This feature was originally published in 2008.
Expanding upon the formula (or lack thereof) of 2001's Lateralus, Tool's 10,000 Days — released five years later — is filled with bizarre time signatures, unconventional riff structures, and open-ended phrasing, but some of the tension has been replaced by melancholy reflection. The album title suggests the amount of time Maynard James Keenan's mother suffered from stroke-related paralysis before she died, and on "Wings for Marie (Pt. 1)" and "10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)" the singer drops his guard and candidly addresses their relationship ("It was you who prayed for me/So what have I done to be a son to an angel?"). But while 10,000 Days showcases some of Tool's most confessional, contemplative moments, it also contains some killer rock-outs. On "Vicarious," powerhouse drum fills muscle through chunky, off-kilter guitars and harsh, haunting vocals ("I need to watch things die/From a good safe distance"). "The Pot" melds a funky bass line to a jagged, staggered riff and includes the infectious chant-along "You must have been high." And "Jambi" is propelled by Indian percussion and chugging axwork, peaking with a dizzying Talk Box guitar solo. Regardless of whether Tool are zoning out or riffing away, 10,000 Days exposes a band functioning at peak capacity and unafraid of risking everything for their art.
MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN You can tell which tracks the other guys were working on while I was touring with A Perfect Circle because they kind of meander off and go crazy and there's all these complicated turnarounds and loops. It requires some form of psilocybin to enjoy — which is great. I love having something that I get to enjoy because I wasn't there in the kitchen helping cook it. And I can add my spice to it later and take it to some other level. It's a good thing I was away, though, because those guys definitely needed to chase their tails again and go down blind alleys a while. Then, once we all got back together, having done all those experiments, that's where it really flows. And that's where we can do the ones that are just fun to play, like "The Pot" and "Jambi." But it takes that internal/external digestion to get there.
DANNY CAREY We had lots ideas from all the jams for Lateralus, so we had a few good starting points to go from. And we thought, Oh yeah, this is gonna be way easier for us than the last one. And in a lot of ways, it wasn't. We had all just become bigger assholes and everyone's idiosyncrasies had become even more grinding on each other. But we are also smarter and know that those are just our personalities, and at the same time we've become more accepting of giving each other space in order to deal with them — not that it makes you any happier about it when it goes down. No, I couldn't say doing 10,000 Days was any easier. And I think about the next record and go, God, it'll be easy, but once we start in on it, it'll probably be even harder than the last one. But it'll be better, too.
JUSTIN CHANCELLOR The first song we worked on was "Vicarious," which we made quite difficult for ourselves. It was like we were never prepared to finish writing it, and it took a good couple of months to really nail down and get back to the core of where we began. We were doing other stuff at the same time, but we kept coming back to it because it felt like the key for getting into the album. We actually only find special things by really searching. We don't ever write stuff individually and say, "OK, this is gonna be the song." We bring in ideas in their rawest form and bounce them around to find the thing that is bigger than any individual's idea.
ADAM JONES Whenever you finally find yourself on a roll and you finish up a record, you go, OK, I wish next time we could just pick up where we left off at this exact moment. But if you did that, you'd just be redoing the same thing. That's what blows my mind about certain bands that put a record out every year. I always go, This sounds like a garage band doing covers of your last record. You know? You don't grow. I just feel like you gotta let something breathe. So that's why taking a year off between records is good, because when we come back we appreciate what we're doing more and we look at it in a different light.
KEENAN I was kind of hoping on this album to get back to some of the energy we had expressed on some of the early records, where we had four-on-the-floor Sabbath-like grooves that were fun to play. On some of the later records, it was very difficult to get a groove going because everything was so complex and choppy and like running up an uneven set of stairs with a blindfold and a wooden leg. I wanted to do some of that because I really enjoy the challenge of a puzzle, putting lyrics to those complex pieces, but I really was looking forward to trying to get back to something simple so I could just run down that set of stairs with my eyes closed and know that I'm gonna land on my feet. That happened to some extent on 10,000 Days, but as soon as I walked in, there was the tension in the studio trying to get everyone on the same page without making someone compromise what they're doing to go there.
JONES Another thing that was slowing us down was some more legal problems. Once again, we were being sued for this and that, and it seems like every time we've had legal problems, most of them have been some kind of knee-jerk, "Pay us off quick so we don't cause a lot of trouble" kind of thing. I really hate that in our legal system, how the poorest person can come up to the richest person and make some insane claim. We just get the craziest people who go, "Hey, I wrote your record and you stole it from me. And I'm Jesus and you're the Devil."
KEENAN I think probably the stupidest thing I could have done on 10,000 Days was put myself out there as much as I did with the tracks "Wings for Marie (Pt. 1)" and "10,000 Days (Wings Pt. 2)." I'll never make that mistake again. It just took too much out of me emotionally, mentally, and physically. It's just too difficult in what I would consider a hostile environment. It's not a very nurturing setting, a Tool concert. There's lots of people there that get it, but there's definitely a percentage who don't and it's a very, very, very difficult place to try to express those kinds of feelings. So, having put yourself out there in that way with songs like "Prison Sex" and "Wings," I don't want to do that anymore. All those songs were exploited and misconstrued. People were flippant and dismissive. And technically, "Wings" is very difficult to pull off, so if any one of us is off, it falls apart and makes that thing tragic, and that's not a good song for me to have fall apart.
CHANCELLOR Playing "10,000 Days" in concert was very challenging but infinitely rewarding. It's much more sensitive and emotional than our other songs, and it requires pacing yourself and also being very vulnerable. So, to play that in a big, massive arena with lasers going, when that one came off, you rise out of your body and actually start to see everything from the outside and be able to enjoy it because it's all working and playing out so naturally. For me, that was as good as it's gotten in this band.
CAREY David Bottrill was great on Ænima and Lateralus, but we knew we wanted to use someone different to record 10,000 Days because we never want to make the same record twice. David was a drum-heavy person and Adam wanted to use a guitar-oriented guy more. I was a little worried about it because I loved the records Joe Barresi had done with the Melvins and Jesus Lizard, but I never really liked the drum sounds. And I had to work with him at it, but I think I got the best drum sound I've ever gotten because he's got great ears. But he's definitely a guitar guy and I had to fight tooth and nail to be heard. I learned a lot by going through that.
JONES To release some of the stress in the studio, Maynard and I would shoot guns. Maynard lives out in Arizona and he can get all the cool guns that you can't get in California because some kid shot himself and ruined it for everyone. So Maynard brought his guns in and we did some target practice on these to-do lists that we had for every song. He got a human target like police use to shoot at, and he put these sheets on different places of the target. So it was like, if you shoot at the head, the bass is done, and if you hit the chest, the vocals are done, and if you get the shoulder, the guitars are done. We did the record at Grand Master, where we recorded Undertow, which has such a cool vibe. Some places you record are so strict, but Grand Master was just like, "Hey, this is your place and you can do what the fuck you want. Just don't kill anybody."
CAREY We spent a little longer on 10,000 Days because we knew time wasn't even a factor. We spent about a year writing, but the recording went pretty smoothly. I did my drums in seven days and then Justin did the bass parts in, maybe, three weeks. And Adam took close to two months doing all the guitar layers. He just used a lot of different amplifiers and developed his sound way beyond what I'd ever heard him do before.
JONES One thing I remember is that right before we recorded the album, the company that makes the big reel-to-reel analog tape went under, so we couldn't find tape to record on. That was a problem because we don't like recording straight to digital. We record to tape to get an analog recording, then we bounce that digitally because it will capture the analog sound. So we had Joe Barresi running all over town buying all the tape he could find. And we actually have extra tape that we didn't use sitting in an air-temperature-controlled vault so we can use it next time.
CAREY When we were done recording, we mixed at Bay Seven in North Hollywood, and while we were there, we did some overdubs with a magical microphone that Adolf Hitler used. It had the little flying eagle swastika insignia on it. We were like, "Oh, you've gotta be kidding, dude." It turned out that the owner had just driven all over the country and found a whole box full of these beautiful old Telefunken microphones from the 1940s in some guy's garage and brought them back. And we just went, "Oh, God, we've gotta use that, man. That's got some voodoo in it." Maybe it added that little touch of evil that the record needed. Without any evil, there's no good.