Since 1999, A Perfect Circle has been gracing our ears with the sound of music that only a powergroup can. With musical masters Billy Howerdel and Maynard James Keenan at the helm of this ride, they continue to entrance us with the release of their greatest hits, Three Sixty. Nostalgia is a magical and transportive vehicle, and with A Perfect Circle driving, we certainly can expect the ride of our lives, and with Three Sixty just releasing on November 19th, that ride is here and now!
RockRevolt is extremely humbled to have gotten to spend a moment with the legendary Billy Howerdel.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What does a day in the life of Billy look like?
I’ve got two kids, so it looks like waking up early in the morning and getting them ready for school. And I’m pretty into cooking, so that kind of consumes a bit of the day! Lately I’ve been writing material for both my bands, so that kinda keeps me busy, and VERY lately doing a lot press for this release that is coming up, ThreeSixty.
You said you do a lot of cooking,—what’s your dish?
Oh, it’s not just one. I’m pretty cocky when it comes to cooking. I have to say, that’s one thing that I’m really good at. So, there’s fighting words! (laughs)
The line has been drawn!
Yeah—just don’t talk to me about being a better cook and we’re gonna be okay. I’m a little sensitive about it, as you can tell.
How dare you!
I have a different cuisine though, I cook Puerto Rican food. So maybe just different spheres?
Yeah, well, I love Asian cooking, Asian and Italian. You’re not touching on the Thai territory at all?
Not at all.
Good. All right, we can be friends.
(laughs) You started this band, and you’ve been in it pretty much non-stop from the beginning. How do you feel its grown from day one to what it is today?
From day one, it was a little loose. It was kind of getting together with my friend Paz, who I’d met through Adam Jones and Tool. I saw her play, thought she was amazing, and wanted to be in a band with her in some capacity. At the same time, I was living with Maynard as a roommate, and he offered the services of singing because he knew I was looking for a singer. That was an amazing surprise and then from there Maynard and I started working on music. I was writing songs, he got the first two which where “Orestes” and “The Hollow,” and put words and melodies down. It was shocking to hear the songs that I’d been working on for a long time come to life and have this reboot and reinvigoration to them. From there we felt like we had something, so we quickly booked a show, with an unrealistic deadline—I think it was some time in August, and this was probably in May or June.
It was fast and furious from there on out. I was working for Guns-n-Roses at the time in the studio making the Chinese Democracy record and I was there for about 2 ½ years, and so that was my day job—well, really it was a night job, so I’d get home from that, sleep a bit, work on the record and go to work and it got the point in September 99, I had to quit that job because it felt like A Perfect Circle, we were really going to try something with it, try to go shop a deal and go find a label to sign to. The Nine Inch Nails tour came up as a possibility and we signed with Virgin, and everything just kind of took off, so it was fast and furious back then. And after we did a couple albums and tours, and in 2004 my wife and I had our first child and took a couple years for that, and did Ashes Divide, my other band, and Maynard did Puscifer, and we kind of got back together a couple years later to do the 2010 tour, brush off the cobwebs and start again. So its been a little bit more sporadic since then, but all the time has been filled with something. It brings up to today to have a kind of retrospective look at the band from a studio standpoint and completely from a live standpoint with our release of all the records live and Stone and Echo concert. That was the longest answer ever.
What do you feel that have been some of the greatest struggles and obstacles you’ve experienced within A Perfect Circle?
I would say probably wanting to be a little bit more active than we have been, but understanding that was the nature of the band and how it was set up. I would say that’s just a little bit of uncertainty, but I guess that adds to the spice of it too.
There is that great feeling of release when we’ve come together and schedule a line and are able to do some live shows and things.
What do you feel have been some of the greatest joys and successes you’ve experienced within A Perfect Circle?
I mean right off the bat, right out of the chute, I think that just starting out like we did was just incredible. That time—I can still remember that feeling of putting out this record, opening for Nine Inch Nails and having the record come out and being the biggest debut release in history. Also, having David Fincher just finish our first video. The first record going platinum. It was all those things, and the feeling from those is just eally hard to reproduce and recreate. I think it would be hard-pressed to reproduce that time again.
We always had intention of releasing the content digitally. The box set that sold out was a very specific and intricate piece that is this kind of art piece that we designed. It was going to be more expensive and a more exclusive thing. It was always the intention to have this thing come out digitally, and it still might come out in a physical form later. We have some plans up our sleeve to do a different re-configuration of it.
How does it feel to you playing in front of a ton of A Perfect Circle fans? What does it feel like being in the zone?
Grateful. I would say during the show I’m not thinking about much—I mean things do come in and out—but you are in somewhat of a zone. I certainly get in that place where you have to have a concentration of sort in what you are doing—especially like on Sound and Echo at Red Rocks. That was, for lack of a better word, kind of an auto-pilot kind of thing; you know what you’re playing, your muscle memory is intact and you’re now able to experience and give more nuance and more emotion into the performance. So there’s not a lot of thinking.
Back to the 2010 tour, when we had to learn the material we hadn’t played for years, that certainly took more concentration. Relearning those 40-some odd songs that we did live over those three nights was definitely a different thing. I think there was more struggle in that performance, for me at least, just because it just came together, right before the first show while I was still practicing in the dressing room – trying to remember the songs we’d never played live (like all of the eMOTIVe songs) we had to reconfigure and retool for a live setting. They weren’t going to work as the record was recorded, and it just wasn’t doing itself justice in a live sense. So we kind of ripped them apart and reworked them.
And that was the really exciting part. Basically, over the past few years have been like the eMOTIVe tour. It’s been the reworking of these songs that are totally different than the release. That’s a really cool thing – to be able to go in and get really creative with something that was already a known. We were doing a cover in the first place, and then we’re doing kind of a cover of the cover.
You’ve released “By and Down,” which has been gaining much momentum. I’ve heard it played several times on Sirius XM Octane. Tell us about this song, where did it come from lyrically and musically?
The music was just me playing around with my three-year old at the time. He was playing piano, banging around on the keyboard, and I was just trying to play a melody to help have him follow along with, (use one finger instead of pounding with your fist), and the melody of “By and Down” just came out of that. I hit record on my phone, recorded the beginnings of that, the chord structure, kicked my three-year old out of the room, probably put him in front of the Wiggles or something like that on TV, and got to work on the song.
I’m going to have to start listening to my son when he’s playing piano now, I might get inspired! Throughout your career, what are some of the goals you haven’t been able to accomplish yet?
Putting out a fourth record! Looking forward to that some day. That, and also Ashes Divide. I feel like we put out the first record, and I’m proud of that record, and I’d like to get Ashes Divide off the ground and have that be something I can continue on with. You know, to be able to go on the road and have it be a self-sufficient thing and be able to continue making music and touring with it.
Which song of the A Perfect Circle discography would you want to be remembered for and why? What do you feel has been your crowning achievement in terms of music?
I’ve got some songs that are favorites—I’d say “Orestes” sort of sums us up in a song, as best it can, it doesn’t get everything but I think it’s a good overture to the band.
Tell us about your current gear. What are you using now?
I’ve always sort of used the same basic set up. I have a Gibson Les Paul classic 1960 reissue, and I use Tom Anderson pickups in that, and I’ve got a Marshall Super Lead 100 watt head that’s modified pre-amp—that and a Marshall 4 x 12 that’s my basic sound. For effects I’ve kind of changed things through the years, currently I’m using the Fractal Audio Axe Effects II, I went from a huge, huge rack with a lot of gear with like 130 connections down to this one piece that’s really reproduced everything quite well.
Is that the same you used for the Sound and Echo Live recording?
Yeah. I used the first version of that box for the 2010 tour, and Sound and Echo is the current one I’m using now, which I hopefully won’t have to change, for ever. But you never know.
With Thanksgiving being just last week, what are you most thankful for?
I am definitely thankful for health, family and all the obvious things, certainly every day that goes by, the people that you know that are around you—some are sick and some have passed it definitely becomes apparent how you always have to appreciate breathing.