A PERFECT CIRCLE
Billy Howerdel (guitar, etc.)
Paris – Friday March 2nd, 2018
“It’s hard for me to speak about music. It’s easier for me to just do it because, then, I don’t have to think. It’s a language, you know”
You could have handled promotional duties for Eat The Elephant with Skype sessions but you chose to do it face to face…
We do it whenever we can. Yeah, it’s nice. Sometimes it’s only phone. Skype si next best but it’s always best face to face.
Three songs out of it have been released so far. You have been doing interviews with people who had the privilege to listen to the album during the last few days. Are you satisfied with the first reactions? Are they up to your expectations – if you had any?
I don’t really think about being satisfied or not. I think as time goes and it’s easier for me to kind of separate expectations, to just write what we find our hearts are in and just see how people do with it. We also try to make the best record we can. You can’t worry too much about what people will think about it. Maybe we’ll make a different record next time…
I suppose there are some songs you appreciate more than others on that record?
I have favourites on the record. I think “The Contrarian” is probably one of my favourite songs on that record. It’s hard to say because they are all your babies. I also think the first one that come out, “Feathers”: Maynard’s lyrics are just touching to me. Very beautiful. I don’t know what it’s about and I don’t pay a lot of time with the lyrics. When Maynard offers something, I listen but I don’t pay attention to what it’s about and that song in particular, I don’t know. That’s the beauty of music: it’s just interpretation… So it’s nice for me to be able to write just music and just step away as a fan once the thing is done and see it as a finished thing. And then, it’s not me anymore: it’s sealed, it’s forever. It’s just to be heard so I’m looking forward to experience the new record once all of this stops like the press and getting ready for the tour and everything like that. Then, I’ll be able to experience the record a little bit.
Eat The Elephant is to be released on April 20th, 2018. On April 20th, 1902, Pierre and Marie Curie refined radium chloride. In, April 20th, 1961 saw the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. And in 1972, Apollo 16 landed on the moon. How do you intend to mark history with Eat The Elephant on April 20th, 2018?
No intention. No intention. Just, you know: it is what it is. We put it out and we accept what it is and what it becomes.
Just releasing the best album then? It’s been14 years since the release of the previous album so…
I think it comes to… Not the lack of ideas but arrangements of schedules and other endeavours. Maynard has a lot of things going on, he is very passionate about wine, we both have other commitments… I have my own project (Ashes Divide), he’s got his (Tool, Puscifer)… I’m always writing music to present to him but the creation on this record has been… I look at it like 2017 was the year we made this record, not the years prior.
For the very first time, an outside producer – Dave Sardy – was involved. Why was this new organisation required and how would you rate his impact on the album?
It wasn’t really required. It was something I wanted to try. Try something different so as to get an outside view on this but mostly so because I could do this: come on the couch, get away from the computer, get away from the files, get away from thinking about scheduling and budgets… And I wanted to look at the big pictures of the songs and not be far inside them. It was just a thought, an idea when I started. I’m usually tracking myself when I’m playing guitar, hitting keyboards, programming, playing bass, etc. And then, here, I just sit back and have somebody else do it. I can say “Can I have another track? Can we have a duplicate? Can I have more have that?”. It’s different. You know, it’s hard for me to speak about music. It’s easier for me to just do it because, then, I don’t have to think. It’s a language, you know. So when you have to really think about it, it makes me think music in a different way. So I thought about getting an outside producer might be an interesting way to achieve that.
You seem to have appreciated that experience. No regret no to have done it before?
No! I go back and forth. It was easier and harder at the same time. Parts of it that were challenging and parts of it that, I think, really worked. I think there’s a combination of the two. In the past, we still had help with production from Danny Lohner who, on the second and third record contributed to ideas in a similar way that Dave did with this record, things we were not thinking of: another colour, another perspective… And it was always nice and welcome. It’s hard in the moment because you might be standing your ground like “this song is only this way”. And then, you listen up to, trying to be better about loosing up to the idea and the suggestion like “OK, we’ll sort it out later”…
You’re the unique writer – music-wise – within the band. As well as the lead guitarist. So guitars could eat the all thing. I would say that the use of guitars is very humble on the album… It’s not dominating but very highly relevant: less is more? Am I right saying so?
I think it’s accurate. I wrote this record on piano mostly, so a lot of times, it was written with piano, keyboards and maybe bass and then guitar after, as a colour on top. There wasn’t many driving songs with guitars. Maybe “Delicious”. Or the original version of “TalkTalk” but I stripped it all away and it became just keyboards and the guitars at the very end. So mostly keyboards but I’m not a very good keyboard player so it was interesting to write like that. You fumble around and if you find it sounds interesting, you keep going on it. I don’t have any history with keyboards. It was just a different approach and I think it’s easier to just… It’s more traditional, a lot of people do it that way: left and right hands and they write songs that way.
The writing process was then very different than on the previous releases.
Yeah, the other albums were started on… Sometimes a drum beat, sometimes the bass or the guitar but not as much keys.
You’re not handling vocal duties on that album. Was it a will or it just happened that way?
There was just a little bit but Maynard sings the whole record.
Why so? He felt like he had to do the whole record?
Well, you know, we didn’t really talk about it as we worked remotely. In the beginning, we worked together a little bit but mostly… He’s in Arizona, I’m in Los Angeles. So I fed him tracks on the Internet and he responds to them. And as he was presenting vocals as I started working with Dave – he would send vocals and they sounded great. He has different characters to his voice so that it was almost difficult to hear if it was him. That’s one of the reasons why I liked to sing in the past: to give a different angle, a different characteristic. Here, we just kept rolling and as Maynard sounded great, we just kept it that way.
I have difficulties identifying the best word or the best emotion to describe the album. I’ve been through a real rollercoaster of emotions! My first thoughts went to “refined/purity”. Then it went to something more about “elevation/uplifting”. The more I listen to the album, the more I discover things and the most complicated it becomes to describe it. Are you satisfied seeing me as grateful and confused?
That’s good! Yeah, kind of satisfied. I think that adds to the desire to keep listening and to have it not just that moment in your car or in your bedroom when you first heard it. Next week, next year, as it grows it means different things so you can tap into those different emotions and different colours. Then, I feel that we’ve made a successful record.
Do you agree with the words I picked, such as “refined”, “elevation”…
It’s very nice, thank you. I haven’t really thought of it, though. I listen and it feels like I don’t have to describe it and think about it: I welcome whatever comes that way.
I read that “Talk Talk” went through several versions before ending on the record. Could you tell me more about it?
The first version on my demo was in a different time signature. And Maynard said “I like it but I can’t hear my voice on it… Can you try to change the signature?” So I was just playing with different beats and that’s a very difficult thing to do because you chop a bit out and everything changes. That song took the longest to bring back. But there are not multiple versions with his vocals or anything like that, nothing to present. We had it started and then agreed in the direction of the overall song and finished it from there.
Do you actually consider A Perfect Circle as a whole artistic experience rather than just music?
I think we’re getting there. I think it’s always a growing thing and I look forward to more in the future.
In tying in the music to other forms…. More visuals, more… I just think we don’t know what the future withholds. Technology could be integrated into our art. And so with time willing… We’ll get into that. So I look forward into that and I’m not sure exactly what I can say…
Playing live with projection of some sorts?
Yeah, there was almost a chance that our album Thirteenth Steps was gonna be used as the base of the soundtrack of a movie. I was excited about that, thought. I don’t think this record’s done in this form. I think there’s a way I’d like to run with this in an acoustic or unplugged or symphonic kind of approach.
What are the next for the band?
We do some shows in America in April and May and then we come here to Europe for June. After that, Maynard goes and does wine harvest. And I will probably go into more music creation.
Like it will be Eat The Elephant will only have a short cycle of life?
No. I think there will be more to come. You gotta talk to him (point out his manager)! There’s more to come and we’re just trying to arrange and figure that stuff out.
A Perfect Circle is to play Hellfest for the very first time this Summer. What do you actually know about Hellfest?
I know that’s more like a carnival, a circus kind of theme. Attention seems to have been paid to visuals. I’m really looking forward to it.
To conclude, here’s the line-up for 2018. You like it?
It’s amazing. Looking forward to seeing Judas Priest. I met Rob Halford. He came to our house where Maynard and I lived together when we were making the first record. We only had about 5 or maybe 8 songs ready. We played him all the songs and he picked “Judith” as our first single. We wanted to go with “3 Libras” first and we were determined. He said “you can do what you what but if you release that single first, you will sell one million records on that song, I promise you”. Really? We didn’t hear it as a radio song at all so we owe him for kind of directing us down that street. I also like Deftones and I haven’t seen these guys for a while: that’s great. Stone Sour: we just met these guys in Mexico and Corey (Taylor) was very cool. Oh, and Napalm Death: great voice!
Many thanks to Olivier (Replica Promotion) and Laurent (BMG France).