Billy Howerdel Talks New A Perfect Circle, ASHES dIVIDE Albums + Working on ‘Chinese Democracy’ [INTERVIEW]
Billy Howerdel has more than a few irons in the fire for 2014, including the forthcoming ASHES dIVIDE album and, hopefully, new A Perfect Circle material. That’s why we’re surprised he found time to talk to us about all of that and to recall working with Guns n’ Roses on ‘Chinese Democracy.’ Get all that and more in our exclusive interview.
Click the player to listen to the interview, which also transcribed below
APC have a live box set coming out later this month and this week the greatest hits disc ‘360’ hits stores tomorrow. How did you guys come to the decision to put these two projects out there?
It just seemed to be this all encompassing thing. All encompassing live release next week and then the, kind of, “Best of” this week seemed like a good way to coincide the two. We recorded the shows back in 2010 when we got together after a 6 year break from touring and recorded each one of those nights with each one of the records and then a year later did a full proper tour in America where the Red Rocks show was recorded, which we did a multi-camera surround sound [video] shoot [of the] concert. In putting that package together, which became a box set, the record company approached [us] about doing a “best of” and it seemed to be a good idea to release it at the same time. Just seemed to be good timing.
By and Down, which is on ‘360,’ is such a great song, but it’s kind of bittersweet because it’s the only new song we’ve got for now. Do you have plans for more APC stuff down the road?
We’ll see what Maynard’s schedule is like. He’s in Tool mode right now so that’s where the focus is going to be. So I’m not putting any hopes on him showing up in the studio any time soon, but we’re having fun getting new APC stuff together and ready for him when he’s ready.
Is it pretty hard to find time to work with Maynard with all the other projects he has going?
Yeah, it is. There’s no way around it. He puts out great stuff… and it’s funny because people sometimes say he takes forever to do a record and I look back at the schedule and he’s constantly putting out music but he’s got three bands to diversify it through and, you know, it’s all good stuff.
I read a while ago that you were demoing tracks for another Ashes Divide album, how’s that going?
Good! [It's] getting there. [I'm] hoping to have a new Ashes record out by 2014… maybe by summer.
With the first Ashes Divide album, that was just you for the most part, right?
Yeah. Josh Freese played all the drums on the record. Otherwise it was kind of my solo thing.
Is that pretty much the same case for the new album?
Well, I don’t know. I have a band in place — Jeff Friedl on drums and Matt McJunkins on bass and they’ve been with me since we started touring on the first record and they’ve kind of fallen into playing with Maynard in Puscifer and also A Perfect Circle. So they’re around and we’re always working on stuff. So where the songs go have to be determined at the last minute and they’ve been working on new APC stuff and they’ve been working on new Ashes stuff and they just don’t where it’s going [laughs].
How do you decide which project gets which song when you come up with one because there are a lot of the same players involved in these projects?
It’s kind of become more clear to me what the new Ashes record is going to be, so that was where it got easier. A lot of the songs that I was working on were really more APC songs, I felt anyway. We’ll see what Maynard feels when he hears them. As far as the new Ashes stuff I’ve taken a bigger turn so it’s a newer set of material for me to get inspired by and I’d like to, like I said, have that record out by the middle of next year. Danny Lohner, who is a good friend of mine [and] producer that helped us with many of the APC releases and with Ashes, is helping me get the sound of what the new Ashes record will be, which I’m really getting excited about.
Which is tougher, record largely by yourself or working within a group?
I don’t know what’s harder… it’s hard when you don’t have an idea and you’re getting stuck… you know? [It's] probably harder on your own, I would say, but it gives you a little more latitude as to where, if you have an idea, that you want to go that direction, but it’s always nice when you have a great collaborative effort and there’s nothing like that musical conversation that happens when it’s the right people at the right time.
You’ve worked with a lot of bands over the years including Guns N’ Roses, who you were a guitar tech for back in the day. What’s the craziest thing that happened while you were on the road with the band?
I never toured with Guns n’ Roses. I was in the studio during the making of ‘Chinese Democracy.’
What was it like being in the studio w/ Axl?
It was a lot of focus on really making an epic record… or maybe more than one record. It was crazy hours, late nights, so that takes a toll… at least it did on me. You know, coming in at 11 o’clock at night and staying til 2 in the afternoon or something, but it was a good experience and I wanted to see it through. I really believed in that recording process but by the time… I started in 97 and had no intention of doing a full-time gig. I got off the road as a guitar tech, saved up enough money to do what would become A Perfect Circle and went down there one day with Robin Finck, who was asked to try out to be a guitar player [in Guns n' Roses]. I got really into the project and they asked me to stick around and I started around 2 or 3 days a week and then it became like 5, 6 says a week and then when I started writing more material for APC and it really started to solidify and Maynard’s window opened up with time — I just had to, you know, leave and pursue APC. It was just the right time to do it.
How long did you work on that album for?
About two and a half years.
There were all kinds of stories about tracks that were recorded for that album. Did you hear a lot of the stuff didn’t make the album?
Oh yeah. A lot of stuff. And there was a lot of stuff before I came in that they were recording. There was countless volumes of tapes that were ideas going around but I don’t even remember because this was 20 years… how long ago? About 15 years ago or something like that. It was cool and, at the time, I considered Axl a really good friend and was there every day and he was really supportive of APC in the beginning. He heard what I was working on and was really supportive in letting me have the time to focus on it.
You have your hands in a lot of things — music, production, etc. Is there any projects you’re working on that we haven’t talked about yet today?
Yeah. I started this T-Shirt company, basically, called Pathology Brand and it’s with a forensic psychologist and I, doing this thing that’s kind of mental health related. It’s launched, but we didn’t really do any kind of official launch. How about this is the official launch right now? Go to pathologybrand.com and it’s [about] de-stigmatizing mental health issues. You know, in the form of trying to get people help when it’s a tough topic to talk about because mental health is a ranging illness or someone can be slightly depressed to completely schizophrenic and no one really knows what they have. So the idea is for people to identify and get help when they need it and not be ashamed and not be stigmatized for it.