To characterize Puscifer — the side project of Maynard James Keenan — as a departure from anything else the enigmatic Tool frontman has done before would be an understatement of mythic proportions.
Gone are the foreboding atmospherics that have pervaded Keenan's work with both Tool and A Perfect Circle, as is the disconsolate libretto that's become something of a Keenan trademark. Instead, Puscifer is all about groove-oriented, shake-that-moneymaker melodies, designed to — believe it or not — brighten one's spirits.
"This is absolutely just put-it-on-and-move-your-butt -and-get-completely-out-of-your-head music," Keenan explained. "This is purely body candy. It's meant to make you feel like I feel when I hear James Brown, when I hear some old Jackson 5 or or Aretha [Franklin]. It's just that good feeling — music that makes you feel good. There's no math. Nothing wrong with math, but sometimes, it can be exhausting to be that forced, that focused. I'm a big King Crimson fan, but only when I have the energy to be. Sometimes I just want to hear Gnarls Barkley."
The yet-untitled debut LP from Puscifer, which Keenan has been working on for more than a few years, should be in stores this fall — "October something," he said. Not exactly what you'd call a solo outing, Puscifer are comprised of a revolving door of contributors, including multi-instrumentalist Danny Lohner; songstress Lisa Germano; Telefon Tel Aviv's Joshua Eustis; Jonny Polonsky; Primus' Tim Alexander; model Milla Jovovich; Tool guitar tech Matt Mitchell; and dark ambient artist Lustmord.
To date, Keenan has released just two songs and one remix, all on film soundtracks. He claims to have more than a dozen tracks in various stages of completion — including "Dojo," "Queen B" and "Country Boner" — and has been working on the LP at New York's Electric Lady Studios.
Constructing Puscifer material has proven rather cathartic, Keenan said, giving him a much-needed break from the enormity of Tool.
"After a while, writing songs that have all this emotional attachment to them can really wear on your soul," he explained. "The catharsis is writing the song and recording it. But then you have to go onstage every night and rip open those scabs, every night. That can be really emotionally taxing."
While Keenan does intend to release Puscifer's debut album this fall, he'll do so without the backing of a major label. Really, he'd rather not release a record at all but instead issue material in piecemeal fashion digitally, via online music retailers.
"I think what we're doing is trying to get a collection of songs together, a thing that we used to call a CD, what we, back in the day, used to refer to as an album," he joked, "with the intention of setting a precedent — 'OK, this is what we sound like, this is what I sound like, I'm working with different people' — and then hopefully, I'd like to abandon the album format; just come out with two tracks every three months or every five months.
"Because this is not only a musician collaboration, but a visual- artist collaboration as well, I want to put out limited runs of CD singles, with specific artwork by specific artists, and a full-length CD as a collection, but I'm not married to that idea," he continued. "I'd like to do it one or two songs at a time, so that I still have something up my sleeve for when a decent film comes out, that wants some mood music in it — if I have something that makes sense, great, I'll do it. It will show up there."
Alas, he's just one dude, and his pockets are just so deep. While he'll fund the album's release in the U.S., he'll still need to license the material out for international distribution. And to be honest, Keenan said he's not so sure that releasing the songs digitally, and not giving people "something they can touch," will catch on — but he certainly hopes he can help change the standard music-industry model.
"The dinosaur's not dead yet," he said. "The tar pits are nice and warm and he's just grazing on the edge. Hopefully, the dinosaurs of this industry will sprout wings and figure out a way to rise above the tar pits. I don't see it happening. They really are clinging to some ridiculous, big, heavy, lead-filled rock. They're not thinking outside the box at all."
For Keenan, Puscifer aren't just about the music. The project's very much merch-driven, and will incorporate fashion as well.
"I'm working with companies with clever ideas for merch — not just T-shirts," he said. But there are Puscifer shirts available for purchase on the band's Web site, and Keenan's goal for his fashions is "something like Paul Frank meets Gucci — when I say that, I mean in terms of limited quantities. I want to do small runs of stuff — 50, 100, 150 at the most — and move on to another thing. That'll make it more special, more unique. I don't want to end up with a warehouse of stuff no one wants. If I make a thing and there's 100 of them, and nobody wants them, then I'm only stuck with 100 things, and now I've got some Christmas gifts to unload on my friends."