Maynard James Keenan is one of the most celebrated musicians in popular music, let alone in the world of metal. Yet, Keenan has typically shied away from the limelight for someone so well regarded, rarely granting interviews and often remaining subdued during his band, Tool‘s live performances.
After graduating high school, Keenan joined the US Army before attending Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After his training at the college, he moved to Los Angeles to work in interior design and set construction. However, music had played a vital role in Keenan’s growth as a young child, and he soon formed Tool with his friend Adam Jones shortly after he arrived in LA.
Despite being ultimately considered a metal band, Tool pushed the boundaries of the genre with their substantial use of visual art and the fact that their albums were often extended in length and complexity. They have since been adorned with the terms ‘art rock’ and ‘progressive metal’.
Tool are also noted for their fractious relationship with the rest of the music industry. The band members, including Keenan, insist on keeping their private lives to themselves. Fortunately, the band have occasionally given interviews.
One such interview with Keenan revealed the Tool frontman’s early musical inspirations. Naturally, he is interested in metal, but we are also afforded a glimpse into where Keenan draws inspiration for his often philosophical and sensitive lyrics. Here, we’ve compiled a short list of the albums that influenced Keenan’s personal and professional lives.
The albums that influenced Maynard James Keenan:
Blue (1971) – Joni Mitchell
Keenan was inspired at a young age by Joni Mitchell‘s beautifully crafted fourth studio album that she wrote during an intense relationship with James Taylor. Blue explores the problematic facets of romance, particularly in ‘A Case of You’ and ‘This Flight Tonight’.
“That was my aunt,” reveals Keenan. “Now she sees me going down the spiral of Kiss and Black Sabbath, and she goes, ‘hang on, check this out.’ I don’t know how she managed to express all this in such a short, concise period of time to a kid who was watching monster movies on Saturday.”
“But she was actually able to convey to me, here’s a person who’s a woman, who is writing her own songs, who is producing and mixing and releasing her own songs.” Keenan added. “And it’s a woman fighting this uphill struggle in arguably a man’s rock world. So that sunk in right away for me. Even as young as I was, that made sense, like, ‘Oh, this is somebody who is going against the grain in a way.'”
Black Sabbath (1970) – Black Sabbath
Unsurprisingly, given Tool’s heavy metal sound, Keenan found a deep love for the pioneering metal sound of the world’s first metal band. The album’s titular track ‘Black Sabbath’ was once described by Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford as “probably the most evil sounding song ever written”.
“That was the moment when I was watching those monster movies on Saturdays – all jacked up on sugar at grandma’s house,” Keenan said. “And so I think that’s when my aunt came up and was like, ‘Oh, you gotta check this out. If you’re going to watch vampire movies, check out this soundtrack.'”
“And it was Black Sabbath, pretty amazing,” added Keenan. “So I just had that. I would turn the sound down on TV and just listen to the album watching the monster movies.”
Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1977) – Devo
Keenan drew great inspiration from the peculiar sound of the American new wave band’s debut album. It was produced by ambient legend and producer extraordinaire Brian Eno between 1977 and 1978, with much of the recording taking place in Cologne, Germany.
“Out of left field approach to them just making an attempt to destroy classic rock with their melodies and their approaches,” Keenan said. “If you listen to some of those early albums – most of them are, in my opinion, I am not a lawyer – a lot of those early songs seem like they are direct rip-offs of classic rock songs, just sped up and quirked out.”
“So you listen to them, it’s like them trying to stiffen up classic rock into this weird, digital quirky nature,” he added. “I just love that. Again, it took me outside of my conventional understandings of music as it goes.”
Things We Lost In The Fire (2001) – Low
The fifth studio album by the American indie rock heroes takes a special place in Keenan’s heart for its patient approach to rock music. Low performed the album in its entirety for All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Don’t Look Back concerts. The album’s dark nature led to universal acclaim for the band.
“The restraint and the patience. I’ve had a lot of friends over the years, [in] all my projects, [and] I’m always the guy going, ‘If we slow this down, it could be such an intense thing,'” Keenan said. “Because understanding the patience that Pink Floyd have when [they’re] not playing the note yet – wait until this thing finishes its emotional cycle before we play the next note.”
“That discipline is so difficult for musicians because they’re looking for the payoff right away,” Keenan added. “So in this album, Things We Lost In The Fire, there is so much patience and restraint. Just the patience between notes and hits. It’s such a gorgeous display of ‘No, there’s a bigger picture here. We’re creating a mood.'”