When Tool released their fourth album, 10,000 Days, on May 2, 2006, fans had been waiting five years for the follow-up to Lateralus. Before that they’d waited five years for the follow-up to Ænima.
You couldn’t fault the quartet for what it had done with the time – each Tool LP is an exercise in dense, experimental, multi-textured expression that couldn’t come together quickly.
While the title 10,000 Days was soon used online as a reference to fans’ waiting times, it may itself have been an indicator of how the band had changed again, and in particular how frontman Maynard James Keenan had changed.
There appear to be two possible meanings, and he’s spoken of both. The first is the suggestion that it was the length of time (around 27 years and five months) his mother spent paralyzed in a wheelchair before her death, after suffering a stroke when he was 11. The second is that it’s the period of the “Saturn return,” an astrological concept in which the planet re-enters a person’s life and offers the chance to regenerate in a way.
“You are presented the opportunity to transform from whatever your hang-ups were before to let the light of knowledge and experience lighten your load, so to speak and let go of old patterns and embrace a new life,” Keenan once told Loudwire. “You sink or swim at that point. And a lot of people don’t make it. … For me, starting to recognize those patterns, it was very important to start constructing songs that chronicled that process, hoping that my gift back would be to share that path and hope that I could help somebody get past that spot.”
In an interview around the time of the album’s release, he suggesting his lyrics were more observational now than an attempt to persuade people to see things differently, a sort of move toward washing his hands.
“On our last few albums, there’s been more of a metaphysical, attempt-to-open-your-third-eye kind of approach, having faith that people will find a way to expand their consciousness and wake up to the world that they live in,” Keenan told Revolver in 2006. “For some reason, we felt like we could help ’em with that. And I think over the last few years, I’ve either gotten older – or become the grumpy guy who keeps your ball when it bounces in his yard – but I think I’ve lost a little faith watching the whole political thing.”
Soon after the release, he described the personal detail he’d put into “Wings for Marie (Part 1)” and “10,000 Days (Wings Part 2)” (Judith Marie was his mother’s name) as the “stupidest thing I could have done.” “I’ll never make that mistake again,” he said. “It just took too much out of me – too much emotionally, mentally, physically – all those manifestations. Those songs were exploited and misconstrued, people were flippant and dismissive. I won’t be doing that anymore.”
Listen to Tool’s ‘Vicarious’
While Keenan had pushed himself in the lyrics department, his colleagues had done their share with the instrumental parts. Together with engineer and mixer Joe Barresi, their five-month studio engagement included the development of distinct recording techniques, including the creation of a “pipe-bomb microphone” and the doctoring of effects pedals for Adam Jones’s guitar; the direct micing of bassist Justin Chancellor’s fingers; and drummer Danny Carey’s custom sound effects delivered via custom drum pads.
Reflecting on the great effort, Jones told Guitar World, “Our records don’t sound like other people’s records, where they release them a year apart and they end up sounding like a bad cover band version of themselves. … Those long breaks we take give us time to absorb what’s going on around us and grow.”
All of the members of Tool agree on sacred geometry, which is a study of taking everything that’s complicated about the world and everything that’s concentrative of our world and breaking it down to the simplest things: simple patterns, shapes, colors, vibrations,” he noted. “All that kind of stuff.”
He explained how he’d come to lay down “genuine guitar solos” on 10,000 Days. “We had a little more time to experiment,” he said. “We had everything written before we went into the studio. Maybe only five percent wasn’t ready.” Jones even made contact with the Eagles’ Joe Walsh who employed a Heil Talk Box on “Those Shoes.”
“My friend who works for the Eagles’ booking agent talked to Joe Walsh and gave him my number,” he recalled. “A while later I got a message from Joe on my answering machine: ‘Adam Jones, this is the Talk Box fairy. Give me a call.’ I called him and he was totally cool and gave me a lot of advice.”
10,000 Days was preceded with the release of lead single “Vicarious,” a commentary on the expansion of trial-by-media attitudes, which reached No.2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. When the album itself arrived, its psychedelic artwork had once again been created by artist Alex Gray ( in association with Jones). He explained that, like some of his previous work with Tool, the material had been influence by ayahuasca, a drink brewed by Amazon shamans that is said to reveal the nature of the universe to the consumer.
The LP was followed by second single “The Pot,” the subject being hypocrisy (“the pot calling the kettle black). It gave the band their first Mainstream Rock No.1 and also a Grammy nomination. “Jambi,” a song about making wishes that features Jones’ Talk Box, was released as a single the following year.
Listen to Tool’s ‘The Pot’
While reviews were generally positive, many expressed some disappointment. Loudwire called the album “far too evocative and accomplished to consider it a disappointment” but added that it “really only pales in comparison the band’s own albums. … That’s not to say 10,000 Days isn’t resonant – the album is filled with intricate musical interplay and virtuoso performances along with some of the most confessional lyrics Maynard James Keenan has ever shared.”
On the subject of an underlying theme, Keenan said modern society’s version of being politically active – “people sign a petition online or they send an e-mail … that’s about as much as they can do” – was “a little depressing to me.”
“So I’ve noticed that this album has a lot more sadness on it,” he added. “We’ve been joking about it in a way, but this is kind of, like, our blues album. There’s still a lot of hope in it, and there’s still a lot of positive, fun, silly stuff. But if there’s a theme to it, it’d be, ‘Hey, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I have witnessed this first-hand – and therefore, you’re on your own.’”
Jones put it differently. “Our last record was very healing, very ‘think for yourself,” he said. “The attitude on this record is more about putting people in their place, but without controlling them. We’re saying, ‘You have an opinion on this, but this person who went through that whole thing may have a different perspective. You should think about that before you say something.”
He noted that “Maynard writes all his lyrics and he’ll pull in subject matter from our mutual ideas. It might be something that happened to him, but it’s always something that we can all relate to, like telling a friend to back up for a second and try to see things from a different perspective. … At the end of the day, there’s a lot of love from our band. I’m not kidding.”