Isis frontman Aaron Turner isn't stupid. He knows his band is certain to get booed by Tool fans when Isis head out on the road with Maynard James Keenan's collection of avant-metal cohorts. But that's not going to stop Turner from trying to open up a few minds.
"You're bound to have a larger meathead contingency in your audience when you open for a band as big as Tool, and we're very aware of the fact that a good portion of the people at these shows will be bored to tears or perhaps even angry while we're playing," said Turner, who also owns Los Angeles-based Hydra Head Records. "There's also a good chance a lot of 'em won't even be there and will be finding their seats as we're finishing up our set. In one way, we're really excited about it, but in another way, we're realistic about it too.
"Tool are definitely the biggest band we've ever toured with, but I don't feel like it's ultimately going to change things for us that much," he continued. "The hope is that we'll gain some new fans. But there's no delusions that by doing this tour we're going to come out on the other side being a much more popular band. Most smaller bands that open for a bigger band are likely to gain some new fans, but they're just as likely to be heckled off the stage."
Isis — who got together more than eight years ago — are a monstrous, thick and spiritual assemblage of musical experimentalists whose sound contains elements of heavy metal, punk and hardcore. Their complex compositions make them a perfect fit for the Tool trek, which winds down September 29 in Mansfield, Massachusetts (see "Tool Add 19 More Dates To North American Tour").
"We've done tours with a wide array of bands with the intent of trying to capture a really eclectic audience," Turner said. "I think that any band that has a style even slightly outside the box or a little bit difficult in some way or another, those types of bands — which I see Isis as being — are more likely to garner a really hard-core following, because it takes a person who's willing to dig beneath the surface to find out about these bands and get intimate with their music. That kind of listener's more prone to a more devoted, almost slavish obsession with a band."
While on the road with Tool, Isis will be promoting a pair of new releases: the band's debut DVD, "Clearing the Eye," which will be in stores September 26, and In the Absence of Truth, the follow-up to 2004's Panopticon, slated for release this Halloween. ("We picked a good date to release a heavy metal record, I guess," Turner laughed.) The DVD contains live footage the band started culling back in 2000. "It's the stuff we felt was most representative of us as a band and our evolution over the last few years," the singer said.
Releasing a provocative, cerebral metal album at this time is a smart move for Isis. With records from Mastodon, Sunn 0))), Botch and the Mars Volta (not a metal band, but certainly an outfit metalheads revere) on the not-so-distant horizon, Turner said he considers Isis part of a movement, perhaps even a revival of progressive rock and metal.
"Metal has been alive and well in the underground forever, and occasionally it pops its head up into the mainstream," he said. "Right now is just one of those times when it's got some more mainstream visibility. We're not ashamed to take advantage of that. But that's not to say that we're compromising ourselves or doing things differently than we have in the past. This is what we like to do. If we can absorb some of the trickle-down from these other bigger bands that are getting noticed at the moment and turn new listeners on to what we're doing, we're certainly going to capitalize on that.
"We want to be the kind of band that demands a certain amount of attention to really grasp the full effect of what we're going for," he added. "The way we approach our writing and the way we record, we purposely bury a lot of elements deep in the mix, so it's like little subtleties and nuances that are unearthed after repeat listens."
After Isis finish Tool's North American trek, they'll probably head over to Europe with the band, again in a support role for a monthlong tour. Turner said Isis also plan to travel to Japan and Australia for some live dates and are working on organizing a U.S. headlining run for either late fall or early 2007.
And believe it or not, Isis may even have a new album already recorded, one that came together almost accidentally. The band has been rehearsing with Montreal producer/electronic musician Tim Hecker, who remixed several of Isis' tracks for 2005's Oceanic: Remixes/Reinterpretations.
"We've been recording everything that we've been playing together," Turner said. "It was all largely improvised but based on some really basic premises and parameters. That might actually end up turning into another record for us."