Puscifer thrives on the unexpected, the weird, and not doing what an audience anticipates at a normal rock show.
Puscifer, the brainchild of Tool and A Perfect Circle front man Maynard James Keenan, is now 10 years old. With three groundbreaking studio albums, remixes, and singles under their belts and many, many tours, Puscifer is no longer some new side project or indulgence. Keenan, lead guitarist Mat Mitchell, bassist Paul Barker, drummer Jeff Friedl, keyboardist/vocalist Mahsa Zargaran, and vocalist/guitarist Carina Round continue their Money Shot, Round II Tour as they traverse the States from coast-to-coast.
I was able to catch up with Round during a busy day of interviews, sound checks, and shows.
Are you in Pittsburgh today? What do you do before the shows?
Yes, I’m in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, today. I didn’t do much of anything today. Yesterday, I found a Bikram Yoga class within driving or Uber distance. There hasn’t been a lot of working out for me, so I need it, and I made it a priority. I also like going to places with art things…galleries. [Laughs] Wow, I guess you picked the wrong person to ask questions today. [Laughs]
How is the tour progressing so far?
Great. The audiences have been really receptive. Puscifer thrives on the unexpected, the weird, and not doing what an audience anticipates at a normal rock show. I think our fans are more open-minded to what we do. We can pretty much do whatever we want, and people will be up for it.
I think some people know the story of how you came to join Puscifer, but some may not. Walk us through that process, if you would.
Mat Mitchell saw me play my own music at a venue in L.A. three years prior. Then Juliette [Commagere], the original member, dropped out; she couldn’t do the tour because she was promoting her own record. I auditioned; I guess that’s what you would call it. I went to Jerome [Arizona], and I showed up at Maynard’s home covered in bedbug bites, and I looked like the Elephant Woman. I did a show in Las Vegas with a friend a few nights before, and our hotel was completely riddled with them.
I sang “Humbling River.” I think that my audition was just to make sure I wasn’t either insane, terrible, or to make sure I wanted the gig. Mat was basically vouching for me, and Maynard just wanted to meet me. We drank some wine after the audition, and I stayed there for a few days. It’s impossible to be around him and not enjoy at least one glass of great wine. Wine and my bedbug medication were a strange combination. [Laughs]
You were pretty established as a songwriter, vocalist, and instrumentalist before working with Puscifer. I heard you worked with some big names, like Dave Stewart and Brian Eno. Were you still in England then?
I was already in the States when Mat reached out. I lived in [Los Angeles] for five years or so. I put my first record out in England and Dave Stewart [Eurythmics] picked me up. I signed to his label, and [the album] didn’t get picked up. Then I released it myself and Dave picked it up again. Finally, Jimmy Iovine [Interscope Records] picked it up for the U.S. I had four records out before meeting Mat; I put Tigermending out while touring with Puscifer.
As for Eno, Dave Stewart and I go back nearly 15 years or so. Dave knows Brian Eno, and that’s how I was introduced. He gave me a track that he and Brian had worked on in Eno’s studio during the ’80s. Brian gave me a keyboard synth line, and he said, “Write a song around this.” Before I put it on the record, I sent it to Brian and Dave. We [Eno and I] wrote together, but we never met. It was more of a long-distance collaboration.
Are you able to write while you’re on tour?
Yes, of course, but it’s harder to do. I can’t just sit down for 30 minutes and write; I need days or weeks of being locked up in a room to write properly. I can write lyrics but not music, or put together a whole idea. There’s not a lot of time on the road, and I’m not in the proper frame of mind.
Your live performances are so theatrical, beautiful, and even absurd or humorous. Do each of you have a say in the presentation of your live events?
It’s really between Mat and Maynard; it’s those two that are the brains behind the show. We have meetings, and Maynard has crazy ideas. We can throw in an idea or two, but it’s those two that really call the shots.
Maynard throws out some wild ideas, and we try to make it work. The craziest idea was doing an entire show performing all our songs as country versions. That was the beginning for me, so I just kind of said nothing and was baffled. Now it would just be water off the duck’s back.
Is Puscifer a democracy or a benevolent dictatorship?
Mainly it’s a vehicle for Maynard’s vision. Mat and Maynard are the core songwriters, and then I come in and add something now and then. In terms of the creative process, if you’re there at the time it’s being created, and your ideas get used, then you get publishing on it. It’s a democracy in a way, because no one is telling you what to do. If your gift is being used, and if it’s part of the process; then you can do with it what you want. It’s ultimately the producer’s choice. No one is micromanaging, but it is a selective process that has to happen.
How would you explain songwriting to a nonmusician?
It’s a wide spectrum. My songwriting process is utterly different than the typical professional writing process. I can fit into them both, however. Every single artist that writes a song would tell you the intricacies of writing, but they’d all be different. The main thing is to be available in the moment and let what needs to come through, come through.
Keith Richards once said that good songs are out there, and you just have to put your antenna up to catch them.
Yes; that’s a simplistic way of putting it, but that is the easiest way to describe how it feels. When you feel it happening, it does kind of feel like it’s coming from somewhere else, but it’s really coming from you and your deepest subconscious. I guess sometimes it comes from your conscious self, and you have to be open to what comes from the subconscious, which is a giant mess, and then craft and shape it with your conscious self.
What tracks from Money Shot did you enjoy recording the most?
“Agostina” is the big one for me, just because I’ve known Maynard before he was married and had his child. I was around during the birth, and every time I hear that song I want to cry. It’s so beautiful, and so is “Galileo,” especially the harmonies. And then, who doesn’t like rocking out? [Laughs] I enjoy playing “Money Shot” every night.
What would you do if you weren’t a musician?
I couldn’t do it right now, but I’d be a writer. I haven’t spent my life honing my writing skills, so I’d have to dedicate time to it. Travel writing and food writing would be great. I’d like to be a movie watcher for a job. [Laughs] Or maybe, something that’s intricate like a weaver. My mom’s a seamstress. She creates clothes to order or designs them, and she’s amazing.
Did you grow up with a sewing machine?
I did. My mom was into it, and I learned from her.
Are there any current artists that you would like to collaborate or record with?
I haven’t been asked that question in quite a while. Let me think for a minute. Dr. Dre would be pretty cool. Let me look at my iTunes. Then again, it’s all old—mainly Bowie. I’d love to come back to that one.
Do you miss England?
Sometimes. I miss the four seasons.
How does social media inform your artistry and or connection to your fans?
I think social media can be useful for an artist like myself. Millions of people look at it. You have to be able to observe and not be affected personally. I just like to kind of absorb it.
Do you miss playing guitar live?
No, not really. I like the freedom to run around, and it’s a more balanced show with Maynard and I running around. Mat’s got guitars covered.
How do you approach vocals from a studio and live setting?
When I play my music, I can go crazy and do whatever I want. With Puscifer, by the time it gets to a live setting, it’s pretty much set. In the studio, you can experiment, but by the time it’s live, it’s locked in.
How do you blend your voice with Maynard’s?
Our voices blend and work well together. I don’t do anything that doesn’t work; I listen to what he does and make choices that will complement his vocals. I make choices that are going to sound good. Originally, Maynard just wanted to see if I was versatile, tasteful, and that I wasn’t an insane egotist.
Do you feel like you’re playing a character in the Puscifer show, or are yourself?
I feel like I access a part of me that I wouldn’t access at breakfast at a diner. It’s the perfect me for that show, but maybe not the one you’d want to see every day.
Is there a visual artist who reflects your music through their art?
When I was 16 or 17, I was influenced by Egon Schiele [Austrian artist, 1890–1918]. There’s a woman named Amy Cutler [New York artist and illustrator], and that’s who I took the name Tigermending from: One of her pieces of art had that title. Her paintings are really beautiful and mysterious. It was very clear in the painting that the tigers were coming apart in a field, and they were laying in the laps of women sewing them back together. It had so much meaning to me, and it blew it my mind. She has a lot of beautiful work. I have reached out to her on social media and invited her to a show. That piece (Tigermending) was shown to me by a friend, Norman Jean Roy, and his wife, JoJo. We were having dinner, and they showed me her art before we left for the night.
Can you paint?
I get the urge once in a while, but not often. I guess my art isn’t horrible. [Laughs}
Any memories of St. Louis?
There was a great tapas restaurant there. Also, one of the crew members is from St. Louis, so maybe we’ll see more of the city this time. | Doug Tull
Puscifer will be playing the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis on April 22, 2016, as part of the Money Shot Tour, Round 2. Remaining U.S. tour dates are below.
04.12 | Bergen Performing Arts Center, Englewood NJ
04.13 | Count Basie Theater, Redbank NJ
04.15 | Borgata, Atlantic City
04.16 | Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Providence
04.18 | The National, Richmond VA
04.19 | Raleigh Memorial, Raleigh NC
04.20 | Louisville Palace, Louisville
04.22 | Peabody Opera House, St. Louis
04.23 | Orpheum Theater, Memphis
04.24 | Brady Theater, Tulsa
04.26 | Orpheum Theater, Wichita
04.27 | Citibank Auditorium, Lubbock TX
04.28 | Popejoy Hall, Albuquerque
04.30 | TCC Music Hall, Tucson
05.01 | Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego