Maynard James Keenan, Rock's Most Unusual Winemaker

Maynard Keenan has to be one of the most enigmatic and musically schizophrenic men in rock. A soldier in the U.S. Army in the '80s, Keenan did a four-year tour of duty and then entered civilian life. He met future Tool guitarist Adam Jones in 1988 and one year later, the monolithic prog-metal group was born when the two enlisted drummer Danny Carey and bassist Justin Chancellor.

Keenan has had a myriad of side projects in music and film. He blew up modern-rock radio with the wiry and divisive A Perfect Circle in 2000, and confounded some with his solo Puscifer project. He was a semi-regular guest on HBO's Mr. Show with Bob and David as the lead singer of a fictitious metal band called - funnily enough - Puscifer.

A few years back, Keenan started a vineyard in Arizona - an area not generally associated with wine-making - with fellow vintner Eric Glomski, Since 2004, Caduceus Cellars has been producing bottles of well-received wine from his Merkin Vineyard.

Keenan hits Houston Thursday afternoon at the Whole Foods Market in Sugar Land (15900 Southwest Freeway, 4:30-7:30 p.m.). He'll be signing bottles of his wine and making spaghetti and other homemade organic dishes that he hopes to one day package and sell along with the wine. Kind of like a prog-metal Paul Newman.

Pretty wicked for the dude who sang "Prison Sex" and "Hooker with a Penis"...

Rocks Off: What made you delve into the wine business? Maynard Keenan: It's really about independence, but that sounds vague. That's the only word I can think of really.

RO: To create something on your own? MK: Communities in Europe are relatively sustainable and bomb-proof, compared to what's going on in the world around them. There's something committed when you have vines in a community. There's something about you in it for the long haul. Little activities are established around that in the area.

RO: Not so plastic? An organic process? MK: It's not like planting lettuce. There's a much more artistic focus that comes with wine-making and grape-growing. But also the time frame it takes to establish a vineyard, discovering all the benefits and nuances of our efforts long after we are dead.

RO: Do you see any parallels between the cultivation process of wine and the creation of music? MK: People that embrace new ideas and take risks and challenges, for them it's about expanding their senses and consciousness. To write it off as just comparing music to wine-making is limiting. It's leaving out cooking, painting, fitness, diet, world travel. All those things help expand your awareness and help one become a more conscious being.

RO: Out of all your wines, which one is your favorite? Which one would you suggest? MK: They are all different. It's all depending on what you are eating, what you are pairing them with. They are all expressions of some sort. We are still figuring out where we are going and seeing what Arizona has to offer as far as site characteristics. There are several different paths you can take. We are trying to break out of the general rules of wine. But as far as one that stands out? They are all standing out in their own way, sorry! (laughs).

RO: Like kids? You can't have a favorite... MK: You spend some so much time focusing on each one, generally only looking at the weaknesses to try to build on them.

RO: Most people don't see Arizona as wine country... MK: It's not known now, but pre-Prohibition and the world wars, there were vineyards all over. The vines were pulled out during Prohibition. It's actually a perfect area for vineyards, but it's an expensive upstart. It takes commitment to the idea.

RO: The name of your vineyard is "Merkin." [Ed. note: a pubic-hair toupee.] Does that reference go over people's heads? MK: Mostly... (laughs). But I like it.

RO: As far as music goes, what are you working on? MK: Just Puscifer stuff. But I'm working on the wine mostly.

RO: Any new Tool stuff? You and Adam Jones have been working together for about 20 years or so. MK: We have no idea. It will happen when it happens. Most people look at a band as a marriage, but we say "no" to that. We have to court each other and then start over. Decide whether we get along, and then have the baby.

[Note: Tool is widely rumored to be headlining Lollapalooza this July in Chicago, and announced a summer tour (dates forthcoming) Thursday.]

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty