Early years (1988–1992)
During the 1980s, each of the future members of Tool moved to Los Angeles. Both Paul D'Amour and Adam Jones wanted to enter the film industry, while Maynard James Keenan found employment remodeling pet stores after having studied visual arts in Michigan. Danny Carey and Keenan performed for Green Jellÿ, and Carey played with Carole King and Pigmy Love Circus.
Keenan and Jones met through a mutual friend in 1989. After Keenan played a tape recording for Jones of his previous band project, Jones was so impressed by his voice that he eventually talked his friend into forming their own band. They started jamming together and were on the lookout for a drummer and a bass player. Carey happened to live above Keenan and was introduced to Jones by Tom Morello, an old high school friend of Jones and former member of Electric Sheep. Carey began playing in their sessions because he "felt kinda sorry for them," as other invited musicians were not showing up. Tool's lineup was completed when a friend of Jones introduced them to bassist D'Amour. Early on, the band fabricated the story that they formed because of the pseudophilosophy "lachrymology". Although "lachrymology" was also cited as an inspiration for the band's name, Keenan later explained their intentions differently: "Tool is exactly what it sounds like: It's a big dick. It's a wrench. ... we are ... your tool; use us as a catalyst in your process of finding out whatever it is you need to find out, or whatever it is you're trying to achieve."
After almost two years of practicing and performing locally in the Los Angeles area, the band was approached by record companies, and eventually signed a record deal with Zoo Entertainment. In March 1992, Zoo released the band's first effort, Opiate. Described by the band as "slam and bang" heavy music and the "hardest sounding" six songs they had written to that point, the EP included the singles "Hush" and "Opiate". The band's first music video, "Hush", promoted their dissenting views about the then-prominent Parents Music Resource Center and its advocacy of the censorship of music. The video featured the band members naked with their genitalia covered by parental advisory stickers and their mouths covered by duct tape. The band began touring with Rollins Band, Fishbone, Rage Against the Machine, White Zombie, and Corrosion of Conformity, to positive responses, which Janiss Garza of RIP Magazine summarized in September 1992 as a "buzz" and "a strong start".
The following year, at a time when alternative rock and grunge was at its height, Tool released their first full-length album, Undertow (1993). It expressed more diverse dynamics than Opiate and included songs the band had chosen not to publish on their previous release, when they had opted for a heavier sound. The band began touring again as planned, with an exception in May 1993. Tool was scheduled to play at the Garden Pavilion in Hollywood but learned at the last minute that the venue belonged to L. Ron Hubbard's Church of Scientology, which was perceived as a clash with "the band's ethics about how a person should not follow a belief system that constricts their development as a human being." Keenan "spent most of the show baa-ing like a sheep at the audience."
A well known band logo created by longtime collaborator Cam de Leon
this wrench is an example of "phallic
hardware" in Tool's imagery.
Tool later played several concerts during the Lollapalooza festival tour, and were moved from the second stage to the main stage by their manager and the festival co-founder Ted Gardner. At the last concert of Lollapalooza in Tool's hometown Los Angeles, comedian Bill Hicks introduced the band. Hicks had become a friend of the band members and an influence on them after being mentioned in Undertow's liner notes. He jokingly asked the audience of 10,000 people to stand still and help him look for a lost contact lens. The boost in popularity gained from these concerts helped Undertow to be certified gold by the RIAA in September 1993 and to achieve platinum status in 1995, despite being sold with a censored album cover by distributors such as Wal-Mart. The single "Sober" became a hit single by March 1994 and won the band Billboard's "Best Video by a New Artist" award for the accompanying stop motion music video.
With the release of Tool's follow-up single "Prison Sex", the band again became the target of censorship. The song's lyrics and video dealt with child abuse, which sparked controversial reactions; Keenan's lyrics begin with: "It took so long to remember just what happened. I was so young and vestal then, you know it hurt me, but I'm breathing so I guess I'm still alive ... I've got my hands bound and my head down and my eyes closed and my throat wide open." The video was created primarily by guitarist Adam Jones, who saw it as his "surrealistic interpretation" of the subject matter. While some contemporary journalists praised the video and described the lyrics as "metaphoric", the American branch of MuchMusic asked Keenan to represent the band in a hearing. It deemed the music video too graphic and obscene, and MTV stopped airing it after a few showings.
In September 1995, the band started writing and recording their second studio album. At that time Tool experienced its only lineup change to date, with bassist D'Amour leaving the band amicably to pursue other projects. According to Carey, D'Armour left the band because he wanted to play guitar rather than bass. Justin Chancellor, a member of former tourmates Peach, eventually replaced D'Amour, having been chosen over competitors such as Kyuss's Scott Reeder, Filter's Frank Cavanaugh, Pigmy Love Circus's E. Shepherd Stevenson, Jane's Addiction's Eric Avery and ZAUM's Marco Fox.
Ænima and Salival (1996–2000)
Alternative version of the Ænima
artwork shows a dedication to comedian Bill Hicks
as "another dead hero".
On September 17, 1996, Tool released their second full-length album, Ænima ("ON-ima"). It was certified triple platinum by the RIAA on March 4, 2003. D'Amour left Tool and Chancellor came on board during the recording of the album. The band enlisted the help of producer David Bottrill, who had produced some of King Crimson's albums, while Jones collaborated with Cam de Leon to create Ænima's Grammy-nominated artwork.
The album was dedicated to stand-up comedian Bill Hicks, who died two and a half years earlier. The band intended to raise awareness about Hicks's material and ideas, because they felt that Tool and Hicks "were resonating similar concepts". In particular, Ænima's final track "Third Eye" is preceded by a clip of Hicks' performances, and the lenticular casing of the Ænima album packaging as well as the chorus of the title track "Ænema" make reference to a sketch from Hicks's Arizona Bay, in which he contemplates the idea of Los Angeles falling into the Pacific Ocean.
The first single, "Stinkfist", garnered limited airplay. It was shortened by radio programmers, MTV (U.S.) renamed the music video of "Stinkfist" to "Track No. 1" due to offensive connotations, and the lyrics of the song were altered. Responding to fan complaints about censorship, Matt Pinfield of MTV's 120 Minutes expressed regret on air by waving his fist in front of his face while introducing the video and explaining the name change.
A tour began in October 1996, two weeks after Ænima's release. Following numerous appearances in the United States and Europe, Tool headed for Australia and New Zealand in late March 1997. April 1 of that year saw the first of several April Fools' pranks related to the band. Kabir Akhtar, webmaster of the band's semi-official fanpage, The Tool Page, wrote that "at least three of the band are listed in critical condition" after a tour bus accident on a highway. This hoax gained wide attention and was eventually exposed on radio and MTV. Akhtar later posted an apology, claiming that The Tool Page "will not indulge itself in such outlandish pranks in the future"—a claim that would be belied by later April Fools' pranks.
Eventually returning to the United States, Tool appeared at Lollapalooza '97 in July, this time as a headliner, where they gained critical praise from The New York Times:
Tool was returning in triumph to Lollapalooza after appearing among the obscure bands on the festival's smaller stage in 1993. Now Tool is the prime attraction for a festival that's struggling to maintain its purpose ... Tool uses taboo-breaking imagery for hellfire moralizing in songs that swerve from bitter reproach to nihilistic condemnation. Its music has refined all the troubled majesty of grunge.
Ænima eventually matched Tool's successful debut album in sales, and the progressive-influenced album landed the band at the head of the alternative metal genre. It featured the Grammy Award-winning "Ænema" and appeared on several "Best Albums of 1996" lists, with notable examples being those of Kerrang! and Terrorizer.
A legal battle that began the same year interfered with the band's working on another release. Volcano Entertainment—the successor of Tool's by-then defunct label Zoo Entertainment—alleged contract violations by Tool and filed a lawsuit. According to Volcano, Tool had violated their contract when the band looked at offers from other record labels. After Tool filed a countersuit stating that Volcano had failed to use a renewal option in their contract, the parties settled out of court. In December 1998 Tool agreed to a new contract, a three-record joint venture deal. In 2000, the band dismissed their long-time manager Ted Gardner, who then sued the band over his commission on this lucrative agreement.
During this time, Keenan joined the band A Perfect Circle, which was founded by long-time Tool guitar tech Billy Howerdel, while Jones joined The Melvins' Buzz Osborne and Carey drummed with Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra on side projects. Although there were rumors that Tool was breaking up, Chancellor, Jones, and Carey were working on new material while waiting for Keenan to return. In 2000, the Salival box set (CD/VHS or CD/DVD) was released, effectively putting an end to the rumors. The CD contained one new original track, a cover of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter", a live version of Peach's "You Lied", and revised versions of old songs. The VHS and the DVD each contained four music videos, plus a bonus music video for "Hush" on the DVD. Although Salival did not yield any singles, the hidden track "Maynard's Dick" (which dates back to the Opiate era) briefly found its way to FM radio when several DJs chose to play it on air under the title "Maynard's Dead".
Guitarist Adam Jones performing at Roskilde Festival 2006.
In January 2001, Tool announced a new album, Systema Encéphale, along with a 12-song track list containing titles such as "Riverchrist", "Numbereft", "Encephatalis", "Musick", and "Coeliacus". File-sharing networks such as Napster were flooded with bogus files bearing the titles' names. At the time, Tool members were outspokenly critical of file-sharing networks in general due to their impact on artists that are dependent on record sales to continue their careers. Keenan said during an interview with NY Rock in 2000, "I think there are a lot of other industries out there that might deserve being destroyed. The ones who get hurt by MP3s are not so much companies or the business, but the artists, people who are trying to write songs."
A month later, the band revealed that the new album was actually titled Lateralus; the name Systema Encéphale and the track list had been a ruse. Lateralus and the corresponding tours would take Tool a step further toward art rock and progressive rock territory. Rolling Stone wrote in an attempt to summarize the album that "Drums, bass and guitars move in jarring cycles of hyperhowl and near-silent death march ... The prolonged running times of most of Lateralus' thirteen tracks are misleading; the entire album rolls and stomps with suitelike purpose." Joshua Klein of The A.V. Club expressed his opinion that Lateralus, with its 79 minutes and relatively complex and long songs—topped by the ten-and-a-half-minute music video for "Parabola"—posed a challenge to fans and music programming alike.
"Schism" is the Grammy awarded first single off Lateralus. With its abstract lyrics and multi-sectioned, odd-metered structure it has since become a signature song of the band.
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The album became a worldwide success, reaching No.1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 albums chart in its debut week. Tool received their second Grammy Award for the best metal performance of 2001 for the song "Schism". During the band's acceptance speech, drummer Carey stated that he would like to thank his parents (for putting up with him) and Satan, and bassist Chancellor concluded: "I want to thank my dad for doing my mom."
Extensive touring throughout 2001 and 2002 supported Lateralus and included a personal highlight for the band: a 10-show joint mini-tour with King Crimson in August 2001. Comparisons between the two were made, MTV describing the bands as "the once and future kings of progressive rock". Keenan stated of the minitour: "For me, being on stage with King Crimson is like Lenny Kravitz playing with Led Zeppelin, or Britney Spears onstage with Debbie Gibson."
Although the end of the tour in November 2002 seemed to signal the start of another hiatus for the band, they did not become completely inactive. While Keenan recorded and toured with A Perfect Circle, the other band members released an interview and a recording of new material, both exclusive to the fan club. On April 1, 2005, the official Tool website announced that "Maynard has found Jesus" and would be abandoning the recording of the new Tool album temporarily and possibly permanently. Kurt Loder of MTV contacted Keenan via email to ask for a confirmation and received a nonchalant confirmation. When Loder asked again, Keenan's response was simply "heh heh." On April 7 the official site announced, "Good news, April fools fans. The writing and recording is back under way."
Work continued on the follow-up to Lateralus; meanwhile, a Lateralus vinyl edition and two DVD singles were released, and the band's official website received a new splash intro by artist Joshua Davis. The "double vinyl four-picture disc" edition of Lateralus was first released as a limited autographed edition exclusively available to fan club members and publicly released on August 23, 2005. On December 20 the two DVDs were released, one containing the single "Schism" and the other "Parabola", a remix by Lustmord, and a music video with commentary by David Yow and Jello Biafra.
10,000 Days (2006–2007)
Tool performing a headline slot at the Roskilde Festival
as part of the "10,000 Days" tour
Fifteen years into the band's career, Tool had acquired what Dan Epstein of Revolver described as a devoted "cult" following, and as details about the band's next album emerged, such as the influence of Lateralus tourmates Fantômas and Meshuggah, controversy surrounding the new Tool album surfaced with speculation over song titles and pre-release rumors of leaked songs. Speculation over possible album titles was dismissed with a news item on the official Tool website, announcing that the new album's name was 10,000 Days. Nevertheless, speculation continued, with allegations that 10,000 Days was merely a "decoy" album to fool audiences. The rumor was proven false when a leaked copy of the album was distributed via filesharing networks a week prior to its official release.
The album opener, "Vicarious", premiered on U.S. radio stations on April 17, 2006. The album premiered on May 2 in the U.S. and debuted at the top spots of various international charts. 10,000 Days sold 564,000 copies in its opening week in the U.S. and was number one on the Billboard 200 charts, doubling the sales of Pearl Jam's self-titled album, its closest competitor. However, 10,000 Days was received less favorably by critics than its predecessor Lateralus had been.
Prior to the release of 10,000 Days, a tour kicked off at Coachella on April 30. The touring schedule was similar to the Lateralus tour of 2001; supporting acts were Isis and Mastodon. During a short break early the next year, after touring Australia and New Zealand, drummer Carey suffered a biceps tear during a skirmish with his girlfriend's dog, casting uncertainty on the band's upcoming concerts in North America. Carey underwent surgery on February 21 and several performances had to be postponed. Back on tour by April, Tool appeared on June 15 as a headliner at the Bonnaroo Music Festival with a guest appearance from Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello on "Lateralus". Meanwhile, "Vicarious" was a nominee for Best Hard Rock Performance and 10,000 Days won Best Recording Package at the 49th Grammy Awards. The music video for "Vicarious" was released on DVD on December 18.
Hiatus and upcoming fifth studio album (2008–present)
Chancellor stated in May 2007 that the band would probably continue their tour until early 2008 and then "take some time off". He added that the band had already written some new material and would surely release another album at some point. He speculated about the possibility of a "band movie", something the band has considered for a long time. Ideas ranged from "a narrative story in a surreal fashion with as much money and special effects as possible" to "pockets of all of that or something that's live or the band playing". Although Carey stated that the necessary know-how was at hand due to the band's connections to artists working in the movie business, Jones dismissed the idea, saying "It's just talk right now."
The band's 2009 summer tour began on July 18 in Commerce City, Colorado, at the Mile High Music Festival. They headlined Lollapalooza 2009 and a show on August 22 for the Epicenter Festival in Pomona, California. Their Tool Winter Tour played dates across the U.S. and Canada in January and February 2012. The band played at Ozzfest Japan on May 12, 2013. Meanwhile, Tool members have pursued their own musical projects. Keenan has toured extensively with Puscifer, which he describes as involving a series of musical ideas he did not have an opportunity to explore with Tool or A Perfect Circle.
Keenan and Carey offered conflicting reports on whether or not their next album would surface in 2013, though Carey later conceded that "early 2014" seemed more likely. By May 2013, Keenan stated that he had actively joined the writing process as enough instrumental material had been written. On March 6, 2014, Crave Online reported that Jones had said the new album was complete and on track for a 2014 release. The following day, Tool released an official statement to Rolling Stone, explaining that Jones was joking.
On July 15, 2014, Carey and Jones informed Rolling Stone that family commitments and an ongoing lawsuit are the key reasons for the delayed fifth album. Carey said to the music publication that one untitled track is "pretty much done" and explained in regard to the band's legal issue:
But the point is, we're fighting the good fight ... We're going to trial and we want to crush them [an insurance company]. But every time we've gotten close to going to trial, it gets postponed and we've wasted money and time and it has just drained our creative energy. We bought an insurance policy for peace of mind, but instead we would have been better off if we never had it and just dealt with the original lawsuit.
In March 2015, Jones revealed that the lawsuit had been settled in the band's favor, and as such, the band was turning their focus towards recording the album. He said that he hoped the album would be finished before the end of 2015 but emphasized that the band would not rush their work to meet an arbitrary deadline.
In January 2016, Tool undertook a tour of the United States.
While it was reported in February 2017 that Keenan had entered the studio to work on vocals for the fifth Tool album, it was later reported that the album was not scheduled for release in 2017. Still, the band announced a North American tour starting in May. A month later, Chancellor revealed that the new Tool album was "about 90-percent there", while Carey claimed in separate interviews that it will "definitely" be released in 2018. In February 2018, Jones revealed that Keenan was working on lyrics for the album, and that the band would begin recording in March.