- Tim Cadiente
Maynard James Keenan has always been an enigmatic performer.
As frontman of the capacious metal band Tool and the darkly accessible alternative group A Perfect Circle, he often performs while obscured from his audience. He’s a notorious recluse, yet owns markets and restaurants and even makes his own wine.
Having described it as “simply a playground for the various voices in my head” and “where my id, ego and anima all come together to exchange cookie recipes,” Puscifer started, oddly enough or not, as a fictional band on an episode of the sketch comedy “Mr. Show.” That’s another aspect to Keenan’s mercurial personality; he’s also a big fan of comedy, having befriended standup legends like the late Bill Hicks and performed his own brand of humor at improv nights.
After two albums and a few EPs, Puscifer has now also become a live act, a multimedia presentation featuring prerecorded comedy bits, set changes and the band’s hypnotic brand of brooding electronic dance music.
“The live show, without giving too much away, has quite a few pre-recorded skits with costumes and scripted dialogue,” said Mat Mitchell, who plays guitar in Puscifer (Keenan, as is his wont, was unavailable for an interview). “When we’re performing, it’s not necessarily a comedic show, but there are theatrical aspects. We wanted to make sure the show wasn’t what you’d expect.”
Mitchell, who worked on Wax Trax releases in the ’90s, has a background mostly in engineering and sound design for video games and movies. He was doing tech work for A Perfect Circle guitarist Billy Howerdel on their second tour when he met Keenan. After the tour, they asked him to engineer a record they were working on, which became Puscifer’s debut, V is for Vagina.
“That’s where Maynard and I kind of clicked in the recording environment,” said Mitchell. “Since then, I’ve been working with him on whatever he wants to do. Puscifer is a chance for me to be on the more creative side of things, to not necessarily step away from the technical side but integrate more with performing and writing.”
Indeed, it’s become his main creative outlet as a musician.
“It’s kind of a playground for me in that regard,” Mitchell says. “It’s anything goes. We’re not trying to make any labels happy. We don’t have any entities telling us what we can and cannot do, so it’s a fun environment where we can do whatever makes us happy.”
Though Keenan is sole lyricist and chief songwriter, Puscifer has become a collaboration. The current lineup also features Josh Eustis, Carina Round, Matt McJunkins and Jeff Friedl.
“We all kind of bring things to the table and build songs from there,” Mitchell says. “(Keenan) definitely likes to point things in a direction, but we all contribute.”
Given his technical background, Mitchell is an obvious fan of electronic music, mainly because of all the toys involved.
“Electronic music lends itself to so much tweaking and nerding out,” he said.
That doesn’t always oblige itself to the live setting though. No problem for Mitchell. A big part of his job has been helping acts like Nine Inch Nails and Katy Perry render their music from studio to stage.
“That’s the common problem these days. Without just putting things on tape, how do we translate this record live?” Mitchell says. “For years that’s been one of my big roles — using the technology to allow people to recreate a lot of this stuff live without having to rely on reinforcements.”
Puscifer is undoubtedly earnest about its muse, but there’s also a farcical element. Aside from the record titles (including last year’s Conditions of My Parole), there’s the album artwork. The Conditions cover features a portrait that resembles something from the Awkward Family Photos website. The artwork for V is for Vagina is a graphic safety manual for the fictional (at least that I’m aware of) Vagina Airlines.
“We take it seriously, but there’s also a lighthearted nature,” Mitchell says. “Our mindset is that you can’t take everything too seriously. We’re trying to back off that a bit and throw a little humor in there. It doesn’t have to be serious all the time.”
The ultimate goal is removing as many assumptions as possible.
“We’re not saying we’re doing things that no one’s ever done before, but we are trying to do things in a way that at least may take you out of your comfort zone a bit — something you might remember a little more than your typical rock show.”