It took 14 years for A Perfect Circle to reconvene for new material, but fans didn’t hold it against the alternative band. After Eat the Elephant arrived April 20, it debuted atop such Billboard charts as Top Rock Albums and Alternative Albums with 68,000 equivalent album units and also debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, the group’s fourth consecutive studio album to bow in the top five of the chart. The 12-song collection seems like both a return and a departure from APC’s 2000 debut, Mer de Noms, for it retains the act’s moody, introspective aesthetic but expresses it with less guitars and bombast, a result of guitarist Billy Howerdel writing much of the material on piano.
When it comes to being satisfied with how Eat the Elephant turned out, enigmatic singer Maynard James Keenan (who also fronts metal legends Tool, which is now 12 years between albums) thinks APC got “about 75 percent of the way there.” “There’s always room for improvement” when it comes to any recording project, he concedes. “But you have a moment where you just kind of let go.” He paints a scenario of having friends over, pouring some wine and playing the music for them. “In that moment, stepping back and basically watching them listen, that visual of what it’s doing for them, that’s the satisfying part — if they come away from it feeling like you’ve done something, rather than an awkward, ‘Hey man, that was the work you’ve ever done,’ ” he says with a chuckle.
A Perfect Circle has augmented the record — which it introduced with single “The Doomed” — by having filmmaker Steven Sebring (Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band) create what’s being touted as the world’s first hologram album. When a prism in Eat the Elephant’s limited-edition deluxe boxed set is sat atop a smartphone and a code is entered at an affiliated website, a 58-minute projection of beautifully rendered and occasionally disquieting images — like a colorful, eight-tentacled heart and the Nosferatu-ish characters from the cover art embodied by Keenan and Howerdel — appear. Below are four other interesting details about the album.
Keenan knew it would be a minute before the next APC album.
The band’s last project, 2004’s eMOTIVe, was a collection of anti-war anthems like John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” that was released in the turbulent aftermath of 9/11. At the time, Keenan “had a lot on my plate” due to launching his Caduceus Cellars winery in Jerome, Ariz., and yet another musical project, the quirky Puscifer. “I knew [doing that] was going to take quite a bit of my time, so Perfect Circle was never gone,” he says. “It was just kind of put on hold.”
The hologram concept was an afterthought.
A Perfect Circle had already completed Eat the Elephant when Keenan and Howerdel were being photographed for the album art at Sebring’s studio. They saw he had “built this insane 360-degree room,” says Keenan, containing a circular camera system to create holograms. Designing one for the album “was one of those escalating ideas.” Keenan said the band had “almost zero” input when it came to determining what footage would be used: “As far as actual choosing of people to be within the images and what it was going to look like and what they would be doing, that was all on [Sebring].”
Billboard has the exclusive premiere of the 2-D video for the single “TalkTalk.” Watch it below:
The prism recalls the time when music was a solely physical product.
“It is very much a combined experience of the tactile and the visual,” says Keenan of using the object with a smartphone. He explains, “I come from an era where the physical pieces [of music] were something that you cherished. Double-gate foldout with the big images, the interaction of putting vinyl on a turntable I think is lost in the digital age … Something like this brings back that visual excitement for people.”
One hint about the album’s theme(s): culpability.
Reticent about Eat the Elephant’s subject matter, Keenan supplied one word — “accountability” — as to what the lyrics concerned. What made him think people aren’t being accountable? “Everything.” Could he narrow that down? “It’s all contained in the stories. I think that’s the best way to really puzzle it out,” he says. “I could map it out for you, kind of like your big blockbusters where they give you all the best scenes and you show up and it’s just kind of filler in between ’em. Or you can just roll into the theater to see Three Billboards [Outside Ebbing, Missouri], being completely surprised and having no idea what you’re going to go see and [be] blown away, and it wins the Oscar.”