Tool - Biography
Tool has the kind of artistic freedom that other bands can only dream about; the band feels no pressure to put records on the shelves in a timely fashion and is known to take up to five years to do so. The group has a habit of allowing their layered, intricate songs to go on extended and often psychedelic journeys, even if takes fifteen minutes to get there. Guitarist Adam Jones has claimed that the four members of Tool “never wanted to be rock stars.” After two number-one albums, a few Grammies, and some long-standing alt-rock radio singles like “Sober,” the members of Tool are still not exactly rock stars. Really, who would recognize Jones on the street other than the most dedicated fan? Tool has handled its career with a certain amount of tasteful restraint, keeping their personal appearances in music videos down to a minimum and doing few interviews. At concerts, the band members prefer to keep the focus on the large visual display behind them. It is a spectacle so miraculous that even singer Maynard James Keenan prefers to watch it rather than face his audience. Despite this anonymity, and being labeled a “cult” band, their albums continue to top the charts. Rarely does doing whatever you want pay off for musicians the way it has for Tool.
In 1989, Keenan was introduced to Jones in Los Angeles by a mutual friend. Jones discovered that Keenan (whose gig was redesigning pet stores back then) had a stellar singing voice. The two began jamming together and eventually enlisted Keenan’s upstairs neighbor Danny Carey as a drummer. Carey had previously met Jones through Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, a high school pal of Jones' who had also played with him in Electric Sheep. Once Jones was introduced to bassist Paul D'Amour, the lineup was set. The band had no trouble early on and, after a mere handful of shows, record labels took an interest in the new group. They eventually signed with Zoo Entertainment.
Tool's first release, the six-song EP Opiate (1992 Zoo Entertainment), was released in March of 1992. The opening bars of the single “Hush” are reminiscent of a Red Hot Chili Peppers song, but once Keenan announces himself by screaming “Fuck you!” from some place far beyond the top of his lungs, one thing is utterly clear: this is not a song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In “Hush,” Tool expresses their qualms with the music industry, specifically censorship. The video for “Hush” shows members of the band walking around in slow motion, clad only in Parental Advisory notices and tape across their mouths. Seen by many hardcore Tool fans as one of their best releases, Opiate didn't gain the band much radio play, but it can be seen retrospectively as a warning shot. The albums to follow would be met with the attention that this EP deserved.
Just one year later, the group returned with a proper debut. The full-length Undertow (1993 Zoo) saw the band flirting a bit more with the odd and bewildering time signatures that would soon become their hallmark. Undertow hit number 50 on the Billboard 200 and number one on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. The album’s first single, “Sober,” is a truly dark, heavy song that was released just as grunge was on its dying breath. It was an alternative rock hit, charting at number 13 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks, and properly displays Keenan's striking vocal gifts. Other highlights of the album include Henry Rollins' spoken word guest appearance on “Bottom” and the near-funk rhythms of the second single “Prison Sex” – a song that (unlike “Sober”) actually gets your toe tapping. Jones, a student of sculpture and film special effects design, is credited with making the videos for the two aforementioned singles. Censorship became a problem for Tool, as the lyrics and video to “Prison Sex” deal with child abuse. MTV stopped airing the video shortly after its release.
The band didn't get back to recording for another couple of years. D'Amour left the group in 1995 after the sessions for their follow-up album began and he immediately joined cover band The Replicants, who released just one self-titled album in 1995. The terms of D'Amour's departure were amicable and Keenan performed guest vocals on a song from The Replicants (1995 Zoo). Tool had little trouble enlisting a replacement, as many vied for the job including Scott Reeder (Kyuss) and Frank Cavanaugh (Filter). The band settled on Justin Chancellor, who had once toured with Tool while playing in his progressive metal band Peach. With a new bassist, sessions for the new album could continue. Tool’s second album was ready for release about a year after initial recording had begun.
Aenima (1996 Zoo) debuted in the Billboard 200 at number two, preceded by the controversially titled single “Stinkfist,” which went to number 17 in the Mainstream Rock Tracks and 19 on the Modern Rock Tracks. Although the collective appetite for “alternative metal” was waning by Aenima's release, Tool was at the top of their game creatively and won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance for the song “Aenima.” They dedicated the album to the memory of Bill Hicks, the comedian and satirist who had been an inspiration and friend to the band. Hicks passed away in February of 1994.
Tool took a break after the stress of touring and dealing with an ensuing legal battle with Volcano Record. Keenan used his time off to create the arty hard rock band A Perfect Circle with Billy Howerdel, Tool's guitar tech. A Perfect Circle released their debut album Mer De Noms (2000 Virgin Records) in 2000 and it was a commercial success, though rumors of Tool's impending breakup were becoming more and more frequent. The band tried to quell these rumors with the release of Salival (2000 Volcano), a CD and VHS/DVD set that featured live tracks, a couple of B-Sides, intricate artwork, and all of the band's music videos up to that point.
Tool made their proper return in 2001, five years after the release of their second album, with Lateralus (2001 Volcano). This highly-anticipated release catered to their rabid cult following more than to alternative or mainstream rock radio. Nonetheless, it was a huge commercial success and gave the band their first number one album, plus three hit singles. “Schism” reached number two on the Mainstream and Modern Rock Tracks charts. The Recording Academy enjoyed the song as well and Tool picked up another Best Metal Performance Grammy.
After another five-year wait, Keenan reunited with Howerdel for the second album by A Perfect Circle, The Thirteenth Step (2003 Virgin), which came out in 2003. The following year, A Perfect Circle released a covers album called Emotive (2004 Virgin).
In 2006, Tool came together again to release 10,000 Days (2006 Volcano), which surprisingly gave them their second number one album. Listening to 10,000 Days is almost a labor of love, as one really has to commit to the recording and listen many times over in order to make sense of it. The singles “Vicarious” (number two on the Mainstream and Modern Rock Tracks charts) and “The Pot” (number one on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart) were instantly enjoyable, but many of the longer, epically ponderous songs could only be appreciated by the patient cult following for whom they were made. After all, given the years between releases and the sheer length and complexity of the songs, patience has to be the most honored virtue of a Tool fan.