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Exclusive! Interview With A Perfect Circle Guitarist Billy Howerdel

By Laurie Steele, On-Air Personality
Sunday, July 25, 2004 @ 11:13 PM

Guitarist and Composer Howerde

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When you think of A Perfect Circle, probably the first thing that springs to mind is the eccentric frontman Manyard James Keenan. However, the actual mastermind behind the band is a former Fishbone guitar tech by the name of Billy Howerdel. He went from schlepping band equipment to producing, engineering and composing both of APC’s brilliant and haunting albums, Mer De Noms (2000) and The Thirteenth Step (2003). Read on to find out a little more about the man behind rock’s most eclectic band…

KNAC.COM: Billy, this is your brainchild, your project, for lack of a better word, that you conceived and, to my understanding you originally had in mind a female singer. What made you change your mind and do you feel that it was the right decision to go the way you went?
HOWERDEL: It was just a ... it wasn't a hardcore thought or something I was trying to stick to exactly, it was just something I probably mentioned early on and people ran with it. When Maynard presented the idea of us working together and I thought it was a great idea, you know? I think he's a great singer, I was a big fan of his before we had worked together, so it was an easy...easy thing to discard the female vocal part. Someday I might bring that back into my desires for looking for a female singer or something like that.

KNAC.COM: I know that the band came together as a "supergroup" for lack of a better word, and to be honest, I know that you were a guitar tech. Is this the first real project that you did other than teching for other bands?
HOWERDEL: Yeah. Definitely. Well, I mean I had a little 3-piece cover band kind of thing when I was playing guitar for 6 months, like when I first started playing... other than that, which is barely notable, this is my first band, for sure.

KNAC.COM: Because it is your first project, I don't have the same point of reference to ask you this question as I would if I were speaking to one of the other members of the band, but I'm going to throw out at you anyway and see if you can't answer it maybe through conversations you've had: Being that so many members of the band come from other bands [Tool, Marilyn Manson, Smashing Pumpkins], they have names that were generated prior to this project of A Perfect Circle. Do you think that made it easier for the band as a whole to get the opportunities that A Perfect Circle has gotten, or do you think it's had to work just as hard to prove itself as a new band as any other new band would?
HOWERDEL: I don't know. It probably goes both ways. Sometimes those names can help you, sometimes they can hurt you.

KNAC.COM: How so?
HOWERDEL: The obvious part is helping you, you know, like bringing in built-in fans, um, of those other projects we've worked on, and I'm sure we've got plenty, and especially with Maynard from day one, he would have a built-in audience with Tool. But you know, when we started out, we were playing 200-seat venues and not selling out, you know, and just... it takes time to get your name into people's brains and get on the radar of you know, people out there. The Internet helps a lot, but it just... it wasn't as easy... you know, we had big breaks in the beginning, you know, we got on the Nine Inch Nails arena tour, opening up for them, uh, we had David Fincher produce our video, we had a real focus from Virgin Records... I think that combined with Maynard's built-in reputation kind of launched this thing quickly into some success. Now with the addition of the new guys, I mean, it's... you know, it's hard to say if they weren't there or they were. I would certainly say that their past careers have helped tremendously, but, you know, it could be... I don't know, the whole supergroup thing. I never know how to take that. Is that like a stab, or is that like a compliment? But like, it's just... probably on paper as a classification it makes sense, you know. These guys have been in a lot of bands, but at the end of the day, it just... this feels like a band because we've been out for 11 months and it's been... you know, the chemistry is there, and it's been there from the first couple weeks we've been together.

KNAC.COM: Just to clarify, it wasn't a stab. When I say supergroup, it's more because you don't have to start, say, as a local band and work your way up. You have the built-in opportunities... you touched on how things helped you. How about hurting you?
HOWERDEL: Well, I mean, just that. I think expectations... um, the word supergroup. When you say that word, probably some horrible ‘80s... Damn Yankees band comes up, or something like that. Probably not something that would be helpful in any way to us. Um... so, I guess, just that. I don't know. You never know. And you know, people prop you up to cut your head off sometimes, and I can see that as a reality, and I just... I would never go ahead and initiate that categorization, but if someone says it, we just go ‘okay,’ nod and continue on. I don't know. It's a weird... we always joke about it.

KNAC.COM: How is it for you personally, being that you kind of got slingshot into this on such a meteoric rise, to go from being the one tuning the guitars and mic checking to being out there performing? From knowing both ends of it, give me the pros and cons of both.
HOWERDEL: Well, in the beginning, in 2000, when we first started out, we were... I had no idea how much press you would do for a tour, and especially getting a band up and going and um.... probably bands that have been around for a long time would practice for years and then get a break and then it would kind of trickle in and then they'd be swamped with it, but we were really swamped with it right off the bat, and, you know, this whole thing, the way it was set up was done so with unrealistic goals and momentum that was, you know, doubled every week. And... Maynard and I had decided “let's put out a record by Christmas 1999,” which was completely unrealistic, but it really did kick us in the ass to get going and get it out by May, which is to get it in the record company's hands by January or so. And um, from there, doing all the press in the beginning, just made it so you couldn't focus on even taking a breath into going “this is great, ok what's next? what's next? what's next?” And little sleep and all work, and from there, it was hard to... it was hard to reflect on it ‘til later, I guess is my point, and once I could, and now I can reflect on it and say like... I liked what I was doing, I mean, I liked being a tech... I wouldn't want to per se do it again, but there are certainly things that I do that are technical that I enjoy, but more in the studio than in a live situation. I'm interested in engineering and producing and try to use those skills with this band... basically to save money in the beginning. That was really why I would do it. I would love someone else's opinion, but, at the end of the day you wind up paying them money that I could probably do it myself with just a little bit more time and a little bit more know-how, so I just push to do that, because I wasn't able to pay some hotshot producer in the beginning. So, um... I'd certainly rather be on this side of the fence, but I consider it a luxury and something that is... might certainly not be there next year, you know, it's just... people are, I think, pretty fickle with what they like today. Americans, at least. When you go outside of America, it seems like a band that was popular 10 years ago will still have a strong career doing festivals everywhere else, in Europe or in Japan, not everywhere else, but... we kind of pick a flavor for the month and run with it, so... you never know what's gonna happen.

KNAC.COM: With so many other projects going on, Maynard having Tool, Josh being the studio drummer for just about every band that's on a label currently, do you see that downtime as detrimental to the band, or do you think it gives you guys a chance to break away, do something different and come back fresh ideas, fresh perspective with A Perfect Circle?
HOWERDEL: It goes both ways, I think. I always knew it was set up this way, so it's no surprise, but if I have to be honest and say... it would be better for us to have continuous momentum and to just keep continuing on, you know. Tour, take a little break, make a record, do it again, and I think it would help us to evolve and this band would be even stronger. But that being said, you could be right, I mean, there's something to be said about gaining something from the outside that you might have not done when you're staying within your little box. And I'm on the way to doing that. I'm going to do a solo project… and I'm really going to start focusing on it and see what happens. I really don't know what it's going to be. I've got... I've got a lot of the songs written, but I kind of want to change the style to something that I'm not even aware of yet. I want to bring in a producer or somebody to just readdress the blueprints of the songs and just um... I don't know. Hopefully that in itself will be extra inspiring and just create a new reality, ‘cause this has been my reality for so many years...you know, I mean 4 years, but still, enough... 5 years, enough to where this what I know and I don't want to get too pigeon-holed into sounding the same, or thinking exactly the same as I do in this band.

KNAC.COM: With that being said, do you have any players in mind, or are you looking at all the different instrumentation yourself? Because to my understanding Josh Freese hires himself out quite often for other projects, so... he may be available.
HOWERDEL: [Laughter] I know, you know, it's funny, and Josh and I talked about it, and it's... he's the one person I don't want to work with, because, you know, I mean, for the most part, he and I make up the musical core of this band on the records that have been out, so, um... even though I'm sure we could change our tune a little bit... I don't know what I'm going to do as far as musicians go. You know, cause some of it's difficult. Difficult to get into a band with someone like me, who's going to be trading time like we've asked these guys to do with Maynard. It was set up where he was the one calling the shots as far as “I'm gonna leapfrog between these two bands,” and that's what I would have to tell someone. So I almost feel like guilty, saying I'd go into it, you know, presenting it like it could be, you know, a sticky situation, but... I don't really know yet. And that's kind of exciting to me, that I don't know, and you know, I just want to see what happens. Usually things come to me if I just... power of intention is pretty powerful, and I just intend to do something different and I want to see what comes from it.

KNAC.COM: From touring or just from supporting bands, or maybe something that you've heard on the radio or someone's turned you on to, is there any players that you haven't worked with that you're thinking, you know, I'd really like a chance to get together and maybe collaborate, write or just jam with this person?
HOWERDEL: Not exactly. I don't know. I mean, there's plenty, but I don't have anything focused in mind. There's a lot of... I don't know about a lot, but there's some new music that really inspires me that I'd like to go towards that style, but then again, I don't know. Sometimes I think I should just leave that alone and let that be enjoyable to listen to. Like I'm a huge Fiona Apple fan, but I don't want to start trying to make Fiona Apple ripoff songs, you know. But I don't know. Maybe that's what I'll do.

KNAC.COM: One final question: What do you see happening with A Perfect Circle a year, 2 years, 5 years down the road? Do you see it still being a project you want to be involved with?
HOWERDEL: Yeah. Definitely. We're gonna hopefully reconvene a couple of years from now, after Maynard's done doing his thing with Tool and I'm done doing my thing with whatever that's gonna be called, and if Jeordie's available and James and Josh, then bring them around, and maybe Troy and Paz, it works out that they come back, I don't know... you just never know what's going to happen.

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