Mer de Noms at 20: Musicians Celebrate A Perfect Circle’s Debut
Members of Underøath, Revocation, Allegaeon, and more look back on the surprise hit debut album
I first would have heard Mer de Noms in 2001 when I was 13. My earliest impressions of the album were centered around the general quality of the production. It was during my early days as a musician, so I was still sharpening my ear to the nuances of sound, mixing, and other aspects that make a record sound different [or better] from another. All of the instruments were so well balanced and clear. Being a drummer, I especially loved the use of natural drum tones, bright cymbals, and Josh Freese’s articulate, world-class playing style. One could tell the band simply captured a good studio performance and didn’t edit it into stagnation.
It was also the first time I had ever heard Josh Freese on drums. I loved the restraint of his playing on this record. He was clearly a badass but always played what was right for the music: playing “straight-ahead” yet with complex, tasteful embellishments. This unhinged but highly methodical approach had a major influence on my drumming. It’s no wonder that even 20 years later, I can still remember almost every fill and kick pattern on the record. I also can’t believe it has been 20 years. Where the hell did the time go?
A Perfect Circle and Mer de Noms are turning 20 and I’m officially old. I was a senior in high school the year it came out. The Y2K scare was only a few months old, JNCO jeans were alive and well, and 9/11 wouldn’t happen for another 16 months. Then came A Perfect Circle: an interesting amalgamation of late ‘90s rock and metal sensibilities with a decidedly progressive attitude. They’re neither rock nor metal but have been able to comfortably walk that musical line and carve out a niche for themselves in both audiences as a result.
It is near impossible to find into someone in the metal community who’s never heard of them. Mer de Noms was the album that hollowed out that niche in the music industry. Unsurprisingly, Maynard’s lyrics on this album are timeless, brutally honest, and his hook melodies throughout the album are never boring or recycled despite being so uniquely identifiable as his. It almost seems that in A Perfect Circle, Maynard was able to grow into other areas as a vocalist that he wouldn’t have been able to just play in Tool.
The songs have a bleak-yet-hopeful, nostalgic, melancholic sound that meanders and undulates throughout the album. This cohesiveness is a large part of what gives the album it’s sonic character. What also defines A Perfect Circle for me is the pace of the songs which they haven’t deviated much from in the past two decades. The hooks are done so tastefully that nothing feels contrived or dated to any decade or trend, making it a more impactful and seminal album. So many aspects of Mer de Noms are unique that calling it anything but a classic almost feels like an insult.
It’s hard to believe Mer de Noms is 20. For me, Tool was definitely the gateway drug that led me to A Perfect Circle. I don’t know if it’s a timeless record. But “3 Libras,” “Judith” … there’s a couple of songs on there where the sound and the texture is absolutely timeless. You put Maynard’s voice with Billy’s guitar stuff, where he’s kind of playing octaves or leads over or next to the vocal … to me, that sound is timeless. Nobody else has that sonic texture and that stamp is unique to me.
For me, “3 Libras,” the lyrics to that were just, and still are, really powerful: Threw you the obvious to see what occurs behind the eyes of a fallen angel. Like, that’s amazing to me. And the video for “Judith,” that looked amazing; it had kind of a live feel, and they’re in a rehearsal space with cables all over the place. And the bass player, Paz Lenchantin, she does this move where, in between a part, she really quickly ties her hair up, and then her hands come back down just in time for the part to start again. Just from being on stage, that felt so familiar, like when you drop a pick, or you have to tune your guitar really quick, or you’re grabbing a beer, and you come in right in time. But having a woman do that with her hair, which is kind of sexy and feminine, but still playing bass like that … that was a magical moment in the video for me.