With a Little Help From My Fwends is a new remake of The Beatles’ entire Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album put together by The Flaming Lips and featuring My Morning Jacket, J. Mascis, Miley Cyrus, Moby, Dr. Dog, Phantogram, Tegan and Sara, Grace Potter, Foxygen, MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser and many more. One collaborator stands out though: Tool/ A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan.
“We’ve known him for so long that you just don’t, you don’t remember what a fucking trip he is,” lead Lip Wayne Coyne says in the eighth part of a video series chronicling the making of the album. Watch below:
You’ll notice Keenan mentions his “twenty year relationship with kindred spirits, Steven [Drozd] and Wayne [Coyne].” If you’re not aware of what he speaks of, this post is for you: a brief history of Maynard and the Lips crossing paths for the past two decades.
1994 Spring Tour
It all began in Ye Olde 1994 when The Lips – on the tail of their Billboard Hot 100 career peak with “She Don’t Use Jelly” – were the opening act for Tool’s spring tour. The metalheads that came to see the headliners were antagonistic towards the Lips; apparently they didn’t take kind to shambolic psych alt-rock Flock of Seagulls covers. This tension between the crowd and the Lips energized the band. To this day Steven cites this hostility as a key factor in these shows being among his favorite of all time.
Apparently playing shows with The Flaming Lips influenced Tool’s Paul D’Amour as well. He left to pursue his own music shortly afterwards and according to bandmate Adam Jones, it was music like the Lips that Paul’s solo music shifted gears into. Below is an excerpt from Jones’ interview in the December 1996 Chart Magazine (issue 78) article “Tool- Barium For The Brain” by Robin Genovese:
“[Aenima] started out differently for Tool, undoubtedly because of the not entirely unexpected departure of founder bassist Paul D’Amour a few songs into everything. Five songs were already written with D’Amour when he decided to jump ship (“Stinkfist”, “Eulogy”, “H.”, “Pushit” and “Aenema”).
“Paul’s always been a creative force in the band,” Keenan explains. “But when you hear his new album, you’ll hear exactly why Paul’s not with us anymore.”
The bassist’s stint with The Replicants seems to have inspired him to experiment further afield. “He really did want to do his own thing,” Jones qualifies. “It’s good, it’s just different from Tool.”
“It’s beyond The Replicants,” continues Keenan. “If you were to take avid Bowie, Syd Barrett, Flaming Lips, Steely Dan, and The Beatles – and mix it up – you’d have what Paul is doing right now. Which is not what we’re doing.”
“Clouds Taste Metallic”
Michael Krugman and Jason Cohen’s “Flaming Lips Z to A” – an essay originally published in their Well Hung At Dawn column on rollingstone.com (July 15, 2002), and as an introduction to the Lips’ website created for the release ofYoshimi Battles the Pink Robots – made the following claim:
“T is for Tool. Here’s a lost tale of Lipsiana: the title of the rock-tastic Clouds Taste Metallic came from a story about sticking your head out the window of a small plane, told to Wayne by one of the dudes in Tool while both bands were traveling together on Lollapalooza ’94.”
Something’s a bit off here – Tool was on Lollapalooza ’93, the Lips ’94 (Krugman and Cohen are almost certainly referring to Tool’s 1994 tour with the Lips). In any case, which Tool dude told the tale that named the Lips 1995 album? Was it Maynard?
The Heart Is a Drum Machine
“What is music? Many of today’s top artists and scholars grapple with the question in this cinematic look at a uniquely human obsession.”
The above quote was the premise of Christopher Pomerenke’s probing 2009 music documentary The Heart is a Drum Machine. Among the “top artists” featured in the film: Wayne Coyne and one Maynard James Keenan (as well as Andrew VanWyngarden, Isaac Brock, Elijah Wood, Jimmy Tamborello, Janet Weiss, John Frusciante, Juliette Lewis, Nic Harcourt, and many others). The same film company also produced Blood into Wine, a film about Maynard’s wine making.
In addition to appearing in The Heart is a Drum Machine, Flaming Lips musical mastermind Steven Drozd composed its score. Although it’s mostly electronic instrumental music, there’s one stand-out exception: a collaboration with Maynard’s side project Puscifer on Elton’s John’s “Rocket Man.” Puscifer began performing “Rocket Man” at concerts in 2009, with live recordings surfacing online soon after. The studio recording with Drozd however was kept under the lid until early July 2010, when it started streaming at puscifer.com’s store and quickly circled the web. Three months later it became available on iTunes. The combination of these two figures, their two fanbases and their two sounds – focus on the vocals and it could be A Perfect Circle, but listen closely to the music and it could be a Yoshimi B-side – made for a buzz-worthy release in the summer of 2010:
“Officially credited to Puscifer & Steven Drozd (Flaming Lips’ lead guitarist) and dubbed Rocket Mantastic, the cover is a beautiful rendition of the 1972 classic.”
–X 107.5 Las Vegas, July 7, 2010
“Up to the task was Maynard James Keenan, a man whose pipes can unsuspectingly go from a whisper to a roar. On this particularly slowburning rendition, Tool’s frontman sings with such reservation that the slew of applied digital effects renders his voice almost unrecognizable. The expansive tone of Drozd’s “Rocket Man” and the liberal use of electronic enhancements really lend the song a celestial quality; only the listlessly strummed acoustic guitar seems to be pulling things back down to earth.”
–adequacy.net, January 14, 2011
At the time (specifically July 07, 2010 6:57 PM) then Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock complained on The Flaming Lips message board: “Puscifer featuring Steven Drozd”??????? Steven did everything on that track except for the lead vocal.” Steven explained to themusicslut.com in April 2010, “I recorded the entire song with Maynard James Keenan virtually via iChat & e-mail. I recently heard that Elton John & his camp loved it which is so great.” Listen to Steven discuss the collaboration and why the Lips shows with Tool in 1994 are among his favorite of all time below:
Steven went into greater depth about the collaboration with phoenixnewtimes.com in January 2011: “They were interviewing Maynard for the music documentary but they then they were also doing…I think they did a documentary about him and his wine making. And they were out at his ranch in Arizona and they told him that I was doing the music for the film and he said, “oh, you know, Tool and the Flaming Lips toured years and years ago and me and Steven use to do a version of “Border Song” by Elton John. We should do that for the film.” But he was wrong it wasn’t “Border Song,” we never played “Border Song,”
I love Elton John but I don’t really like that song, it was “Rocket Man.” If we were playing somewhere and they had a grand piano there in the auditorium or in the concert hall I was always dicking around on them back then and then Maynard would come over and we’d sing a couple of songs of Elton John and other soft-rock ’70s stuff.
So the other interesting part was that through e-mails and ichats and everything we communicated. We literally never got together once, we literally never spoke on the phone, it was literally through e-mail and iChat and all virtual. I did the basic tracks, I sent him a basic mix of it, he imported it into his home studio, did all the vocals and he shipped all the vocals back to me individually and then I put ‘em back in the mix and mixed the track and sent him a rough of it to see what he thought of it and we just back and forth over the course of six weeks. So eventually we came to a mix we all liked and Ryan and Christopher liked it and that’s definitely one of the highlights for the whole thing for me. I really like that version a lot.”
Hanging Out and Tweets
In recent years they’ve crossed paths at music festivals like St. Paul’s River’s Edge Fest in June 2012 and hung out together. They tweet birthday wishes and other occasional messages at each other:
“Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite”
Despite distractions (his wife was delivering their baby) and not being familiar with the song, Maynard delivered the vocal performance the Lips were looking for to finish off a backing track of “Mr. Kite” by Sunbears for a full album remake of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s. Get the finished track on the new album With a Little Help From My Fwends, out October 28th on orange fluorescent vinyl, CD and digital (and streaming now).