had the choice, I’d have a lobotomy and cut out the conscious part of my mind, so that I could just make music direct from the gut.

    You mentioned your style of guitar playing. I’ve always been fascinated by Foals’ needly, palm-muted riffs. Were there any particular artists that inspired that style of playing?

    It was just something that we heard. There are a lot of styles of playing stringed instruments; everything from string players in a classical piece, to [math rock] bands like OXES and Don Caballero, and African Senegalese guitar. I think the main thing, at least personally for me, there was something about that way of guitar playing that just attracted me. I was never that fascinated by chords, and I actually neglected to learn how to work chord sequences and stuff. Instead, everything became about these ‘guitar tattoos’. I heard a lot of different types of music and different types of bands; I wanted to cannibalise [them] and make it our own. We start playing stuff lower down the guitar. We play with chords sometimes now, but I think that will always be part of the sound because that is just the way that I play, naturally. It’s become muscle memory, now.

    It’s certainly one of the band’s most distinctive elements. Did you always intend that to be the case, or did it arise when you started playing together?

    Yeah, it’s always been there, it pre-dates the band. It’s how I learned how to play the guitar. I used to mimic and ape the guitar lines I liked, and they usually were like staccato, tight little phrases. That’s how I liked it. As I said, I was never really attracted to chords, or distortion pedals. I like the idea of a transparent guitar sound; a guitar sound that’s unashamed to be a clean guitar. I think that you can get as much power out of a clean guitar as you can out of a distorted guitar.

    Foals play Laneway Festival, at Alexandria St off St Paul’s Terrace, this Friday February 4.

    For more Foals, visit their website. For the full transcript of my conversation with Yannis, click here.. The music video for Foals’ song ‘Miami‘ is embedded below.

    Elsewhere: a review of their 2010 album, Total Life Forever, for The Vine.

  • The Australian story: ‘Alex Grey art tour’, January 2011

    An artist profile for The Australian. Excerpt below.

    Grey area of spirituality’s personal connection

    To look at the art of Alex Grey is to look inside oneself, literally and figuratively. The American artist is best known for his psychedelic paintings that combine human anatomy with allusions to infinite time and space.

    Grey, 57, describes them as “visual meditations on the nature of life and consciousness”. They are intricate images depicting open-cut bodies, bathed in glowing light or what Grey calls “spiritual energies”.

    “My work has been called visionary because I’m a painter inspired by glimpses into the subtle visionary realm, which is the source of all sacred art,” he says. “There is more of a spiritual motivation to the work than an intellectual rationale.”

    With his long, ponytailed hair and dressed head to toe in black, Grey looks nearly as striking as his art. He has a warm, avuncular presence that may recall Gandalf or Albus Dumbledore: fitting, really, as Grey portrays himself as wizard-like, a man who strives to be seen as not quite of this world.

    If his art looks familiar, it may be from the album covers he has designed for the American band Tool: 2001’s Lateralus and 2006’s 10,000 Days. The band is about to appear at the Big Day Out, and while Grey is not part of that line-up, he and artist wife Allyson are in Australia at the same time for a series of art workshops.

    Grey has been a career artist since he was a teenager. At 17, he painted carnival funhouses; at 19, billboards. Two years later he got a job in the anatomy department at Harvard Medical School, where he was charged with preparing exhibits on the history of medicine and disease, as well as preparing cadavers for dissection by medical students.

    His observations there informed his own art-making, leading eventually to Sacred Mirrors, a series of 21 life-sized paintings. It took 10 years to complete, but his job as a medical illustrator ensured that his skills were constantly in use.

    For the full article, visit The Australian. More Alex Grey at his website.

  • A Conversation With Maynard James Keenan of Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, and Caduceus Cellars

    An interview with Maynard James Keenan – vocalist of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, and more recently, a winemaker for Caduceus Cellars – conducted for Junior in mid-November 2010, ahead of Tool’s headline appearance on the 2011 Big Day Out tour.

    You can read the Junior cover story based around this interview here.

    At the time we spoke, Maynard was touring with A Perfect Circle for that band’s reformation shows. This is the full transcription of our conversation.

    ++

    Andrew: How are you today?

    Maynard: I’m sick.

    Sick?

    Bit of a head cold or something. I’ve had it for the last seven days.

    In the middle of a tour?

    Yeah, isn’t it great?

    Oh man, I feel bad for you. How have those shows been going for you, besides the sickness?

    They’ve been a struggle. It’s difficult enough to go out and do a regular tour and have the same or similar set, but to do three completely different sets and some of the songs you’ve never played live, and some of them you haven’t played in six or 10 years, and then have a cold on top of it… Jesus, some of these songs I had a difficult time singing 10 years ago, let alone 10 years later and being sick. So it’s definitely been a challenge. I’m up for it, but it’s been a challenge.

    Are you cursing your younger self for his vocal range?

    Yeah, I’m kind of pissed off at myself for having written songs that were pushing the envelope 10 years ago. And when I say pushing the envelope, I mean pushing my range, what I’m capable of. It’s definitely taking a toll.

    Since you’ve had a few years away from that band, are you able to look at those albums with fresh eyes and ears?

    That’s a tough one. I think it’s really difficult to do that, because I’m always going to hear the flaws. All I hear is the production flaws, or what I would have done differently performance-wise, so it’s hard to be objective with those. I never judge them too harshly; they just are what they are.

    I watched Blood Into Wine last night. [trailer embedded below]

    The DVD?

    Yeah. I think it should be compulsory viewing for all Tool and APC fans, new and old, to see where you are right now.

    Uh, how so?

    I’ve followed your work closely for around a decade, and I thought the film gave a great insight into a side of you that I couldn’t have imagined seeing 10 years ago. It seems like you drop your guard more often. Or at least, you’re more willing to entertain the thought.

    Yeah. It wasn’t an easy film to be involved in. It’s hard to have people follow you around with cameras for a year.

    Did you enjoy the process, though?

    Oh, no. I was more concerned about… I wanted to be more concerned about what we were doing in the vineyard, and with the business in general. Building the winery was a lot of work and it was still in its infant stages. But it might not have been as interesting a movie if this was 10 years into the winery already being established. But you know, our chaotic first couple of years probably made the film more interesting.

    Are you able to look at a film like that objectively and judge your past actions?

    No. [laughs] I don’t know.

    Tool’s early identity was defined by this unwillingness to play the same image-driven game that every other band did. Am I right to believe that you’ve moved on a little since then?

    Well, I don’t think that there was a master plan in place, like a manifesto that we came up with that said “we’re not going to do these things”. It might have been that, as individuals and collectively, we were just dysfunctional enough to where we were incapable of playing along. And so it just managed to work in our favour when it could very well have worked against us.

    I think just the timing, and all the stuff that went on with Nirvana at that point in time; I think that opened the doors for A&R people who didn’t have a clue about what they were really getting into. They didn’t understand it. They figured they better sign it, because they didn’t understand Nirvana. “Sign ‘em, hurry up!”, and then look for the next big thing. That just worked in our favour as Tool, because they definitely didn’t understand us. We got to dig our heels in and do what we wanted.

    Did you know what you were doing at that point? All four of you saying “no we’re not going to do that shit, we’re not going to do a bunch of interviews, we’re not going to pose for photos…”

    We just didn’t know how to, so we just said no. We weren’t really sure how it affected us, but we just weren’t capable of saying yes, so we just kept saying no, and it kept working so we just continued to keep saying no.

    These days you say yes to a few more things, maybe not everything. Would you call that maturity or just a realisation that sometimes it’s okay to share some things?

    Yeah, I think once you understand something a little more, then you can discern what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense. I think it’s still difficult for some of us to say yes to anything, because we’re so used to saying no. We just think about it too much and then at some point you start tricking yourself into thinking that you actually knew why you said no. And you have to get involved in everything to dissect it and think about it.

    It’s kind of like when you’re working on your house, or something, and have some kind of inspector coming by to look at what you’ve done. He has to say something is wrong. Otherwise you’re not justifying his existence if he doesn’t find something wrong with what you did. So by presenting the question to a band with them saying ‘no’ all the time, to get their permission. You’ve heard ‘it’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission’?

    Yes.

    Yeah. That’s kind of how, at some point, people are just going to start treating you that way.

    Do you give much thought to why people are interested in Maynard James Keenan?

    No. I just kind of do what I do, and I try my best with whatever I’m doing, but I don’t know if it’s good or not; I just do what I do and people tend to show up for it. I’m thankful for that. I do my part, keep doing things, so at the end of the day I kind of get to stick to what makes sense for you to do, and hopefully at the end of the day you can sleep at night.

    Can you sleep at night, Maynard?

    Oh yeah, absolutely!

    In a similar vein, and a similar question, do you reflect much on your influence as an artist in the last 20 years?

    I don’t… Influence… What do you mean?

    The fact that you’ve inspired singers to sing, performers to perform, musicians to start bands.

    We have?

    I’m sure you have.

    Oh. I don’t know, I just assume people… really?

    Are you playing with me, Maynard?

    No, I – I thought it was a hypothetical.

    No, not at all.

    I have no idea. I guess the answer is no, I haven’t really reflected on that because I haven’t really… That’s nice to know that we’ve inspired people to do stuff.

    To turn the question around, which artists have been influencing and inspiring you recently in a musical sense?

    Well just in the artistic sense, people like Penfolds’ wine. Max Schubert. His dedication to following his heart. People like Lance Armstrong, people like Joni Mitchell, who just do what they do and everybody else be damned. Not that they don’t like people, but they have to do what they do.

    You have that quote at the end of the film [Blood Into Wine] where you say “As artists, it’s our job to observe, interpret, and report.” That seems to read as a kind of mission statement for you. I’m interested to know when and how you decided upon this role of the artist?

    I guess it was more hindsight, when you look back and see what you’ve done and you go, ‘Okay, what the fuck have I been doing?’ You kind of have to fill out an outline of what it is you’re doing and the best explanation I could come up with was between making wine and handmade pasta, and painting and sculpting, and architecture and music. Then you just like look at the thing, digest it, and then re-present it.

    Has your belief in art strengthened over time?

    I don’t know if I understand that statement. Believing in art?

    As an artist, you value art. Has that feeling become stronger?

    If you have any success with your interpretations, the hardest part is staying fresh and not falling into a rut, and thinking that you know all the answers. That somewhat chaotic state, that confused, vulnerable state I think is important to at least have a finger on. You don’t have to beat yourself up, you don’t have to suffer for your art but you definitely have to be a little confused to understand where to move.

    If you’re a chef and you’re trying to use fresh vegetables, the weather is going to affect your menu, and you can’t just rely – if you’re a good chef and you present something that’s alive and vibrant, you have to embrace the fact that it’s not going to be consistent. You have to be able to roll with the changes.

    I watched an interview you did with Patton Oswalt, where he asked you about performing live. You said “It’s safer to act than to really be it anymore.” By that, did you mean you can no longer relate to what you’ve written in the past?

    No, I think I’m not quite sure – is that… that was in the film?

    No, that seemed to be like an outtake from around the same time. It was on YouTube.

    I don’t know. I’d have to see the clip to see in context what we were talking about.

    Fair enough.

    I would answer that but I would need to see it in context to really comment. Sorry. [clip embedded below]

    Sure. For example, what would you get out of performing a song like ‘Stinkfist’ nowadays?

    There’s always something I can improve in it. There’s parts of that song that I never quite get right, so I’m always looking for those spots to see how I can do them better but everything else is… At some point, some of it becomes autopilot. I don’t have to think about those pieces, I feel like I’ve got those down.

    I saw the Smashing Pumpkins recently. It felt like Billy [Corgan] was rushing to get some of his more well-known songs out of the way so he could play the new stuff. Can you relate to that kind of feeling?

    No, no. I mean, especially since James Iha’s not in the band, I can’t really relate to the fact that Smashing Pumpkins are out there.

    I see. Well, since you don’t necessarily have an album to promote this time around, will you be constructing a set list a little different to last time?

    Yeah, I’m hoping. We’re trying to re-present things in a different way, or pick different tracks that people haven’t heard. Which isn’t hard to do, since some of the songs that we perform, most people won’t have been born when we actually wrote them. It’ll be fun, regardless.

    Have you given much thought to the fact that you’re headlining Australia’s biggest national tour, which sold out in record time despite the fact that Tool hasn’t released anything in four years?

    Well in a way, it’s inspiring because it means people are still paying attention to what we’re doing and that’s good. We’ve definitely made a mark.

    I’d agree. I first saw you play live in 2002, when ‘Lateralus’ was really the pivotal moment of the set, where you gave that speech about going out and doing something positive and creating something. I want to ask; what did you get out of that little social experiment, of pausing to ask people to reflect on themselves, to go out there and do something that inspires them?

    Oh, I just took my own advice and started a winery.

    Thanks for your time, Maynard.

    Thank you very much.

    ++

    For more Maynard James Keenan, follow him on Twitter.

     

  • Junior interview: Maynard James Keenan of Tool, December 2010

    The cover story for the Dec 2010-Jan 2011 issue of Junior: an interview with Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Tool: Pushing The Envelope

    At first glance, Tool might seem an odd choice as a headline act for Australia’s biggest national touring festival.

    However, their level-headed approach to crafting immersive, long-lasting works has resonated with a hard-core of devotees who number in the millions worldwide. Although they’ve not released any new music since 2006’s 10,000 Days – which debuted at #1 on the ARIA charts, and remained in the top 50 for nine months – come January 2011, they’ll close each Big Day Out with a powerful selection of their best material (if their 2007 appearance on the same festival circuit is anything to go by).

    Examining just how and why Tool inspire such passionate devotion among so many progressive metal fans is a topic more suited to a book than a magazine article – and if you’re so inclined, one already exists (2009’s Unleashed: The Story Of Tool, by Joel McIver). A brief summary of the facts, then.

    After forming in Los Angeles in 1990, the quartet established themselves as an act diametrically opposed to the fame game pursued by many of their musical peers. Surprisingly, their preference for anonymity in the golden age of MTV earned them credibility in an era which decidedly lacked such merits. As a result, Tool aren’t the kind of band you can ‘sort of’ like. There’s no such thing as a casual Tool fan.

    With their potent combination of distinctive, heavy instrumentation and singer Maynard James Keenan’s singular voice, they’re perhaps the only rock band who were able to push back against a crumbling record industry and opt for quality over quantity. Including their 1993 debut full-length, Undertow, they’ve released just four studio albums; they’ve also maintained the same line-up, bar one bassist changeover in 1995.

    In mid-November, Junior had a rare opportunity to speak with Tool’s vocalist, Maynard James Keenan. Keenan is also known for holding the microphone in A Perfect Circle (APC), a less threatening – but no less remarkable – American rock act who released three albums between 2000 and 2004. After a five-year hiatus, APC are in the midst of shaking out the cobwebs on a short reformation tour, wherein they performed each of their three LPs in full, on successive nights in four American cities. Keenan is halfway through the short tour when Junior connects with him; we soon discover that the singer is suffering from a cold.

    How have the APC reformation shows been going for you, besides the sickness?

    Maynard: They’ve been a struggle. It’s difficult enough to go out and do a regular tour and have the same or similar set, but to do three completely different sets and some of the songs you’ve never played live, and some of them you haven’t played in six or 10 years, and then have a cold on top of it… Jesus. Some of these songs I had a difficult time singing 10 years ago, let alone 10 years later and being sick. So it’s definitely been a challenge. I’m up for it, but it’s been a challenge.

    Are you cursing your younger self for his vocal range?

    Yeah, I’m kind of pissed off at myself for having written songs that were pushing the envelope 10 years ago. And when I say pushing the envelope, I mean pushing my range, what I’m capable of. It’s definitely taking a toll.

    Since you’ve had a few years away from that band, are you able to look at those albums with fresh eyes and ears?

    That’s a tough one. I think it’s really difficult to do that, because I’m always going to hear the flaws. All I hear is the production flaws, or what I would have done differently performance-wise, so it’s hard to be objective with those. I never judge them too harshly; they just are what they are.

    Tool’s early identity was defined by an unwillingness to play the same image-driven game as every other band. Am I right to believe that you’ve moved on a little since then?

    Well, I don’t think that there was a master plan in place, like a manifesto that we came up with that said “we’re not going to do these things”. It might have been that, as individuals and collectively, we were just dysfunctional enough to where we were incapable of playing along. And so it just managed to work in our favour when it could very well have worked against us. The timing, and all the stuff that went on with Nirvana at that point in time; I think that opened the doors for A&R people who didn’t have a clue about what they were really getting into. They didn’t understand it. They figured they better sign it, because they didn’t understand Nirvana. ‘Sign ‘em, hurry up!’ – and then look for the next big thing. That just worked in our favour as Tool, because they definitely didn’t understand us. We got to dig our heels in and do what we wanted.

    Did you know what you were doing at that point? All four of you saying “no we’re not going to do that shit, we’re not going to do a bunch of interviews, we’re not going to pose for photos…”

    We just didn’t know how to [do it], so we just said ‘no’. We weren’t really sure how it affected us, but we just weren’t capable of saying ‘yes’, so we just kept saying ‘no’, and it kept working so we just continued to keep saying ‘no’.

    These days you say ‘yes’ to a few more things, though maybe not everything. Would you call that maturity, or just a realisation that sometimes it’s okay to share some things?

    I think once you understand something a little more, then you can discern what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense. I think it’s still difficult for some of us to say ‘yes’ to anything, because we’re so used to saying ‘no’. We just think about it too much and then at some point you start tricking yourself into thinking that you actually knew why you said ‘no’. And you have to get involved in everything to dissect it and think about it. It’s kind of like when you’re working on your house or something and have some kind of inspector coming by to look at what you’ve done. He has to say something is wrong. Otherwise you’re not justifying his existence if he doesn’t find something wrong with what you did. So by presenting the question to a band with them saying ‘no’ all the time, to get their permission… you’ve heard the saying “it’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission”? At some point, people are just going to start treating you that way.

    Do you give much thought to why people are interested in Maynard James Keenan?

    No. I just kind of do what I do, and I try my best with whatever I’m doing, but I don’t know if it’s good or not; I just do what I do and people tend to show up for it. I’m thankful for that. I do my part, keep doing things, so at the end of the day I kind of get to stick to what makes sense for you to do, and hopefully at the end of the day you can sleep at night.

    Can you sleep at night, Maynard?

    Oh yeah, absolutely!

    Has your belief in art strengthened over time?

    If you have any success with your interpretations, the hardest part is staying fresh and not falling into a rut, and thinking that you know all the answers. That somewhat chaotic state, that confused, vulnerable state I think is important to at least have a finger on. You don’t have to beat yourself up, you don’t have to suffer for your art but you definitely have to be a little confused to understand where to move. If you’re a chef and you’re trying to use fresh vegetables, the weather is going to affect your menu, and you can’t just rely – if you’re a good chef and you present something that’s alive and vibrant, you have to embrace the fact that it’s not going to be consistent. You have to be able to roll with the changes.

    What do you get out of performing a song like ‘Stinkfist’ nowadays?

    There’s always something I can improve in it. There’s parts of that song that I never quite get right, so I’m always looking for those spots to see how I can do them better but everything else is… At some point some of it becomes autopilot. I don’t have to think about those pieces, I feel like I’ve got those down.

    Since you don’t necessarily have an album to promote this time around, will you be constructing the set list differently to your last Australian tour?

    Yeah, I’m hoping. We’re trying to re-present things in a different way, or pick different tracks that people haven’t heard. Which isn’t hard to do, since some of the songs that we perform, most people won’t have been born when we actually wrote them. It’ll be fun, regardless.

    Tool were my favourite band all throughout my teenage years, so being offered the chance to speak with Maynard was a pretty big deal for me. Thanks to the staff at Junior for making it happen.

    If you’re interested in reading the full transcript of my conversation with Maynard, you can read it here.

  • The Big Issue story: Henry Rollins, ‘Still Angry, Still Curious’, May 2010

    A story for The Big Issue #354. Click below image for a closer look, or read the story text underneath.

    Henry Rollins: Still Angry, Still Curious story in The Big Issue Australia by Andrew McMillen

    Henry Rollins: Still Angry, Still Curious

    Shooting the breeze with punk pioneer turned spoken-world celeb and broadcaster, Henry Rollins.

    Henry Rollins is a true Renaissance man. The 49-year old (born Henry Garfield in Washington, DC) has appeared in music (he fronted iconic hardcore punk act Black Flag, before establishing the Rollins Band), film (he’s appeared in Heat, Bad Boys II and The Alibi), television (he hosted The Henry Rollins Show for two seasons), radio (he hosts a live talk show on Californian station KCRW), and print (he blogs for Vanity Fair each week, and established his own publishing company, 2.13.61, named for his birthdate).

    Exhausted yet? Rollins is also known for campaigning on behalf of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and appearing in public speaking gigs before US troops stationed in Iraq. Rollins was in Australia in April and May for a spoken-word tour entitled Frequent Flyer. It was the 27th time he’d toured here

    Rollins took the time to share some of his acquired wisdom with The Big Issue.

    You’re a true multimedia figure, Henry. Which medium is most gratifying for you?

    The talking shows are perhaps the most fulfilling. I like being on the radio, it’s only two hours a week but it’s really fun and a much lower pressure than the other things that I do.

    Of your career so far, is there a single release, event or achievement that you’re most proud of?

    I am not a proud person, really… I have a sense of right and wrong and that’s about it. I don’t think anything I have released is particularly good. I will say that I give it my best shot every time.

    What’s your take on broad societal problems like homelessness and obesity?

    Homelessness is a hard issue to deal with because on its face it is sad and tough but there are a lot of different ways someone ends up that way, so the cure and preventative measures are complex, political and broad-ranging. Obesity, especially in children has as much to do with marketing, concepts of self-esteem and how technology has shaped how people live as it does anything else. Many sit still in front of a screen and and don’t always get out and move around. Also, the West is very well fed, relative to other places. I don’t know how sustainable that is or how healthy that is in the long term.

    Are you comfortable with the notion of celebrity?

    Sure, if people want to be famous, they should go ahead. It’s nothing I would waste my time with but for some, it’s what they want.

    Although you didn’t seek fame, you’ve found it, seemingly without compromising your values or your message. What advice do you have for those who wish to follow in your footsteps – that is, to be become known and respected, but without resorting to selling dog food or glad-handing politicians?

    I just do my work and am respectful as possible to those I meet. Not everyone’s going to dig you, so you have to deal with that but you can’t let it stop you. It’s not always easy. I work very hard and put myself through a lot to keep things happening.

    You’re known for speaking out in support of gay rights. What compelled you to do that?

    Because homophobia is ugly, hopelessly ignorant, and dangerous, and it’s about time that sane people stand in the face of it and say “no more”.

    You’re no stranger to using your profile to promote initiatives that you feel strongly about, like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Did this activist streak emerge naturally, or do you hesitate before becoming involved with such projects?

    There’s no hesitation. IAVA helps veterans and I am honoured to be a part of it. I would like to think myself part of a solution rather than the problem.

    Why did you tour with the United Services Organisation to speak for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though you were opposed to the US involvement in the war?

    Because soldiers don’t start wars. I have no argument with the military, just those who ordered them into the illegal war in Iraq.

    Do you have a particular approach for exploring cities you’ve never visited before?

    I walk down streets, alleys, slums, along rivers, in cemeteries and see what happens.

    When you’re recognised while travelling, do you find that people expect you to live up to your role as a performer?

    People are usually very cool to me. I am cool back. It’s fairly constant, but I am used to it.

    With each successive Australian tour, your popularity increases. Do you prepare differently for different-sized audiences?

    No. Every audience gets the best show I can do. They are all equally nerve-wracking.

    What do you get up to during your downtime between shows?

    Sleep, reading, answering letters, gym, writing.

    Finally – what motivates you?

    Anger, curiosity.

    By Andrew McMillen / Photograph by Maura Lanahan

    This was a pretty painless interview to source. I had the story pitch approved in late March ahead of his Australian tour, and set about attempting to contact Rollins by emailing the address listed on the website of his publishing company, 21.3.61.

    One minute later, Henry himself replied, saying that he’d be happy to conduct the interview via email. What a pleasant surprise.