Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, Caduceus Cellars, Merkin Vineyards, A Perfect Union of Contrary Things, television and film roles. Maynard James Keenan is the embodiment of creativity and ever the artist, never happy unless he keeps pushing himself to create even more.

The elusive Grammy award-winning artist shocked me by agreeing to an interview with Tennessee Craft Beer Magazine. I have been a Tool, Perfect Circle, and Puscifer fan for many, many years. I remember watching an MTV broadcast before one of the big music festivals, and Kurt Loder of MTV admitting he was nervous and starstruck interviewing Keenan before Tool’s performance at the festival. So here I am, set to be connected to a guy who admittedly does not like to be interviewed, be in the spotlight, or share personal things with journalists. To make matters worse, on the front page of his website for Puscifer, Keenan says, “People think I am a miserable sod, but it’s only because I get asked such bloody miserable questions.” But I am going to go down the rabbit hole, swallow the red pill, and pull back the curtain to see what I can discover.

Puscifer, the multimedia cabaret troupe meant to be a performance piece “not just a rock band regurgitating songs at you, but something that will not overwhelm your senses but entertain and dance with them,” is performing at TPAC in Nashville. We enter the theater to a full blown wrestling match, bodies are flying through the air and slamming onto the mat with a loud thud. Flanking the full sized wrestling ring at center stage are bleachers filled with fans cheering on their respective wrestler. It was kind of like a visit to an alternate universe version of Medieval Times where visitors cheer for their knight whilst yelling at the beer wench to bring another ale. On this night however, there were no shouts of “run him through” but rather cheers for every high flying arm drag, spiral ride, full speed slam into the turnbuckles, pile driver, and of course top rope full body slam.

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What the hell does this have to do with anything? While I am not quite sure, I do know that Maynard comes from a wrestling family. His dad is a well-known wrestling coach at Keenan’s high school in Michigan. Keenan continues his love of wrestling and mixed martial arts and currently studies Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at a high level. When the opening act is finished, Puscifer takes the stage. The drum set is planted dead center stage in front of the wrestling ring and Keenan and Carina Round perched proudly in the ring using it as their stage. They entice the audience with song after song while sometimes confusing images play across the large screen behind them. During portions of the performance the wrestlers come back out and intertwine themselves with the performance. It is a sight to behold and when finished, I think we all wanted more. Keeping with the elusiveness and the belief that the performance should be the focus, not himself, Keenan is in shadow for the entire performance. Not once does a spot light hit him, even when introducing the band and his singing partner Round.

During the interview, I become a little bold and ask Keenan why, since he was in Nashville after all, he didn’t play a song from one of the Puscifer EP’s called “Cuntry Boner.” Keenan answers, “I have to be careful where I sing that song, because Dwight Yoakam might come out of the stands and beat the sh*t out of me.” I mention that surely someone with an MMA background can take Dwight Yoakam. He fires back, “You can never underestimate a woman scorned.” Keenan believes Puscifer has to infuse comedy and become performance, sometimes teetering on the edge of satire and being quite “colorful” and sophomoric at times. His belief is that comedy isn’t pretty. He quotes Steve Martin, “It’s self deprecating or somebody else is getting thrown under the bus. We have to laugh at ourselves.” (You will have to look up “Cuntry Boner” to see what I’m referring to.)

Keenan describes “The beauty of Puscifer is going into theaters where there are ushers, not the rock clubs the people are used to. The unfamiliar forum throws audiences off their normal game. They are out of their element, because people have to sit in their own seat and they get chastised for pulling out a camera or invading someone else’s space. It’s like boot camp for them, breaking them down to build them back up so they can pay attention and appreciate what’s happening in front of them.”

Keenan’s passion for performance matches his passion for wine. He is the owner of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards, both in his hometown of Jerome, Arizona. He talks about how it was really hard to be accepted by the wine community. He was just another “f*cking rockstar trying to put his name on a label and selling wine” was the intial reception. Once the community realized that he not only produced rich complex old world reds, and wonderful Italian style whites, but he also grew the grapes and blended the wines himself, they became more accepting. He has a tasting room associated with Caduceus Cellars, and is about to open up one for Merkin Vineyards along with an osteria that includes locally grown produce and pastas made with locally grown wheat as part of his ever-growing operation.

When asked if he enjoyed craft beer, he said he enjoys the care taken to produce it, saying “something has to be top notch, or don’t f*cking do it.” Maynard has millions of dollars invested in the wine business and while he certainly wears lots of hats, beer would be a distraction. He uses time out during his tour stops to study the local wine scene and visit as many wineries as he can, if he can pick up an idea or a tip here or there he is all for it. After all, he is growing many varieties of grapes on 110 acres in the desert of Arizona!

Talking about appreciation of an art form and the care it takes, be it beer, wine, or music, “People come in and taste wine that is in the process of fermenting. They make an ugly face and say it’s awful. Of course it is. It’s not done. Same as if I play a rough track. You can tell they want to say it’s terrible. When I play the song when it’s completed or pour the finished wine, and they think it is great. It’s the same with anything you do. Getting to the finished product is about patience, understanding, and a faith in the process.”

I think we here at Tennessee Craft Beer Magazine agree and are lucky to be able to swim in the splendors that have become an ocean of great beers that adhere to Keenan’s thought about faith in the process. It was an honor to be Keenan’s guest at the Puscifer show and part of his book launch for his new autobiography A Perfect Union of Contrary Things. If you are a Tool, Puscifer, or A Perfect Circle fan; or a fan of fine wines, I encourage you to pick up a copy.

I am looking forward to future renditions of “Sips and Sounds” and I hope you are, too. Until then, Cheers! I guess this time I’ve traded my beer glass for a Riedel stemmed wine glass. “Clink” and Rock-on!

Contributor Mark Crowe | Photography by Travis Shinn