A painter and a
photographer, Kevin Willis is an artist whose work is familiar to all
Tool fans, even without knowing. Since the very beginning, he was
indeed involved in the making of visuals, took some photos of the band,
and later even produce their videos. Besides, he contributed as well
for A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, The Melvins and several other groups.
Salival : How did you meet Adam Jones ?
Kevin Willis : I moved to Los Angeles from Seattle after I graduated
college, Anthropology and Ceramics. I was dead set on working at Stan
Winston Studio, I wanted to learn more about special
effects. I met Adam there. I got a job there on the tail end of Terminator 2, heading into preproduction of Batman returns ; I also worked on Jurassic Park
and a few others. I wasn't paid much, I learned a lot, but
most important, I met great artists, great people that I'll be friends
with and work with for so many years to come. Adam and I both quit
about the same time ; we've been working together ever since.
What memories do you have from your work at this studio ?
Pouring up nasty chemicals, working long hours, working with great
artists, meeting Tim Burton, always fucking around. It was a good
time in the special effects world, there was so much innovation at that
And what's behind this picture of you in the sleeve of Opiate ?
That was a joke at Stan Winston's. There were skinned bodies in storage [obviously for Predator 2]. It's
an example of my morbid sense of humor. Adam was making the box
for the inside of the packaging, and he asked me if he could put it in
there. I told him : "Of course, you can."
So you worked with Tool from the very beginning. Thus your painting of Bill Hicks in Ænima is famous ; who came with the idea, and what's behind it ?
Adam and I had been working on all the different aspects of the
packaging. Tool wanted an homage to the late Bill
Hicks. He was a big influence on the record. I said I'd
paint something, and they said ok. I remember that there was a
timeline : I had only one day to paint it. I painted through
the night - to The Wipers, which kept me going - right up to when
the messenger knocked on the door to pick it up in the morning. I
handed it to him still wet. The image itself was something I came
up with. It's my sense of humor.
You also made
pre-production work for most videos of Tool ; have you always been
there for all of them, and/or did you collaborate more and more ?
I started doing effects on "Prison Sex". I was the producer from "Stinkfist" on.
How was the learning of this new job ?
Producing is somewhat natural to my personality.
And what does that entail ?
You even played the main character in "Stinkfist" ; can you relate the
making of this video, and your experience this time as a protagonist in
addition of the rest ?
Adam and I were experimenting
with flocking [the process of depositing many small fiber particles
onto a surface]. It makes an amazing texture on any
surface. Adam had used it on the red ribbed sculpture on Undertow. We
were using it on the "blue man" for packaging, and we thought we should
flock real people. We did testing, and we realized it might be
risky. I told Adam that I wanted to be the guy, and he went for
it. It was such an important video to be in. I'm still stoked when I
What would be the best and the worst that happened during the shootings of all these videos ?
Lauri Ann Larson, the woman who can be seen in the packaging of Undertow and in the "Stinkfist" video.
Is there anything you regret not having able to do on the set ?
Of course. We could have done anything in those videos within the budget.
Tool, you also provided photographies and art for some other bands. Do
you realize specific artworks sometimes for some people, or are you
always asked for the use of yours ?
The use of mine.
also directed yourself a video (for Modest Mouse's "Satellite Skin").
Was it the first time, and do you have other projects of that kind ?
This was the first time I took on the directing role. Modest
Mouse are old friend of me from Seattle. The budget was small, but I
was happy with it. Right now, I'm working on some humorous creepy