Stream Puscifer's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'-Covering 'Donkey Punch the Night' EP

"The title is nothing sexual," says frontman Maynard James Keenan

Puscifer / Photo by Tim Cadiente
Puscifer / Photo by Tim Cadiente
WRITTEN BY
Kory Grow

Whether it's real life or just fantasy, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" now rests in the twisted hands of Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan, who has just recorded an earnest and mostly faithful rendition with his avant-shock group Puscifer. The track appears on the group's latest EP, Donkey Punch the Night (out February 19), alongside two originals, some remixes, and a riotous interpretation of German heavy metallers Accept's classic foot-stomper "Balls to the Wall." It's a short release that ties into Keenan's philosophy of putting out Puscifer music only when he feels like it, something he began doing since 2007 with the release of the group's "V" Is for Vagina.

"The idea of focusing on 15 tracks is daunting," the singer tells SPIN from his Arizona vineyard, on a break from working on his latest batch of wine. "It's a lot of easier to focus on two ideas. That way, it's not as daunting and you don't have to cancel that trip to go see The Expendables 2. I know that was on the top of your list." When Keenan finished insulting our taste in cinema, he patiently suffered through our many questions about Donkey Punch the Night. Read his answers, stream the album, and get the lowdown on 50 more albums you gotta hear this year!

  • Puscifer — Bohemian Rhapsody (O.G. Mix)
  • Puscifer — Breathe
  • Puscifer — Dear Brother
  • Puscifer — Balls To The Wall (Pillow Fight Mix)
  • Puscifer — Breathe (Drumcell rework)
  • Puscifer — Dear Brother (Denton rework)
  • Puscifer — Balls To The Wall (Silent Servant El Guapo Mix)

So, uh, how does one donkey punch the night?
You lock, load, and punch. It's depicted on the back cover. It may not be what you think it is. At least we didn't call the record "vagina" again.

Maybe not, but it's close.
The title is nothing sexual.

That's a first.
You've never gone to a concert and seen some kid donkey punching the night? The album is not called Donkey Punch Your Neck.

Touché. When did the idea for this EP first come up?
We always have ideas kicking around. If you have all of the logistics laid out when that spirit moves you, we can execute it immediately. We've had the idea of doing "Bohemian Rhapsody" kicking around for a long time, and I had the opportunity to sing it for some event in L.A. It got the ball rolling.

Why have you wanted to cover that for so long?
From a production standpoint, it's wonderful exercise of recording the layers to really see what went into making it. I have a lot more respect for the original artists. I enjoyed seeing how they approached their signature vocal arrangement. It was very inspirational.

Did it mean a lot to you when it first came out?
Yeah. It was a fun song back then. It was so different from anything else you were hearing on the radio. It was the cornerstone of a childhood.

So what makes this the "O.G. Mix"?
I just wanted to make sure it was that particular approach was the original gangster mix. A nod to the original, O.G. We had another mix on there, but whoever owns the copyright to the song has a standard policy; they don't grant remixes on that song. We had done a remix but we had to pull it.

Has Freddie Mercury always been an inspiration to you?
Absolutely. Not so much the tights, but definitely the vocals.

Was singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" difficult?
Yeah, he's out of my range. Some of those notes, I can't even get to.

There's no wine that will help you reach those "mamma mia" highs?
Nope, no drinking wine while performing vocals. It dries out your vocal chords, which makes it difficult to hit those notes.

So you lowered the key?
No, we kept it where it was. There's something about it, in that key, that resonates on almost a molecular level. We wanted to stay right there.

What made you want to cover Accept's "Balls to the Wall?"
I was cruising around on the internet and I saw that old video and I just started laughing. I saw Accept open for KISS at Radio City Music Hall many years ago. It was very fun to see that guy [frontman Udo Dirkschneider] stomp around in his camo. But what a nutty song. I don't even know what they're talking about. It's just so anthem. You're just donkey punching the night outside a trailer at a tailgate party. I was like, "We have to do this."

You approached it less reverently than you did Queen's.
We just broke it apart and found the core melodies and rewrote it, almost like a sneak-attack approach.

One of the EP's original songs, "Breathe," has that refrain, "Don't forget to breathe." Is that a reminder for someone?
Kind of, but you wouldn't know them.

The song "Dear Brother" is dedicated to several people who passed away, including the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch. Is that who you were thinking of?
Well, you know the Beastie Boys gentleman, that was a sad day when I got that news. It also pays tribute to our friend Edward Willie, Jr. from Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival — they're a band who opened up for us, out of Ohio in the area where I was born. And Ray Beckwith was an Australian winemaker, who, in a way, reinvented the wheel in winemaking. He discovered the relationship between pH and acid balance in wines. They really didn't take Australian wine too seriously before him.

What are your fondest memories of MCA?
I actually never met him. I just really enjoyed the music. When their first record came out, I was definitely a fan. To watch them progress and evolve in the way that they did from their first album until their last, it was quite inspirational to watch their personal transformation. It's very unfortunate he didn't make it to the next level.

How do Puscifer songs like "Breathe" and "Dear Brother" evolve? Do you work with keyboards?
Yeah, I have a piano, so I kind of plink around, looking for melodies. Then I'll pass those ideas on to Mat [Mitchell, guitar] or whomever I'm working with. It's sort of like a sonic paintbrush: "OK, I want to mess around with an oboe and a five-gallon paint bucket and see what we come up with. Here's the basic rhythm I'm looking for."

Speaking of recording, is there an end in sight for the Tool and A Perfect Circle records you're working on?
No idea. Basically right now it's a lot of ideas. Jamming. There's no actual songs for either project. It's still kind of noodles in a big basket.

Yum.
Lots of noodles, just no dishes.

You've said you're working on an autobiography, which will focus a bit on your non-musical life. What you feel people misunderstand about you most?
I think everyone has a history you don't know about. SPIN Magazine wasn't there to interview me when I got accepted to West Point. Or when I won a medal at regionals at state cross-country. You weren't there for that. No one knows about it. There are a lot of things that have happened over the years that are not necessarily press-worthy but were certainly fruitful, as far as individual achievements that are worth mentioning.

Those are sometimes the most revealing things.
Yeah. You start seeing some of the documentaries now about Freddie Mercury — shit, he was the original Borat. I didn't know that. I was so focused on the songs and the music; I had no idea where that guy was from. I'm working with a friend on my autobiography to take a more interesting approach than, "And when I was 5…" Who gives a shit? Unless you have an interesting story about someone who inspired you when you were 5, sitting around doing blow talking about your second-grade teacher.

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