A Perfect Circle’s auteur, Billy Howerdel has taken a strange and seldom-traveled path from a guitar tech and studio engineer (working with bands such as NIN, Tool and Smashing Pumpkins) to a hard rock icon in a relatively short period of time. Just before the Sacramento, Calif., show, Howerdel took a break to talk with Mix about taking the band’s album Mer De Noms from the studio to the road and a little bit about the band’s songwriting process on the road.
Mer De Noms is certainly a complex album, musically and arrangement-wise. How did you go about making the tour playable?
Well, not everything can be played live. Some of the stuff was transferred from Pro Tools to DA-98. Other than that, some of the album — well, most of the album — was recorded before I met the band. In preparation for the tour, I was teaching the band parts, and some of it was worked out in the rehearsal studio. But some of it, I kind of had to show them how it was done on the album. So there was a lot to do in the beginning, and on top of that, there’s just a whirlwind of press that this band had to do.
What was the guitar rig that you settled on for this tour?
Basically, I have a custom-made amp made by this guy Dave Friedmann in North Hollywood; it’s basically a combination of a Mahler and a Marshall. Then I pretty much use this Lexicon MPX-G2 processor, which is really good for analog pedals; it kind of takes away all of those analog pedals and puts them in one rack unit. And then post effects, I use a DigiTech 2101, this old kind of noisy thing and a G Force X254X (TC Electronic).
How much time do you spend trying to approximate what you did in the studio for the live situation?
A lot. I do a lot of tweaking. Where I came from, my background came from being a guitar tech, and I guess my specialty was making sounds for people. So, I get pretty tweaky with a lot of sounds. I should of thought it out a little more in the beginning, but I was trying to save a buck or two and do it with just those effects. But a little more gear would have made it a lot easier. So I try to squeeze a lot out of just those units. But I spend a lot of time and I still am…I mean we changed the set this time out a little bit, and I could spend six hours in a rehearsal day just tweaking sounds before the band gets in there.
Are you guys debuting any new material on this leg?
Nothing that’s going to be on a next record. We are doing some different things. Hopefully it will be a surprise for the people at the show.
How involved are you, gear-wise, with what Troy and Paz are doing?
Well, Troy had a thing going already. And I just got him a TC and a Lexicon. I tried to really get him geared up for a tour where backups were a necessity and getting rid of some old analog pedals and stuff like that. And Paz’s rig, I just put together. So, yeah, I’m instrumental in helping them get sounds and stuff. But Troy has really got it together; he’s definitely got his own thing. He really has his own sound due to a lot of crazy programming as well.
Are you guys doing any writing on the road together?
We were doing a little. When we get back, I think we’ll focus on it more. I tend to write in the hotel room, as I’m sure everyone else does. I just bring a rig in there.
What do you take with you?
I’ve got a big 20-space rack with a Marathon 9600 with a Pro Tools MIXPlus system, an Avalon 737 and the new Apogee 2-track, a little Mackie mixer, a tube mic, a basic guitar and an acoustic, and I pretty much do everything. I’ve got a little keyboard with SampleCell. I do everything except live drums. I’ve tracked three songs on the road, on the last tour, that are probably keepers for the next record.
So does Maynard then come in and cut vocals in your hotel room?
He’ll mostly do it at home. He’s talked about doing it on the road when he goes back out with Tool; he could do it then, and I can just send him files. But we’ll probably do it when he gets home. We’ll just do it at my house.
So he has a similar setup that he works on?
Yeah, I’ve pretty much got him set up with something similar to me. It’s pretty much the same thing, so we’re pretty interchangeable. We have hot-swap drives; I’ll just throw my drive into his rig, and we’re set. It just depends on where he wants to sing it.