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Maynard James Keenan's Puscifer: Tool Leader Speaks on Enigmatic Side Project

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When you say the name of Maynard James Keenan's new recording project, Puscifer, it is "Pus as in Puss'n'Boots," says the Tool singer on a recent afternoon at Electric Lady Studios in New York. "Not as in a boil," he adds with a dry chuckle.

Keenan, working on the record on a rare day away from Tool's current world tour, explains that Puscifer "is my attempt to make music to inspire people. Heavy rock is sinking, the industry is dying. This is definitely not thinking man's music" — elliptically referring to Tool's dense, serpentine metal — "but groove-oriented music that makes you feel good."

The music Keenan previews at Electric Lady is suitably provocative, with a good-time roll. "Queen B" features a bee's nest of overlapping, processed vocals — including Keenan's own deep country baritone — over noir-ish hip-hop drumming, like Keenan's previous side outing, A Perfect Circle, in Tennessee-midnight-radio dub. "Dojo" is marching percussion and sinister electronics with what sounds like the death gulp of a Duane Eddy-treble guitar. "World Up My Ass" is Keenan's version of the 1980 Circle Jerks song — total psychic collapse as straight-up backwoods fun. "Country Boner" is delightfully offensive and something of an antique — a cover of a song by the Illinois garage band Electric Sheep, which featured pre-Tool guitarist Adam Jones and his high school buddy, Tom Morello, later in Rage Against The Machine.

Keenan describes Puscifer as "more of a collaboration" than a group. Contributors include Primus drummer Tim Alexander, guitarist-soundscaper Jonny Polonsky and, on vocals, Lisa Germano and actress Milla Jovovich. And Keenan says the music could end up as more than just an album, which he expects to issue in October. "I'd like to release it in different ways â€" maybe two songs at a time, every three or four months. You can do that now, with the Internet and MySpace. In a way, I feel like I'm standing in two places at once. I have my right foot in then, and my left foot on to the next stage.

"The industry needs an enema," Keenan says bluntly. And Puscifer, he hopes, is his contribution He has a very colorful title for the album but asked if it could stay off the record. "Oh, wait, you're a journalist," he cracks, figuring my promise isn't worth a wooden nickel.

Well, I can keep a secret. And don't worry — this one is worth the wait.

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David Fricke

Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke has more than 10,000 albums in his New York apartment. His first record review for the magazine was Frank Zappa's 'Sheik Yerbouti' (RS 290).

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