At first, Tool fans were kinda bummed. Word of a Maynard James Keenan side project — while appealing on paper — was met with apprehension and dismay, as it threatened to further delay the studio sessions for the follow-up to Ænima, which they’d already been impatiently waiting years for. When the album finally hit record store shelves on May 23, 2000, those fans weren’t skeptical anymore.
As they’d learn fast, A Perfect Circle was no Tool clone. The music was largely written before Keenan ever became involved. Guitarist Billy Howerdel, the creative strength behind the avant-rock outfit, was a former guitar technician who’d worked for Nine Inch Nails and Faith No More. He became friends with Keenan in 1992 after meeting on tour; Tool were opening for Fishbone, who Howerdel was working for. The two later lived together for a while, and after Howerdel initially considered a female vocalist, Keenan offered to help bring Howerdel’s tunes to life.
A Perfect Circle — rounded out by former Failure guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and bassist and violinist Paz Lenchantin — released its first album, Mer de Noms, 20 years ago this Saturday. Boasting a dozen atmospheric tracks, including rock radio staple “Judith,” A Perfect Circle’s debut offering proved wildly successful, debuting at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200 — making it the highest-charting debut from a rock band, ever.
While Tool comparisons were inevitable (and obvious) — if only because of the alternately soothing and volatile Keenan — listeners discovered that A Perfect Circle was a different beast. The songs were sparse and more concise, with intense, soaring guitars enveloped by blistering bass lines and eloquent, effective drum work. The record is as potent today as it was when released two decades ago. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of A Perfect Circle’s inaugural release, SPIN reached out to a number of musicians for their thoughts on why this groundbreaking opus still resonates with music lovers all these years later. The following reflections are in their own words.