Entirely intended as a compliment, I do not know if there is a more interesting person in hard rock today than Maynard James Keenan. The man generally known as “Maynard” is the frontman of three active bands, Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer. None of these groups are predictable in terms of how often they are going to put out new material, and all three sound very different from one another, yet they all manage to play large venues whenever they hit the road.
Music has turned out to be only one of Maynard’s areas of success. Aside from his efforts as an actor, he is a winemaker. One of the two wine labels, Merkin Vineyards, also has a popular restaurant in Cottonwood, Arizona, the Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room & Osteria. Per my phone chat with Maynard, I also learned that he has a pizza truck in the works, as being helmed with Chef Dirk Flanigan. Highlights of our interview are below, while more information on A Perfect Circle and its new album Eat The Elephant — APC’s first in 14 years — can be found at www.aperfectcircle.com.
Check out the A Perfect Circle track “Disillusioned” here.
Your fanbase as a musician is as devoted as it comes, but that does not necessarily translate to the food or wine worlds. Do you ever worry about having to prove yourself in those different areas?
Maynard Keenan: You have to think about it. You’re making wine, and making wine is the easy part of it. You’re up against three hurdles. First and foremost, the lack of understanding for the potential of buyers and wines out of Arizona. Think of the dryness and the heat. Actually our largest challenge is cold and moisture, because monsoons in the summer, those bring frost because we’re high desert between 3,200 and 5,000 feet. It’s more like Argentina or parts of Piamonte. That’s the first part that people don’t get.
The second part is, for me specifically, I’m making wines with more restraint. We’re cropping a lot less on our vines, anywhere between a ton to two and a half tons, generally speaking, per shoot, then picking earlier. We’re making wines that are 12.8%, 13.5% of alcohol. In the big world of score-driven wines, those don’t show up on the radar. Most people with scores are making Metallica wines, and my wines are more Pink Floyd. I have to figure out how to see my way to the end of the bottle and figure out what’s going on in it then just a big kick in the face. That’s the second hurdle.
The third hurdle is “rock star making wine.” Everyone is just trying to call bologna on that. That’s not the case.
In the bio for the new A Perfect Circle album, “Dairy Queen” is jokingly referenced as inspiring the band’s getting back together. Who came up with that?
Keenan: There’s a writer who has a podcast called Drinky Fun Time named Dan Dunn. He put out a book a couple of years ago called American Wino. He basically went to every state in the U.S. and found the obscure wines and vineyards in 48 states. He’s an old friend. I think Arizona is his final chapter in the book. I kind of reached out to him to write a bio that made sense.
So you yourself are not too into Dairy Queen, to be clear?
Keenan: I’ve had a few Buster Bars in my day.
On the new A Perfect Circle album, do you have a favorite song?
Keenan: No, sir. For me it’s a whole experience, from start to finish. If you really want to enjoy it, you should probably get your favorite glass of wine, or your favorite glass or tequila or whiskey, get headphones, and sit down to listen to it from start to finish in order, song by song. But that’s just me, that’s my suggestion, it’s not up to me. But if you’re asking, I would say sit down and listen start to finish.
The band just came out of a long hiatus, but is the plan to stay active? Or do you just take things one project at a time with A Perfect Circle?
Keenan: One project at a time. Of course every year is harvest, so the wine always takes precedence during that season. It’s just one project at a time.
When you’re not busy with wine, music or family, are there any other hobbies you tend to pursue?
Keenan: Food, developing recipes…
Overall, is there something you wish more people knew about you? I ask because you’ve managed to be one of the few people in music that is mysterious yet literal.
Keenan: I think they know plenty.
So any last words for the kids?
Keenan: Work hard, stay in school, and don’t eat mediocre food – unless you really like it.
Check out “So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish” from the new album by A Perfect Circle.