Puscifer’s Carina Round Travels Inside the Eccentricities of ‘Existential Reckoning’
In 1992, Maynard James Keenan and Tool catapulted into the metal scene with “Opiate.” In the era of grunge rock, Keenan and company continued to demand attention the following year with their debut album “Undertow,” and its enigmatic, clay figured videos, singing in an idiosyncratic dialect. Tool albums grew steadily more adventurous, drawing from various sounds and styles including prog rock, art rock and Eastern classical music, and expanding Maynard’s and the band’s visions into primal and atmospheric live performances, that featured haunting, often psychedelic short films. Keenan’s second band, A Perfect Circle, continued to travel beyond the sounds of the metal genre, and found Maynard embracing a bit of his softer, more conventional side. But in the duration of the eclectic visions that Keenen has generously pursued, his latest project, “electro-rock” outfit Puscifer, takes Maynard’s visions to new extents and appeals to his most adventurous spirit.
The band’s backstory involves Billy D (portrayed by Keenan) who vanished somewhere in the Southwestern desert. In a hypothetical mission of a lifetime, special agents operating under the code name Puscifer have set out in search of Billy D, dealing with obstacles that include the overlap between analogue and digital technologies. Since their experimental beginnings of 2007’s “‘V’ Is for Vagina,” Puscifer has seen a revolving door of talent, but one constant, beyond Maynard himself, has been Mat Mitchell, and the other, since their sophomore record “Conditions of My Parole,” is Carina Round. While Keenan is the master of ceremonies, in charge of lyrics, the bulk of melodies and at the forefront of vocals, Carina Round continues to remain front and center. Carina spoke with Entertainment Voice to touch on the band’s backstory along with the sounds and stylings of their fourth studio album, “Existential Reckoning.”
The legend behind Puscifer involves a search for Billy D, who is said to be missing somewhere in the Arizona desert and possibly abducted by aliens. How does the latest album factor into this quest?
Well, the idea is that Billy D went off the desert, possibly abducted, and the agents involved in looking for him decided to try to communicate, possibly with the potential aliens, by creating a landscape of sounds that were perfectly entwining the digital and the emotional, and the mathematical and the instinctual, to try and create a platform and a message that would and could communicate with those that might be able to help.
Existential dread has never seemed so universal of a sentiment as in 2020. Expand on the album’s title, “Existential Reckoning,” and its personal meaning to you, and how it flows into the lyrics of this record.
Maynard came up with the title, and he also wrote the lyrics. I would never want to speak for him, but the beautiful thing about this record and his lyrics in general, which is why they’re so universal, is that although there’s generally a very strong theme, it takes the listener to complete the song, and each person’s interpretation might be slightly or wildly different, and I think it’s important to [Maynard], and this is me speaking not him, to have that universality in the lyrics and to not just sell the farm.
“Apocalyptical” calls out blissful ignorance in lines like, “Go on, moron, ignore the evidence.” Was this song directed toward any particular individual, institution or recent event?
I will say this, the “Apocalyptical” lyrics were written and sung at the end of 2019. There was no pandemic as far as we knew it at that point, but it was a conscious choice to release it when it was released.
Other song titles range from “Grey Area 5.1” to “Bullet Train to Iowa,” in which your vocals generally come across as the more spacey and ethereal elements in the mix. Tell our readers what part you play, along with Maynard and Mat, in terms of sonic aesthetics and overall vision.
The way this particular record began is that Mat Mitchell started putting the song beds together — the general sounds and rough arrangements — around five years ago when we were on tour with the last record… During this time Mat had bought a couple of ’80s synthesizers and samplers that he had fallen in love with and those instruments had a lot to do with the sound and the vibe of this record, starting out. So, then Maynard takes those landscapes of songs and music and, I guess, reacts to what he’s hearing… Sometimes he will put down an entire set of lyrics with melody and sometimes it will just be a rhythm that he is feeling. Sometimes it’s just a simple melody line. And, at any point, if I feel strongly [about something], I react to that. It’s an emotional reaction on all fronts from all of us. But once he gets into it, then it just becomes this ricochet of ideas and feelings and dynamics from all of us. It’s gotten to the point where we have a certain amount of trust in each other’s strengths, but none of us are sure what is going to happen when it gets to that other person so there is still this kind of excitement and that ability to hear something unexpected and have an emotional reaction to it and create based on that excitement… This time particularly I was much more involved in [the process] — the soundscape and the building of the sounds of the songs.
One feature that stands out on this record is the unique blend of digital and analog sounds, and the moods associated with such technologies. Tell us about a few specific instances in the album in which the choice of vintage and modern elements especially shaped the sound and feeling of the music for you?
Well, like I said, some of the initial kernels of ideas stem from Mat buying these huge ’80s synthesizers and samplers and old gear like that. The thing with those instruments is even if you are a master of piano or guitar or voice, you can definitely still be surprised and inspired at what you create when you sit down for an hour and mess with those instrument because they are so limited in their capacity of what they can do compared to the technology that is available to musicians these days. That, in a way, the limit of what you can do with those instruments almost makes it more inspiring. So he had a lot to do with that marriage of the initial vibe of that analog and digital sound coming together and then I think a lot of Maynard’s lyrics and some of his melodies were inspired by that. And, my melodies and ideas were definitely inspired by that. I experimented a lot with an Eventide 4000, which is an old effects unit. Instead of just singing into a microphone I would sing my parts through the effects unit and, in a lot of ways, the sound coming back from that would inspire what I would do with my voice or with the melody, so my voice became more of an instrument. That was really exciting to me because it’s easy for me to get bored of my voice.
Puscifer is known for wildly engaging live shows which extend into the realm of performance art. With the current shift to virtual performances, Puscifer is just the type of band to dream up a novel way of dealing with our current circumstances. Tell our readers what you have in store.
We recently announced a virtual show that is happening on the day of the record release, Oct. 30. It is going to be live in Arcosanti, which is a really interesting micro community in the high desert of Arizona. Arizona is obviously a special place for Puscifer. It’s going to be fucking great. And, you can buy tickets for it at Puscifer.com.
And, lastly, is there anything else you want tell our readers about the record?
I would say, play it loud and play it frequently.
“Existential Reckoning” releases Oct. 30 on Apple Music.