May 11, 2018 Interview – Billy Howerdel of A Perfect Circle
Patience, it is often an attribute that wears quite thin among the best of us when we want something so badly. Fortunately, good things come to those who wait, and 14 years removed from their last studio album, A Perfect Circle returned on April 20th of 2018 with Eat the Elephant. A delightful gift for longtime fans, many who honestly wondered if new music from APC would ever be released, now it is the dawn of a new day as they tour across the globe.
A band that has withstood gaps of time without touring and releasing new music, defying odds, their popularity, as well as significance, has not dwindled one bit through the years. Taking the time to recollect the extraordinary ride of A Perfect Circle, Lead Guitarist/Music Composer Billy Howerdel sat down to talk Eat the Elephant, his approach to writing music, influences, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – A Perfect Circle has been established for nearly 20 years now. In that time, the band has captured the imagination as well as engaged the senses of listeners with 4 studio albums. A band that as shifted and morphed through the years, what has the journey been like for you?
Billy Howerdel – We had a break in the middle of the momentum, so getting back to what we do some of the years later is having to reacquaint yourself with this part of yourself. It was really exciting, especially last year, getting back and doing our first shows after not doing a US tour in around 6 years. It was really great to brush the cobwebs off those songs, get out to play them again, and have people show up – you never know after a big break what’s going to happen, if people remember you or still care. It doesn’t go unnoticed and it was greatly appreciated.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, you really never know what will happen when there are long extended breaks. There has been some extensive breaks between studio records as well. You recently released a great new album, Eat the Elephant. What was the writing and recording like for this album?
Billy Howerdel – It was similar and different. In ways that it was similar, I had some loose sketches or somewhat more realized songs in some cases, presented them to Maynard, he wrote lyrics to them, and we finished them out. Different, in that, I wanted to work with an outside producer/engineer to take a seat on the couch so to speak in the studio, and get out of the mode of sort of handling every aspect, not being flooded with that. That was an interesting and different turn in how A Perfect Circle records are made.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and like other A Perfect Circle records which came before, it is different. The band has successfully not repeated themselves with each album. This record has a mix of feelings – some light, some dark, but overall, there seems to be an underlined theme about the current state of society. Is that social consciousness something very important to the band?
Billy Howerdel – It is to me, you would have to ask Maynard, I would assume so for him. There is a blending of the outside world around you and how it affects the art that comes out of you. Speaking for me, it certainly does. I don’t know if you are able to track molecule for molecule, what comes in is what comes out. Sometimes it’s a reaction to something in the outside world that reflects it, and sometimes it’s the antithesis as an escape from it. I never really know until it’s done. You just never know where the spark comes from, but the spark is important, and there is certainly a lot of spark that has been happening in the past few years.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true and it is evident in the music. Speaking of which, to bring a visual to it all, the music video for “Disillusioned” is quite striking. Almost like a mini movie, it takes on this disconnect we as a people have due to cell phones, social media, etc. What was the making of the video like?
Billy Howerdel – Someone did it for us, we were on the road. We were looking for directors and we went on the strength of past works, etc. There are things that I think hit, there are some things I would probably had done differently, but that is what collaboration is. It is all about compromising and looking at what someone’s interpretation of what art it is. That’s the whole point – to be so heavy-handed with it might defeat the purpose.
CrypticRock.com – Sometimes you have to step outside. It is hard to judge your own work sometimes, you need outside input at times. On the topic of human disconnect, A Perfect Circle has always been consistent during live performs that the audience please not take out their cell phones. To some, this may come across as demanding, but it is really a great idea, because how are you supposed to enjoy an experience and absorb something if you are staring down at a cell phone or worried about taking a few photos. Is that something you guys feel very strongly about?
Billy Howerdel – Yes, we made it a policy at our shows. The reasons why might always be vague, or in lockstep with each other why we want it. It’s not just about asking someone not to do it for their own good, it’s being considerate to the people around you. The same reason you don’t light up a cigarette in an elevator, is the same reason we are asking you to put the phone down, you are blocking someone’s view behind you.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, it is a distraction in part of everyday life. How can you enjoy a concert experience for yourself and others if you are always looking down at a cellphone? As you said, there has been breaks for A Perfect Circle, but the band always returns with strong material. Is that a challenge to get back creative headspace together when composing new music or preparing for live shows, or is the chemistry flowing well?
Billy Howerdel – Yes and no. For me, I am always writing sketches – I am always jotting down or recording an idea, but I don’t take it to finish. I kind of leave it very open, because I don’t know when, or if, it will be finished out. Just like on this record, there are some songs that are many years old, some that are pretty recent. Doing them all as a collection of songs, otherwise known as an album, we’re trying to make them all fit together. If I finished a song in 2009 and try to compliment with songs we just finished out this year, you see the obvious problem if you are trying to have this cohesive, flowing sequence of songs that’s telling a story. At the end of the day, that’s what a record is. Each song is a character in a story that we are hoping to present to you.
CrypticRock.com – Understood. Another issue you may run into, if you wrote something so long ago, perhaps you listen to it different now when you look at it again.
Billy Howerdel – Sure, that is why I leave it open, I think it’s just better to go that way. I am doing the same thing right now, I am making a new solo record, a new ASHES dIVIDE record, or maybe I will call it something else. I’ve had these songs running in parallel to the songs that came out on the A Perfect Circle (APC) record for a long time. This new record will kind of help inform where I am going to do the next record. Everything is delicately balanced in some kind of way. It doesn’t mean it is going to be the antithesis of it, it’s just going to inform it in whatever way that means. Again, it is just how music works for me, I just try not to finish it out right when I write it.
CrypticRock.com – That makes sense. Glad you brought up ASHES dIVIDE, you released an exceptional album, entitled Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright, back in 2008. You did touring with that project, etc. Is there a good possibility this new album you do can be an ASHES dIVIDE?
Billy Howerdel – Yea, I am a little bit cart before the horse, but trying to think of when it’s going to come out. That is helping me figure out how to do these things, I am literally just starting to talk with some collaborators. It’s definitely going to happen. Right now my full focus, as far as campaigning, is for this APC record, but that is going to be on the horizon soon.
CrypticRock.com – That is exciting news to hear. A Perfect Circle has plenty of shows coming up, including festivals and dates in Europe. It has been some time since many people have seen the band, what can those expect to see coming out this time?
Billy Howerdel – I don’t know, I can never answer that question. I can answer specific questions, but broadly, I am a terrible salesman. I can’t convince you why you should come see the show, or buy the music for that matter.
CrypticRock.com – That is very understandable. You are playing some really cool venues, including the theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. You have never played there, right?
Billy Howerdel – We opened for Nine Inch Nails at Madison Square Garden, upstairs, for one of the first shows we ever played, back in 2000.
CrypticRock.com – That is a great memory! This will be your first headlining gig at Madison Square Garden, so that is exciting. As a musician, you appear to have a really broad range of influences listening to the A Perfect Circle and ASHES dIVIDE music. That said, what are some of your musical influences?
Billy Howerdel – There are so many, and I forget them often – it’s almost as I need to make a spreadsheet so I can look back on it when I am doing interviews. One that came to mind, a few weeks ago, I played 2 songs at a benefit show in LA. It was for MusiCares – it was a suicide/mental health awareness benefit that Dave Navarro and Billy Morrison put together. They asked me to play a couple of songs and I got to play alongside two of my guitar heros, Billy Duffy from The Cult and Malcolm McLaren from Adam and the Ants. We were playing Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980) record, which is one of, if not one of my favorite records of all-time. I was just thinking then, I don’t mention Billy Duffy enough, I think it’s obvious how much he has influenced my playing.
As far as a melting pot of guitar players, it’s Randy Rhoads, Robert Smith of The Cure, Will Sergeant from Echo and the Bunnymen, Johnny Marr of The Smiths, Warren Cuccurullo of Missing Persons. Song craft wise, Elvis Costello was one of the big artists I got into when I was young. Then, the first two Ozzy records changed everything for me as far as wanting to play and having fun playing. I guess you put The Cure in there, mix it all up, and that is where I come from.
CrypticRock.com – Those are all wonderful bands/artists and the influence is evident in your playing. The show you did with Dave and Billy was a great event for a good cause.
Billy Howerdel – It was nuts! I walked downstairs, around 30 minutes before we went on, and there were rock stars all around. Some I’ve met, some I just knew publically. It was a really cool thing to be involved with, and when you are in something like that, it’s always interesting. Ego goes away, no one really cares who you are, there is no special treatment – it is just, we are all here to do one common thing. It’s nice when everyone’s guard is let down in those situations.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was awesome time, hopefully you can be involved in it again. Last question. CrypticRock also covers Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of these genres, do you have an favorites?
Billy Howerdel – I love Sci-Fi, I am less of a Horror fan, because sometimes I am a big wimp. Then again, I always like when I leave the Horror movie, but I don’t set out to watch them, I usually get pulled to them. I don’t know if you consider it Horror, certainly a suspense film, but I just watch A Quiet Place and it was phenomenal. I thought it was a near perfect movie, I just really enjoyed it in every way. It’s still sticking with me. A movie can stick with you whether it’s inspirational or it’s messages. The effect of that movie, of the place it puts you into, and how much it carries over, it’s disturbing within itself to say, “If I can be immersed in this world within 90 minutes, god, imagine being in that world day after day.” I think it really worked.