The journey of A Perfect Circle

By Lauren Elsberry
May 27, 2004

On a whim, I listen to the radio to see if anything good is on. I catch the tail end of what seems to be an amazing song: interesting guitar riffs, great drumming, beautiful vocals – a dream come true compared to what’s been dominating the airwaves. Of course, the DJ fails to mention the name of the song, let alone the name of the band. So begins my quest to find out who this band is. Within a few days, I hear the song again, but this time I catch the name of the band, A Perfect Circle.

The beginning

A Perfect Circle formed in 1999 with Billy Howerdel as the guitarist and music composer and Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan as the vocalist and lyricist. Paz Lenchantin (bass and violin), Troy Van Leeuwan (guitar) and Josh Freese (drums) completed the circle. The release date for their debut album, “Mer de Noms,” was set for May 23, 2000.

“Mer de Noms,” which is French for “sea of names,” debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Chart, making history as the highest entry for a rock band's debut album. Their first single, “Judith,” helped A Perfect Circle with this accomplishment, as it had support from some of the most influential radio stations across the United States.

David Fincher, who had directed music videos for such artists as Madonna and Paula Abdul, as well as feature films such as “Fight Club” and “Se7en,” directed the video for “Judith.” Fincher agreed to direct the video after hearing “Mer de Noms.” The video debuted on MTV in early May on the "Return of the Rock" show. It was great to see MTV acknowledging the band and playing their music.

A Perfect Circle makes waves

A Perfect Circle's career was off to a great start: “Mer de Noms” debuting at #4, “Judith” holding well on the radio and even sneaking onto MTV. In July of 2000, “Mer de Noms” went gold, marking another achievement for A Perfect Circle.

The next single from the album was “3 Libras,” released in November 2000. Originally, the follow-up to “Judith” was going to be “The Hollow,” which eventually was released as a single. “3 Libras” was a far cry from the rock sound of “Judith” – softer with a sad quality to it. Nonetheless, it took to the radio and TV music stations such as MTV and MuchMusic with great force.

Maynard has said that “3 Libras” is about "truth, holding onto something whether or not it's true, if it's true to you." He has also said that the song is about being overlooked. A special remix of “3 Libras” by Robert "3D" Del Naja was later released on a CD single. Originally, it was an mp3 released through e-mail to members of the band’s street team. A Perfect Circle played this remixed version at their live shows. “The Hollow” was the third and final single from “Mer de Noms,” going to radio in early 2001.

Some time apart

After the success of “Mer de Noms,” things started to quiet down for A Perfect Circle, but not for the members themselves. Tool released an album in May 2001, and Maynard went on tour with them. Josh went on tour with The Vandals, who had a spot on the Warped Tour. The next collaboration with the members came with the first Bikini Bandits feature film, which featured music by A Perfect Circle. Maynard also had a guest appearance in the film playing Satan.

Coming back together

While Maynard was still working with Tool, Billy began work on the next album, formulating and recording ideas for songs. On Jan. 17, 2003, A Perfect Circle went into the studio to begin writing and recording the new album.

This time, though, the circle wasn't what it once was, with changes to the lineup: Paz Lenchantin left the band to join Billy Corgan's band, Zwan; Jeordie White, formerly known as "Twiggy Ramirez" from Marilyn Manson, replaced Paz on bass; Troy Van Leeuwan left the band to play with Queens of the Stone Age; and former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha joined the band with little time to spare before A Perfect Circle headed out on tour. Though Paz and Troy were not with the band anymore, they still contributed to the album, playing and writing on some of the songs.

“Weak and Powerless” was the first single off the new album, leading up to the much-anticipated release of “Thirteenth Step.” For weeks, “Weak and Powerless” topped music countdowns on stations such as MTV and FUSE. The second single, “The Outsider,” was released earlier this year and had been gaining popularity on the FUSE show “Rockzilla.”

Then and now

What is so appealing about A Perfect Circle is the passion within the music. “Mer de Noms” is a beautiful album with songs that have a mythical or fantasy theme. Songs such as “Magdalena” start out slow and reserved, then build up into an explosion of passion, both musically and vocally. The lyric “I’d sell my soul, my self esteem a dollar at a time for one chance, one kiss, one taste of you my Magdalena” comes before a guitar solo that makes you close your eyes, imaging a beautiful woman dancing along to the music, losing herself in it while you do the same. Each of the songs tells a story, and the music backs up the story, making you believe it that much more.

“Thirteenth Step” is also a beautiful album, though the beauty is wrought in a sometimes overwhelming sadness. The songs on this album interconnect to tell one story that never ends, rather than being a collection of short stories like “Mer de Noms.” Each of the songs flow into one another; for instance, the last guitar chords of the last song are very similar to the first chords of the first song, emphasizing that the music never really ends, that it will always keep going. Musically, this album is more progressive, and it takes its time. “Vanishing” starts out with quiet drumming and somewhat muffled vocals, then with the addition of guitar the drumming becomes louder, the vocals clearer, fully coming into the song.

The new sound of A Perfect Circle is slightly different from “Mer de Noms,” yet it is still undoubtedly A Perfect Circle. The band has evolved and manages to maintain what makes them such a unique band.

Information used in this article was taken from the band's official website.

Related link: A Perfect Circle's official site
Related link: an APC fan site

Related YouthQuake article:
Tool: A glimpse into the psyche of the band