Formed in 1995 (as Umlaut), and filled with a very diverse and revolving group of musicians, Puscifer is a band fronted by veteran hard rock singer Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle).
The touring lineup is comprised of Maynard James Keenan (vocals), Carina Round (Guitar, Banjitar, Tambourine) , Mat Mitchell (lead guitar), Jeff Friedl (Drums, Samples), Mahsa Zargaran (Keyboards, Samples, Guitar, Backing Vocals) and Paul Barker (bass).
Labeled by Maynard as a product of his “collective subconscious”, the folks in Puscifer are currently gearing up for Round Two of their Money $hot Tour, bringing their highly stylized and theatric live show across the states for a second time. We recently had an opportunity to speak to the band’s Lead Guitarist, and co-songwriter Mat Mitchell about the tour and his thought’s on the band’s evolution and many other exciting topics. Also, in an AltWire first, we reached out to the band’s fans on Reddit and curated a range of questions to ask Mat during our interview.
Check out what Mat had to say below!
AW: It’s been almost five years since Conditions of my Parole and almost three years since Donkey Punch. Each album seems to take a very measured step forward. Does that come naturally?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: Yeah absolutely I think we’ve learned from each record, and each tour and the relationships have kind of developed over time. It’s a natural progression for sure.
AW: Branching off, do you see “Money Shot” as the progression of the sound that was expressed in “Conditions of My Parole” or something entirely different?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: A progression probably. There are certainly elements that are similar, but it wasn’t intentional. Anything that is similar or different [to Conditions of My Parole] was not intentional or deliberately thought about. It was a natural progression and a very organic step to where we are now.
AW: We’ve seen videos of the band recording in Maynard’s wine cellar. Does this mean that Puscifer writes and records year round?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: It’s definitely year round but it’s not always there. Sometimes it’s in LA, and sometimes it’s at the wine cellar, but it all depends on what’s happening in everyone’s lives. It’s really nice to work in that environment, just because it’s such a different environment than working in a studio. Being up in the mountains and away from a big city just puts you in a different head space and we find that it’s a real creative environment, and that we get a lot done when we’re out there.
AW: Acoustically, what’s it like to record in the Caduceus Wine Cellar?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: In a studio everything is controlled and out there it’s very wide open. It’s made for something completely different, so it comes with benefits and drawbacks. The key is just finding where it benefits and taking advantage of it. The drum sounds are amazing because there are a lot of concrete and round wooden barrels so we get a pretty amazing drum sound out there.
AW: When recording, do you approach the programming with a plan already in mind for how to reproduce certain textures live with other instruments: i.e., guitar, bass, synth, etc.?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: I certainly have thought about it but I try not to write or produce thinking too much about how it’s going to be interpreted live. Because I don’t want to not do something just because of that. I don’t want to put those kinds of restrictions. When we’re making a record we just focus on making it as good as we can and exactly what we want it to be, and then we interpret it later when it comes time to do it live. It becomes a fun challenge and an exciting thing to do to listen to it and figure out how we’re going to interpret it and what things we’re going to try to reproduce and what things we’re going to change to make it more fitting for a live show. I certainly think about it on occasion but usually we try to keep it separate.
AW: During the songwriting process, does the music or lyrics come first usually? How long does it normally take from the initial writing to the final cut of recording?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: It varies. Sometimes I’ll present music and Maynard will write to it, and sometimes he’ll present lyrics, or a line, or a story and then we’ll work together. As far as time it really depends. We’re kind of always throwing ideas down, but it’s not always with the intention of immediately turning it into a song. There’s ideas that may sit for two or three years before they get on the table for any sort of dissection. Then there’s other songs where Maynard will be like ‘oh I’ve got a vocal idea’ or I’ll be like ‘I’ve got a guitar idea’ and then the song is done in a day. So anything from 2-3 years to 24 hours!
“I’m really proud of the show we’re doing now, and I really want to play this show in front of as many people as we can. It seems like people are enjoying it and I couldn’t ask for anything more…”
AW: How does having a revolving line-up of various musicians affect recording in the studio and live performances from the band’s perspective?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: I really enjoy it because we can do whatever we want. If there’s someone that’s going to bring something to the table that’s different than what someone earlier brought to the table, there’s no ego or no feelings that are going to be hurt. We know that it’s all about the bigger picture, so as a producer it’s great. I can call on this person for ‘this thing’ and this person for ‘that thing’ and the palette of artists becomes way bigger. I think it makes for better songs and for a better fuller ‘big picture’, and I think it’s just a lot more interesting that way.
AW: How do you come up with the themes for the videos and live shows? Like the current running Luchador wrestler theme. Who’s the wrestling fan in the band?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: [laughs] Well we all are, and there’s kind of been a recurring theme from the last record and from the EP where we started introducing a bit of that, so we wanted to expand on it. As far as artwork and videos and things like that, Maynard and I both throw in ideas and we brainstorm on what things might be cool, and what stories we want to tell, and how we’d like the flow to go from act to act and how we’d want the show to progress. We just kind of weed it down and go from there. Again, working with other artists and kind of going back to your last question about the different musicians, it’s the same with different visual artists and people working on the different story ideas and with all the different additional talent we have working on the live shows, we kind of have just left our doors open. We’ve always been open to trying different things and we’ve gotten lucky.
AW: What is it like creating a persona to have on stage? How much of yourselves (the band) is coming out?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: I think everyone is pretty much themselves. There’s certainly a bit of theatrical elements that we bring to make it a little more interesting than being ourselves, but I think everyone’s pretty grounded in just doing their thing. Certainly Maynard and Carina have to bring more energy and theatrics because they’re the frontrunners, so there’s more of their personality being displayed.
AW: Can we get a rig rundown of your live setup, specifically which pedals you run through your midi controller, and if you select your Fender and Marshall one at a time or run them simultaneously?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: The main amp is the Fender. A lot of people think ‘Fender clean, Marshall dirty’ and that’s not how I do it. The Fender is 90% of the sound, it’s a Fender Vibro-King and occasionally if I want something a little more ‘mid’ focused I’ll switch to the Marshall or blend the two. As far pedals go, I use a tube screamer and an old Boss Fuzz pedal, and just the normal stuff. A lot of Boss pedals, which kind of surprised me. We were working the Conditions record and over the years I had become a bit of a pedal collector like most guitarists. I’ve got all these boutique fuzz pedals, and all these things that I think are going to be amazing but then I’m finding myself gravitating back towards a lot of the Boss pedals. Some of those things just can’t be beat. Even in my live rig, there’s a couple of ‘boutiquey’ things but the majority of them are Boss pedals. Then I have a Fender Esquire guitar, and a Jerry Jones Bass 6. A lot of people ask what the longhorn black guitar is and it’s Jerry Jones Bass 6. It’s really good for that ‘spaghetti’ kind of stuff, the in-between an a bass and guitar octave ‘noodly’ type stuff. It’s really cool for that.
AW: I hope you don’t mind me doing so, but I’d like to go back to the Bataclan attacks last year. The band performed a show in New Haven, CT shortly after the ISIS attacks in Paris where your bandmate Matt McJunkins was held hostage. During the show Maynard said that he, “barely made it through the show.” Would you be willing to describe what it was like playing that show and performing those songs? Did the band ever consider cancelling the show?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: I don’t mind talking about it. [At first] there was the initial finding out that there is something going on, and knowing that your friends are in the city, and then actually finding out that there are things going on in the building that they are in. It was a roller coaster, because these are your loved ones and you want them to be safe, so we were all on the edge of our seats and trying to get any information that we could. We were very happy to find out that he was safe and that most of the band and their entourage were fine. So you’re happy, but also you’re shocked and it kind of hits you. I don’t think anyone was considering cancelling the show or anything, just because you’ve got to keep moving. You can’t just stop because something bad happened.
During the show there were just certain songs and lyrics, you know, where you’re playing the song and you’re thinking about what your friend went through, or what the people who didn’t make it went through and it’s just an emotional thing. We never considered canceling and it wasn’t something where we went into it thinking about how it was going to affect us. We all just kind of dealt with it how we did, and I think that’s part of the healing too. Getting through it and having those emotions, you know?
AW: Absolutely, and I just wanted to thank you for being willing to revisit that. I know a few of our readers wanted to know your thoughts on the incident, and your openness to discuss it is appreciated. Going back to your own music…will Puscifer continue to try and release something on a fairly regular schedule or do you see future projects coming to fruition if only the time is right for everyone?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: It kind of just revolves around what’s happening at the time, and what’s going on and who’s doing what. We’re constantly being creative and working on things, and it’s usually a year out or a few months out where we’ll be like ‘hey why don’t we put out a record this year’, you know, and then we’ll take all of those ideas and start finalizing and consolidating and developing things. As far as doing it any more regularly, I don’t know. It just depends on what kind of time we have, and what we’re feeling at that point. We don’t really have a schedule outside of this record, or this tour, and we’re kind of going from there. Maynard’s busy with his wine and he has a couple of bands that he does, so he’s super busy and everyone else has their own things too. It just depends on when everything aligns and when it seems like a good time for everybody.
AW: What’s something you would like to accomplish with puscifer? What do you hope to see in the year ahead?
Mat Mitchell / Puscifer: As far as what I’d like to accomplish, I’m very happy with the record we put out. That’s an accomplishment that I’m really proud of and I just want to keep on making good records, and good music. I’m really proud of the show we’re doing now, and I really want to play this show in front of as many people as we can. It seems like people are enjoying it and I couldn’t ask for anything more. I just want to keep on doing what we’re doing and hopefully people will keep on enjoying it.