For some bands, a long layoff between tours is an unusual thing to happen in what is still a record/tour/record/tour cycle. For the band A Perfect Circle, those long layoffs have been a way of life.
“Actually, it doesn’t cross my mind until we put the shows on sale and then I start thinking about if people are going to see us or not,” said guitarist Billy Howerdel, who started A Perfect Circle with singer Maynard James Keenan almost two decades ago. “In 2011, the tickets went on sale and we didn’t know what the response was going to be. We had some pretty big places we were booked into. But the response was overwhelmingly great. Almost every show was sold out even though lots of years had gone by.”
This scenario is repeated for the band’s latest tour, which is now on the eve of the band’s first studio recordings since 2004, set to be released sometime this year. A Perfect Circle plays on April 14 at Reno Events Center.
In an interview from the Los Angeles studio where the band was rehearsing for the tour in early March, Howerdel said A Perfect Circle sticks pretty close to the original recorded versions of its songs in a live setting.
“We’ve done alternative versions before and I liked that, and it might be time for new ones, but I don’t know. I have mixed feelings about it. I think that fans of bands go to see shows and want to hear the song as it was written. I have seen bands deviate the form and it sometimes has been incredible. But my point is that we shouldn’t just do that out of boredom. I think making changes is admirable, but it has to be right.”
An immediate hit
The current band includes Howerdel, Keenan and James Iha, the guitarist best known for his work with Smashing Pumpkins during its commercial heyday. The rhythm section is from one of Keenan’s other rock bands, Puscifer: bassist Matt McJunkins and drummer Jeff Friedl, the latter of whom also plays with Howerdel’s other rock group, Ashes Divide. Both have been in the band since 2010.
A Perfect Circle’s revolution starts when Howerdel and Keenan met in 1992. Keenan was singing with his main band, progressive hard rock band Tool, while Howerdel was on the band’s tour as a guitar tech with soul/rock band Fishbone. The two eventually became roommates briefly in Los Angeles, which is where Keenan heard Howerdel’s songs and offered to work with him in a new band.
The group’s debut, “Mer de Noms,” was released in 2000 and became an immediate hit at alternative radio and in a subsequent tour. It reached No. 4 on the Billboard album charts and eventually went platinum, spawning the hits “3 Libras” and “Judith.” A second album, “Thirteenth Step,” was released two years later and continued the band’s streak of good sales and critical acclaim, with songs including “The Outsider” and “Blue.”
A third album called “Emotive” was released in 2004, and it was intriguing: it was all cover versions but with drastically altered melodies, music and sometimes even lyrics. The songs included “People are People” by Depeche Mode, “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Freedom of Choice” by Devo.
After “Emotive,” the group focused more on their own projects outside of A Perfect Circle. A live album in 2013 and sporadic tours took place in recent years. But now, the major label BMG will release the band’s newest album when it’s ready.
Working together apart
Howerdel said there will be between one and four new songs that the group will play live on this run. He said it’s hard to say if the new material is going to be similar to different to what the band has done before.
“The song we played yesterday was certainly the most outside of the APC box that we’ve been,” he said. “But then again, I don’t know. Another one sounded different for us in demo form and then when the band hunkered down and played it it sounded like us.
“I think that the glue happens in the form of humans coming together to play these parts. A lot of the drum parts were written with very clear intentions on the first record. It was almost like a Devo approach to some of them, but it was wonderful that (original drummer Josh Freese) took those jagged, sharp edges and put this human element into it. And that’s kind of where we are at now.”
With band members scattered far and wide, Howerdel said he and Keenan still collaborate with the songs but in a back-and-forth style instead of face-to-face in the studio.
“I typically work in solitude,” he said. “Then, I’ll see how far I get and send something to Maynard and let him chew on it. He’ll come back sometimes with a little idea for the songs. One we have, called ‘Feathers,’ I called him about and said, ‘Where are you at with this?’ And his feedback was that it was good but it needs a fourth part for the song.
“It’s really nice to not have it be something that’s just set in a certain way every time. One fthing that we do is to roll on something that it might sound like, but by the time it’s done it doesn’t really sound like a certain style or band. Sometimes we just name a band, Blondie or whatever it is, and then wink to each other and go, “OK, let me try that.’ But, it never sounds like PJ Harvey or Blondie or Cinderella or whatever. It’s just fun to throw that idea out and see what happens.”
Back to the Circle
One constant challenge for A Perfect Circle is just getting the group together at all to work on new material, with everyone busy with other projects also close to their hearts.
“If you would have asked me in 1999, I would have told that we would have had five or six records out by now, or maybe more,” Howerdel said about the band’s less than prolific work. “But as Maynard started to get more busy and we all started doing our own things, we just got less done. Tool is Maynard’s first child, you know, and I try to be respectful of that and not push it.
“It is a hard thing to be honest about it. You are in a band and you come from a position of power in it, but you always want to be respectful and sensitive to everyone’s schedule, especially with Maynard having his own band that he leads and that he put a lot of effort and time in to get it off the ground. I think that us having things that we are also passionate about deepens the band at this point. It makes you appreciate the time we have more.”