Right Tool for the job

Lawrence native takes rock drumming to the next level

There is a reason drummer Danny Carey can often be seen wearing a Jayhawks basketball jersey while onstage with Tool.

Fans of his enigmatic band might be surprised to learn Carey was born in Lawrence to parents who were both finishing their degrees at Kansas University.

After growing up in Paola, the 6’5″ basketball standout (second from left in above photo) decided to give a career in music a try. In 1986 he headed out to Los Angeles and began life as a session player.

In 1990 he formed Tool with his next-door neighbor, singer Maynard James Keenan, after joining rehearsals when other drummers failed to show up.

Now the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling quartet is touring on its fourth album, “10,000 Days,” having perfected what Rolling Stone calls “a primal sound as distinct as it is disturbing.”

Known for his focused percussion techniques and mystical experimentation with the craft – he reportedly uses a GPS device to ensure certain parts of his drumset face due north – the 45-year-old Carey promises the band’s current live show “will be more extravagant in some ways but more minimal in others.”

Q: What’s the most misunderstood aspect about being a drummer?

A: Maybe that you’re a complete party animal type. A lot of the famous drummers, I suppose, were like that: John Bonham, Keith Moon. I have my fun, but I also get business done, too.

Q: What happens to your drum sound when you fill a studio with helium, as you did while recording “10,000 Days”?

A: You just get more transient spikes on the high end. It’s a pretty subtle thing, I’m sure. Sound waves travel faster through thinner mediums.

Q: Did it make your voice all high and squeaky?

A: No. (laughs) It wasn’t that heavy in the whole room. It wasn’t that extreme.

Q: You were born in Lawrence, but how long did you live here?

A: I was just there when my parents were finishing going to KU. I was probably out of there by the time I was 3. I don’t have too much memory of it. They moved 30 miles away to Paola, and that was where I ended up growing up. I lived there until I went off to college at (the University of Missouri-Kansas City).

Q: Do you remember the first time you played Lawrence with Tool?

A: The first time Tool played there was when we played The Outhouse in the cornfield. This was in ’91, I’m guessing. It was a funny gig. I think we played there with a couple other punk bands. When we ended up playing there were probably 10 people there, tops. They were probably in the other bands. … I remember we had a bunch of guns with us. Once we got done playing we went out in the cornfield and started blowing the hell out of stuff with shotguns and pistols.

Q: Why didn’t you call up William Burroughs?

A: Yeah. We could have played a little William Tell.

Q: When I interviewed John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, I asked him, “Are contemporary rock rhythm sections lazy?” He replied, “I don’t think the rhythm section of Tool is particularly lazy.” I don’t really have a question other than how cool is that?

After a five-year hiatus, hard-edged rock act Tool has released its fourth album 10,000

A: We played over at the Hammersmith (in London) about two months ago. I was really flattered that after the show was over I went into the green room area and there he was. I got to have a couple pints with John Paul Jones. It was kind of a dream come true.

Q: Do most modern bands lack a spiritual connection to their music?

A: Yes. Or they’re spiritually in a pretty weird place. To me, it’s kind of evident when I hear someone who has a high spiritual level in their art, it’s just more effective. It’s the same as if you stand in front of a painting or a sculpture when someone had that going on. It just translates. A lot of the music I’m hearing on the radio, it’s not done with that in mind at all. Most of it seems like the band doesn’t have much to do with it. It’s like the record company or corporation just hired a producer and let him do his thing – creating all the sounds and practically writing and arranging the songs for a lot of these bands because they all are sounding kind of similar. They’re trying so hard to fit into a niche that success is on their minds more than truly expressing themselves or expressing a spiritual, uplifting idea.

Q: Can you describe what it’s like playing a typical game in the NBA Entertainment League?

A: It reminds me a lot of playing in high school again. It’s the first time I’ve gotten to play in a league where they’re running a shot clock and keeping stats. It’s really well done. It’s pretty funny, some of the shenanigans. There are a few jokers out on the court. But some of these guys get really serious to a point where fights are breaking out. You’re going, “Holy (expletive), Michael Rapaport is ready to beat this guy up.” You’re so used to these guys being in all these roles. But there you see their real personalities come out.

Q: Have you ever been trash-talked by anyone famous?

A: Not extreme. But people always talk (trash) out on the floor. I’ve played against Ice Cube and Snoop (Dogg). They’ll drop little lines here and there. It’s kind of surreal in a way being out on the court with all these guys. It’s something that wouldn’t have happened back in Kansas, that’s for sure.