Rock side projects don’t have the best reputation among fans for good reason. While an artist’s need to branch out from their established sound is understandable, it’s hard not to consider material by Box Car Racer, Alter Bridge and the Eagles of Death Metal as filler in between releases by Blink 182, Creed and the Queens of Stone Age. But against all odds, Tool’s Maynard James Keenan’s side project A Perfect Circle has carved out a unique place for itself in the modern music landscape.
Formed by Keenan and former Nine Inch Nails guitar technician Billy Howerdel in 1992, the group later grew to include multi-instrumentalist Paz Lenchantin, guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and drummer Tim Alexander by the time A Perfect Circle first began performing shows in 1999. In 2000, Alexander was replaced by ex-Vandals drummer Josh Freese and the band released their first album, the moody and anthemic Mer de Noms. The record went platinum before the year was out and won over critics who believed that A Perfect Circle was a half-baked Tool spin-off.
In 2002, Lenchantin and Van Leeuwen left the group to join Billy Corrigan’s side project Zwan and was replaced by former Marilyn Manson bassist Jeordie White and Corrigan’s ex-Smashing Pumpkins bandmate James Iha. Despite behind the scenes turmoil, A Perfect Circle’s second album, 2003’s melodic and haunting Thirteenth Step was a critical and commercial success, selling more than 231,000 copies in its first week of release. After touring extensively through the middle of 2004, the band released the cover heavy and aggressively political eMOTIVe the same day of the 2004 Presidential Election. Perhaps because the band’s zeal to effect change overwhelmed their aesthetic sensibilities, the album was poorly received by fans and critics, though it did achieve gold certification in U.S.
After the release of eMOTIVe, the band went on an extended hiatus so that Keenan and Howerdel could work other projects. Just when it seemed like the band was done for good, A Perfect Circle launched a tour and made a slew of media appearances 2010. The band continued touring through 2011 and in 2013 released a greatest hits album and a box set of live performances. Before playing a series of concerts in 2014, Keenan was quoted as saying that he has “75% of the foundation of [the next] A Perfect Circle record ready to go.” Whenever the next record is released, it’ll further cement the band’s status as a vital rock group that’s far more than just an indulgent side project.