Maynard James Keenan Mixes Humor With Theater In Puscifer

Maynard James Keenan wants to make it perfectly clear that his latest project isn't a grab for any sort of brass ring.

"People will say to me, 'You should get back to doing Tool and A Perfect Circle, but I know you're probably just going for the money with Puscifer,'" the enigmatic Tool frontman says. "And I'm like, 'Dude, really?' If I was going for the money, I wouldn't be doing Puscifer, believe me. This is 14-hour days. We're on a budget. It's been pretty brutal."

Speaking by phone from Las Vegas, Keenan is discussing the launch of his elaborately staged tour in support of Puscifer, the side project built upon his love of watching music and comedy intersect.

"I guess it just comes down to what you're exposed to as a kid watching late-night television," he says. "[I grew up watching] everything from Monty Python and Benny Hill to Sonny & Cher to Hee Haw. It was always very interesting to me to mix comedy and music. If you go back and watch those old Hee Haw shows, they're hilarious, but they always had solid musicians playing. And of course, there's Saturday Night Live.

"I've always had an interest in figuring out how to put those elements together," he continues. "But it wasn't until now that I could financially afford it. Ten years ago, this would have cost a million bucks, but now with digital technology, if you have ideas, you have no excuse not to express them."

Those ideas manifest themselves in schizoid, kaleidoscopic fashion in Puscifer's wildly imaginative sets, designed and dressed with an eye for the obscene and ornate. Channeling one part Dr. Strangelove and one part Cabaret, Puscifer's stage show is partially improv-driven comedy and wholly inspired by Keenan's obvious affection for fusing World War II-era ambience and sultry, electronica-imbued, operatic rock. The live band consists of plenty of notable names, including Primus drummer Tim Alexander and PJ Harvey-channeling British singer Carina Round.

Keenan aims to change the game nightly: "For the traveling crew, we have two rhythm sections that we rotate each night," he explains. "For the most part, we are trying to do a different show each night. That's kind of why we are forcing our hand with double dates in a lot of places." Puscifer plays a two-night stint at the Palladium Ballroom this coming Tuesday and Wednesday, November 24 and 25. "There's no other way to convince people that things will be different every night."

Puscifer's record "V" Is for Vagina has been remixed twice: once under the title "V" Is for Viagra and more recently as "C" Is for (Please Insert Sophomoric Genitalia Reference Here), available as a digitally downloadable six-track EP. Distinguished by more electronic and pop elements than Tool's mammoth metal masterpieces, Puscifer's music sounds like that of a man stretching his id to the breaking point, but with a reasonable sense of humor and humility still firmly in place. Keenan appeared periodically on David Cross' sketch-comedy cult hit, Mr. Show, where the Puscifer moniker first showed up as the name of a fictitious band and where Keenan met comedian Laura Milligan and her husband Mike King—the eventual founders of Flea Circus Films and the team behind much of the darkly comic visual and video backdrops in Puscifer's shows.

"They were definitely a catalyst for a lot of the material we are doing," Keenan says. "As far as music performers, that's endless. There's stuff that's left flexible; it's not like everything is regurgitated word-for-word. We rehearse the hell out of most of it, but we definitely leave things open. We have three different sets. I feel like the dad from that movie Stepfather, you know? He's always pretending to be someone else and wakes up every day going, 'Who am I?' That's me every day."