Interview: Tool Guitarist and Visual Guru Adam Jones on the Making—and Reissue—of Opiate

by J. Bennett

Adam Jones is not necessarily the easiest guy to get an interview with. “We’re very picky about who we talk to,” the Tool guitarist (pictured above, second from left) tells Revolver. “Most of the time we only talk to people who have been very supportive and cool to us, because sometimes you’ll talk to people who don’t know much about the band, or they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, you guys are great,’ but then the article will be about how they think what we’re putting out is stupid. But Revolver has been awesome to us.”

Not to pat ourselves on the back or anything, but that’s presumably why we made the cut when it came time for the band to discuss the forthcoming reissue of their 1992 debut EP, Opiate.  Tool will commemorate the 21st anniversary of its release on March 26 with a limited-edition run of collectible CDs, complete with new packaging and stereoscopic artwork in the vein of their 2006 album, 10,000 Days.  As such, we asked Jones to take us on a walk down memory lane.

REVOLVER What do you remember about the writing process for the songs on Opiate?
ADAM JONES That’s a loaded question because we’d been playing live and we got multiple record offers. It got very strange because at that point we were doing this as a hobby. We all had day jobs. I was doing makeup effects and art. Maynard was doing set design. Dan [Carey, drums] and Paul [D’Amour, Tool's former bassist] both had day jobs as well. We still had this hunger to write songs that we liked, but it wasn’t really about putting them out. So it was a very different mind frame back then. At the time we did Opiate, we had probably about half the songs from Undertow written.

Someone at the label was like, “You guys gotta put out your heaviest stuff! That’s how you’re gonna get noticed!” It took us a long time to figure out how politics work at a record company. [Laughs] That’s the money side of the fence, so there’s a different perspective. But obviously one helps the other. So we said OK. We picked the heaviest songs and did this, like, teaser record. We thought it was a record, but the record company counted it as an EP. But that’s a different story. [Laughs]

What about the recording process? Opiate marked the first time you worked with producer Sylvia Massey.
Well, there were a lot of people besides Sylvia. There was a lot of outside influence. But we were kinda like a well-oiled machine. We had those songs down, so it didn’t take a long time to record them. I think we recorded it at Sound City, and it was our first time in a big professional studio like that. Then we rented a huge professional recording truck and parked in back of the Jello Loft to record those live tracks at the end the record. We thought maybe people hearing the energy of the band in a controlled environment and then the energy of the band in a live environment might be a good way of presenting ourselves.

What’s your favorite song on Opiate?
It’s a good question, but it’s like asking what my favorite kind of ice cream is. I don’t have a favorite because I like so many. So I don’t know. I like ’em all. “Jerk-Off” is really fun to play for me as a guitar player, but I don’t think I have a favorite.

What can you tell us about the hidden track, “The Gaping Lotus Experience”?
A lot of times when you’re in the studio trying to record as a band, you’re all in your own little rooms and you can’t see each other. Maybe you’re trying to capture the performance of the drums as a starting point, so you’re playing the same track over and over again because someone fucks up or it’s not feeling right. And then at some point, you just start jamming something else. Sometimes it’ll be a really bad cover song. In those days, Maynard would jump in and be funny or just start doing lyrics off the top of his head. And the tape is rolling, you know? So we looked back on that particular bit and we decided to include it as a hidden track. It’s a contrast in that we’re very serious as a band but we’re not very serious about ourselves. Which I think is a good thing to indicate.

What kind of expectations did the label have for Opiate at the time?
I don’t know. There were a lot of people I liked at our record label at the time, but I really liked the president. It was kind of a small label, which is why we went with them, and we learned very quickly that if we wanted something done we had to go directly to him. He just liked the energy of the band and thought we had a lot of potential. I remember he told us, “I discovered U2!” [Laughs] I don’t know if that’s true, but he gave us the artistic freedom we were looking for. We could’ve signed for a lot more money, but we took less money so we could have more control artistically. We really wanted to make sure the music was pushed rather than, “Which one’s cuter?” or “Which one jumps around onstage?” And they were very supportive of that.

But then there was the marketing side, which is where we started butting heads with the people that worked there. [Laughs] I could go on and on about how so many people there just didn’t get us. They were a very diverse label—they had rap, they had R&B, they had…never mind. I don’t even wanna talk about it. They just wanted something to hit. But we went with them because they had Green Jellö. Bill Manspeaker from Green Jellö told us they were very happy there because they were very supportive of how weird those guys were. But it really worked out great for us once we figured out we just had to call the president. Whatever it was, he’d be like, “Yeah—let’s do it! And let’s throw a little more money at it…” And you never hear that. Nowadays, if you want money from a record label, you gotta chew glass and bleed all over yourself.

Overall, how does Opiate hold up for you 21 years after its release?
It’s kinda like a time machine. It takes you back to that time and what you were thinking. Creatively speaking, there’s always room for improvement. Playing some of those songs live 21 years later, you’ve obviously evolved. And now Justin [Chancellor, bass] is in the band, which makes it that much different and better. So it’s fine. I mean, I’m sure you’ve written an article where you go back and look at it and wish you’d set it up differently. So you can always change stuff. But I’m very happy with it. It’s really fun to give it a birthday and celebrate it. It’s more of a special thank-you for the fans. I know that sounds weird because we’re selling it, but we just wanted to make sure we did something unique and special with it—which is why rather than just reissue the music, we’re going back and readdressing all the packaging and artwork. I felt like George Lucas going back and adding digital effects to Star Wars. I know a lot of people are against that, but I’m into it. It doesn’t change the story. I think it’s great. It’s stuff that you wanted to do back then but you couldn’t.

Is there anything specific you would change about it?
Maybe the way it’s mixed. But there’s a politic in that whole thing, too. You can’t just explain it to somebody, as far as capturing your music the way you want. As far as my guitar playing?  Yeah, maybe I’d redo a lead or use a different effect here and there, but overall I like it. It’s something I’m very proud of.

Why did you decide to do the reissue for the 21st anniversary rather than the more traditional 20th?   Is the idea that Opiate is legal now?
[Laughs] No, it’s because we’re dummies. We talked about it when the 20th anniversary was coming up, but it never got done. [Laughs] A year later, it was like, “Oh, fuck—we missed our window.” But now it’s 21, so yeah—it can drink!

Are there bonus tracks on this thing?
There are no bonus tracks. It’s the original CD in new packaging. We’re writing right now, so there’s not really the time to readdress that stuff. That’s why we’re not making that many. If it was a bigger commercial thing, there might be an expanded version.

There’re five different versions of the artwork, right?
I’d call them variations. That defines it a little better. There’s hand-pressed printing, there’s old machine printing. [Designer] Mackie Osborne is kind of celebrating the intimacy and originality of this thing. If we had the budget, we’d take everything as far as possible. I’ve always lived my life in terms of what I want out of something, and what I want is to go to the store and buy something and go, “Goddamn, I got more than my money’s worth.” I want something where you can tell a lot of time went into it. That’s what I love about painting. I appreciate stuff that people do in one day, but I appreciate seeing the layers of paint and the brushstrokes more—seeing that this person really ripped their guts out trying to capture something. But to answer the question, there will be five variations in color, and a thousand copies of each. So five thousand copies total.  And I know they’re putting extra stuff in it, like some stickers, and I did a 3-D separation of some of the artwork so you can view it through the stereoscopic goggles from the 10,000 Days album. I think there’s a golden ticket, too, that’s supposed to be in one of every thousand. I’m not sure what you get if you get the golden ticket—maybe tickets to one of our shows or something—I don’t think we’ve decided yet. We’re still putting it together. It’s actually being printed right now.

So what exactly is happening with the artwork?
When we did the original art for Opiate, I had a lot of people helping me and a lot of outside influence. I was doing makeup effects and sculpting in Hollywood. So for the art, we picked the song “Opiate” and tried to design artwork around it. For the reissue, it was really nice to readdress that, especially my priest, because I wanted to get something a little more mystical and three-dimensional going on. Obviously, sculpting is three-dimensional, but I’m talking about ideas and thinking. So I asked Adi Granov to come and work with us. He’s this amazing comic book illustrator, and he’s designed a lot of the Iron Man suits for the Iron Man movies. He hit me up on Facebook a while ago, and we became friends. So when it came time to do this Opiate packaging, I totally thought of him. I sent him some sketches and ideas, he sent some sketches back, and he just nailed it, man. So we turned it all over to Mackie—she’s worked on a lot of our stuff, and she’s [Melvins singer-guitarist] Buzz Osborne’s wife—and she’s found this thick paper to print everything on that’s gonna make this thing really special and collectible.

Of course, everyone of my fucking friends is asking me for a free copy—the same people I never hear from until we play live in L.A. Maynard’s funny: Whenever we play L.A., he changes his outgoing message so whenever you call his phone it goes, “Buy a ticket.”

You mentioned earlier that you guys are in writing mode. What’s the status of new Tool music?
I guess you wouldn’t be doing your job if you didn’t ask. [Laughs] It’s unfortunate that we haven’t put anything out in a while, but you know, we’ve changed as a band. It’s just like a marriage—you grow older, people change, and you’ve gotta adapt or move on. We’ve become even more eclectic and distant, so getting things done and getting together is very hard. There are a lot of other interests. But what I really want people to know is that it’s not a bad thing. I’m serious. I think there’s a little more respect now, and when there’s compromise, it’s a little more open. I don’t know if that’s just a matter of getting older and going, “Ah, fuck it,” or what. [Laughs]

I’ve been with these guys a long time, and we’ve outlasted all of our peers. I mean, I try to think of the bands we came up with that haven’t broken up or broken up and gotten back together, and I can’t think of one band. OK, the Melvins. But that’s it. And we kind of set that up early by deciding that no matter who does what we’re gonna split everything four ways. Some decisions have to be unanimous. Others are put to a vote. We’re really involved in the business side. We write our own checks. But as far as the writing? It’s been a little more lax—as in relaxed. But it’s nice. We live kind of cushy lives now, so we get together when we want. It makes everything go slow, which is unfortunate—we all would have liked to have been done with a new record a long time ago—but when it’s done, it’s gonna be good. And that’s the point. We’re not gonna put out something that sucks just to put it out. We also had two really bad things happen, things that I’m not gonna get into, that set us back emotionally and mentally. But we’re past them now, everybody’s recovered, and that process has kind of actually added to us focusing on being creative. So maybe sometimes bad things happen for a reason.

 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/thorntontrump Geoff Thornton-Trump

    Good to hear from you Adam. Hope you and all your loved ones are fine.

  • blindrocket

    Excellent interview. I love reading Tool interviews, especially considering they tend to be few and far between.

  • http://www.facebook.com/levetronanalytics Fin Fin Platiklaw

    These guys are the most advanced and mature individuals in the biz. They have never sold out, they continue to evolve and they respect themselves, their fans and the music. Much love and respect to you guys, always, from Austin, TX.

    • newsunworthy

      The $40 T-shirts at their merch tables is so respectful.

    • http://www.facebook.com/LipanConjuring Jose Luis Zarate

      That’s absolutely right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/constipatedgoat.doe Constipated DaGoat

    Loved the article, truly sums up the reason why I am a fan. They put their best out at their pace to make sure each fan gets to know what perfection is really like. To be able to get chills at every song to feel the instruments, to fall in love with the vocals all over again song after song. Can’t wait for Opiate to be re released. Even better to know that there is a new album in the future, I feel like a kid waiting for christmas to come after christmas just passed two days ago. Stoked!

  • thirdeye

    I don’t care how long it takes them. I’m just grateful they’re still doing it, and
    have kept their artistic integrity.

  • starmartyr

    Definitely, great interview, Adam is well spoken and chooses what he says carefully. Pleasure to read, pleasure to listen to. Long live Tool.

  • rockin914

    Tool should have re-recorded it with minor changes that true Tool fan would have picked up on and a bonus track would have been really cool!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.macmartin Matthew MacMartin

      and delay the new album even more? No thank you

  • Pedro Asenjo

    This band … this band. great stuff, music and everything they are about.

  • crom

    Two really bad things = Adam’s divorce and the death of Maynard’s mother.

    • Tony

      … It’s none of our business. Even though their famous artists, respect ther privacy. He obviously didnt wanna talk about so why would u say that…
      Otherwise great interview, ill be seeing you guys front row centre on the 28th of April in melbourne. Puscifer, APC and tool in 2 months! So lucky

    • aronath cordova

      the death of maynard’s mom was before the 10,000 days, adam never got mariage with his last gb and now he is engaged to the new gb.

  • Fan

    Nice interview, can’t wait to see Adam and the gang on April 27th – Melbourne Australia, my four time seeing them, first one in GA, really looking forward to being taken on an aural journey. Respect. :)

  • Del Parrish

    ” . . . its gonna be good.” I like the sound of that!!!

  • VB Guy

    Best part of this whole article: ‘Whenever we play L.A., he (Maynard) changes his outgoing message so whenever you call his phone it goes, “Buy a ticket.”’ Outstanding.

    • haha

      which is like what, once every 3 years now or something. Like a presidential election or the Summer Olympics

      • newsunworthy

        Now it’s whenever Maynard needs more money for his hobbies.

        • THATguy

          Yes, god forbid that they should make money for what they do rather than perform for free, solely for your entertainment. Get back under your bridge.

          • newsunworthy

            I’m not trolling. It’s my observation about how Maynard really isn’t into Tool anymore. Their touring patterns have changed and their recent performances are just not as tight as they used to be (he’s over it). I’ve seen these guys live many, many times even travelling to different Countries. I’ve paid a lot of money and it was worth it. So ya, I don’t expect anything for free.

  • Gravious

    Interviewing a band who has created such intimate music that reveals more and more and more through out the years with each subsequent listen, by asking questions about their life and their current creative deadlines and ETA’s etc.; although tempting…entirely overlooks the timeless gift they’ve already given us in the albums that they’ve already released. i.e. what could there possibly be to know about Maynard that he hasn’t already shared with you via his lyrics. God bless him for telling us all to eat shit. We all want this band to spell things out for us, but they already have. They simply request that you listen to the music and work for the answer because it is, in fact, there. I hope one day journalists can just leave them alone, unless they call the journalists to talk. What a band, Man. What a band.

    • newsunworthy

      Right, they are so godly people should tip toe around them. Imagine that, asking a band when their next record might be. He’s here promoting a new product so clearly he doesn’t want to be left alone.

  • DJHuntington

    Very,very good interview. Real joy reading it. Thank you

  • zenlensjunk

    great questions. great answers. great interview. A+++ Revolver

  • http://twitter.com/FamilyRotten Family Rotten

    I look forward to the new album and will always cherish the Tool albums of the past. Great article/interview. I am thankful that I have been able to hear the visions Tool creates. Muck love.

  • aronath cordova

    im glad to be fan 16 of those 21 years !!!

  • Tony Anderson

    For the winning ticket, how about a chance to be in a upcoming music video?

  • Tony Anderson

    You know, dressed in paint and being a weird creature? That’d be cool!