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A Perfect Circle’s Billy Howerdel talks Maynard, living in the moment and raw art

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Deanna Rilling

Your last show in Vegas was back in 2012. What are your thoughts about the city? It’s an extension of mine [LA], kind of. A quick, cheap flight makes it an easy get to for us, so it’s the outer suburbs of LA, how about that? I’m just kidding. I mean I love going to Vegas. I probably like it more than a lot of people that get burned on it after two or three days and I think if you hit it too hard, obviously that can happen. But I like the desert, and I like going to Vegas. There’s just so much to do, it’s awesome.

Do you guys have the same lineup for this tour? Yes, same lineup it’s been since 2011—Jeff Friedl on drums, Matt McJunkins on bass, James Iha on guitar and Maynard [James Keenan] singing.

What is the composition process like on the latest APC music for you and Maynard James Keenan? It’s through the mail and over the Internet. I work here in my studio, just me, and I’ve been working on these songs for a long time in different forms. I’ve sent off things to him, but didn’t want to overwhelm him throughout the years, so he’s been kind of chewing on these for a while, and now it’s to the point where he’s asking for some modifications, so it’s a collaboration, a musical conversation. He’s saying, “Take out your scissors, cut the song up, put in these different pieces rearranged and let’s see what that sounds like.” So that’s where we’re at right now. He was texting me about two minutes ago with notes on something I sent him yesterday. I’m trying to do my best to get him to a place to be inspired to write, too.

Will there be a new APC album in 2017, and maybe some new material played on this tour? That is the idea. If all goes well, we will have a new record out in 2017. It’s a creative human process, and you never know what’s going to happen, but I feel pretty good about that possibility. As far as new music on the tour, again, I’m not promising anything, but what I see happening is us playing a few songs. They might not be in complete finished form, but we get to test them out on you guys and see how it goes with reactions, see how we feel about it.

Maynard is famously protective of how the music is released and about preserving a vision. Do you worry a crappy camera-phone video will end up on YouTube? It’s inevitable. All we can do is say what our intentions are; what people do is what they’re gonna do. Of course, we would like to have control over how we release material, and getting paid for it would be wonderful, but even more than that, it’s just being present in the moment. Everyone wants a little memento or keepsake from the show, but the memory stored in your head and your heart is more important. I’d just rather people be in the moment. But believe me, I’ve been at shows where I’m tempted to whip out a phone and record a snippet, so I understand.

APC sounds so timeless to me. Why do you think that is? At the risk of sounding less than modest, that was the intention. I said, “If I do something, I just want it to be something that someone can listen to right now in 1998 or they can listen to it in 2028.” To be timeless—if I had one intention for the music it was that.

In a way, it kind of restricts you from getting too much hands on “today’s sound;” it’s just not that kind of band. And I like those bands. I think bands like Depeche Mode have stayed relevant for decades, and they very much stayed on the cutting, bleeding edge of technology. I mean now, that’s in EDM and the next form that comes after to just impress the listener with, “Wow, how the f*ck did they pull that off?” But that’s not our thing. Our thing is a little bit more about connection, and hopefully people can still stay connected to it in years to come.

What was it like for you to go from fan and guitar tech to collaborating with Maynard? It was extremely flattering having him offer to sing. It blindsided me—I didn’t expect or anticipate that at all. I mean, he was in Tool, and that wasn’t a thing I thought about, people being in multiple bands.

“Orestes” and “The Hollow” were the first two songs he sang on. It just felt like, to both of us, we had something special. I had some really tough critic friends out there that don’t give compliments who were saying, “You’ve got a sound going here.” That was enough for me to know, okay, this is something I should put—well, I was already putting all my energy into it—how about putting all my money into. It was kind of an all-or-nothing moment for me.

Speaking of multiple bands, what do you have in store for your other band, Ashes Divide? I’ve been writing stuff for years and I’ve been struggling with the idea of it being called Ashes Divide for the next record or it transitioning into some other name, because the aesthetic has deviated quite a bit from what got released on the first record. I’ve been considering getting a partner and someone to sing with me on it. So I’m still kind of working on that as I’m working on APC. There might be a surprise; Ashes Divide might show up unannounced at a few of these shows.

APC has covered numerous songs with political overtones. How do you think the current political climate in America will affect music in 2017? Severely. Even my most apathetic friends are affected by this. You can’t not be. Whatever side of the fence you’re on, you can’t ignore how toxic and how emotionally disruptive this whole thing has been. It has extracted primal instincts out of adults that are usually reserved for prepubescent teen angst and anger. It’s a holy sh*t moment. So I think the arts are going to respond. As bad as things are, at least you’ll get a lot of real rawness out of the arts.

A Perfect Circle With Prayers, April 6-8, 8 p.m., $55-$115. The Pearl, 702-944-3200.

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