The four faces of a band that saved a lot of high schoolers.
The four faces of a band that saved a lot of high schoolers.

MusicDecember 31, 2019

David Farrier comes to terms with Tool, the band he hates to love

The four faces of a band that saved a lot of high schoolers.
The four faces of a band that saved a lot of high schoolers.

Summer reissue: What’s it like to wait over a decade for a new record from one of your favourite bands? David Farrier writes about the joys, perils and embarrassment of being a Tool fan in 2019.

This was originally published on 3 August, 2019.

Before you say it, let me: Tool fans are the worst. 

“You tall faggot!” a Tool fan yelled at me during a Tool concert back in 2007. Words yelled by one Tool fan at another. 

I asked my friend Gabrielle to recount “the incident”, as we call it. “We were standing there, minding our own business, when these stocky little bogans jostled over and then got mad at you for being a tall faggot and blocking their view.”

The stocky little bogans had made an accurate statement, I suppose. I was 100% tall and approximately 50% faggot. But it was spoken with hatred and bile and made me feel quite small at the time. A small faggot. 

The irony of the whole thing is that Tool was the band that helped me find and accept myself. Which is why I am writing about them now, because after 13 years of waiting, they’re about to release a new record called Fear Inoculum.

Tool’s last album was released back in 2006, the same year The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift hit cinemas.

A lot’s happened since then. The first iPhone, bitcoin, Barack Obama, Instagram, Twitter, the Virginia Tech shooting, the Large Hadron Collider, the Mars Rover, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump and Justin Bieber getting really mad at a bottle of L&P

The album was called 10,000 Days, and if you go by the theories online, it’s named either because singer Maynard James Keenan’s mother was paralysed for 27 years (10,000 days), or because Saturn takes 27 years to revolve completely around the sun.

With theories like that in mind, you can only imagine how utterly insufferable the Tool fanbase is capable of being. And you get the feeling Tool knows too, their army of fans all wearing one noun emblazoned on their tee-shirts and hoodies.

Me in my element in the 90s: A LAN party hosted at my house

I first heard Tool when I was 16. I was a pimply, shy, bespectacled nerd, attending a private Christian school where I was head boy and would pray to open up assembly. I thought gay people were disgusting and non-believers were destined for hell.

The only times I showed mild creativity were during school speech competitions. One year I gave a speech on breeding cats, and another year about political assassinations that had taken place during speeches (a cheap, hack riff on the classic “I am doing a speech about speeches” trick). The rest of the time I was fretting wildly over exams and grades.

Then one day Rodney handed me a copy of Tool’s second album, Aenima. I didn’t know Rodney all that well, but despite being the son of one of the teachers, he was popular, smart, fun and quite naughty. I looked up to him.

Before Rodney handed me that record, I had primarily listened to the trifecta of Good Christian Rock: DC Talk, Newsboys and Jars of Clay (I still stand by these bands, they’re great). I believe some Creed and POD may have crept in too.

With Aenima, I didn’t know exactly what I was hearing, but it did two fundamental things. It changed what I thought music could be, and it made me start to see that there were different ways to view the world around me. 

Album art from 1996’s Aenima

I suppose that’s the wonderful, empowering nature of music and what it can do to people. 

For some it was Bob Dylan or Springsteen, Pink Floyd or Beethhoven, Taylor Swift or Beyonce. But for me, born in 1982 and experiencing life as a teenager in ’90s New Zealand, it happened to be Tool.

The first thing that jumped out at me about this band was the total lack of focus on any band member. Instead, the album cover showed a mysterious, electric shimmer. In the liner notes, a painting of Bill Hicks, “Another Dead Hero” written underneath. The only sign of the band were some blurry figures on a couch, someone fellating themselves on the floor in front of them. On the back, a double-pupilled reptilian eye. 

The music felt mysterious, dangerous and utterly intoxicating. And big – oh so big. Songs would start small and grow huge, before crashing down again. To that naive boy, the lyrics opened up a whole world of ideas, from Jungian philosophy to the politics of the war on drugs. 

Tool, live

Looking on their website didn’t tell you anything about the band, it just contained giant essays about Alistair Crowley, the Knights Templar and sacred geometry. Their live show was full of strange visuals, the band-shrouded in darkness. Annoying fans rushing the stage were quickly neutralised by the frontman.

Curious about why Tool’s videos were so singular in their strange vision, I was delighted to learn they were made by the band’s guitarist, Adam Jones, whose previous job was creature building on some of my favourite films, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park.

I am really fucking glad Rodney gave me that CD.

Tool’s Adam Jones working on Jurassic Park and T2: Judgement Day

Oh yeah, that bit about Tool helping me find myself. If Aenima cemented my fandom, I guess it was later releases that helped inform my life beyond my Christian school and my relatively small, sometimes bigoted worldview.

There’s an inherent cringe in seeing lyrics written down, but they came at the perfect time for me 19 years ago. And fuck it, these aren’t exactly lyrics, but a sample of LSD enthusiast Timothy Leary found on “Third Eye”:

“Throughout human history, as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are, or where we are going in this ocean of chaos, it has been the authorities, the political, the religious, the educational authorities who attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations, informing, forming in our minds their view of reality.”

And by the time 2001’s Lateralus came out – an album with lyrics that are so low in the mix they are more instrument than song – well, that album felt like it was speaking directly to me: 

“There is / So / Much / More and / Beckons me / To look through to these / Infinite possibilities”.

Think the words are pretentious? Well, it gets worse. Weird lyrical structure, right? Count the syllables – 2-1-1-2-3-5-8. That’s the Fibonacci sequence descending, then ascending. The time signatures in the chorus change from 9/8 to 8/8 to 7/8: 987. 987 is the 16th number in the Fibonacci Sequence. The whole fucking song is the Fibonacci sequence. This is me now, talking as a Tool fan and understanding why we’re so annoying. Maybe listen to Joe Rogan talking about it instead.

My point is, as silly as it sounds, Tool opened me up to the world and to myself. By the time 2006’s 10,000 Days came out, I was an entirely different person to the one I was when Rodney handed me that copy of Aenima.  

My love of the band helped me figure out my work life, too. A new recruit in a newsroom, I stepped out of my comfort zone like a lunatic and paid my way to Hawaii using a credit card and my student living allowance. I could only afford to go there for two days so, concert ticket secured, I went. 

Once in my crummy hotel room, I flicked through the Hawaiian yellow pages and started calling local camera operators. Eventually one of them picked up on their weekend off. I told them I was a journalist from New Zealand here on assignment to interview Tool. He said he was free that night. 

The only problem was, I hadn’t secured an interview yet.

And so I walked two hours to the venue, where I told the ticket desk I needed to speak to the band’s tour manager. Look, it shouldn’t have worked – with this band especially – but somehow, after more calls and more waiting and more spinning, I sat down with Adam Jones and Danny Carey backstage. I talked to them about Jurassic Park, the hidden meanings in their music, and a million other things a gushing fan would ask. They were polite and cool and I realised what an adventure this journalism thing could be, if you just went for it. 

The concert was great, too. Metallica’s Kirk Hammett joined them on stage, and the next day I went for a boozy touristy boat trip to celebrate, before flying home to file several stories no-one in the newsroom had asked for.

Look, I’m not saying Tool was responsible for changing my life, but it helped. It was certainly there along the way. 

No other band will be able to do that for me again: I’m 36 now. I’m old, almost middle-aged. But you know what I can do? I can get fucking excited for Tool’s fifth studio record. 

Because it’s not like Tool broke up or anything. This isn’t a reunion. They’ve been happily touring over the last decade. They just haven’t released any new music. 

Taylor Swift fans have to wait about two years and still lose their shit. I’ve been waiting 13 fucking years.

Now it’s 2019, and it’s a whole new world. Tool are on Twitter now, and Instagram. This year sees their back catalogue on streaming services for the first time ever. 

Their frontman posts a selfie in front of a crowd, and stupid dad memes – probably to wind people up. But then Tool have always been winding people up, especially their fans: “All you know about me is what I’ve sold you, dumb fuck / I sold out long before you ever heard my name / I sold my soul to make a record, dipshit, and then you bought one,” they wrote back in 1996.

Tool in 2019: memes and photos

It is strange seeing this. But then it’s strange being a rock fan in 2019. Gone are the days of attempting to take over the playlist at a party. It was hard enough back in 1999. Try 2019.

Regardless, I tweeted an idea last month to feel things out.

I found out I wasn’t alone. 

“So scared of this concept but also super keen,” said the Phoenix Foundation

“Fuck yes,” said Mikey Havoc

“Just let me apply for some leave, organise childcare, move some funds around, prepare recovery meds, organise appropriate wardrobe, research and book travel, pick up a new tote bag and then…RIDE THE FUCKIN SPIRAL, BABY!” said @citizen_parable on Twitter.

I found myself wondering what Rodney would think, that wonderful human who handed me Aenima a lifetime ago.

So I hunted him down on Facebook, and told him I was writing some thoughts down about Tool. 

Then I told him that he’d actually had quite a big impact on my life, simply by giving a pimply nerd a CD.

He replied.

“To be totally honest, school was really tough for me in 3rd and 4th form. I’d come from Tauranga intermediate where I was really confident, to Bethlehem College. 

To escape from the days where I hated school, I listened to new music when I locked myself away in my room. Tool’s Aenima was honestly an album that showed me a whole new world to escape to – it showed me that there was more to the world than what I knew. Things obviously got better (the dicks we went to school with left to go to Boys College). 

When I gave you those tunes I really did feel like I was showing you something completely new – like I found something new. 

I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but knew it would create some new thoughts that you hadn’t experienced yet. Let’s face it Dave, you were square as fuck. At school you were a guy who was nice – not naughty, not rebellious, not a ‘rock the boater’.

But shit, when I saw that speech about the American presidents and their propensity for being shot, I knew there was a ‘creative’ that was trying to get out. To this day one of the all time great speech moments. So yeah – no real deep thoughtfulness went into sharing that music with you – it just helped me heaps and I felt you might like it and open you up to something new. 

Teenage/school years are weird – everyone struggles, even those that look like they’re sweet. To have something that is completely yours that you can escape to is powerful – I’m pretty sure Tool was all mine for a little while, until I decided to share them with a select few.”

So yeah, Tool fans can be the worst. But they can also be the best, I think.

Old promo photo of the band, who appear to enjoy cricket

This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our members. If you value what we do and want to help us do more – tautoko mai, donate today.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox