|Jan. 19, 2001 - The Age: Queens Claim Rock's Throne
by Patrick Donovan
Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age founder, songwriter, guitarist and singer, has just come offstage and is unwinding with a cigarette after blowing away a Berlin crowd. They've been touring constantly since April, ushering in the summer with songs from one of the best rock albums of last year, Rated R , and Homme says they are finally nailing the complex songs live.
"We're getting fiercer and the crowds are getting scareder," he says. "We'll take a little break and then we should be peaking by the time we hit Australia."
R maintains the heavy riffing and chaos of Homme's earlier work with Kyuss and the first self-titled Queens album, but the songs are tighter, and embellished with vibes, horns, steel drums and slide guitar - instruments not usually found on a heavy rock record.
"It comes from the idea that there are no rules in music," he says. "I mean what better place to hear a flugelhorn than in a heavy rock song? All of those instruments are very natural and earthy; they're breathing instruments."
The band hoped the album would do well, but they had no idea they would be playing high up on the bill at just about every summer festival, with tens of thousands of youngsters singing along to the chorus of their anthem Feel Good Hit of the Summer: "nicotine, valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol ... c-c-c-c-c-cocaine". Even more surprisingly, critics are hailing R as the first quality, progressive mainstream rock album in years, and claiming it has in effect "saved (mainstream) rock 'n' roll".
Homme won't have a bar of that, but he does think that rock is making a resurgence as an underground movement. "I'm not here to save rock 'n' roll or be an authority on anything. Rock 'n' roll is something that is fun and pure and simple. But the pendulum does swing. It picks up steam again and comes back like a wrecking ball."
R was recorded in the Mojave desert studio where Homme has always worked. Many of the songs were recorded on first or second takes, giving them an urgency that is a feature of Homme's music, but they are more polished than those he recorded with Kyuss, the band he played in between the ages of 14 and 22.
"Kyuss was all about being heavy, staying heavy, but I had been in it my whole life, and tastes grow," he says. "Kyuss was all about jamming and making music for music's sake, but we lost what some of the songs were about and I wanted to have more options and write songs. And I had been in the band for seven years, since I was a kid, and I felt like I needed to move out of home and set up my own shop.
"We had bulls*** coming from all sides, so to preserve it I had to destroy it."
After dissolving Kyuss, Homme went to the studio in the desert and recorded the multi-volumed stoner rock bible, The Desert Sessions, on which he invited other musicians such as Dave Grohl, members of Soundgarden, Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet and the Earthlings to contribute. He says the sessions were musically cathartic; an essential ingredient to the sparser, more focused album that is R.
"The Desert Sessions was a chance for me to puke up all the stuff that had been trapped inside after Kyuss," he says.
But despite the embracing of R , making an intelligent, powerful album with songs that could be played on radio was not an attempt to sell more records or save rock 'n' roll.
"I see Queens of the Stone Age as a more focused, calculated version of Kyuss, like a Roman version. It's still rough, but the sounds are more like sniper shots than carpet bombs."
Life has changed for Homme, playing summer festivals to new audiences. But he says it has had little effect on him or his band.
"We have a really good relationship with our label (Universal). I said to them, you've heard what I've done with Kyuss and the first Queens record, I'll make you another good album. So don't tell me how to make an album, and I won't tell you how to sell it."