Adam Jones knows what Tool fans want. As the group preps for a tour with Primus, which kicks off in January and currently has them playing in San Diego and a string of dates in the South, the guitarist and his bandmates are exploring ways to maximize their budget for what they themselves has described as “an unparalleled sonic and visual experience.”
“The way we’ve always done our live thing is to put as much money as we can afford into the production and make it as exciting as possible,” the guitarist, 50, says. “Our whole outlook on putting out a CD or making a T-shirt or a poster or doing something live is, ‘What would you want if you went, and did you get your money’s worth or did you get more than your money’s worth?’ I don’t want to make any promises, but we try to make it a really great visual experience. To me, it’s always been the visuals are first, and seeing the band is secondary. That’s what we would want if we saw a concert.”
Jones also knows what his fans are expecting. Within seconds of saying hello, he acknowledges that the group’s highly anticipated, still-in-the-works new LP is “going well” and that the trek is serving as what he calls a “little break” from writing. Earlier this year, he reported that Tool had won the years-long, Homeric lawsuit that had been stymieing the band’s progress and, in victory, they played a mostly instrumental new song excerpt they’re currently calling “Descending” at their Halloween show at Tempe, Arizona’s Monster Mash festival this year. The tune, he says, is like a preview to a larger song that they’ve been working on while writing the follow-up to 2006’s 10,000 Days.
“My philosophy has always been, ‘It’s not good when it’s done, it’s done when it’s good,'” Jones says. Here, he shares the band’s progress on all fronts.
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You’re hitting the road with Primus in a couple months. Have you toured together before?
We’ve done a lot of one-offs together. We’re always talking about how we should do a tour together. We’re big fans.
They played the same festival as you in Tempe on Halloween. Did you talk then?
Yeah. I got on the plane to go home, and I’m sitting next to some guy and he goes hi, and I go hi, and he goes, “Adam, it’s Larry [LaLonde] from Primus.” And I’m like, “Oh, my God. I didn’t even recognize you.” The last time I saw him, he had his hair dyed and it was shorter. We started talking and I said, “We’ve got to play together; we’ve got to tour together.” And he’s like, “Absolutely.” I got back and our manager had already talked to their manager about possibly touring together. The stars were aligned.
I was thinking the tour evolved from Danny Carey sitting in for Primus’ “Herb” Alexander, as he recovered from heart surgery last year. Did you get to see them play together then?
I just saw it online. I wish I could have seen it live. It was really cool, because Danny’s got a different style. They’re both great drummers, but it was nice hearing the music with a different flavor. Danny, to me, is the best drummer in the world. I’m not just gonna say that because he’s in my band, but I really think he is. I can’t tell you how happy I am being in a band with that guy. But it was exciting. The best part of the story is it’s a happy ending. Tim’s OK now and we’re all really thankful for that. They can go on with their career and make really good music.
Will you be using new visuals on the tour?
Yes, we always take out the newest lights and beta-test them for the companies [laughs]. We usually have lasers if permitted. Some outdoor venues won’t permit them and some indoor venues will have restrictions on how we can use them because you don’t want to hit anyone in the face or in the eyes. We try to tweak it so it’s entertaining and tap into some loose-based concepts and just try to take the audience by the hand and lead them all the way to the end of the show and have a good time.
Our video and lighting guys are almost like musicians. They play with us. I’ve had some people ask, “How much of the show is live? How do you get it synced up perfectly with the visuals?” It’s because this guy is almost playing a keyboard with us when we play along.
On Halloween, you played Lateralus‘ “The Grudge” for the first time in years. Will you be changing up your set list for the tour?
Yeah. Usually, Maynard picks set lists because he’s the one who’s gotta sing and get through it. Sometimes his voice is a little sensitive so he picks a certain kind of set list and sometimes his voice is right-on. I like playing different songs. I don’t want to keep playing the same songs over and over again.
Speaking of, you played a new song called “Descending” in Tempe.
Yeah, it’s a working title. We have a song that’s probably about 13 or 14 minutes long, so what we’ve done with it is … I don’t want to call it a “best of,” but it’s a shortened, different approach to it. It is a new song. It’s like a vague movie trailer to the real movie [laughs]. Sometimes we do jamming between songs or some kind of segues, and it’s usually involved in some kind of new material. But that one’s just a little taste of things to come.
That was more than a segue, though — it was written onto the set list.
Yeah. But sometimes you’ll see it and it will say, “Justin,” and Justin [Chancellor, bass] will do an intro or it will say “Jam” and we don’t have a name for it yet. “Descending” is the newest title of the song. We were calling it “B.G.” or “Bluegrass” or something. It had a funny name. Now it’s “Descending.”
Oh, cool. Yeah, the song’s amazing. It’s one of those things, too, where we’re playing this “movie trailer” version of it and we just want to go into the main part of it. The main part’s the best part, I think, but we just don’t want to give that away yet. We’re just doing a little taste test all the way through and put it together. I’m glad the response has been really good. But again, we don’t want to go too far with it because we’d rather just hear the end piece, and we don’t want people to hear the end piece until it’s done and everyone’s happy with it.
How is the new album coming along?
I’ll tell you, it’s wonderful. Things are really flowing and going really well, and I’m just blown away at the stuff that’s coming together. I’m excited and can’t wait for it to be done. It’s something I’ve been missing for a long time [laughs], that beautiful collaboration that we have because we’re all so different and have different tastes. But again, when you are all meeting in the middle and that thing you do that meets in the middle is just beautiful, it’s very rewarding. So yes, I’m very happy.
Earlier this year, you said you had 10 song ideas in various states. Where are you at now?
We probably have 20 potential song ideas now. Of course, 20 won’t be on the record. We’re just jamming. But I’ll tell you, there’s nothing better than having too many good songs then not enough. It’s great. You pick your faves.
Has Maynard heard the music?
Yeah. We have an FTP and a Dropbox and we’re in communication. He’s got other stuff he does, so we keep him in the loop, and he has written lyrics, but he’s still working on that and he’ll commit. The best thing for all of us is when the song is done. I don’t write leads until the song is done. You want to get a vibe. And Maynard can work on lyrics, but until the song’s done and he knows how the end is, he’s still figuring out the flow.
The thing with Tool is you have four critical thinkers who like different stuff, so our process is not an easy one but it’s a very rewarding one. So yes, he is exposed to new music. It’s always been this way and it probably will always be this way and it’s just how people work.
I asked only because he has been vague about the process in interviews.
I don’t know if you should believe everything you read. The Internet can be really great but the Internet can also be like the National Enquirer. People take things out of context and don’t understand jokes.
I figured he was joking when he said Tool “had to con [him] into” your Halloween show.
Here’s the thing: We get interviewed by journalists all the time, and I’ve known Maynard a long time, and he can be not the most patient guy and he can be very sarcastic, especially when you have some dipshit journalist asking you stupid questions or trying to trick you into answering something. Or maybe they’ve written an article about you that wasn’t favorable and now they’re interviewing you again. I’d rather you talk to him about it, but we all know that the stuff he does outside of Tool he wants it to be just as important as Tool, and the Tool fans are the main people who support that. And the Tool fans are the ones who made the other opportunities happen for him. So I don’t know why the fuck he would say something like that. But I do know he would be joking or he would say something really sarcastic if he wasn’t liking the interviewer or if it’s a joke taken out of context.
So if you’re a fan, I would ignore it and concentrate on the product that’s being put out and not really get into the silly, soap-opera situations that come up, like some bad Shakespearean play. I don’t know. But everyone likes controversy, right? Everyone wants to hear on TMZ that someone farted.
It sounds like things are good then internally.
Yeah, they are good.
Changing the subject, Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan told Rolling Stone recently that you two used to hang out in the early Nineties. How did you get to know each other?
Yeah. We had mutual friends, and we ran into each other a lot of different times. I’m a huge Depeche Mode fan. He’s a really sweet guy. And for as big of a rock star he is, he isn’t. He’s really down-to-earth and humble and likes to have fun and likes the same kind of things everyone else likes. He’s just your average good guy.
Lastly, other than this tour, what do you have planned for next year?
I’d love to tour more. It’s my favorite part about playing. But we do need to get back to the writing and get that record done, get some lyrics on it and make it really good. And then we can tour more [laughs].