Is Tool Really a Band for Stupid White Trash?

Is Tool Really a Band for Stupid White Trash?
By Jaime Lees
Fri, Jan 22, 2016

The music we like is often seen as a shortcut to express who we are or what we’re all about, so the world will pre-judge you based on the bands that you listen to and the musical cultures with which you affiliate. For the most part these assumptions sit in nice little established boxes: Grateful Dead fans are hippies, politically aware dudes love Rage Against the Machine and any man in an Eagles t-shirt is automatically assumed to be a dad with a cover band. (Too soon?)

But I somehow went more than half of my life without knowing that Tool fans were nearly universally thought of as annoying, stupid white trash.

As a teenager in the ’90s, my favorite albums were by Nirvana, Elastica, Otis Redding, Echo & the Bunnymen and, weirdly, Tool. My group of dude friends (now grown men who I still affectionately refer to as “The Basement Boys” because we always seemed to be hanging out in someone’s unfinished suburban basement) introduced me to Tool right before the release of Ænima in 1996. I thought that some parts of the Undertow album were alright, but that all of Ænima was awesome.

The Basement Boys fancied themselves quite the teenage intellectuals and they’d sit for hours and debate the merits of an album, a song or a drum solo. I thought the other 90s “boy music” that they liked was mostly okay (Deftones were cool but I had no love for Korn) but we didn’t talk about those bands nearly as much: it was always Tool, Tool, Tool.

There’s a bunch to talk about when it comes to Tool, really. The lyrics were dense and you could spend hours unraveling and attempting to decode the possible meanings behind some phrasings. Even in 1996 there were already rumors that the members of Tool were into exploring psychedelic realms and sacred geometry. (Ideas basically proven by using Alex Grey‘s art on their album covers and drummer Danny Carey’s admitted occultist leanings.) Also, this was a time when we barely had the internet (!) so most of these revelations were passed on from person-to-person, which just served to heighten the band’s mystique.

Because of all of this, I’d always thought that Tool was for smart, thoughtful people. (And possibly even pretentious people.) But the more Tool fans I met the more wrong I felt about that assumption. I’d go to Tool shows and feel overwhelmed by the audience. Nearly all of the people in attendance were Busch-chugging, thick-ball-chain-necklace wearing, violent-at-any-moment aggro young men who were super pumped on adrenaline. For the most part, these were not people who appeared to be thinking deep thoughts about the universe and synchronicity and fractal vegetables. These were people who were out to rage and then possibly smoke some meth. I expressed this thought to a friend and he said, “Duh, everybody knows that Tool fans are stupid white trash.”

But I didn’t know that everybody thought that at all. I’d only ever thought of Tool fans on the whole as being nearly obsessive or religious in their love for the band.

The reason why Tool is so successful now twenty years later is because the people who became fans back then somehow managed to stay fans. This is truly an against-all-odds success story for the band. Being a Tool fan is a unique experience. As some genius put it nearly a decade ago:

“Tool can do no wrong in the eyes of its fans. In fact, the band inspires so much respect from its audience that it’s nearly creepy. Tool gets away with things that would cause lesser bands to be written off or completely forgotten: There have been huge gaps between album releases (up to five years), infrequent tours, high ticket prices and band members who have been known to play in the dark and barely address the audience. But all of this somehow works in Tool’s favor. Far from feeling slighted or ignored, fans are supremely excited when an album comes out and are willing to pay as much as necessary for the rare live show. And instead of regarding band members as egotistical jerks, fans view them as mysterious and humble. This kind of blind worship is part of what makes the Tool experience so amazing.”

Add to all of that the fact that Tool singer Maynard James Keenan recently called fans of his band “insufferable people.” Do you know what most fans thought? They thought it was funny.

There is absolutely no way that this band should have such a devoted following in the year 2016. There is positively no way that each Tool show should sell out immediately. There is certainly no way that anyone should pay around $90 for a ticket. But they do. And I recently did, too.

About a month ago I was out with a dude friend and we wound up in a conversation with a couple of young construction workers at a bar. They weren’t the brightest bulbs in the box (one of them actually believed that the Earth was flat) but they were friendly and chatty in that amusing potential-alcoholic kind of way. They switched topics from conspiracy theories to music and they were shocked that I could talk about Tool with them. Many high-fives were exchanged. I was pleased with myself for being able to impress them and started delving into some deep thoughts on Tool’s last album, 10,000 Days. They smiled but stared at me blankly and then the more boisterous of the two cleared his throat and said, “Well, I don’t know about all of that, but that guitarist rips!”

Yeah, that’s true, too. Maybe these dudes didn’t care about Carl Jung or Bill Hicks, couldn’t give a crap about abstract definitions of prog and wouldn’t know the Fibonacci sequence if it kicked them in the face, but they did know that Adam Jones rips. And I guess that’s enough. So if I see them at the show tonight I will buy them both a Busch while I try to get over myself, because as Tool fans we’re all equals. Morons, but equals.

– link: Riverfront Times

Pazz & Jop 2015 – 43rd Annual Village Voice Critics’ Poll

Pazz & Jop 2015
43rd Annual Village Voice Critics’ Poll

the critics
my ballot

“Pazz & Jop is an annual poll of musical releases compiled by American newspaper The Village Voice. The poll is tabulated from the submitted year-end top ten lists of hundreds of music critics. Pazz & Jop was introduced by The Village Voice in 1974 as an album-only poll, but was expanded to include votes for singles in 1979.”

Black Metal Yoga: The Dark Side of Enlightenment

Author's friend "Anonymous Euronymous" shows us how it's done. / photo by Jaime Lees

Author’s friend “Anonymous Euronymous” shows us how it’s done. / photo by Jaime Lees

Black Metal Yoga: The Dark Side of Enlightenment
By Jaime Lees
Fri, Jan 8, 2016 at 6:46 am

I was crouched half-drunk and twisted on the floor while being slowly smothered by my own breasts. This sounds like an average night in the life of a dumbass music writer — and it is — if she is participating in Black Metal Yoga.

I’d wanted to attend Kelli McFarland’s Black Metal Yoga class since I heard about it last year, and after hosting the successful weekly class all through last October, McFarland is back this month to again bring the dark side to enlightenment.

Black Metal Yoga is a recent spin on an ancient practice. Some think of yoga as just a form of physical exercise, while to others it’s also an exercise in mindfulness or spirituality. Music can also be an experience in mindfulness and spirituality, so when it comes to yoga combined with music? Yeah, sign me up. If I’m ever going to be saved or centered, music is going to be involved.

McFarland’s class is held at Casa Bagus, a cute little building just west of the Cheshire Inn on Clayton Road. It’s a converted old six-family flat with an entrance at the back marked by a few Tibetan prayer flags and a large statue.

Back entrance of Casa Bagus / photo by Jaime Lees

Back entrance of Casa Bagus / photo by Jaime Lees

Having heard that the parking in this primo location can be competitive, I arrived more than an hour early settle in and scope out the scene. Finding no action to be had outside the studio, I killed some time and got some reading done over a Manhattan in one of my favorite places — the Fox & Hounds tavern in the Cheshire Inn.

I know that drinking before yoga seems entirely counter-intuitive and foolish at best, but it was cold outside and I wanted to loosen up my stiff muscles before class. It was just one drink, I reasoned. But one drink always hits harder in that dark room and by the time I was walking back next door for class I could feel myself having a little more fun than I should’ve been having.

Upon entering Casa Bagus and meeting McFarland I immediately felt guilty. She was so kind and earnest and there I was, the douche that showed up with liquor on her breath. I chugged some complimentary water and resolved to kill my little baby buzz while I admired her hoodie featuring St. Louis band Hell Night.

McFarland was all calmness and business, something that I appreciate in a teacher but hadn’t quite expected at black metal yoga. I didn’t know what to expect, really. Was the teacher going to growl? Was she going to give new names to classic yoga poses— like would “downward-facing dog” become “Satan-facing dog” or something? Would there be a chalice of blood on a Buddhist altar? Would we students be using our bodies to form a giant pentagram?

As it turns out, black metal yoga is just regular yoga with the lights out plus a few glowing candles and some heavy music playing at a moderate volume. So basically: it’s perfect.

I knew a few other attendees in the sold out seventeen-person class — proof that good reviews of these sessions were widespread. Like me, at least a couple of these people also spent a decent amount of their younger years hanging out down street at the shuttered Hi-Pointe music venue. We joked that we once kicked it in this neighborhood as youthful rockers, but now we all find ourselves back on the same block at a yoga class. At least it was black metal yoga, we reasoned, patting ourselves on the back for being cool old people.

McFarland spoke with each student before we commenced, deftly accessing their skill level and discreetly inquiring about their limitations. She quickly put everyone at ease: She has a smoothly confident voice, an air of peacefulness and the type of impressively toned shoulders that only come from putting in hours on the mat.

With the candles lit it was time to begin and class started with students in a relaxed reclining position as the sounds of Earth’s sexy “Rise to Glory” swelled around us. Ten minutes and a few poses later, my liquor buzz was officially shaken off as I breathed deeply and sat with my legs crossed and my forehead to the floor.

As the songs progressed, so did we, making sure to exhale while moving fluidly from one pose to another. The music really does help to somehow slow down the mind and the breathing— two things essential to a good yoga experience. I got so into it that I almost even managed to avoid immature thoughts during a spot when we were alternating between cat pose and cow pose. (Almost.)

The traditional yoga studio set-up of hushed voices, oppressive silence and shitty pebble fountains is often seen by newcomers as uptight and, well, no fun. Not here. And at Black Metal Yoga you can forget about feeling self-conscious, too: it’s dark and loud and nobody is going to judge you for your ungracefulness.

With this class you just show up, try your best and enjoy some good music with like-minded people. We stretched, pushed, balanced and flexed our way through choice cuts by Neurosis, Pallbearer, Year of No Light and Torche. The hour-and-a-half long class ended, appropriately, with shavasana (aka “corpse pose”) followed by Motörhead’s “I’ll Be Your Sister” as exit music.

Having thoroughly enjoyed her class, I couldn’t resist asking McFarland a few questions about herself and her music preferences, hoping to absorb some of her sense of humor and her studied, wise body magic. McFarland’s responses are below as well as information on how to sign up for Black Metal Yoga.

Riverfront Times: How did you get into yoga?

Kelli McFarland: I went to class offered by Southeast Missouri State University as a freshman and immediately fell in love. I didn’t know what to expect, I thought it was just going to be a lot of stretching. I remember being in Warrior Two and suddenly feeling overwhelmingly happy. I’ve been practicing ever since, almost eighteen years now, and I tell people all the time that I still feel like an infant in my practice. That’s the appeal, I think. Yoga is something that you will never master. You just get on your mat and see what it has to teach you.

What inspired your Black Metal Yoga class?

I heard about Black Metal Yoga about three years ago. My initial reaction was judgmental. We are taught that sense withdrawal, or Pratyhara, is one of the eight limbs of yoga. Obviously loud metal music doesn’t not lend itself to the withdrawal of the senses. When I let go of my judgment, I realized that this type of yoga creates a space for those that are interested in yoga but might not feel welcomed or comfortable with the typical scene you find at most yoga studios. That’s the real appeal for me as a teacher. I want to bring yoga to people that might not think it’s for them. I have also found that for some people, the music helps block out “chatter” in their heads and actually quiet their mind.

How is BMY different from other classes you teach?

Currently, I also teach Yoga for Athletes at Casa Bagus. Obviously the biggest difference between these classes and Black Metal Yoga, is the lack of metal during class. However, they are similar in that athletes are another group of people that generally have the tendency to think that yoga isn’t for them. Both classes are awesome for me as a teacher, I get to introduce yoga to people that might not check it out otherwise.

How do you choose the music you’ll use?

I get help with the playlists from my boyfriend, Andy White. He’s a musician and has a real talent for matching the flow of my sequence with the appropriate intensity of music. Generally the music and the sequence begin gentle then ramp up and get more aggressive in the middle followed by a slower, soothing finish. We’ll rough out a playlist and a sequence, then prior to class, we’ll do the practice along with the music. Afterwards, we make any tweaks necessary to make the sequence and the music complement one another.

What is the soundtrack to the rest of your life? Who are your favorite bands / singers / etc?

I like all different types of music! I’ll always have a soft spot for the classics, Zeppelin, Sabbath, the Doors, but I also like contemporary music. Lately it seems like I keep getting into female bands or female leads: Ex Hex, Eula, Heartless Bastards and Angel Olsen are some that I’ve been listening to. I love being turned on to new music. Recently I discovered Moondog and can’t seem to get enough of him. I’ve started tossing around new ideas for my next music-themed yoga series…. more on that to come.

Casa Bagus
6318 Clayton Road
St. Louis, MO 63117

Link to class info is here, Black Metal Yoga is offered every Tuesday night in January.

(Oh yeah, and you can catch Hell Night playing with Fister and Black Fast at The Lion’s Daughter album release show tomorrow night at the Firebird.)

link: Riverfront Times

10 Things We Could Do with $1.1 Billion Other Than Build a New Rams Stadium

Clearly the tastier option. / photo of concrete from

Clearly the tastier option. / photo of concrete from

10 Things We Could Do with $1.1 Billion Other Than Build a New Rams Stadium
By Jaime Lees
Mon, Jan 4, 2016

So building a new NFL stadium in downtown St. Louis will cost $1.1 billion. Yeah, billion.

With floods devastating much of our area, unforgiving winter weather approaching and regional tensions high, it’s increasingly difficult to see how a new stadium for a failing football team could possibly be any kind of priority.

Not all of that $1.1 billion would be from our tax dollars, of course: the majority of the project wouldn’t be paid for by residents. (Though it’s not like we get a vote in it.)

With all of this money talk floating around, we got to wondering what else St. Louis could do with $1.1 billion. We could renovate what needs renovating. We could preserve what needs preservation. We could donate huge amounts to and the thousands of other worthy charities in the area.

But how much is $1.1 billion, anyway? It’s such a big number that it’s hard to get a mental picture of what $1.1 billion could do. We made a list of examples to help us understand.

Here are ten St. Louis-specific things that we could do with $1.1 billion.

1. Pay admission for 92 million visitors to the City Museum

2. Order 11,000 more statues of Chuck Berry that don’t look like Chuck Berry

3. Cover the cost of sending 110 million visitors to the top of the Gateway Arch

4. Buy 367 million people a concrete from Ted Drewes

5. Gift four years of undergrad tuition to 5,813 students at Washington University

6. Pay off more than 74 million City of St. Louis parking tickets

7. Bail out KDHX … like, at least twice

8. Ship a $50 care package from Imo’s Pizza to 22 million people

9. Purchase 6,419 beers for each of the 19,150 people in attendance at a capacity St. Louis Blues hockey game

10. Blanket every square inch of land in Forest Park with Gooey Butter Cake and still have $443,710,640.00 left over

Lest you doubt our math on that last one, here’s how we got there:

a. Forest Park is 1,371 acres. And one acre equals 43,560 square feet. That means Forest Park is 59,720,760 square feet.

b. One gooey butter cake is one square foot. That means it would take 59,720,760 gooey butter cakes to cover Forest Park.

c. The average price of a 12-inch gooey butter cake? $11.

d. The price of 59,720,760 Gooey Butter Cakes at $11 each would be $656,928,360.

e. 1.1 billion minus $656,928,360 = $443,710,640.

Would you rather have that stadium or all of this? Decisions, decisions.

link: Riverfront Times

Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices visits Planet Score Records

Joe Stulce, Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices, Tim Lohmann - PHOTO BY HEATHER WOODSIDE

Joe Stulce, Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices, Tim Lohmann – PHOTO BY HEATHER WOODSIDE

Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices visits Planet Score Records
by Jaime Lees
Mon, Nov 9, 2015

Our world-class local record stores are visited by famous shoppers all of the time, but Planet Score Records is just a newborn and it’s already had one very important shopper come around to count its little fingers and toes.

In a story we published a couple of weeks ago, we introduced you to Joe Stulce and Tim Lohmann, who co-own Planet Score Records. Their new shop in Maplewood opened just before Halloween and it was open less than a week before getting a visit from Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices.

The store was named after one of Pollard’s songs. Owner Stulce is a major GbV fan and was looking for a unique name for his business. He says that, “being a big dork,” he posted about his idea for the name onto a GbV message board and requested feedback from other GbV fans.

He certainly got some major feedback, too. The people who run the message board do business with Pollard and passed on this bit of information. Within 24 hours or so Stulce had Pollard’s blessing to use the name. But the store wasn’t open yet and wouldn’t be open for some months. Stulce was sure that Pollard had moved on and forgotten about the whole interaction.

Then, just five days after opening, Stulce got an email from Pollard’s wife saying that the couple were driving into St. Louis from Dayton, OH to visit the store the next day.

Lohmann and Stulce behind the counter with shopper Pollard - PHOTO BY HEATHER WOODSIDE

Lohmann and Stulce behind the counter with shopper Pollard – PHOTO BY HEATHER WOODSIDE

We visited the store this weekend to get the story about Uncle Bob direct from the source. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining bright and the shop had Status Quo’s Spare Parts playing on the sound system. (Oh yeah.) It was the perfect record store afternoon.

The small store had more customers than you’d expect for a place that just opened. Friends were popping in to say hello, regulars from the business’ old location were visiting to see the new space and neighborhood shoppers were scoping out the new guys. Everyone there seemed happy and happily busy.

Stulce was no exception, and we asked him questions about Pollard’s visit when he had breaks between helping customers. Stulce’s smile spread wide and he nearly bounced with excitement when relaying the story. He says that Pollard arrived, indeed, and was apparently more kind and thoughtful than anyone could’ve ever even hoped. Pollard stayed at the store for a few hours that day, just shopping and hanging out and patiently signing all of Stulce’s GbV vinyl. He also posed for many pictures and was kind to fans who were shocked to see him just kicking it in the store.

So if Bob Pollard of Guided by freakin’ Voices thinks that Planet Score Records is cool, chances are that you’ll think that it’s cool, too. Check out the new kids on the block at 7421 Manchester Road in downtown Maplewood.

GbV fan Akin, Pollard, Stulce and Lohmann in front of the Planet Score Records sign - PHOTO BY HEATHER WOODSIDE

GbV fan Akin, Pollard, Stulce and Lohmann in front of the Planet Score Records sign – PHOTO BY HEATHER WOODSIDE

Guided by Voice’s “Planet Score”

link: Riverfront Times

Gang of Four Guitarist Andy Gill On His Band’s Wide Influence

photo by Leo Cackett

photo by Leo Cackett

Gang of Four Guitarist Andy Gill On His Band’s Wide Influence
By Jaime Lees

Gang of Four is the post-punk band by which all other post-punk bands are measured. A label applied to a host of acts from the late ’70s and early ’80s, post-punk groups are thought of as those that took the DIY ethics of punk, dropped the safety-pinned fashion statements and added an element of lyrical intelligence. It’s punk without self-imposed, clichéd boundaries and sonic limitations.

Leeds-born Gang of Four excelled at embodying that spirit. And though its contemporaries are seen as bands such as the Mekons, Wire or Mission of Burma, Gang of Four’s classic albums Entertainment! and Solid Gold have quietly molded a whole generation of musicians. Those who claim to have been influenced by Gang of Four include St. Vincent, Michael Stipe, Adam Jones, Carrie Brownstein, Tom Morello and James Murphy.

“It’s funny. It does seem to kind of resonate,” says Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill. Speaking from his home studio in the center of London, Gill is polite, whip-smart and full of the charmingly poetic idioms of his countrymen.”It seems to get around. I think so many people have gotten things from Gang of Four or caught a vibe from it. They got a stylistic or a certain lyrical approach.

“A lot of people think it’s their own little secret,” he adds. “But there’s lots of them out there.”

In addition to his cutting (yet danceable) guitar work, Gill has long been in demand for his producing skills. His list of album credits is varied — from the Jesus Lizard to Michael Hutchence to the Red Hot Chili Peppers — and, 36 years into his career, he’s still frequently called upon by unexpected fans.

“Gwen Stefani,” he says. “She’s a big fan, you know. And she’s been asking about me, Gang of Four — she wants to write with me and stuff. Which I’ll be very happy to do. I think she’s a great pop artist.”

So why do these very different acts seek out Gill? He humbly explains:

“I think what happens is the people who get in touch with me tend to have something in common with me already. I was going to pull some example out of the air, but if I say Madonna is not going to call me, she’ll probably call me tomorrow,” he says. “And I’ll have to say no because I’m on tour. So, you know, the people who get in touch with me and want me to do stuff tend to have some level of association…. You can kind of hear this connection in between our music.”

His production work has afforded Gill and Gang of Four some unique opportunities as well.

“I produced a band in China, which is the first time I’d been in China,” he says. “In December 2012. It was really interesting. They got in touch with me — they really wanted me to do it because they knew my band’s work — so they asked me to come over there. And I just wanted to do it; I thought it was really interesting. It was a great opportunity for me to go there and suss out a few things.

“And then I met a lot of people there, and then went back and did some gigs there,” he continues. “And made friends with a few people that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. It’s incredible that things like that can happen.”

Despite his obligations to other artists, Gill says he always makes sure to put his own music first. Gang of Four’s newest album, What Happens Next, was released earlier this year; the band kicked off a 25-date American tour in support of it late last month.

“I think the last few years the new music is what’s been getting my loving care and attention,” he says. “I don’t really want to put it off to the side. I want to go full steam ahead.

“It’s very tough to get everything done,” he adds. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t really have a chance to stand still and reflect on where I’m going or what I’m doing with it. But I’ve already got half of the next album demoed, so if I could just get some time in the studio for a bit I could get some things done.”

8 p.m. Thursday, October 8. Old Rock House, 1200 South Seventh Street. $20 to $25. 314-588-0505.

link: Riverfront Times