Earlier this year, Tool guitarist Adam Jones told a group of fans that the prog-metal heavyweights' next record was not only done but would be coming out the next day – then he waited a beat and tacked on "just kidding." The fans groaned and laughed, but the next day a website reported Jones' joke as news. "It just took off," the guitarist says. "I wrote the guy who runs the website, but he never wrote me back and he didn't change it." The group later released a statement explaining that no, the next Tool album is not yet done.
The truth is, a new Tool record is far from completion. It's been eight years since the quartet put out its most recent record, 10,000 Days. And while both Jones and drummer Danny Carey tell Rolling Stone that they have more than enough raw musical ideas for an album – and one close-to-complete track – a variety of outside forces have stymied the band's creative progress.
"The fans are pissed at us," the guitarist says. "And while part of me is selfish and goes, 'I'm not necessarily doing it for them,' it's time that they understand what's going on."
Although both Jones and Carey acknowledge that two albums ago, when they were creating 2001's Lateralus, they could settle into a lengthy creative process that external obligations now prohibit, the biggest problem has been a multi-level lawsuit that has weighed on all of the group members. This stemmed from a claim that a Tool associate had made against the group, but it eventually spiraled into the labyrinthine legal equivalent of a Laurel and Hardy routine, amounting to "who's suing whom."
Initially, in 2007, a friend of Jones' claimed that he had created artwork for the group for which he wanted credit. But the suit got complicated when an insurance company that Tool thought would defend it against lawsuits turned around and sued the band over technicalities regarding the case. The band then filed a countersuit to defend themselves against the insurer's claims and now, seven years later, Tool are still deeply mired in litigation with the insurer. The case is scheduled to go to trial in January.
"The whole thing is really depressing," Carey says. "The bad thing is it's really time consuming. As we've gotten older and our priorities have changed, it's hard to get the band on a good, solid schedule as it is. People have kids now. And there's lots of other things that pop up. To throw this into the mix, it makes everything that much worse and stresses people out."
"And it's costing millions and millions and millions of dollars to defend us," Jones adds. "And the fans are all going, 'We want a new Tool album. What the fuck?' And you don't want to pull people into your problems, because they don't understand.
"But the point is, we're fighting the good fight," he continues. "We're going to trial and we want to crush them. But every time we've gotten close to going to trial, it gets postponed and we've wasted money and time and it has just drained our creative energy. We bought an insurance policy for peace of mind, but instead we would have been better off if we never had it and just dealt with the original lawsuit."
The good news for fans is that, through the turmoil, Tool's musical songwriting core – Jones, Carey and bassist Justin Chancellor – has been slowly writing music. By the drummer's estimation, the trio has "gotten through the toughest part of writing," which is coming up with the raw musical ideas for songs. From there, they piece the songs together, send them to vocalist Maynard James Keenan and begin to refine them. "It's time-consuming that way, but it has worked really well for us," Carey says of the group's creative process. "It gets stressful at times when outside influences are dragging you down rather than pushing you forward."
So far, the process has yielded one song that Jones describes as "pretty much done." Carey says the yet-untitled track is at least 10 minutes, in which it "goes through lots of changes and it's got really heavy elements."
In fact, "heavy" is a word both band members use to describe their new sounds. "Sometimes I feel we get a little too proggy or too into exploring time signatures but not getting heavy enough for my taste," Jones says. "There are some good nose-bleeding riffs happening, and I'm really happy about that. It's not out-of-the-gate crazy heavy, but there are these little journeys with nice paths that end up very heavy."
"It's all a little more 'metal' sounding, if I may," Carey says with a laugh. "I'm having fun drumming on it. There is one other song [beyond the 10-minute tune] that I would say is pretty much there. It's another one that's pretty gnarly with some good double-kick [drumming] going on in it."
The drummer says that the song ideas may change with time, especially after Keenan adds vocals. Currently, he reports that the music has the group's usual "crazy, hard-prog element to it," and that he's experimenting with percussion textures and synthesizer parts of songs. He says that fans have already heard some of their ideas as bits and pieces of segues between songs on their most recent tour.
Ultimately, the band wants its fans to understand that it is working hard to make an album that lives up to the standards of its past releases. The guitarist likens the group's work to an oil painting by an old master, where examining it reveals "the brush strokes and the struggling and the suffering that the painter went through." It just takes hard work to get there. "I find it so hard to be creative when you have something awful nagging at you, just stuck between the hemispheres of your brain and affecting your sleep and your relationship with other band members," Jones says. "We have such a strong creative freedom in this band. It's like we've been in a war." He sighs. "And it's unnecessary. It's just a shame."
"I'm hoping that we have something really solid recorded by the end of the year," Carey says. "But we'll see how it goes. I thought that last year, too." He laughs. "But we're making great progress. We've really knocked out a lot of good things, especially over the last month. We're all excited about it."
"It's not good when it's done, it's done when it's good," Jones offers. "We've been working at our own pace, but we don't want to put out something and go, 'This song's fine, just put it out.' I'm never gonna put something out where later, I go, 'Fuck, I wish we hadn't done that.' We're just not going to settle for doing anything but our best work, and the fans appreciate that."