BBC 1 Radio's popular segment "Music Ruined My Life" recently hosted Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan to talk about the albums that had the deepest impact on him before he became the influential artist fans know him as today.
The first album he name-checks is Joni Mitchell's Blue, citing input from his aunt when she realized Keenan was "going down the spiral of Kiss and Black Sabbath." He internalized the message, saying he's unsure how his aunt was successful at convincing him to listen but he became aware then that Mitchell was "a woman who's writing her own songs, who's producing and mixing and releasing her own songs, and it's a woman fighting this uphill struggle in arguably a man's rock world."
Keenan's aunt was the one who introduced him to Sabbath when the youngster was "all jacked up on sugar" watching monster movies at her house. The aunt saw the natural pairing in young Keenan's tastes, which led to him playing the band's legendary self-titled record while watching the horror movies with the volume down.
The singer goes on to list Devo's Are We Not Men, saying "If you listen to those early albums, most of them are, in my opinion... seem like they're direct ripoffs of classic rock songs, just sped up and quirked out". Contemporary minimalist rockers Low also find their way into the conversation, with Keenan waxing on the outfit's stark patience and intensity: "That discipline is so difficult for musicians because they're looking for the payoff right away. So in this album, Things We Lost in the Fire, there is so much patience and restraint."
Keenan also (minus the contextual stories) cites Pink Floyd's Animals and Swans' Greed / Holy Money as prominent works from his early listening experience, and when asked which song he wishes he's written, concocts an imagined tale about America's national anthem. "Not that I ever go to sporting events, but if I did," he tells host Daniel P. Carter, continuing "and someone said 'hey, it's the national anthem, stand up!' I would say 'Screw you, I wrote it.' That's a long way to go for a stupid joke, don't you think?"
Before playing it on the show, Keenan tells Carter the song he's most proud of writing is Puscifer's "Grand Canyon." He recalls, "I feel like it's one of the few tracks that's actually capturing landscape and soundscape altogether; and a difficult puzzle to put together 'cause it wasn't easy to put all those elements vocally together." His attention to expanding on the complexity paid off though, as he cites "To really make it work, it was very clunky. If you heard some of the early versions of it, what we we're trying to do, it was like 'oh, bench this thing. It's not working.' … The first initial attacks were like 'this is a disaster. Like no wait, no it's not. Move this part over to here, move this part over to here' like now it measures up. Now the soundscape and the landscape starts to unveil."
Below, get a rare glimpse into Maynard James Keenan's life outside of music in our exclusive Art of Work doc: