“Tool is a machine": an exclusive interview with Adam Jones

(Image credit: Travis Shinn)

Next week, Tool's Fear Inoculum European tour touches down in the UK for the band's first dates on this soil for three years. Ahead of the shows, we got hold of guitarist Adam Jones for an exclusive interview to talk picking setlists, why the band insist on sticking to their ban on phones at all their gigs and relationships within the Tool fold after more than three decades together.

How do you guys go about putting a new tour setlist together?

“Well, you always want to do something you haven’t done in a long time. You always want to break the routine, make it more interesting for yourself, and there is a lot of negotiating that goes into it, but it ultimately comes down to Maynard. If I’m sick and have a 100-degree fever, I’m nauseous, I have the flu, I can still play, but for Maynard he wouldn’t be able to sing. So, we give him the last word to make sure he can do the show if he’s not feeling well. But the set this time is pretty incredibly, we’re doing some old school stuff and we’re really happy about it, some old and some new. It should be good.”

And Tool never just play the old songs the way they sound on those old records, either. That must be exciting, to be able to take that early stuff and reimagine it for a new tour?

“Yeah, I mean, it’s something that is Tool. Whatever we’re doing, we require it to go up a certain path, you know? So, it’s great: we have such a strong connection that clicks, and we really feed off of each other, so when we play something that we haven’t all played together for a long time there is this avenue of the unexpected and it more often than not turns out to be something very rewarding.”

The expectation from your fans, a fanbase who haven’t seen a full Tool tour for a very long time now, are sky-high at this point. Do you feel that weight of expectation?

“I mean, no... sometimes I look at the tour dates and I think, ‘Man, when was the last time we played here?’, but we just do what we do and we tear our guts out onstage. The approach is always the same our end. The expectation, I maybe feel that pressure on the first show of the first leg, but it soon goes. If I had my way I’d tour every six months of every year, it’s just an amazing connection that we get with our fans and it’s very rewarding. Every night is like climbing to the top of a mountain and then climbing back down again.”

How different is the relationship with you guys as individuals compared to back in the earlier days of the band?

"We’re real close, and when people are close, you love each other and then you hate each other. We have that family relationship, and it’s good, it’s real good, it’s probably the best that it has ever been to be honest. We know each other and it suits us, I like to leave the show early and Danny and Justin like to hang out after and we respect that. 

They want this and I need that, and we’re just more aware of that these days. Plus, we have good people helping us out as a band; it’s a machine now and it runs really well. We hire the best people and we hire the nicest people, we don’t have the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll thing going on (laughs). It’s a friendly environment, a supportive environment and it’s just great...I hope that answers the question?!”

The no photo policy is obviously very important to you guys; do you find it harder to implement that as the years pass and recording shows become more and more the norm?

“Yeah, I mean, for us, we’ve actually seen it changing and more and more big acts are asking their fans respectfully to enjoy the show, rather than looking at their camera the whole time. I think one of the problems is you get a lot of lights because people don’t know how to use their cameras correctly, which makes it very blinding onstage. It’s just...it’s that connection. You lose something without that connection, and you just want people to be in their own world rather than getting the whole show on their phone and then never looking at it again. 

It’s a big distraction. Have you ever been to a concert and you can’t see the show because the person in front of you is holding their phone up in front of the stage? It’s just kind of obnoxious. Just keep your phone in your pocket, enjoy the show and we’ll see you after and you can get back on it! (laughs) People need a break. I feel like [phones have] become an appendage, like part of our anatomy, you know?”

The singer-songwriter Mitski recently put a tweet out asking her fans not to use flash photography at her shows and she received quite a backlash for it. Have you had much pushback from your fans at all?

“Yeah, look, I get it: I go to shows sometimes and I want to capture a little something, your blood is pumping and you want to capture it, you want to capture that feeling. But it’s like a drug, you get that feeling and then you come back down to Earth, it’s no big deal. You look at it once maybe and that’s it, unless you’re a blogger or something. I get it, but we spend a lot of money on the show, we spend a lot of money on getting the best people on the video and the laser show. We have this three-dimensional curtain effect, which is incredible. 

I just think, once you pull your phone out, you’re not connecting, you're not at the show, you’re more about capturing it from your phone, watching it from your phone. Okay, then just go on YouTube. Why bother? You’ve paid the money to immerse yourself in this, we’re taking you by the hand and trying to take you on a little journey and do our magic for you. Which is something that requires your attention and your eye contact. It’s a different world, it’s a request and it’s respectful, and I think our fans seem absolutely fine with it.”

Tool always have really interesting support bands. Are there any other bands would you like to play with or take out on tour with?

“Ooh...that’s a loaded question. There are so many! I really like Arch Enemy. That was one that I was really thinking about asking. A lot of bands that are our level do the industry giveaway, take out a band that will actually pay them for the exposure. We’ve never done that. Never done pay-to-play back in the old Sunset Strip days, and never charged bands that we take out with us. We always pay the bands and ask them ourselves, and we always take out bands that we like. 

We don’t have to look for a band to draw tickets, because we don’t really have a problem doing that, so what we do is we take turns. It’s Dan’s turn so he picks this band, then it’s Justin’s turn and he picks that band, Maynard’s turn and he picks a band, this time it was my turn and I picked Brass Against. I have always really liked them, their energy, their cover songs, their wind section...you don’t really see that anymore.”

How do you feel about touring as a lifestyle these days? Still enjoy it?

“Well, going back to my earlier comment about wanting to tour half a year, every year, that would be a yes. It’s just what I do, it’s what we do, we wanna play live, we record and do all the other things that, to me, promote what the four of you do in a room with that intimacy with an audience. I like to see the different cultures and see different people. In terms of what makes the touring lifestyle appealing, I think the answer is pretty obvious.”

Anything that you don’t like about it so much?

“Yeah, I guess the border-crossing and waiting around a lot. Insurance, passport control...my friend Buzz from The Melvins always says that if it is worth having then it’s worth suffering for. The bad things are so minute in comparison. So, I’m not sure I can answer that question that clearly.”

There’s a lot of material from the new album on the setlist, how important has it been to get the new stuff in front of people?

“Well, yeah, you wanna play the new tunes. You’ve been playing the old stuff for years and you finally get a chance to show people these new songs and that you’ve reached this next stage. But there is a tasteful balance to the set; we change things up every night, we don’t play the exact thing every night. About 70% is the same every night, but if we’re doing two nights in a row somewhere then we’ll change it up quite a bit. Some people like to come twice, you know!”

What does the rest of the year hold for you?

“I’m not sure. We have some plans, Maynard has some things that he needs to do. We have some one-offs, we’ve got to that point where the schedules are coming up and we’re looking to commit to things. Basically, we all want to tour.”

Is there a type if venue that you guys like to play? The scale of your shows lend themselves to an arena, but do you ever wish you could do some intimate club shows?

“We’ve been offered stadiums and we’ve turned them down, because we think that at that size there are only a certain amount of people that can actually enjoy that show. It’s not about you anymore. Seeing The Rolling Stones and you’re all the way back in the stadium and you’re basically watching a jumbotron, you know? I’m not into it, we’d rather do two nights in a smaller place than one night in a huge place. As far as what type of room, it’s just cool whatever they throw us. Sometimes we do play some smaller places. A few nights ago, in Oslo we played this rectangular room, usually you’d be at the far end of the rectangle, but we were in the middle of the rectangle, it was very strange, but really cool. 

There is something to be said for playing a club, that intimacy, and we’ve talked about doing that Rolling Stones thing where they did a club tour and had a higher ticket price, and that seems like something that could be good. Right now, though, we have this epic show, it’s designed so that the worst nosebleed seat is great. We definitely directed focus to someone that is sitting far away, it’s almost the best seats just because of the visuals and how we have designed the whole thing. Like I said, we have this three-dimensional thing...it’s going to be a good show! (laughs)”

Tool hit the UK next week. Fear Inoculum is out now

Tool European and UK tour 2022

Apr 23: Copenhagen Royal Arena, DK 
Apr 25: Oslo SpektrumA, NO
Apr 26: Stockholm Avicii Arena, SE
Apr 28: Hamburg  Barclaycard Arena, DE
Apr 29: Frankfurt Festhalle, DE
May 02: Manchester AO Arena Manchester, UK
May 04: Birmingham Resorts World Arena, UK
May 06: 6 Dublin 3Arena, IE
May 09: London The O2 Arena, UK
May 10: London The O2 Arena, UK
May 12: Paris AccorHotels Arena, FR
May 13: Antwerp Sportpaleis, BE
May 15: Berlin Mercedes-Benz Arena, DE
May 17: Cologne Lanxess Arena, DE
May 19: Amsterdam Ziggo Dome, NL
May 21: Krakow Tauron Arena, PL
May 23: Prague O2 Arena, CZ
May 24: Budapest SportAréna, HU

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.