Maynard James Keenan
James Herbert Keenan (born April 17, 1964), known professionally as Maynard James Keenan or MJK, is an American singer songwriter and the vocalist for the rock bands Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer.
Maynard James Keenan
Keenan performing in June 2018
|Birth name||James Herbert Keenan|
|Born||April 17, 1964|
Ravenna, Ohio, U.S.
In addition to his music career, Keenan has ventured into fields such as acting, improvisational sketch comedy, and winemaking. He currently owns Merkin Vineyards and the associated winery Caduceus Cellars. Since rising to fame, he has been noted as being reclusive; however, he does emerge for the occasional interview and to support charitable causes.
James Herbert Keenan was born into a Southern Baptist family in Ravenna, Ohio, on April 17, 1964, the only child of Judith Marie (née Dougherty; November 22, 1943 – June 18, 2003) and Michael Loren Keenan (March 4, 1946). When his parents divorced in 1968, his father moved to Scottville, Michigan and Keenan would only see him about once a year for the next 12 years. His mother remarried, bringing Keenan into an "intolerant and unworldly household" where his intelligence and creative expression would be stifled.
Keenan's mother suffered a paralyzing cerebral aneurysm in 1976, when Maynard was 11 (the inspiration for creative works such as Tool's songs "jimmy" and "Wings for Marie" as well as A Perfect Circle's "Judith"). A few years later, she persuaded Keenan to live with his father in Scottville. Keenan considers this "the best move [he] ever made". In 1982, he graduated from Mason County Central High School in Scottville, where he was a member of the wrestling team. His father was one of the coaches for the team and left coaching at the same time Keenan graduated in 1982.
Inspired by Bill Murray's performance in the 1981 comedy film Stripes, Keenan joined the United States Army, with the intention of having the G.I. Bill fund his dream of attending art school. By this point, he had lived in Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas. He initially served in the Army as a forward observer before studying at West Point Prep School from 1983 to 1984.
In addition to completing a rigorous math and English curriculum, Keenan wrestled, ran on the cross country team, and sang in the glee club. It was during his time in the military that he adopted the sobriquet "Maynard" on a whim, based on a fictional character he had created in high school. He was distinguished in basic and advanced training, but declined an appointment to West Point and instead chose to pursue a music career because of his disillusionment with his colleagues' values and because he knew West Point would not tolerate his dissidence.
Upon completing his term of enlistment, Keenan studied art at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. From there he moved to Somerville, MA, where his love of animals led him to practice interior design for a Boston area pet store. He was transferred to a store in Los Angeles, before he was quickly fired and began working in set construction. During the 1980s, Keenan played bass guitar for TexA.N.S. and sang for Children of the Anachronistic Dynasty, both independent bands. During this time, he wrote an early version of "Sober", later Tool's first successful single. He also (with future Tool bandmate Danny Carey) performed live and recorded with Green Jellö between 1990 and 1993, performing backup vocals as the voice of the "1st Pig" on the band's hit song "The Three Little Pigs" on their debut album Cereal Killer, and appearing in the music video for "Slave Boy" on the band's follow up LP 333. Around this time he also struck up a friendship with Tom Morello, who has credited Keenan with introducing him to Drop D tuning. Keenan spent time jamming with Morello and Brad Wilk, as did Zack de la Rocha: Morello and Wilk considered Keenan and de la Rocha as candidates for the vocalist with what would become Rage Against The Machine before deciding to ask the latter.
After moving to Los Angeles, Keenan met Adam Jones who had in college heard him singing on a demo. Impressed with Keenan's vocals, Jones suggested that they form a band. Reluctant, Keenan eventually agreed and, in 1990, Tool was formed. Fronted by Keenan, the eventual lineup included guitarist Jones; his neighbor, drummer Danny Carey; and bassist Paul D'Amour, who would later be replaced by Justin Chancellor.
Shortly thereafter, Tool released their 1993 debut album, Undertow, in the United States. It was certified gold after just eight months, and platinum less than a year later. In 1994, the band released their single "Prison Sex" with a corresponding music video created and directed by Jones. The video was deemed "too graphic and offensive", and was withdrawn by MTV after a few airings due to "a symbolic dealing with the sensitive subject of child abuse".
In October 1996, the band released their second studio album, Ænima. The album was certified gold in ten weeks, achieved double platinum in ten months, and won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1998. After the release of the album, Tool began a prolonged legal battle with their label, Volcano Records (formerly Zoo Records), over contract violations. Following this legal battle, which resulted in a new three-record deal, the members of Tool decided to take some time off. During the hiatus, Keenan went under the alias "Gaylord C." while collaborating with Tim Alexander of Primus and Mike Bordin of Faith No More on "Choked", a track on the 1997 drumming compilation Flyin' Traps.
The band members were outspokenly critical of peer-to-peer file sharing networks, due to the negative financial impact on artists dependent on success in record sales. During an interview with NY Rock in 2000, Keenan stated, "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."
Five years after the release of Ænima, Tool announced a new album, Systema Encéphale, with a 12-song track list in January 2001. A month later, the band revealed that the new album was actually titled Lateralus and that the previous announcement had been a ruse. The album was released in May 2001 to positive reviews. Known for his "dark, intelligent, compelling, and unexpected lyrical twists", Keenan was acclaimed for his songwriting on the album, in which he "doesn't cross the line from darkness to ugliness ... as often as he has in the past". In an interview with NY Rock, Keenan explained, "Everything we release with Tool is inspired by our music. It doesn't matter if it is a video or if its lyrics. The lyrics for "Schism" are nothing more than my interpretation of the music." The album became a worldwide success, reaching No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 albums chart in its debut week, and Tool received their second Grammy Award for the best metal performance of 2001 for "Schism". In 2002, Keenan recorded a song called "Fallen" with Thirty Seconds to Mars that was released on the band's self-titled debut album.
Fifteen years after the band's formation, Tool had acquired what Dan Epstein of Revolver described as a devoted "cult" following, and in May 2006 the band released 10,000 Days, an album in which Keenan sang about more personal issues in contrast to previous attempts to inspire change. His mother, who inspired the song "Jimmy" on Ænima, also served as the inspiration for "Jambi", and the two-part song "Wings for Marie" and "10,000 Days (Wings for Marie, Pt 2)", which deals with her 2003 death after 27 years, or around 10,000 days, of suffering. The album sold 564,000 copies in its opening week in the U.S. and was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts. However, 10,000 Days was received less favorably by critics than its predecessor Lateralus had been.
Following 10,000 Days, Tool has one album remaining to fulfill the obligation of its record contract. Though there is little information available on plans for this album, the band is steadily working towards its fifth studio release. Tool has worked around Keenan and his side projects since 1999, starting with the creation of A Perfect Circle, which has led to several years between projects. Regarding the future of Tool, Keenan stated in a 2007 interview with Spin, "We'll make music together until one of us is dead."
On March 24, 2009, a summer tour was announced on Tool's website, and in a March 26 press release Tool was confirmed as a headliner for the second annual Mile High Music Festival in Commerce City, Colorado, with Widespread Panic and The Fray. Tool also headlined Lollapalooza 2009 in Chicago, Illinois.
On December 12, 2012, Tool's webmaster posted on the band website:
Something that might be encouraging to some Tool enthusiasts is that while riding with Danny to Chili John's yesterday, I heard a lot of new Tool music (sans Maynard). This was the most new material that I've heard so far, although a few of the riffs and arrangements were familiar. So, what did I think? Dare I say that it sounded like ... Tool (some of it reminiscent to earlier Tool stuff, with other parts pushing the envelope), and I assume that it will sound even more like Tool once the vocal melodies, etc. have been added. To answer your next question, I cannot say how far along in the writing process the band is. If I had to GUESS, I would say more than half way (and keep in mind that in the past, at least, the writing went faster once the first few [more complex] songs were finished).
A Perfect CircleEdit
—Maynard James Keenan
During Tool's post-Ænima hiatus to deal with their legal issues, Keenan began working with Billy Howerdel, Tool's guitar tech through the Ænima tour, on a different project. The supergroup they formed, A Perfect Circle, began performing in 1999 and released its first album Mer de Noms in 2000. They released a successful follow-up in 2003 titled Thirteenth Step, a reference to twelve-step programs (many of the songs were written from the perspective of recovery). Both albums were eventually certified platinum. Their subsequent 2004 album, eMOTIVe, was primarily composed of covers, except for the singles "Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums"—a song inspired by "Pet" that was originally released on Thirteenth Step—and "Passive". Keenan later characterized the record as a political album with which he "tested the waters" and was subsequently "crucified" for it because of the content. It was certified gold the month after its release. That same year they released the DVD and CD set entitled aMOTION, which was certified platinum within a month of its release.
Howerdel reported in a May 2006 interview with MTV that the supergroup's work was concluded for the time being. After more than two years since the band's last release, Keenan was asked about the status of A Perfect Circle during an interview with Revolver. He stated:
The real problem with running Tool and A Perfect Circle at the same time was they both operate the same way. They're both live touring bands with a label, still working under the old contract mentality. So I thought it was time to let A Perfect Circle go for now and let Billy explore himself. It's tough for a guy who went from being a guitar tech [for Tool] to being in a band with a pretentious, famous singer and having to live in that shadow. It was important for Billy to go and do his own thing and really explore his own sound and let people hear what he has to say and how he would do it on his own, and then we'll get back and do some A Perfect Circle stuff.
When asked, in an interview for Spin that same month, about the possibility of another A Perfect Circle album, Keenan stated, "Maybe, someday, a song on a soundtrack. But an album? No." A year later, on December 9, 2008, blabbermouth.net reported that Keenan had announced on The Pulse of Radio that he and Howerdel have been writing new music for A Perfect Circle. Keenan also said that the band has no plans to resume full-scale touring, or even to write and record a new album. Instead, they will focus on "one or two songs at a time", which will most likely be released via the Internet.
However, in November 2010, the band returned from a nearly 6 1⁄2-year hiatus with a 14-show tour in the western US. Touring resumed in May 2011 with a North American tour across the US and Canada that wrapped up at the end of August. The band performed only once in 2012 with a December 29 show in Las Vegas, followed by a five-show Australian tour and a three-show South American tour in early 2013.
In 2003, Keenan surfaced under the name "Puscifer" for the song "REV 22:20" on the Underworld film soundtrack. Puscifer was once advertised as a side project with Danny Lohner, who had formerly performed live with Nine Inch Nails, but has since been formed as a manifestation of Keenan's "creative subconscious"—meaning that Keenan is now using the name as a pseudonym for his solo work. Keenan has stated that it is "a premiere improvisational hardcore band", and his "catch-all, stream of consciousness, anything goes, etc." project. When comparing the project to Tool in an interview with Rolling Stone, Keenan described it as his "attempt to make music to inspire people. ... This is definitely not thinking man's music, but groove-oriented music that makes you feel good." In a later interview with Artistdirect, Keenan said that he did not want the lyrics to be puzzles. He wanted the complexity to be in the music, stating "that's the part that gets under your skin and makes you feel good."
In 2006, Puscifer contributed the song "The Undertaker (Renholder Mix)" to the soundtrack of Underworld: Evolution, where "Renholder", a moniker for Danny Lohner created by the members of A Perfect Circle, is the reversal of "Re: D Lohner". Keenan financed and released the first studio album, "V" Is for Vagina, in October 2007. Created in a tour bus, in several hotel rooms, and in various studios around the country while Keenan toured with Tool, the album is a radical departure from Keenan's contributions in Tool and A Perfect Circle. Tim Alexander, best known as the drummer for rock band Primus, was a guest musician on the album. He called Puscifer "trancy and hypnotic" and a "total 180 from Tool". The album was criticized as unfocused and lacking in the passion and intelligence present in Keenan's previous work.
Puscifer is also a clothing line, with merchandise available for purchase on the band's website. On September 16, 2008, Keenan updated the puscifer.com blog, revealing that the first ever Puscifer store would be opening "hopefully" by October 1 in Jerome, Arizona. Occupying a small space above a tattoo parlor, the store opened on October 3, 2008. In addition to the merchandise available on the band's online store, Keenan has also made available locally roasted coffee, art, and limited edition collectibles.
On February 13–15, 2009, Keenan debuted Puscifer at the Pearl Concert Theater in Palms Casino Resort in Paradise, Nevada, with a cabaret-style show so abstract it is not easily described. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Keenan stated "we didn't really have any clue what to call it, so we just kind of called it cabaret." Keenan—who has had previous experience with this type of entertainment, having fronted a similar show in Los Angeles before achieving fame with Tool—went on to add that "you just can't really describe it, you just have to see it, then it makes sense." Featuring an ever-changing lineup of artists including Milla Jovovich and Primus drummer Tim Alexander, the show was originally said to have a long-term residency at the Pearl; however, Keenan later revealed that it was to be only a two-show performance.
Puscifer continued to perform with a revolving lineup throughout 2009 at venues around the Southwest. However, in a November 2009 interview, Keenan stated: "Efforts to confine our beloved enigma to the Southwestern United States have been thwarted. We are compelled beyond all reason to bring the noise Eastward and share our special sauce. Although authorities suggest you be prepared for any and all possibilities, we simply suggest you arrive happy and hungry."
On October 18, 2011, Keenan released Puscifer's second album, Conditions of My Parole. The album received generally favorable reviews on Metacritic, a positive review from Allmusic's Gregory Heaney, who described it as "a fine piece of cold weather headphone music." Keenan followed with the February 19, 2013, release of Donkey Punch the Night. This EP includes covers of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen and "Balls to the Wall" by Accept. It received mostly mixed reviews, resulting in a Metacritic rating of 62%.
Writing and performance styleEdit
A primary purpose of Keenan's lyrics for Tool involves a desire to connect with the listeners on a personal level, encouraging them to look within themselves for self-identity, understanding and reflection. Tool does not include lyrics with any releases as Keenan believes most people "don't get it" and it is not a priority of the band that people do. However, after each release Keenan has eventually published his typed lyrics online via the semi-official fansite, with the exception of "Lateralus", which was published on the official Tool website. Despite Maynard's aversion to promoting the lyrical content of Tool's work to its audience, lyrical arrangements are often given special attention, such as in the lyrics to "Lateralus", wherein the number of syllables per line correspond to an arrangement of the Fibonacci numbers, and "Jambi", in which the metrical foot iamb is used. Keenan's lyrics on Ænima and Lateralus focused on philosophy and spirituality—specific subjects range from evolution and Jungian psychology in "Forty-Six & 2" and transcendence in "Lateralus".
In live performances with Tool, Keenan has often been known to be situated on a platform towards the rear of the stage, without a spotlight, facing the backdrop rather than the audience. Breckinridge Haggerty, the band's live video director, says that the dark spaces on stage "are mostly for Maynard". He explains, "a lot of the songs are a personal journey for him and he has a hard time with the glare of the lights when he's trying to reproduce these emotions for the audience. He needs a bit of personal space, and he feels more comfortable in the shadows." An exception, which surprised even devout Tool fans, occurred when a fan climbed on stage and attempted to hug Keenan during the band's performance of "Pushit". After dropping the fan to the ground with a gentle hip toss, Keenan, continuing to sing, wrapped himself around the man's back into a rear naked choke. He held the man without actually constricting his neck, allowing him to raise his fist in celebration. Keenan eventually turned the man to his stomach and sat on his back, where he stayed for "an uncomfortably long period of time." His appearance with Tool has included the Mohawk hairstyle, wigs, Kabuki masks, bras, tights, and his entire body in blue paint. This is contrasted with a variety of long haired wigs while performing with or promoting A Perfect Circle.
Describing Keenan's contribution to Tool and A Perfect Circle, The New York Times wrote that "both groups rely on Mr. Keenan's ability to dignify emotions like lust, anger and disgust, the honey in his voice adding a touch of profundity". He ranked No. 21 in Hit Parader's 2006 list of "Heavy Metal's All-Time Top 100 Vocalists", and his unique style of singing has often been considered influential to artists such as Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, Pete Loeffler of Chevelle, Will Martin of Earshot, Jared Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars, Benjamin Burnley of Breaking Benjamin, and Jesse Hasek of 10 Years.
Comedy and actingEdit
Keenan is featured in several segments of Mr. Show, most notably in the Ronnie Dobbs sketch presented in the first season in which he plays the lead singer of the then-fictitious band "Puscifer". He also appears in episode 2.6, "The Velveteen Touch of a Dandy Fop". Later, Keenan sang on a track for the Mr. Show incarnation Run Ronnie Run, and appear in the "music video sex scene" on its DVD. Keenan appeared on the cover of the May/June 1999 issue of Pop Smear magazine, portraying Charles Manson as part of a photo essay, imitating a famous Life magazine portrait. He also appeared as Satan in the 2002 film Bikini Bandits and its 2004 sequel Bikini Bandits 2: Golden Rod. When asked in an interview which role was more difficult, Keenan responded, "Oh, Manson. He's a real person. People know what he looks like, how he talked. With Satan there's so much gray area."
In the mid-90s, responding to requests for Tool to perform in benefit shows, Keenan created "Free Frances Bean" tee-shirts to represent his own platform. Frances' mother, Courtney Love, had previously referred to Keenan as a "media whore" to which he responded, "Isn't that great? I have the distinction of being called a media whore by Courtney Love." He said that after watching "the tornado that is her mother", he thought "Oh my God, how is Frances Bean gonna survive this insanity?" Although it was started as a simple joke, the T-shirts were soon in high demand and Keenan was giving them away.
Keenan was offered the role of Raoul in David Fincher’s film Panic Room in 2001, after having met Fincher while filming the music video for “Judith”, but was unable to take part due to touring commitments. The role went to Dwight Yoakam instead.
On April 1, 2005, the official Tool website announced, as an April Fools' Day prank, that "Maynard has found Jesus" and would be abandoning the recording of the new album temporarily and possibly permanently. Kurt Loder of MTV contacted Keenan via email to ask for a confirmation and received a nonchalant confirmation. When Loder asked again, Keenan's response was simply "heh heh". On April 7, the official site revealed that it was a hoax. During an interview Keenan later stated, "It was April Fools'. If you fall for that on April Fools' Day, there's nothing I can do for you." He has been part of other April Fools' pranks related to Tool, including one in which he was said to be in critical condition after a tour bus accident.
Winemaking and other endeavorsEdit
In addition to a produce market in Cornville, Arizona; Keenan, whose grandparents and great-uncle made wine in Northern Italy, owns Merkin Vineyards and Caduceus Cellars, based in the unincorporated area of Page Springs/Cornville, Arizona, southwest of Sedona, where he resides. While the winery is named after an ancient symbol for commerce (caduceus), the vineyard is named after a pubic wig (merkin). He is also a partner of Stronghold Vineyards, "an 80-acre site dedicated to producing affordable wines in the state", located in the small, unincorporated area known as Kansas Settlement in Sulfur Springs Valley, Arizona. Keenan's mother died in 2003, at the age of 59, due to complications from an aneurysm. Following her death, he scattered her ashes across one of his vineyards, and later named one of his wines after her, honoring her memory with his Cabernet Sauvignon "Nagual del Judith".
In a statement released in April 2009, Keenan stated:
I am standing on a metaphorical plateau. The view from here suggests that I/we still have many mountains to negotiate. It has already been a long journey. But the successes and failures have been in balance. Which would suggest that I/we have chosen the correct path. I hold in my hands the evidence to support this statement. With tears in my eyes, I present to you the very first 100 percent Arizona Caduceus wine. Nagual del Judith, named after my late mother, Judith Marie.
His previous wines were named after relatives of the Chiricahua Apache chief Cochise who lived in the area where the vineyard is located, and were produced at Page Springs Cellars, owned by Keenan's business partner. While those wines used some fruits imported from California, "Nagual del Judith" is the first made entirely from Keenan's own vineyard. Keenan was also a part-owner of Cobras & Matadors, an LA restaurant ran by Steven Arroyo until 2012.
During the fall season of 2008, Keenan began a small tour of sorts with his Stronghold Vineyards partner Eric Glomski, promoting his wine with signing sessions at Whole Foods Markets in California and Nevada. The tour continued in 2009 with sessions in Texas kicking off in March, and appearances scheduled during Tool's 2009 summer tour in Florida, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. In July 2009, Keenan opened an organic market which features a tasting room for his Arizona wines as well as a food court.
Keenan is featured in Blood Into Wine: The Arizona Stronghold, a documentary co-produced by Moog filmmakers Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenk that chronicles Keenan and Glomski's embarkation into winemaking in the desert conditions of Arizona's Verde Valley, and the success they've seen in the decade since its inception. The film, which includes appearances from Tim & Eric, Patton Oswalt, and Milla Jovovich, was shown at the Noise Pop Festival on February 25, 2010, along with another documentary produced by Pomerenk, The Heart is a Drum Machine. It investigates why people create and listen to music, and features Keenan, Jason Schwartzman, Kurt Loder, Nic Harcourt, Juliette Lewis, and Elijah Wood.
I think there are a lot of misconceptions with some people that, all of a sudden, I was born when my first band came out. I actually had a life before that, and there were a lot of accomplishments. [The book] will kind of chronicle why it is I got to where I am, and why I got to where you knew about me.
Keenan's authorized biography, A Perfect Union of Contrary Things, was released on November 8, 2016.
Keenan has used his voice on numerous occasions to support charitable causes. He performed at a 1997 benefit concert for RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) organized by Tori Amos (who had often referred to Keenan as an unofficial brother). He is one of the notable performers for Axis of Justice, a non-profit organization that brings musicians, fans of music, and grassroots political organizations together to fight for social justice. In 2004, Axis of Justice released Concert Series Volume 1. Included are two tracks featuring Keenan on vocals. The second track on the album, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding", was recorded live during Lollapalooza in Seattle, Washington on August 23, 2003. The first track, "Where the Streets Have No Name", was recorded live during the Axis of Justice Concert Series at The Avalon in Hollywood on July 19, 2004. In February 2005, Keenan appeared as a surprise vocalist at a Seattle benefit concert for victims of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in southern Asia, performing with the partly reformed Alice in Chains, in place of the deceased vocalist Layne Staley, on the songs "Them Bones", "Man in the Box", and "Rooster".
Keenan has a son named Devo H. Keenan who sang backing vocals on A Perfect Circle's Thirteenth Step, and was later credited as the cellist on Ashes Divide's Keep Telling Myself It's Alright. He also gave a solo cello performance for Keenan's 50th birthday celebration concert, "Cinquanta".
Keenan has a reputation for being reclusive and controlling of his public image. He dislikes the manner in which celebrities are worshipped, and at one point carried business cards with the name "Jesus H. Christ" printed on them. When having to deal with stalkers, Keenan has apparently resorted to using a paintball gun to run off trespassers from his property. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of Keenan's pursuits, and he studied under Rickson Gracie.
It was announced in June 2010 that Keenan had proposed to girlfriend and Caduceus lab manager Lei Li. On September 10, 2012, Keenan wrote an article for the Phoenix New Times in which he made reference to his wife. On July 25, 2014, Keenan's wife gave birth to their daughter, Lei Li Agostina Maria.
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