Most people probably view the band A Perfect Circle as "that side project for Tool's Maynard James Keenan." However, the other half of the musical force behind that band, Billy Howerdel, saw it as his main creative release.
When the band went on an indefinite hiatus in 2006, Howerdel started work on something new -- a band called Ashes Divide. The band's debut album, Keep Telling Myself It's Alright, was released in April of this year.
The biggest transition for Howerdel has been coming from behind Keenan's shadow as a guitarist and into his own as a frontman. Though it's an even further distance from his start as a guitar tech. When he began writing for the album, he had some mild hesitation as to being the singer, but he decided to take the leap and open himself up.
"I think before the tour it was 'a big adjustment'," he says by phone before a tour stop in New York. "I'm sure I'll look back at it some time and say, 'Oh man, the growing pains of all that.' As far as the performing part, it's coming along fine. It's the other stuff that goes with it, like the breaks between songs ..."
Ashes Divide is currently touring as part of Projekt Revolution, which features Linkin Park, Chris Cornell, Busta Rhymes, Atreyu and a handful of others.
The band has only been together for three months, as most of the instrumentation on the album was done by Howerdel. "I was really pleased two months ago with where we were at," he says. "We're just fine tuning all the edges to sharpen 'em up."
The band started when Howerdel wanted to get a touring band together. He says his intentions weren't to write an album and then find a band to settle down with, but it's turning out that way. He also says he's happy he had enough time to do what he wanted with the album.
Fans of A Perfect Circle may find sonic similarities with Ashes Divide, but it shouldn't come as a surprise as Howerdel was such a driving force with APC. There are also common sounds within the music -- guitar riffs on songs like "Enemies," "The Stone" and "Too Late" have a certain APC vibe to them, but then again, it's the same guitar player.
"Your muscles do certain things and that's just how it comes out. There's a human element that comes out in guitar playing just like a voice," Howerdel says. "I hear people doing the comparing thing, and I get why people do it. I wrote stuff in A Perfect Circle and I wrote all of the stuff here, so of course it's going to sound a bit similar to some ears. I'm fine with that. To me, it's a different thing and there's enough of a difference from APC."
There are some songs which could have fit with either band. Howerdel says "The Stone" has been around for a while in a different form before it got a "complete rehaul" and was finally recorded for this album. He says there are other songs on the album that he thinks would have fit with A Perfect Circle, such as "Stripped Away."
While Keenan has maintained that he won't do another APC album or tour, Howerdel says the two have discussed doing another song or two for a soundtrack or other project. He adds that the more writing he does for Ashes Divide, the more he can distinguish between the two.
For fans, on first listen, the main difference between the two bands is the lyrics and singing. "In A Perfect Circle, Maynard was writing and I was focused on the music," Howerdel says. "This is doing both. It would be easier just focusing on the lyrical content instead of every little nook and cranny and sonic landscape that goes on in a song. It was nice to take a break [after APC], but our whole purpose now is getting the word out and get people to at least check it out."
Ashes Divide will perform as part of Projekt Revolution on July 30 at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. Tickets range from $20.75 to $60.75.