April 5, 2004, 3:22 am    Guitarist James Iha completes A Perfect Circle

Source: The Press-Enterprise

09:47 PM PDT on Sunday, April 4, 2004

By CHRIS RIEMENCHNEIDER / Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune

James Iha knows a thing or two about bands with enigmatic, visionary rock singers who like to shave their heads and sing about dark things.

As the guitarist for Smashing Pumpkins for 12 years, he hung back in the shadows while Billy Corgan stood out front connecting with millions of disenchanted youths.

Now, Iha is doing the same thing in A Perfect Circle, the unintentional supergroup he joined over the summer, shortly before the art-metal band issued its second album, "Thirteenth Step."

Special to The Press-Enterprise
Guitarist James Iha, left, with his bandmates from A Perfect Circle.

A Perfect Circle singer Maynard James Keenan - also the frontman of Tool - is similar to Corgan in that "he likes his music big and dynamic," Iha said. "They both like loud and soft, dark and light."

But that's where the similarities end, said Iha. The guitarist also hears key differences between APC and Tool.

The comparisons between Keenan's bands were inescapable when "Mer de Noms," APC's first album, landed the rock-radio hit "Judith" and sold nearly as well as Tool's multiplatinum albums. Not only is Keenan in both groups, APC's founding guitarist and primary co-writer Billy Howerdel was Tool's guitar tech for years.

"Billy writes most of the music, so I see them as two totally different bands," Iha said.

Since the release of "Mer de Noms," APC arguably has become even more high-profile than Tool, thanks to the addition of Iha and bassist Jeordie White, better known as Marilyn Manson's former sidekick Twiggy Ramirez. The band also includes Josh Freese, the Vandals drummer who has gigged with Paul Westerberg and the new Guns 'N Roses.

Iha described how he became the final piece of the lineup in his typically understated way: "There was an opening for a guitar position; they just needed a guy. Billy found my e-mail address and sent me a note asking, 'Do you want to play with APC and tour the world for a year?' That was it."

Having different musicians with distinguished backgrounds hasn't really altered APC's music, Iha believes.

"We all have our own style," he said, "but the songs are so strong and so well-arranged, we mostly just play the parts already written."

Iha hopes to be involved in the next APC disc: "I think everybody who's in the band now is in the band."

Of course, Tool is still an active act, which means once APC is done touring this summer, there will no doubt be a long hiatus. That's fine with Iha:

"I didn't want to be in another band that's like a treadmill," he said.

"Being in the Pumpkins was too nonstop. We were always touring, recording, touring, recording."

In the APC interim, Iha plans to record a follow-up to his solo album, "Let It Come Down," which was released to little attention in 1998. He said he might open himself up to other projects, too.

Might he and Corgan ever work together again, either in a reunited Pumpkins or in some other capacity?

Around the same time that Iha joined APC, Corgan had announced the breakup of his second band, Zwan, which coincidentally featured original APC bassist Paz Lenchantin. APC toured briefly with the Pumpkins before their breakup in 2000.

However, Corgan criticized former Pumpkins bandmates in an Internet posting this year.

"I simply can't predict what will happen," Iha said.

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