Welcome to Planet Puscifer: Tool Frontman's "Creative Subconscious" Lands in Denver

Puscifer, Maynard James Keenan's alien-obsessed rock band, is on another level.
Puscifer, Maynard James Keenan's alien-obsessed rock band, is on another level. Courtesy Puscifer
When asked about the otherworldly origins of Puscifer’s musical inspiration, lead singer Maynard James Keenan pauses before answering in a serious tone.

“Well, it depends on what kind of security clearance you have. It’s classified,” he says.

Whether the trio of Keenan, Mat Mitchell and Carina Round is making music with aliens or for aliens, the techno-tinged rock project leans heavily into sophomoric humor and extraterrestrial imagery. The title of the band’s 2020 record, Existential Reckoning, sounds almost prophetic now, given recent events. But while the band is on the road in support of the release, Keenan explains that the album title refers to humanity’s cyclical nature.

“I think it’s more about keeping the finger on the pulse of social, political and spiritual patterns, and just kind of reporting those things," he says. "It seems like we’re predicting something, but we’re not. In all honesty, that’s just the way things were going to go, especially if you pay attention to history."

If your interest is piqued, Puscifer touches down in Denver on Wednesday, July 6, at the Mission Ballroom. Moodie Black is opening.

Keenan is also the lead singer of Tool and A Perfect Circle; his knack for tapping into the peculiarities of subconscious experiences is well documented. Forming Puscifer — and therefore the greater “Pusciverse” — in 1995 as a gag, he’s previously called the band his "creative subconscious.”

The group writes and records between Los Angeles and Keenan’s Caduceus Cellars winery in Jerome, Arizona. Puscifer’s process is one that requires more space and self-imposed deadlines than other bands may need, but that’s what makes it work.

“Mat will have ideas, then we figure out how to maximize our efficiency to get the ideas done. We understand that we have to give ourselves space to digest and be more emotional and unpredictable — creative space,” Keenan says. “That’s basically been the strength of that project is being able to navigate that balance between being creative and artistic, but also kind of holding your feet to the fire and getting shit done.”

Puscifer achieved a lot during the pandemic, he boasts, including shooting two pay-per-view concerts. The focus now is bringing the Existential Reckoning songs to the stage for the first time. It’s something that’s both exciting and unnerving for Keenan.

“It was partially daunting just because we haven’t played these to a live audience, but a little less daunting because we did go over them and over them and over them at the Live at Arcosanti shoot. We’re also playing other songs from the albums along with it,” Keenan says. “Then you start to have a panic attack like, ‘Oh, shit, I haven’t rehearsed anything.’ But yes, we did, because we had all these pay-per-views and we went over and over these songs. You keep going back and forth between moments of panic and moments of calm. Until you’re actually in the room doing it, it’s hypothetical; it’s not real yet.”

Catching up on touring this year, he has a “positive” mindset about the Puscifer tour and hinted at new stage elements, including appearances from the Agent Dick Merkin character, played by a red lipstick-wearing Keenan.

“Being able to work again with Carina and Mat, it’s inspirational, and we have a bunch of little tricks up our sleeve as well for the show. … We might have a surprise visit from one of our other members,” he says.

Visually, the setup will mimic the Live at Arcosanti performance. “We really enjoyed the idea of that setup, being able to translate in various venues,” he says, adding, “Just trust us and come with an open mind, and you’ll enjoy it.”

But he refuses to elaborate on those tricks he teased: “That’s also classified.”

Puscifer, 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 6, Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop Street; tickets are $59.95-$90.
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