Interview with Billy Howerdel of A Perfect Circle & Ashes Divide
Adam Rauf, Staff Writer
Billy Howerdel has been around the music scene probably longer than most of you have been alive. However, what makes him unique is the fact that he was the man working behind the scenes for bands like Tool, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, and even David Bowie! But what he was best known for was starting the amazing all-star band A Perfect Circle, originally with Maynard James Keenan [Tool], Paz Lenchantin [Zwan, Papa M, Entrance Band], Josh Freese [NiN, Devo], and Troy Van Leeuwen [Failure, Queens of the Stone Age].
The supporting cast has more or less been a revolving door, with Maynard and Howerdel being the foundation. The duo eventually decided to put A Perfect Circle on hold in 2004 to work on their own respective projects, mainly Tool and Puscifer for Maynard and Ashes Divide for Billy. But, you can’t stay away from a great thing, and both Howerdel and Maynard decided to reunite A Perfect Circle for a few shows and perhaps more. Let’s get into the head of a songwriting genius and see what he has to say, shall we?
Adam Rauf (BTS): First of all, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview.
Billy Howerdel (A Perfect Circle): Thanks, I appreciate it.
Rauf BTS: So, I think the question on everyone’s minds is what made you decide to get A Perfect Circle back together?
Billy Howerdel: Well, it was all about timing. There was a gap in Maynard’s schedule, and we’ve been wanting to do this for a while. With Maynard pressing grapes and all, and it getting into the colder season, it was just a matter of good timing.
Rauf BTS: What is the lineup of this incarnation of A Perfect Circle going to be?
Billy Howerdel: Well myself on guitar and vocals, and Maynard on vocals obviously. We also have James Iha on guitars, Josh Freese on drums, and Matt McJunkin on bass. Matt plays bass in Ashes Divide, and also in Puscifer. He’s not new to us, just to the A Perfect Circle family.
Rauf BTS: Were the other members pretty much ready to go, or were they involved with other things they had to take hiatus from as well?
Billy Howerdel: Everyone had to do some shuffling, and everyone had to figure out how to make it work. Josh has been playing with Weezer and Devo and constantly tours with them. Everyone else was working on stuff, obviously Maynard with Tool, Puscifer and his winemaking, James with his solo project, and Matt with Puscifer as well.
Rauf BTS: Maynard had in a Revolver interview from 2007: “So I thought it was time to let A Perfect Circle go for now and let Billy explore himself. It’s tough for a guy who went from being a guitar tech [for Tool] to being in a band with a pretentious, famous singer and having to live in that shadow. It was important for Billy to go and do his own thing and really explore his own sound and let people hear what he has to say and how he would do it on his own, and then we’ll get back and do some A Perfect Circle stuff.” Was that the main drive for Ashes Divide?
Billy Howerdel: Honestly, if A Perfect Circle was set up different in the beginning, it’d be a different story. Maynard’s in a great, successful band [Tool], and in between we were gonna do our own things. When he’s busy with that, I’ll do my solo project. Right around 2005 after eMOTIVe and Amotion, I had time to start formulating what Ashes Divide was going to be. It took about two and a half years to do it right. It just worked out that way. It gave me space to do that, it gave Maynard space to do his thing in Puscifer, and what comes naturally, and whatever the next offering will be.
Rauf BTS: How much did you enjoy doing Ashes Divide? Is it on hold for now, are you planning on keeping it going concurrently, or are you done with it altogether?
Billy Howerdel: It was great! I’m still writing. I’m always writing, but it’s not always just for one project. It’s up to fate to see where it goes, and see what the aesthetics are. More Ashes Divide is on the horizon, and I might do a show right after the A Perfect Circle tour. It’ll probably be a west coast show since we’re already out that way with A Perfect Circle, but we want to go out in January, and maybe release a mini EP. Kind of an early-mid winter tour and go out for a few dates, maybe even hit the east coast. We played on the east coast in 2008 with Linkin Park, but it was a festival situation. We’d like to do club shows this time around and hit some big cities.
Rauf BTS: Besides the 5 cities planned, do you have anything else on the radar for A Perfect Circle right now?
Billy Howerdel: Nothing is set in stone. There are things for the future, but we’ll see what it looks like during and after this tour. The way the shows are going, we’re going to do an album per night. It’d be great to someday do the same thing in other cities. There hasn’t been real talk of that yet, though.
Rauf BTS: As you said and that I’ve read about previously, the shows were going to be basically an album at a time. Reviews were fantastic for Mer De Noms and Thirteenth Step, but critics were harsh on eMOTIVe. Do your fans feel the same way, or have they embraced the album of covers as well?
Billy Howerdel: We’re excited to do it. Covers records are not generally well-received. All of my peers have told me that, but we wanted to do it anyway. We didn’t play verbatim versions of the songs. We wrote new music for a lot of these tracks, and they have to be a hybrid between old and new. We’re really excited about playing those songs. None of it has ever been played live. Well, we did play the Tapeworm song [“Passive”] back in 2001 or 2002, but it was way different from the record.
Rauf BTS: I also saw that you guys are playing on Kimmel on October 27th. Any exclusive info on what songs you guys are planning to play for the studio audience?
Billy Howerdel: We’re still working that out. I just know we’re on the outside stage though. We’re setting up to do four songs, but they may not air more than just one or two.
Rauf BTS: I think this is another thing everyone wonders about: are there new songs lurking out there for A Perfect Circle?
Billy Howerdel: We’re gonna try and offer something new. I’m full-blast trying to figure out how to make these shows happen first. We just did two rehearsals recently with just Josh, Matt, and I. It sounds really good. We were grinning right after it, but we only ran through eMOTIVe and part of Thirteenth Step. We’re excited about it but also thinking about how to pull it off live. The new stuff is on the backburner, and I’m waiting to hear Maynard’s response on the songs. We have some initial ideas, but it’s yet to be known where they will go.
Rauf BTS: I’m kind of interested in hearing those songs that had Jarboe on it on Thirteenth Step [“The Noose” and “Lullaby.”]
Billy Howerdel: We’ll just kick Matt in the balls and have him sing like Jarboe. [laughs]
Rauf BTS: There were inklings that initially, you guys would only be working on new songs for soundtracks, or releasing a song a month kind of plan. Has that changed over the years since the hiatus?
Billy Howerdel: We’re talking more of the idea of an album: basically, a collection of singles that will formulate a full album, kind of like a photo album. There’ll be spurts of material, we’ll see how it goes, and wrap it up with shows afterward. There are lots of ideas on the table, but that’s one.
Rauf BTS: Has the fact that the music industry changed over the years caused this to happen?
Billy Howerdel: Yeah it has. It’s definitely relevant to what’s happening right now: pleasing someone’s appetite. Me personally, I’d rather make a record, only because it’s the way I grew up. I like to eat the food I eat because of the whole process of it; it’s important to have a record, unwrap, cherish it, what will it sound like when the needle hits the record. There’s an anticipation…a buildup…it’s not as disposable. It fucking sucks that it’s lost these days. Obviously, people still care about music. Those of us that are called these dinosaurs, I know it’s that we always say that we cared more. You took the good with the bad, but you saw the beauty of it, with the restraint of hearing the whole record, not just the single.
It’s weird when we hear people say that they’re looking forward to the next Burger King commercial with the hooky song, and they’re okay with the music that they listen to in that fashion. It feels like that, but it sucks. I’d rather make a record, but I’m only one man in the band. Maynard’s still gonna work on Tool, Puscifer, and the winery. To do a full record/tour…that’s another story. That’s not happening, at least not right now. It could change, though.
Time won’t allow it at this moment, but I always have my eye on the big picture. If it looks like an album later, I’ll do my best to make that a body of work in the right time frame. There will be a span of time where the next era of A Perfect Circle will take place, and we’ll approach it responsibly. We’re not giving in to that fast-food mentality. Accountants say that’s what people want. But then again, we’re not accountants.
Rauf BTS: Yeah, I definitely feel like when I listen to a record, I want to hear it start to finish. I always tell people that I’m an album-at-a-time kind of guy. Sounds like you are too.
Switching gears now, have you tasted Maynard’s wine yet? Any recommendations on what people should try first?
Billy Howerdel: I’ve tried a bunch. I’ve had the Caduceus stuff, and have not tasted anything bad yet. I’ve had the Nagual de Judith which is good. I feel weird giving endorsements, but it’s honestly not some celebrity whim offering. He’s extremely passionate about it. Anyone who cares should check out the documentary [Blood Into Wine]. There’s a sincerity and authenticity to it, and there’s a real passion for this. He wouldn’t be making wine out there if he was looking at just cashing in. He’d be selling mortgages if he was trying to make a buck.
Maynard’s trying to trail-blaze something unique, and it wasn’t the path of least resistance. It’s really difficult to do out there both environmentally and politically. He wants to add value to what he considers his home. I don’t mean just his house, but in Arizona in general. I commend him on that.
Rauf BTS: I actually have to ask, due to your looks and also because you used to be a tech for them, do you ever get confused for Billy Corgan when in public?
Billy Howerdel: It’s funny that you ask that. It’s happened twice, and they were both over sixty years old.
Rauf BTS: For the guitar geeks out there, what’s your current rig set-up for this next tour?
Billy Howerdel: My rig back during the previous tours was bigger in size. Now it’s smaller, but bigger in capability. I’m still using the same amp: a Marshall 1978 Super Lead 100, modified by Dave Friedman by Rack systems. He makes some amazing stuff, and can make amps sound fantastic. There are a lot of custom amps that he works on that are just amazing that I’d love to have, but just don’t have the money for it.
Rauf BTS: I think that it’s funny that most people think “Oh he’s a rockstar, he can buy whatever the hell he wants.”
Billy Howerdel: Trust me, if I had the money, I’d be buying a lot of that stuff, custom amps from Dave and the whole works.
But continuing on, I use a Fractal Audio Axe-FX Ultra. I had one for Ashes Divide, and now I’m reprogramming it for APC. My main distortion comes from the Marshall amp. I also use a Gibson GA-15RV, I think. I’m a gear guy, but I’m not so well-versed when it comes to the exact model number. But it’s the other key to my guitar sound.
Rauf BTS: Are you still going to be head honcho for writing the new songs, or will it be more of a collaborative effort?
Billy Howerdel: Yeah, I think so. When I bring stuff in for A Perfect Circle, I usually do a mock-up on the computer. I pass it to Maynard, take it to the rest of the guys and try to make it sound human. Then we flesh it out from there.
But you know, someone like Josh will come up with some great drum parts and we have some flexibility on this stuff.
Rauf BTS: Sometimes it amuses me to realize that not a lot of people realize that Tim “Herb” Alexander [Primus] did drums on “The Hollow” from Mer De Noms.
Billy Howerdel: Yeah, that’s true. When we did our first tour, Josh did our first show, Tim did the next eight, and Josh did the rest.
Rauf BTS: Okay, I have to throw in a random closing question here. What’s your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?
Billy Howerdel: Flax oatmeal is my big new thing this month. Gotta be the right kind or it tastes nasty.
Rauf BTS: Well thanks again for doing this interview, man. And best of luck on the tour and hopefully it leads to more!
Billy Howerdel: Thanks, it should be a lot of fun.
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 20 – A Perfect Circle, who announced their return from hiatus last week, have announced a five-city, multi-night tour for this fall with ticket on-sales slated for this week.
Phoenix, Los Angeles and Seattle tickets go on-sale on Sept. 24 at 10 am pst. Las Vegas tickets are on-sale the same day, Sept. 24, at 12 noon pst. Tickets for the San Francisco shows are on-sale on Sept. 26 at 10 am pst. There is a two ticket limit on all shows. A very limited number of VIP packages will be available for each show. The two different packages are: 1. Wine tasting, meet and greet, admission ticket; 2. Meet and greet, admission ticket.
Shows in Phoenix (Marquee Theatre), Los Angeles (Avalon), Seattle (Showbox at The Market) and San Francisco (The Fillmore) will be three-night stops with each night featuring one of A Perfect Circle’s three albums in its entirety (Mer de Noms, Thirteenth Step and eMOTIVe). Las Vegas (The Pearl) will be a two-night outing (Mer de Noms and Thirteenth Step).
November 4 Tempe, AZ Marquee Theatre Mer de Noms
5 Tempe, AZ Marquee Theatre Thirteenth Step
6 Tempe, AZ Marquee Theatre eMOTIVe
8 Los Angeles, CA Avalon Mer de Noms
9 Los Angeles, CA Avalon Thirteenth Step
10 Los Angeles, CA Avalon eMOTIVe
12 Seattle, WA Showbox at the Market Mer de Noms
13 Seattle, WA Showbox at the Market Thirteenth Step
14 Seattle, WA Showbox at the Market eMOTIVe
16 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore Mer de Noms
17 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore Thirteenth Step
18 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore eMOTIVe
20 Las Vegas, NV The Pearl Mer de Noms
21 Las Vegas, NV The Pearl Thirteenth Step
Images Courtesy of: (In order) – header image – John Darwin Kurc, skating-bob, ocweekly, exclaim, VH1