Maynard James Keenan opens a vein for Blood Into Wine
Best known for his musical work with the groups Tool and Puscifer, frontman Maynard James Keenan and his vineyard partner Eric Glomski have long been on a mission to bring notoriety and respect to Northern Arizona's burgeoning wine industry. Though Maynard has proven to be a reclusive and mysterious presence throughout the years, the new film Blood Into Wine reveals quite a bit about this man in lingering in the shadows of his own career. Directors Ryan Page and Chris Pomerenke document Keenan and Glomski's adventures through the course of their 09's wine season, and it turns out to be a hilarious and heartfelt journey unlike anything we've ever seen. And it offers a rare peak into Maynard's life. Despite Keenan's dislike of being interviewed, which is made quite apparent by the film, the singer-songwriter still allowed us some face time to chat about the film. Here is our conversation:
When Tool first hit the mainstream, the music was obscured by videos that didn't dwell on your image. And the art spoke for itself. The same can be said for your wine. When you approach this product for the first time in a store, your image is not stamped on the front of it like Paul Newman's mug on a bag of popcorn. The wine speaks for itself. Which is rare in this day and age. Why did you feel it was important to identify yourself with the wine through the making of this documentary?
Maynard James Keenan: That's a very long answer. I will try to sum it up the best I can. The dire nature that we're in as a nation, and as a small community: The economy is in the shitter. There are these little buzzwords being thrown around out there. They've been floating around for a while. Green. Sustainable. Local. Organic. I don't think people have a grasp on what those terms truly mean. And what kind of sacrifice comes along with really making those words work. And the benefits that we will all share when we do finally make them work. For me, in my area, in the community where I live, I think we have a chance to really see some of those words through. To discover what they really, truly mean. Even if it means having to sacrifice a little bit of my privacy to help us get on the map, and to also show what other communities can do if they pay attention to where they are from. If they pay attention to the ground upon which they walk, they can really get somewhere with it. They can get to those words. Because, let's face it. Buying a Prius is not going to save the environment.
Were you worried about showing too much as far as your vineyard's location and your home? Or do your fans know to stay away from your private life? Jerome is sold as a very interesting place, and its seems that this film could open it up to a lot more tourism, as well as invite the more obsessive fan in for a closer look.
Maynard James Keenan: In Arizona, the three most visited spots are The Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Jerome. It's already a tourist town. The cat is out of the bag. It has been one of the highest visited spots for quite some time. The problem, of course, is that there are issues with it being an old mining town. Some of the pipes and water delivery systems are deteriorating. It used to be a twelve to fifteen thousand person mining town. Now the mine has closed its doors. The people have left. And there is no one there to pay for its infrastructure. It's deteriorating. We have to do something to fix it.
Are you taking some of your wine proceeds and putting them towards that restoration?
Maynard James Keenan: This is a sales tax. Our entire town runs on a sales tax. We already have the people coming through town. We just haven't figured out a way for them to leave their sales tax on the way through.
You usually have control of your artistic endeavors, but Page and Pomerenke had final cut on this documentary. How difficult was it for you to hand over the reigns on something that is so important to you? Were there aspects of this film that you didn't necessarily want shown?
Maynard James Keenan: The cut that you see now is not the cut they presented to us initially. There was definitely a reedit before the final cut was approved. This is quite a different film from that first cut. I will say that. It was more about me than it was about wine. That was not my intention. And that should not have been the intention of the film. The intention of the film is to help explain what is possible with effort and due diligence. And focus and commitment.
Are you happy with the version that is out there? Or are there still elements of the film that you're not happy with?
Maynard James Keenan: There are a few things I would change about it. That could be said about anything. Its never gong to be completely done. I am very happy with the final cut. Although, qualifying statement: There would have been some things I would have adjusted. I don't want to ruin it. I think its fine. Enjoy the film. For me, its just tweaky stuff. Dumb little stuff that nobody else would ever notice.
How delicate did you have to be with the way your fans were portrayed in the film? Most artists don't want to alienate or piss off the people that are providing them with an outlet. Was that ever a concern of yours?
Maynard James Keenan: Once again, it's not really my film. It's their film. However they were going to present them is fine. Those fans are very enthusiastic.
I talked with Ryan Page last week. He said that you enjoyed not one single aspect of this filmmaking process. Is that true, and if so, why would you want to put yourself through that if you didn't enjoy it on some level?
Maynard James Keenan: I thought I answered that. But I will answer it again. What's happening across the country right now with the economy? We can no longer be too precious about that. We need to do what we can to help our communities survive. My community, like any other community across the country right now, is experiencing foreclosures. People are losing their homes. People are out of work. This industry is something that is going to help not only Northern Arizona, and not just Arizona as a whole, but it will help other people in other communities to figure out how to survive. How to get past the rough spot. I am doing my part. Having the cameras around was very annoying. But the end result, and what we are going to get out of it as a community, is worth sacrificing that for.
I didn't mean to repeat my first question.
Maynard James Keenan: Not a problem.
I guess I was coming more at it from the standpoint of: Was it hard for you to give up that freedom and allow them to come into your life?
Maynard James Keenan: Of course. Absolutely. It was dreadful to have someone following you around, picking apart your every movement. It's absolutely evasive. And it can be infuriating. I think the story needs to be told, so I had to check that at the door and get through it.
Page said that you were going to come back and play a villian in his next film. So you must be alright with it on some level.
Maynard James Keenan: A fictional movie is different. You put on a wig. You put on a costume. You put on a funny hat. That's very different. That's not the same as having someone follow you into the bathroom. I had a set of rules here. Absolutely. There were a lot of places that we told them they weren't allowed to go. We had safe words. When we yelled them out, it was time to turn the camera off. We didn't want to put our families at risk. We didn't want to put our homes at risk.
How was your partner Eric with this whole operation? Was he more accepting of the cameras? Or was he more on your level?
Maynard James Keenan: Initially, the directors were trying to get to me through him. He was actually the one that was more interested in doing the documentary than I was. Initially. As time went on, I think he became less and less interested. He has a PH. D in everything under the sun. He was also a teacher. He has experience being in front of a class. He knows how to get in front of a bunch of people and explain something. It comes very naturally to him. Having the cameras on him, and having him talk about the wine making process, the geology of our region, and all of those processes, just comes naturally to him. I would imagine that at some point, it did get to him.
You bring up the economy, and its getting worse as the day goes on. How has that effected your operations as opposed to maybe a year ago? Are you guys having to cut back or change the way this operation is going?
Maynard James Keenan: That's the beauty of this type of operation. There is definitely a commitment in time and a commitment in finances. Once you are dug in, its something you can adjust within itself. There are all of these people who are very excited about me getting my wines into different states to sell. To be honest, there is just not enough of it. For it to truly be what we are talking about? For it to truly be sustainable, there isn't enough to go around. There is just enough for us to sustain what we are doing for our business in Arizona. And a few little tidbits that make it out of the state. That's fine. That is the point. We have to reevaluate how we make a living in general. To answer your question? We are making slight adjustments here and there on some things. Overall, though? No. It's going to produce the amount of wine it's going to produce. We will be able to sell it out of our taste room and off of our website annually. The trick is to not get greedy and make twice as much. People aren't going to buy it because they can't afford to just buy anything.
Have you had to adjust the price at all? Or are you pretty firm on that aspect?
Maynard James Keenan: We are pretty frm on it. You have to look at what it costs to farm and to produce the bottle. Some of the stuff that is on the higher end? It may have come from a vineyard that is on a slope. It is completely hand harvested. Hand farmed. And hand picked. There is no machinery. The operation is small, so the cost of farming is very high. The amount of heat we use is low. And the demand for it is higher than other things. You can set the price accordingly. All of our stuff is priced the way it's going to be priced. There are some wines that we have built in, that as we get more efficient with this process, we can drop the price on as we go. Once the initial cost is absorbed, it makes it more affordable.
You've worked with Bob Odenkirk before, and you're very funny in the film. Did you look at this project as not only a wine documentary, but also an outlet for your humor? Is that something you're not able to express in your music and in your wine making?
Maynard James Keenan: When they first approached me to do this documentary, I was concerned that it might be a boring PBS special. I agreed to do it as long as they inserted a sense of humor into it. I wanted it to help demystify wine. I didn't want it to come across as some snobbish, boring, snooty process. Of course they agreed. I started calling up all my buddies and said, "Come on, help me make this thing funny."
In the film, you prophesize that the live stage experience will become a break from wine making, instead of visa verca. Where do you see that turning point happening for yourself? Is the wine making taking precedence over the music at this point?
Maynard James Keenan: It kind of has a little bit. The trick is to coordinate enough of when I am physically needed on the ground by the grapes, or by the bottling line. I find out where in the process that I need to be physically on the ground. There is going to be a window of time where I came pass that responsibility over to the vineyard manager. Or the cellar manager. I will have them handle it. It's within those holes that I can actually go and have fun traveling around. Of course, I still have to do winemaker dinners and stuff as well. There is that. But the time is coming.
Tim and Eric's new season starts this Sunday. What are we going to see you doing?
Maynard James Keenan: You might see me singing a song that brings Casey back to life.
Will you be doing any of Casey's covers?
Maynard James Keenan: Maybe.
Blood Into Wine is in select theaters throughout the country now.