Tool’s Rhythm Section Locks in at Berklee

Bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey shared stories from the band's origins at a recent clinic on campus.

November 25, 2019

When Justin Chancellor was writing the bass riff for the Tool song “Forty-Six and Two,” from the iconic album, Ænema, he wasn’t even a member of the band. He’d recently auditioned as Tool's new bassist, and while he took the audition extremely seriously, he didn’t think he’d get a callback. Up until that point, he had been in another band in his then-hometown of London, but when they learned he took the Tool audition, they booted him. His response? He went back to his flat and wrote music.

“I was just barreling on forward and not thinking about any kind of success,” he said during a recent visit to campus, speaking on a panel with Tool bandmate and drummer Danny Carey. Steve Bailey, chair of the Bass Department, moderated the panel, which also featured bass faculty member Dave Marvuglio and visiting artist Lee Sklar, whose 2,000-plus album credits make him one of the most recorded bassists in history.  Chancellor and Carey also performed rhythm section-only versions of some of Tool's biggest songs, including "Ænema" and "Fear Inoculum."

“[Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan] used to scream at people outside the window. And I thought, ‘Wow, that guy’s got an amazing voice.’”

—Danny Carey, drummer for Tool

According to Carey, there were plenty of other excellent bassists who’d showed up to the audition to replace founding Tool bassist Paul D’Amour, all of whom knew the tunes. When Bailey asked him what helped Justin make the cut, Carey mentioned Chancellor’s prolific creativity. “The final criteria was, ‘Let’s just jam,’” he said. “Justin had these great, creative ideas coming out. That’s what set him apart…Justin’s easy to lock in with.”

What It Means to Be Prepared

Bailey made a point to impress upon the packed room of bass students the seemingly obvious lesson of being prepared for auditions. “And you can go, ‘Well, everyone knows that,’" he said. “But there are different levels of preparedness.” And Sklar, with his near-50 years of recorded output working with everyone from James Taylor to Diana Ross, agreed that there’s more to getting the gig than knowing the tunes. “You live together on the road, so you really gotta find people that you can be with for months on end in a bus with them.”

A Metal Cinderella Story

Carey’s origins in the band were fairly different from Chancellor’s, and the way he tells it, it can sound a bit like a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. He’d studied music formally through college in his home state of Kansas, “And then I moved to L.A. and all my dreams came true,” he quipped. He was gigging regularly throughout the club scene, but things changed when he met Maynard James Keenan, a vocalist trying to get a band going and who lived in the same building as Carey. “He used to scream at people outside the window. And I thought, ‘Wow, that guy’s got an amazing voice.’” Carey ended up sitting in on a practice when Keenan’s drummer didn’t show, things clicked, and they began rehearsing daily. “We played six gigs [after that], and then we got signed,” he said.

Now approaching three decades as a group, Tool have become one of the most successful rock bands of all time, with three Grammys and five albums to their name. Their latest release, Fear Inoculum, came in August 2019, 13 years after the previous record, and promptly unseated Taylor Swift’s Lover to nab the no. 1 spot—a near impossible feat for a rock record in general, let alone one going up against a millennial pop titan like Swift.

But long before all this, back when Chancellor was in that moment of limbo writing bass riffs in his flat, kicked out of one band and not expecting to get the callback from Tool, perhaps the reason he didn’t fret about success is because he’d already peaked when he was a teenager, in a school rock band that used to cover rock hits including Bon Jovi and Survivor. “I actually played ‘Eye of the Tiger’ for Princess Anne once at a charity event,” he added with a laugh. “And I knew I’d made it.”

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