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Talking sh*tty songs and M&M’s with A Perfect Circle guitarist Billy Howerdel

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Howerdel, Maynard James Keenan and the band roll into Planet Hollywood December 29.
Chris Bitonti

The Details

A PERFECT CIRCLE with Neil Hamburger
December 29, 8 p.m., $47-$66.
Planet Hollywood, 785-5055.

This show looks like a one-off for the band in the States. Why did you decide on Vegas? It just made sense to go somewhere. We were trying to find a spot that was relatively close by LA. We were rehearsing to do some more shows—a small tour, Soundwave Festival in Australia and different shows in South America in late winter—and we were talking about doing, like, a rehearsal show. We got a show in Vegas that came together and worked with schedules, so why not get close to Vegas around New Year’s?

Are you guys planning to play any new songs here? We have one new song that we played last summer. I would think that would probably make it into the set in Vegas. And who knows? If we get really frisky, another might pop up.

Do you have a well of songs that you’re waiting to release? Kind of. I mean, I haven’t even sprung them on Maynard yet. He may be like, “Let’s do something last minute,” but I kind of doubt it since we have three days of rehearsal left. But I’m one to bite off more than I can chew.

The last A Perfect Circle album came out in 2004. Are you guys against putting out another one? No, I’d love to—when the time is right. It would be awesome. I’m trying to write songs with that in mind, but … right now, I’m focusing most of my energy on a new Ashes Divide record, which is under way with 11 songs. Still working on finishing vocals and writing lyrics, and hopefully get that thing mixed in January or February.

How do you chose which songs become Ashes Divide songs and which are A Perfect Circle songs? I don’t really know. I’ve never known how to answer that question. Some of them, the vocal melodies just can come to me easier. But when I’m sitting down and writing, I don’t really do it with a purpose of one or the other. It’s kind of like, when it evolves, a song is its own entity and you have to examine its DNA of sorts and just say, “What does this look like? What does this sound like?’” and go from there.

A lot of times, I’ll sit down and write something just preposterous that I would think could never be a contender. There’s a real freedom to writing stuff that you know is terrible and is just not going to fit, because it can only get better. Even in that you go down avenues you wouldn’t normally go down. When you’re writing a novel or screenplay, it’s okay for it to suck. It’s going to suck on the first draft. And if you’re not too precious about things right off the bat it can really lead you to different places. And for me, if I’m writing by myself, I kind of need that spark, because you just start writing the same material over and over, and it gets stale and boring.

It’s interesting to hear you say there’s a freedom in writing sh*tty songs or writing bad songs, because you’re so accomplished as a songwriter. You know, I’ve heard great people, Maynard included, say in one way or the other, “I don’t know if the ideas will just stop.” You don’t know when creative energy is going to be turned off. And I think that in itself is important, just to have that uncertainty. You know, if everyone lived forever and everything worked just the way you thought it was going to then things would be very static and stagnant.

You guys started playing live again in 2010 after a six-year break. Why? Schedules aligned, that kind of thing. We always had intentions of doing it, but we had other projects we wanted to focus on. And it’s kind of been nice sprinkling in tours here and there.

You mentioned South America for your next tour. How’d you choose that? We’ve always wanted to go. It’s just trying to figure out the when of it all. [Singer] Maynard [James Keenan] has been working with Puscifer for a while now, so it made total sense to take both bands around and try and combine forces with crew and personnel. It’s expensive when you start going overseas, and it seemed to make a lot of sense for everyone to do it that way.

How have you found touring internationally versus playing the States? It’s really cool going somewhere different. I think when I was younger and I first did it, I didn’t appreciate it quite as much as I did once I went for the second or third time. After you go a few times and you get a day off here or there, the world becomes very big and you realize what is out there. It just gives you a different perspective on life and really lets you get a perspective on your homeland.

When A Perfect Circle first formed, it was mainly billed as a Maynard James Keenan side project, before developing into something much bigger. Did you ever view it as a side project? I’ve never felt that it was a side project. That being said, I always knew in the background, Maynard’s first band is Tool, and that’s where he’s going back to. I didn’t have expectations that he was going to be doing an album, tour, album, tour consistently. That would be wishful thinking, but I wouldn’t wish that upon the Tool guys. You get into that very complicated desire versus being sensitive to other people around you. At this point, Maynard’s got his fingers in so many pies that it’s a welcome thing to me when he says, “Hey, I’ve got a hole in my schedule; let’s do this.” It’s fantastic. He’s incredible to work with. He’s always got something interesting to offer and unexpected. I’m very lucky to be teamed up with him whenever I can.

I read that you were once a guitar tech for The Smashing Pumpkins. True? Yeah, for a pretty short time. It’s the only job I’ve ever been fired from.

James Iha now plays in A Perfect Circle. What’s that dynamic change been like? It’s been a while, so I don’t even think of it like that anymore. I mean, this is the reality. When it first came down, I didn’t feel weird. To me it’s shocking—James is—and I say this without exaggeration—shockingly humble. He’s done everything he can to do what’s best for the band and not for his personal gain. I think a lot of people in his position, with his history, could have taken this a very different way, could have come in and tried to strong-arm or sabotage the group in a kind of way because of what the dynamic in his last band. And in no way did that happen. I’m not just trying to blow smoke up his ass. Truly, he’s never a pain in the ass in any kind of way. He’s great to have around and important to have around, musically and socially.

So he never asks you to intonate his guitar? Just a foot rub and make sure the right M&M’s are in his dressing room.

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