Members: Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones, Danny Carey, Justin Chancellor, Paul D'Amour (1990-1995)
Tool is an American rock band, formed in 1990 in Los Angeles, California when drummer Danny Carey joined the rehearsal of his neighbour, singer Maynard James Keenan, guitarist Adam Jones and bassist Paul d’Amour when nobody else would show up. His decision proved to be a stroke of luck when the band turned out to become one of the most profound rock acts of their time, “introducing dark, vaguely underground metal to the preening pretentiousness of art rock” most notably due to their influential sophomore effort AEnima (1996). They have gained appreciation and critical praise for a complex and ever-evolving sound, that ranges from “slam and bang” heavy metal on their first release to more progressive influenced songwriting on Lateralus (2001) which “is as far removed from what’s considered musically popular these days as you can get.”
Their overall sound has been described as “grinding, post-Jane’s Addiction heavy metal” as well as “a primal sound as distinct as it is disturbing” most simplified categorizations of the band’s genre are often dismissed (see: Arguments About Genre & Categorization). They are known for addressing philosophical and spiritual issues in their lyrics, such as evolution (“Forty-Six & 2”), organized religion (“Opiate”) and transcendence (“Lateralus”), as well as for songs that feature “complex rhythm changes, haunting vocals, and an onslaught of changes in dynamics” which often result in a greater-than-average track length. Additionally, most of their music videos feature stop-motion animation created by Jones, in a style similar to the Brothers Quay “strange puzzle-like four minute movies” which tend to perpetuate the perception of Tool as a “dark, disturbing” band.
Their music has been influenced by King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rush, and early Yes, among several others. In turn, the “list of bands that have been inspired by [Tool] is long and prestigious.”
THE EARLY DAYS (1990-1995)
During the 1980s the future members of Tool, guitarist/bassist Paul d’Amour, drummer Danny Carey, guitarist Adam Jones and singer Maynard James Keenan coincidentally moved to Los Angeles while d’Amour and Jones wanted to enter the film industry, Carey already was a professional drummer playing for Carole King and Pigmy Love Circus. Keenan, along with d’Amour and Jones started their own band at the end of the decade, urgently in need for a drummer. It was Tom Morello, a high school friend of Jones, who introduced Carey to the band in 1990 and eventually helped the formation of Tool.
“I met Adam through Tom Morello of Rage (Against The Machine). And I was living beside Maynard. I never auditioned for them. I felt kind of sorry for them, because they would invite people over to play, and they wouldn’t show up, so I’d fill in.” (Danny Carey)
Tool immediately received recognition for their first commercial release, Opiate (1992), borrowing the name from Karl Marx’s famous quote: “Religion […] is the opium of the people.” The six-song EP included the singles “Hush” and “Opiate” which quickly gained attention. A music video for “Hush” was created, but received little airplay due to the high amount of editing that was necessary to meet FCC standards to play the song.
Tool was quick to release their first full-length album, Undertow (1993), soon after Opiate. Many of the songs on Undertow had already been written in the band’s infancy. Tool then began touring with their fellows in the Rollins Band, Fishbone, and Rage Against The Machine.Eventually, they were hired to play the main stage at Lollapalooza in 1993 (see 1993 in music), where they attracted great attention. This helped to boost the popularity of Undertow and the album was eventually certified gold by the RIAA. The album was eventually certified double platinum on May 14, 2001.
The band also received negative publicity however. With the release of the 1994 single “Prison Sex” and its respective music video, directed and created by Adam Jones, the American branch of MuchMusic called the band into question by deeming the video too graphic and offensive,while MTV stopped airing the video after a few viewings both due to a symbolic dealing with the sensitive subject of child abuse. Maynard James Keenan, who wrote the lyrics, has been quite clear about his antipathy towards his stepfather during early interviews about the song,and therefore, during a meeting with MuchMusic that was supposed to clarify the situation, the only subject covered was Keenan’s past and childhood. MuchMusic in Canada never spoke to Jones about the nature of the video.
Another incident took place at the Garden Pavillion, also known as the Scientology Celebrity Center, in Hollywood, CA in May 1993:
“Tool performed at Scientology’s Celebrity’s Centre, apparently not knowing that this was the home of the cult. Once they found out, they did not take it nicely. Between songs, Keenan, staring first at the lush grounds paid for by devoted L. Ron followers and then into the eyes of his own audience, bayed into the mic like a sheep looking for his shepherd’s gate. ‘Baaaaa! Baaaaa!’ the singer bleated.” (BAM Magazine, November 1994).
In September 1995, shortly after recording for their second album began, D’Amour left the band amicably. In November, he was replaced by Justin Chancellor, formerly a member of Peach, an English band with whom Tool had previously toured in Europe.
ENIMA, LEGAL ISSUES, A PERFECT CIRCLE, AND SALIVAL (1996-2000)
After Justin Chancellor came on board, Tool finished the already-begun ?nima, which was subsequently released in October of 1996 (see 1996 in music). Once again, a single had difficulty gaining airplay: this time it was “Stinkfist”. MTV America renamed the music video of the song “Track #1” for offensive connotations, and multiple radio edits were made to both shorten the song and change its lyrics. However, an overwhelming fan response compelled most radio stations to play the track uncut. In addition, Matt Pinfield, the host of MTV’s 120 Minutes, responded to fan complaints by waving his fist in front of his face on air while explaining the reason for the name change as he introduced the video. ?nima was Tool’s last studio album release for five years.
The album was dedicated to satirist Bill Hicks who had died two-and-a-half years before its release. Some clips of Hicks’ performances are included on ?nima and Undertow, including multiple sketches about psychoactive drugs and a sample of a bleating sheep. Tool also derived the lyric “Learn to swim, I’ll see you down in Arizona Bay,” (the chorus of the song “?nema”) from another popular Bill Hicks sketch about his distaste for Los Angeles. Eventually, “?nema” would win Tool’s first Grammy Award.
During their 1997 tour to support the album, Tool appeared at Lollapalooza again, this time as a headliner, gaining critical praise from the NY Times:
“Tool was returning in triumph to Lollapalooza after appearing among the obscure bands on the festival’s smaller stage in 1993. Now Tool is the prime attraction for a festival that’s struggling to maintain its purpose. Tool uses taboo-breaking imagery for hellfire moralizing in songs that swerve from bitter reproach to nihilistic condemnation. Its music has refined all the troubled majesty of grunge.”
The same year, Volcano Records alleged contract violations against Tool and filed suit. Tool looked at offers from other record labels, an action not allowed, according to Volcano. After Tool filed a counter suit stating Volcano failed using a renewal option in their contract, they settled out of court. They agreed to a new contract, a three-record deal. This legal battle produced a great strain on the band and delayed work on their next album. During this time, Keenan founded a new band, A Perfect Circle, with long-time Tool guitar tech Billy Howerdel.
Word of Tool’s breaking up began to spread until the band decided to release the VHS/DVD/CD box set Salival in 2000 (see 2000 in music), spelling an end to these rumors. The box set featured one new original recording “Merkaba”, as well as recordings of unique live versions and B-sides, including a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” and a new version of “Pushit” that became extremely popular among fans. Also included in the box set were four of the band’s videos, “Stinkfist”, “?nema”, “Prison Sex” and “Sober”. The DVD also contained a bonus video of the track “Hush”, from the Opiate EP. Although this release did not technically produce any singles, the hidden track “Maynard’s Dick” (a track which dates back to the Opiate era briefly found its way to FM radio when several DJs chose to sneak it onto air without permission.
LATERALUS AND RECENT APPEARANCES (2001-2005)
In January 2001, the rumor mill surrounding the band gained new life when Tool announced their new album, Systema Enc?phale, along with a tracklist full of esoteric and obscure words such as “Numbereft”, “Encephatalis”, “Musick”, and “Coeliacus”. As anticipated, file-sharing engines such as Napster became flooded with bogus files disguised as those songs. During that time, Tool members were outspokenly critical of engines like Napster due to the negative impact on smaller artists that are dependent on success in record sales to continue their career.
“I think there are a lot of other industries out there that might deserve being destroyed. The ones who get hurt by MP3s are not so much companies or the business, but the artists, people who are trying to write songs.” (Keenan during an interview with NY Rock in 2000 )
Only one month later, they revealed that the new album was actually titled Lateralus and that the name Systema Encephale and the tracklist had been a ruse,much to the dismay of music magazines and commercial websites who had committed headlong to the fake title. Lateralus features songs averaging six-and-a-half minutes in length, unwieldy even for most ambitious disc jockeys. The length of the music video for “Parabola” clocked in at an unheard of ten-and-a-half minutes, almost condemning it from being aired on mainstream music channels.
Nevertheless, the album became a success the world over, reaching #1 on the Billboard Top 200 album charts on 2001-06-02. Although no singles were released to support the album, Tool received their second Grammy Award for the best metal performance of 2001 for the song “Schism”.After extensive touring throughout 2001 and 2002, including a 10-show mini-tour with King Crimson in August, their latest tour came to an end on November 24th, 2002 in Long Beach, CA at Long Beach Arena. Although the end of the tour seemed to spell another dormancy for the band, they did not become completely inactive. While Keenan recorded and toured with A Perfect Circle, the other band members released an official yet fanclub exclusive interview and a recording of some of their new material. Three hundred pre-released and autographed copies of the “double vinyl four-picture disc” edition of Lateralus, which was officially released on 2005-08-23 were made exclusively available as well.
On December 20th 2005, two DVDs were released, one containing the single “Schism” and the other “Parabola”. Both DVDs have the music videos for each single, along with commentary. In addition, each disc has a remix of each song by Lustmord. The two DVD singles were released on 2006-01-09 in Europe.
The name “Tool” was alleged by drummer Danny Carey in a 1994 interview to mean that the band served its fans as a tool through which those people would come to understand lachrymology, a pseudophilosophy that the band has alleged was founded in 1949 by Ronald P. Vincent after the death of his wife in a snow plowing accident. However, it is more likely that the band made this up in order to create a unique backdrop for their own beliefs.
Lachrymology teaches the simple belief that crying is the best emotional release and should be encouraged as therapeutic. Tool’s lyrical message often reflects this in their candid expressions of anger and frustration. People who endorse lachrymology often believe that it is only through pain (both physical and emotional) and recovery that an individual can advance him or her self, adopting a slight “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” mentality.
Other beliefs about the origin of Tool’s name include a nickname for “brown-nosing” or potentially self-righteous army cadets. Maynard James Keenan attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, and the first song on Undertow (titled “Intolerance”) refererences a military honor code that admonishes all cadets, and which the “tools” follow to the letter: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” In a similar vein, the band created a segue track (“Useful Idiot”) for ?nima a term used to designate internal dissidents who are seen to objectively benefit an enemy faction (illustrative but of dubious authenticity, Lenin is said to have referred to Western communist sympathizers as his useful idiots).
Based on one of the band’s early logos (right) and a humorous B-side, some have suggested that the name may originate from a slang term for male genitals.
10,000 DAYS 2006 – PRESENT
Fifteen years into the band’s career, Tool had acquired what Dan Epstein of Revolver described as a devoted “cult” following, and as details about the band’s next album emerged, such as the influence of Lateralus tourmates Fantmas and Meshuggah, rumors surrounding new Tool again surfaced. The main controversy was the album title. After rumored titles such as Teleincision had been dismissed, a news item on the official Tool website announced that the new album’s name was 10,000 Days.
Nevertheless, speculation continued: it was alleged that 10,000 Days was merely a “decoy” album to fool audiences until the day of release, which eventually proved false when a leaked copy of the album was distributed via filesharing networks a week prior to its official release. The album opener, “Vicarious”, premiered on U.S. radio stations on April 17. The record followed on May 2, 2006 in the U.S. and debuted at the top spots of various international charts. 10,000 Days sold 564,000 copies in its opening week in the U.S. and was number one on the Billboard 200 charts, doubling the sales of Pearl Jam’s self-titled album, its closest competitor. However, 10,000 Days was received less favorably by critics than its predecessor Lateralus had been.
After the release of 10,000 Days, a tour kicked off at Coachella on April 30, 2006. The touring schedule was similar to the Lateralus tour of 2001; supporting acts were Isis and Mastodon. During a short break early the next year, after touring Australia and New Zealand, drummer Danny Carey suffered a biceps tear during a skirmish with his girlfriend’s dog, casting uncertainty on the band’s upcoming concerts in North America. Carey underwent surgery on February 21, and several gigs had to be postponed. Back on tour by April, Tool appeared on June 15 as a headliner at the Bonnaroo Music Festival with a guest appearance from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello on “Lateralus”.
Meanwhile, “Vicarious” was a nominee for Best Hard Rock Performance and 10,000 Days won Best Recording Package at the 49th Grammy Awards. The music video for “Vicarious” was released on DVD on December 18.
In an interview conducted in May 2007, Justin Chancellor stated that the band would probably continue their tour until early 2008 and then “take some time off”. He qualified this statement by adding that the band has already written new material and would surely release another album at some point down the road. A possible project until a next album is to make a “band movie”, a possibility the band has reportedly considered for a long time. The ideas range from “a narrative story in a surreal fashion with as much money and special effects as possible” to “pockets of all of that or something that’s live or the band playing”. Although Carey stated that the necessary know-how was at hand due to the many relations to artists working in the movie business, Jones dismissed the idea saying, “It’s just talk right now.” According to Rolling Stone, after the 50th Grammy Awards, while attending a Sony BMG after party at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Keenan promised another Tool album.”
As of September 5, 2008, Tool have three songs featured on the Guitar Hero World Tour setlist; “Parabola”, “Schism” and “Vicarious”. Guitar Hero World Tour will also sport a venue inspired by the band’s art style that has pervaded their music videos, shows, and album art.