A Perfect Circle break fresh ground after 14 years

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A Perfect Circle break fresh ground after 14 years

Words by Zachary Snowdon Smith

A Perfect Circle’s new album is their first since the Myspace era. Much has been made of the alt-metal supergroup’s reassembly after 14 years spent mostly on other projects. But this isn’t a comeback, says foudning member Billy Howerdel.

“The mechanism of time is going to do something to you, inevitably, but this isn’t a record that took 14 years to make,” says Howerdel of the band’s new album, Eat the Elephant. “We wanted to get out there and remember what it was to be A Perfect Circle onstage, and to translate that into the studio recording. That concentrated effort has very much been stamped onto this last year, not some sort of ongoing struggle.”

Howerdel began work on Eat the Elephant in January 2017 with Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan. In contrast to the churning and at times bombastic sound of APC, Howerdel takes a meticulous approach to composition.

“Letting growth happen, not falling into comfortable routines – I think that’s the most challenging part,” says Howerdel. “Self-governance is like trying to get off coffee. You can do it, but it kind of sucks for a while. I think we struck a good balance with this record. There are a lot of things from the past that we could have leaned comfortably on, but we tried to stay anchored to who we are while also moving forward. That’s part of the struggle of making a great record, especially after all this time.”

While Howerdel and Keenan shared a lead vocals credit on 2004’s eMOTIVe, the only voice on Eat the Elephant is Keenan’s. The decision emerged while the two worked separately, Howerdel at his home in Arizona and Keenan in LA with Mat Mitchell of Puscifer. As Howerdel assembled the instrumental tracks, Keenan sent him completed vocal tracks displaying a striking range. It’s difficult to believe that the voices at the centre of the ethereal ‘Disillusioned’ and of the ragged, outraged ‘The Doomed’ belong to the same person.

“It wasn’t really talked about – it was just the way it evolved,” says Howerdel. “With Maynard working away from me, I got to hear the vocals blasted all at once instead of it just trickling in. It was an interesting perspective to hear it like that, and to add the final touches. Maynard has so many different colours to his voice on this record.”

In 2017, Howerdel made his first foray into movie scoring, writing the score for D-love, an archetypal quirky indie-drama that went on to top the Kansas International Film Festival. Working on the film gave Howerdel a new perspective on collaborative composing, he says.

“You’re writing in service to the film, not to satisfy your own ego,” says Howerdel. “It gave me a lot of different ways to look at orchestration and colours in music, and working with a director to try to communicate her vision. I was trying to do the same sort of thing with Maynard – writing in service of getting Maynard’s best vocal performance.”

A Perfect Circle is currently preparing Eat the Elephant for a three-month tour of the US and Europe. Although the band won’t be hitting Australia, Howerdel intends to tour Down Under again in the future, he says.

“In the States, I particularly like playing Texas, and I think Australia is similar in that people are genuinely psyched to be there,” says Howerdel. “They’re not sitting there with their arms crossed. You feel a lot coming back at you.”

After the album tour, Howerdel intends to turn his focus to Ashes Divide, his cult solo project that has lain more or less dormant since 2013.

“I can’t talk about every little detail, but I will certainly be cranking the Ashes Divide engine back up when the time is right,” says Howerdel. “Actually, some of the songs that I thought were going to be on the next Ashes record have ended up on Eat the Elephant.”

In the meantime, Howerdel is focusing on retooling Eat the Elephant for live performance, in collaboration with Keenan.

“The record is done, but the process is still underway,” he says. “That’s the part I enjoy.”