The guiding principle for the third album from Maynard James Keenan’s eternally strange rock band Puscifer was one simple word: more.
With a steadier lineup—most crucially multi-instrumentalist and lead guitarist Mat Mitchell and vocalist Carina Round—Puscifer set out to make Money $hot a bigger, stranger, tighter, more expressive, more focused and more collaborative record.
“It’s what you’ve heard before, but there’s more of it in a way that’s more perceptible,” Keenan says. “The characters you’re familiar with in this project, they have more of a story to tell, so it ends up being a further extension of what’s already been going on.”
Released in October (independently, of course), Money $hot was Puscifer’s third straight full-length to chart in the top 30 the Billboard 200 albums list, a significant feat for such an unpredictable, indefinable and defiantly evolving band.
Other than Keenan’s singular, immediately recognizable vocals, there’s no telling what to expect with Puscifer. But in a way, Keenan says, the band has found a more solid identity, though that’s more of a behind-the-scenes aspect of the band than something that necessarily shows on record.
“Once you work with somebody as long as I have with Mat, you tend to find your groove,” he says.
Whereas the music for much of the first two Puscifer albums were written and recorded “in motion,” as Keenan puts it, at various hotel rooms and studios across the country, Money $hot came out of more focused writing sessions between Keenan and Mitchell, in Los Angeles or Arizona, or sending ideas back and forth online.
“Every song comes up in a different way,” Keenan says. “Could be an article I read or a relationship I’m going through, could be a painting I saw or a piece of film. A moment sparks an idea and I start compiling those ideas and presenting them to Mat.”
Keenan’s lyrics are a typically broad set of comments on the ever-confounding topics of spiritually and humanity, with jabs of off-kilter humor that’s as pointed as ever.
“Everything is conversation. It depends on who you’re talking to,” he says. “A lot of times, it comes down to the rhythm in the song. Whatever that cadence is, it leads itself to certain styles of conversation. Most of the lyrics start there for me. It has to sound like it’s something you would say.”
Round’s more pronounced impact on this record comes in the form of her atmospheric harmonies, with Keenan ceding more vocal responsibilities than ever before to give the songs an added dimension.
“There’s a lot of vocal layers on the previous records, but they’re all pretty much me,” Keenan says. “Carina was on the last couple EPs and the Conditions of My Parole album as well, but most of the layers were me. After a while, you start to see spikes and valleys in the layered vocals. We removed them and replaced them with someone else’s waveforms and it starts to fill out in a different way.”
Entrenched as a resident of the arid madlands of Northern Arizona for two decades, Keenan says the open space and landscape–-the desert, the sun, the sky-–have an influence on his creative expression. The first single for Money $hot, “Grand Canyon” calls on the majesty of the scene to create an opportunity for reawakening and clarity. “I am standing on the edge of forever,” he sings.
The song comes not from a specific moment at the canyon, but the overall feeling of that great expanse, Keenan says. “It’s a place of perspective. If you visit it a couple times you can see the movement. It’s a pretty fantastic sight to behold.”
On tour, Puscifer is again a different beast than Keenan brings to the stage with Tool or A Perfect Circle. The touring lineup is Keenan, Mitchell, Round, drummer Jeff Friedl, keyboardist Mahsa Zargaran and bassist Paul Barker (of Ministry).
“This is a performance,” Keenan says. “There are five acts and it’s a full on presentation. It has more to do with Saturday Night Live and Monty Python than just a basic band touring through. It’s something that you’re not used to. Anything goes with Puscifer.”
Puscifer performs Saturday, April 30 at the Tucson Music Hall (260 S. Church Ave.) starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, which range in price from $37.50 to $73, can be found via the Danny Zelisko Presents website.