|July 11 2005 - Pitchforkmedia Interview
by David Raposa
Look up any press Josh Homme did regarding the latest Queens of the Stone Age album, Lullabies to Paralyze, and no doubt there's going to be a question or 10 about the following: the falling out with Nick Olivieri, Homme's former partner in crime; Homme's relationship with the Distillers' Brody Dalle; and his fisticuffs with various bar patrons. Instead of flogging those would-be glue factories and earning the full brunt of Homme's laconic acerbic ire, this conversation touched on other hot spots: Italian porn, bank architecture, prom, Walt Disney, diaries, spitting up blood, ZZ Top, and the new album. I talked to Homme via phone in May, prior to a QOTSA / Eagles of Death Metal show at the rock-friendly Reno Hilton. Fittingly, for the rock and for the locale, Homme had to push the interview back 90 minutes-- he was involved in a poker tournament. He finished eighth.
Pitchfork: So you guys are in Reno now...
Josh Homme: Reno! Home of the world's largest bowling stadium.
Pitchfork: I did not know that!
JH: Yeah, man-- haven't you seen Kingpin?
Pitchfork: Yeah, I have, but I didn't realize that was Reno.
JH: Dude, the biggest little city in the world; the whole time, they're, like, [in a whiny country accent], "I wanna go to Reno!" [laughs] Everyone here is missing a tooth, I love it. Reminds me of my hometown.
Pitchfork: Where is your hometown?
JH: Ah, like Joshua Tree, Palm Desert.
Pitchfork: So how far is that from where you're at?
JH: From Reno? Oh, it's probably like 10 or 12 hours. Why, where're you?
Pitchfork: I'm in Connecticut, so I'm like 10 or 12 days...
JH: You're my polar opposite.
Pitchfork: Yeah, that's putting it lightly. [laughs] So, you're in Reno right now, and you're going to Chicago in two days, for some radio concert thing.
JH: Yeah, I think we have to blow everybody and kiss babies or something.
Pitchfork: [laughs] And this is prep for your European tour that's starting next week?
JH: Yeah, we're just playing, like, cities we don't normally play. We did a tour of little places and all the little rooms in all the cities we would play, and now we're just going out to where we normally wouldn't go. Ever since I met [Billy] Gibbons...one of the things I love about ZZ Top is they're a people's band, y'know? And they don't ever really play L.A., they play Bakersfield instead, which is a farming town out of the way, so I kinda wanna do that, too. I wanna copy his ass. [laughs]
Pitchfork: So how's that going so far?
JH: It's tits, man, I love it. Everyone's psyched because no one ever comes to play Reno, y'know? And no one hardly ever plays Tuscon, Arizona-- it's always Phoenix.
Pitchfork: How is the venue in Reno, 'cause I looked it up online, and it looked very posh.
JH: Well, yeah, it's a casino, it's the Hilton. It's like the dressing room you never get in the room that sounds impossibly good. It makes you understand why...all of us went to Vegas, and Reno was like, "you all just come see me instead," y'know? I'm trying to be Celine Dion.
Pitchfork: Can you hit the high C over C like she can?
JH: No, but I never had my nuts in a vice. But I'm sure I can get close.
ON THE DIVIDE--
Pitchfork: What's the reception like for you in the UK as opposed to the U.S.? JH: "Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeah." The sorts of people that say that, just like I said it. You know...situations like NME...NME is a weekly rag, so they deal in gossip and all that. Here we're so accustomed to, y'know, "Get onto the next thing! Let's go!", and they're kinda that way in England, too. But they're down with absorbing full albums and stuff like that on a little bit larger scale. People here love to get into records, too, but I think it's really a question of making a full record in the first place.
Pitchfork: How do you mean?
JH: Well, I think a lot of...we've somehow gotten processed into this world where people just make singles, or they have three good songs on their record...
Pitchfork: Yeah, and they play those songs for two years until they get to the next album after touring, stuff like that?
JH: Well, the object is to drain every last drop of water out of the sponge, squeeze it hard. I think, as is kinda customary for our thing...we're straddling multiple things, y'know? It's neither all of any one thing, just pieces of everything.
Pitchfork: So I assume they pick up on that more over there than here?
JH: Well, y'know, there are so many bands, period. I think it can be hard anywhere. I mean, the drive is just to find people that would dig your stuff. That's a weird thing all in itself. Personally, I don't need everybody to go out and get it-- just the people that would really like it for real.
ON THE RAGS--
Pitchfork: Going back to the NME-- you like goofing on them a lot, playing them a little bit?
JH: Yeah, it's fun to toy around with press stuff a little bit, because in many ways it's not a real world.
After all, nothing helps to write lyrics more than to mess around with the language, so I think being colorful with them and not being definitive and keeping the vague end open...
Pitchfork: Like keeping them on their toes, to an extent?
JH: Yeah, and I used to have this happen with the NME and a couple other magazines there, that someone would walk in and I'd go, "Who the fuck are you, man? Who the fuck are you?" [laughs] And they'd say, "I'm here for the interview!" And then you could just go, "Ah, I'm just kidding, man." [laughs] And that's how you'd start. And they'd be like, "Oh my god! Oh my god!"
Pitchfork: Like, "Oh, shit, I fucked up, I'm so sorry..."
JH: "I don't know...I don't know where! Is this the right room?" And that's just entertaining in a casual way.
Pitchfork: So that whole thing-- I read it online, this flak with you and the director of your last video about the whole "Italian porno" thing?
JH: Yeah, I didn't even say that!
Pitchfork: You really didn't? The reports said something like it reminded you of an Italian porno film...
JH: No, we have this person, Dr. Insider, who writes stuff for us. She was saying, "What's it like? What's the new video gonna be like?" And I was like, "Ah, dude, it's, uh, it's...what do you think? It's kinda like porn?" And Troy [Van Leeuwen, QOTSA guitarist] goes, "Oh yeah, Italian porn. It's very saucy, very seductive, it's not just bang-bang-bang-bang." And I wear the blame in the band, so there ya go. Next thing you know, it's like I'm verbatim-- "It's Italian porn." Which would be great if it was. It's not really that way, but...
Pitchfork: Yeah, I guess the director was very adamant in some statement I read, stating this is not Italian porn, and he respects the women he's showing in the video and stuff like that. [laughs] I would think he'd want to play that angle up, actually.
JH: I know. Someone else told me that, too, that he was very, "Hey, wait a minute!"
Pitchfork: "I'm making art, damn it, c'mon!"
JH: Yeah, we'll see about that. [laughs] Y'know, Italian porn's pretty exciting. You should hope [the video] is that exciting.
Pitchfork: Yeah, I'm only familiar with the American stuff, so I'm parochial that way, I guess.
JH: Yeah. [laughs] You know, you're a patriot, man.
Pitchfork: Yeah, I try, y'know-- holdin' it down.
JH: American fucking!
ON THE ROAD--
Pitchfork: So when is the tour with Nine Inch Nails?
JH: It starts in September.
Pitchfork: So you're touring Europe for a month, and then I guess you have August off?
JH: Nah-- then we're gonna go to Australia and, um, do some stuff there and then go play Reading in Leeds.
Pitchfork: Really! Where are you guys on the bill?
JH: I think we're third from the top.
Pitchfork: Who's headlining?
JH: Uhhh...you know, I think it's...I think the Killers is the top. [brief pause] In England, they're killing.
Pitchfork: Yeah. That's funny.
JH: Thank you. Thank you, enjoy the buffet. But I don't know who else is. We just always ask to not be on, like...
Pitchfork: Like at 1:30 in the afternoon, that type of thing?
JH: Well, yeah, sure, that's an easy one, but we don't want to...I want to be on something more eclectic? Some of the festivals are like "All Death Metal, All The Time." Or all country. And I'd rather be on the mixed drink ones.
Pitchfork: So I guess on that tip, are you looking forward to the Chicago show, because you're playing with Interpol and Hot Hot Heat...
JH: Yeah, see, Hot Hot Heat's got some cool tunes, and I like Interpol, so, in a way, that's kinda why we end up doing these [radio shows]. And I like that situation, actually, playing up against other bands, because...people say it's not like a competition, but when you play you wanna try to blow everyone else away. And whoever said that [it's not a competition] either just got blown away or is lying. We just try to go there, and it's kinda cool-- when we're condensed to 45 minutes, like everyone is, it's cool because it's nothing but meat.
ON THE RECORD--
Pitchfork: Have you gotten a lot of good feedback about the new album, or what about your own feelings about it?
JH: I really love the album. I felt like it was a success before anyone else heard it because it sounds like what we all wanted it to sound like. It was a joy to make. It was a piece of cake to do. At the same time, I knew that for anyone that would be into our band this was gonna be pretty decisive because Nick [Olivieri, former bassist] is gone, and..."divisive," more like. And some people are gonna be, y'know, "They suck, the hard edge is gone, and the thrill is gone," and all that stuff, and then some people will be like, "Oh, everything is fine; it's just music." And so I went into that knowing this was gonna happen no matter what. I mean, we could've come off like Slayer, and people would've been like, "The hard edge is gone." That's why we played all Vader covers. [laughs]
Pitchfork: It seems like the new album is...the only word I can really think of is "sad", or romanticized, in a way, with the balladry, and things like the phone hanging up at the start of "Long Slow Goodbye". Was that an intentional thing, or did that just come out?
JH: No, I wanted to do that since the first time that it got played in its entirety.
Pitchfork: But in terms of the whole album being...I guess "romanticized" is the word I'm looking for...
JH: That's probably pretty accurate. To me, it's not necessarily sad-- it's just dark. When the album starts, it's already nighttime, y'know? And halfway through it goes past midnight. And I don't think it's necessarily depressing, but I do think that it's...I said this before, but it's the best way for me to put it. For me, I like to write about things that are dark or twisted. Where the poetry seems to be is when you start in the dark and reach for the light-- that's what makes it not depressing to me, too. Some shit is depressing, and some shit is dark, and I think the main difference is one is wallowing in "this sucks," and the other one is like, "I'm getting out of here."
Pitchfork: A lot of the interviews I read have you talking about your stance on "confessional songwriting," or the sort of stuff that says "I am wallowing in this phbbbbt"-- the type of stuff that starts in the light but is reaching back towards the darkness...
JH: Well, I think some stuff is very diary-oriented. For other people, where it's like [singing weakly] "I need you and I..." and every song is "I...", and I think most of that stuff should be left for a journal or just needs to be written really well, y'know? I think people get trapped using real pedestrian words where [singing weakly] "I wanna do something"-- like, fuck a "something".
Pitchfork: Yeah, like they're very vague in what they're trying to get out instead of being more specific.
JH: Yeah, or there's no color. It should at least be visual. I think this album is the most personal for me, but it's done, at the same time, when it seems like things that've been happening in my life are getting taken out of the safe and put on the Internet, so to speak. [pause] Or the Interweb.
ON THE CONFESSIONAL--
Pitchfork: Going back to the "confessional songwriting" thing-- since you're touring with NIN in September, how do you feel about their music, given that-- and this is my own interpretation, of course-- but some of their bigger songs tend to err on the side of being vaguely self-absorbed.
JH: Well, I think there's a touch of that in their stuff, too, and then I think their stuff like that song "March of the Pigs" where it goes...aggro-angular? Nine Inch Nails are a band where I like a lot of their stuff, and some of the stuff that I'm not so into is that stuff that gets too, "Wha?" At the same time, I feel like right now, other than some of the bands that are kinda pushing it out there-- a band like Mars Volta, who's really pushing on what they do, or I would tour with Interpol or I would tour with Death From Above 1979, who I got on the Nine Inch Nails tour.
There's not tons and tons of bands to go playing with, that want to like play ball, or throw the frisbee around, and so I think, for us, I think it's just trying to find something cool to do. And as far as, musically speaking, it's one of those things where that's why I play, because I'd like to be able to say it my way, too, y'know? When you hear something, you go, "Ah, that's too confessional for me." I don't feel like our record is overly confessional where it's like [singing weakly] "My mom and dad are doing stuff," y'know? Where you're like, "Just shut the fuck up. Here's a journal, here's a pen; I bought it for you, don't even worry about the money." I don't feel it's like that, because I'm so hyper-aware of stuff like that, and I don't want to be a [inaudble; sounds like "Depeche Mode"]
JH: Did I say "doucheboard"?
Pitchfork: I thought you said, "Depeche Mode."
JH: No, I said "Doucheboard Confessional." I was gonna say "dashboard" but I said "doucheboard" on accident.
Pitchfork: It was a happy accident.
JH: My tongue slipped in oil. [laughs]
ON THE BUSINESS--
Pitchfork: So how long would you say you've been a professional musician?
JH: When did I turn pro? Eighteen. But we put a record out ourselves, all on our own...I've been playing live gigs since I was 13. I really don't know how to do anything else, and please God strike me down.
Pitchfork: So you've been involved in the whole major label business schlmeal for about 13 years now?
JH: Yeah, I just turned 32, so I guess 14 years now.
Pitchfork: Wow. I have to admit, I didn't realize you were that young. I mean, I've known about you since I was 18.
JH: How old are you?
Pitchfork: I'm 30.
JH: See what happens?
Pitchfork: [sighing] Yeah, I know...
JH: The thing is, in the beginning, we got dragged kicking and screaming into it. The first time Kyuss was about to get signed, they're like, "We'd like to sign you!" and we just said, "No! Forget it!" because we thought people were always trying to invade everything. And when someone likes something, they've gotta stick their dick in it just to be part of it, y'know? So it took us a while for us to even make contact with the label that signed us eventually. I think it's that "ignorance is bliss" part, until the bliss leaves and then you just feel stupid.
Pitchfork: So after being involved in this for 13 years, does the grind get to you at all?
JH: No, it's actually easier now.
Pitchfork: Really? Is that because you know how things roll, to some extent?
JH: No-- it's that I don't have any control over are things I used to trip on, like "why do they kill whales?" or "why is this fucking douchebag trying to change our record?" and "why did someone put a Budweiser thing on our flier?" and now I just worry about the music and I kinda don't worry about the rest of it because we don't make demos and I'm not gonna change songs for Jimmy Iovine or for someone who thinks that we should play like Slayer.
Pitchfork: Have you ever had to deal with that sort of situation, or was that something that was said upfront-- "I'm not going to do this, so if you want me, this is something you'll have to kowtow to?"
JH: I think that your reputation is built off of of your repetition, so for years we've been saying, "If you try to interfere, we just won't do anything, and I don't need to be A&R'd. If you give us the dough, we'll make a record you'll like, I promise. And if you don't, then you should drop us." And I'd rather bet on the music than anything else. I like to make the music that I really love. You're supposed to make your favorite music that no one else played, and I'd like to just keep it at that and not really change it at all.
Pitchfork: So how long is your Interscope deal for? Or is it up in the air now?
JH: We owe, like, two more records. Why, you wanna buy it?
Pitchfork: Oh, yeah-- I got, like, five bucks in my pocket.
JH: Just get in there, dude. [laughs] Bidding war!
ON THE TOP AND THE GOOD WORK--
JH: On the computer in front of me-- from the Reno Hilton-- there's a slide show, when no one touches it, of performers that have played in the Reno Hilton since its inception, and January Jones was just there...now Paul Anka is up. He kinda looks like Eric Weiss, or Houdini.
Pitchfork: Actually, I found this kinda funny-- I was looking up the upcoming schedule for the Reno Hilton, and I guess ZZ Top is gonna be there in a month.
JH: No fucking way.
Pitchfork: Yeah, you can look it up on their website.
JH: I'm there early, dude. I love Gibbons, he's bad ass.
Pitchfork: Are you guys gonna work together again, after you two worked on this last album?
JH: Italian porn.
JH: I'd love to produce a ZZ Top record, man. There's so much character in his fingers, and Dusty's fingers, and Frank Beard's hands...I'd like to get them back to just capturing the character. Records don't have to be perfect. Everyone doesn't have to move left when everyone else moves left. I love hearing the mistakes.
Pitchfork: I assume you're a fan of the pre-Eliminator ZZ Top. I found about them mostly through MTV and "Legs" and that stuff.
JH: Yeah, if you get Tres Hombres, Fandango, Tejas, you hear the stuff that's so casually...you can tell it's like, "yeah, that sound pretty good," but it's amazing. It has such great personality, and the playing is so good. And that's what paved the way for them to be in the spot they're at-- it's got so much character. The beauty's in the scars, and it's got so much of that there.
Pitchfork: Is there anyone else that you haven't worked with yet that you're looking forward to working with, or that you want to?
JH: I'd like to do some stuff with Peaches. I love the Peach. We've toured with her, and no one wields a dildo like that, and that's a fact. [laughs] I mean no one.
Pitchfork: Yeah, I was actually trying to think of someone, but I couldn't.
JH: Yeah, I looked. Searched high and low.
Pitchfork: So what about your own musical plans, besides touring?
JH: Honestly, my musical goals is for the records to keep getting...it's all interconnected, I write about my life and the lives of people around me and situations, and the idea's for each record to try to make you a better person, to understand the life that you lead more. This one may sell more or less or the exact amount-- it's not attached to that yardstick. So, my own musical plan is to not suck and try to make the records as good or better as the one before them, and the things that don't work, not do those again.
ON THE CRAFT--
Pitchfork: You mostly record around California or Arizona, right?
Pitchfork: Have you thought about switching locales to get a different vibe, like PJ Harvey did a few records ago, or David Bowie?
JH: We were gonna try to go to Australia for this [album]. What we've done is we've done recordings in the desert, in the woods [in California]...there's so many different landscapes that essentially...from Los Angeles to Sequoia National Forest to the desert is three polar opposite places and I find I get distracted in the city, so I like to go where there isn't anybody and where you kinda feel humbled by the outside and by the fact that you get to play all the time. I hate that sense of entitlement or the sense of business crawling into playing music.
Pitchfork: Like having the A&R guy in the studio while you're recording, giving you the thumbs-up behind the window ...
JH: Yeah, and just anybody, really. [laughs] I think music is a selfish masturbatory event-- for the listener, the maker, the candlestick...maker. [laughs] It's a device for having a good time, or for expressing the doing or playing of what's hard to be saying. The purer the ideas are, more right-off-the-tap and not filtered through a bunch of channels, the better they sound. Or, at least, it's the most honest take of whatever it is you're doing.
ON GROWING UP--
Pitchfork: So how long before you're supposed to go on stage?
JH: The Eagles [of Death Metal] just started.
Pitchfork: You're not playing with them? Well, obviously not, if you're talking to me.
JH: No-- every once in a while, I go out and do a song or something. And I'm kinda jealous and happy at the same time because they're killing it every night and I love playing drums, so I'm happy and sad for them [laughs] and myself.
Pitchfork: When'd you start to play drums?
JH: I've been tapping on tables and chairs since I was little. [laughs] I got into guitar because no parent will buy their eight-year-old kid drums, unless they're divorced and trying to get back at their wife. You know what I mean?
Pitchfork: Yeah. I was stuck w/ the clarinet when I was younger because I wanted to play saxophone but the music store didn't have any.
JH: See, that's just cold-- that's not even your fault. But, you know, after things like St. Elmo's Fire and Kenny G, you're psyched. Sax sometimes sounds like sax, and sax is shit. The trombone is pretty tits.
Pitchfork: Yeah, I think it was that Bruce Springsteen video that got me into the sax.
JH: "Dancing in the Dark"?
Pitchfork: Yeah. I was 8, I didn't know what was going on.
JH: Yeah, everyone gets a freebie at eight.
Pitchfork: [laughs] When do the freebies stop-- when you hit puberty?
JH: Yeah, when you're like [voice cracking] "Will you go to prom with me?" [laughs] That's weird.
Pitchfork: What's weird?
JH: Prom. [voice cracking] Pra-om.
Pitchfork: Oh, geez-- let's not even go there.
JH: I know, I'm not going to. And we're not going together, either, by the way.
Pitchfork: Aw, that's too bad-- I got a nice suit and everything.
JH: I got a nice tan and taupe!
Pitchfork: I even got the limo, geez.
ON THE MOUSE, THE FUN MACHINE, AND THE BLOOD--
Pitchfork: So how much interviewing have you done since the record came out?
JH: I haven't done one in a while, really.
JH: Yeah, this isn't only the first one in a couple of days, but there was only one a couple days ago. We went and talked to everyone right away--
Pitchfork: To get it out of the way?
JH: To get it out of the way, yeah. [laughs] I'd rather just play, especially w/ all the things occurring at the time, just fucking flapping my mudhole all day. I'd rather just do something instead and then talk about what we already did.
Pitchfork: Do you get punchdrunk after so many interviews, and then just start making shit up?
JH: Totally. And I come from a long line of smartasses, so it's just practice. It's like target practice. Sometimes you just start to lose it, you just get into that giggly bendable punchdrunk feeling...
Pitchfork: Like after you've stayed up too long?
JH: Yeah, but I love that, though, because that's also the time when someone says something and you're like, "Oh, I don't even care," and you actually mean it. When people say, "Oh, I don't care about anything," they're full of shit. Everyone cares about something. But in those moments when you're like, "I. Don't. Care," you're telling the truth. And that's a very sexy place to be.
Pitchfork: Is that the state of mind you were in when you were talking about the Disneyland marching band thing?
JH: [laughs] I just thought it would be cool to pollute. To me, that's very punk rock, y'know? Like, punk rock is not going to Hot Topic and spending $180.
Pitchfork: That's good to know, damn!
JH: Yeah, yeah, pass it off. But I liked getting the Disneyland band to play on songs like "Skin on Skin", which is all about fucking, or twisted out Hansel & Gretel type songs like "Someone's in the Wolf". And I like the idea of Walt's frozen head rolling in its compartment. [laughs] It's almost like not even cool to do, so I want to go there and touch that.
Pitchfork: So you actually got musicians that work for Disney...
JH: The Main Street marching band, yeah.
Pitchfork: Are they also the ones playing on that hidden track on the end of the album?
JH: Well, that's actually not a hidden track. I think there's confusion, because people think that's "The Fun Machine Took a Shit and Died", but it isn't.
Pitchfork: What happened to that song?
JH: Dude, someone stole the tapes from the studio, which blows double-hard.
Pitchfork: Yeah, because I read some folks mentioning it, and I was wondering where the hell they heard it.
JH: Maybe it's a bit aggressive to say they were stolen, but no one really knows where they are.
Pitchfork: And they haven't turned up at all?
JH: No-- you'd think they'd hit the net, but it hasn't happened. When I got sick in Europe on this promo tour...God what a blessing, didn't have to do promo, but we had to cancel shows, and that blows, so...
Pitchfork: Wait a minute-- weren't you spitting up blood? And you call that a blessing?
JH: Well, I didn't have to do any more promo. It was this French decongestant that was so gnarly, it cracked my sinuses and blood was dripping down my throat. So I thought it was coming from my lungs, but it was actually coming from my sinuses. So, yeah, it wasn't sexy. But we re-recorded parts of "The Fun Machine" and we're putting it on a 45 and giving it to all the kids we canceled on in Europe. So it's coming out in little pieces.
Pitchfork: So is "The Fun Machine" a 16-minute epic, or...
JH: Yeah, it's about 15 minutes long, but it's about 15 different parts. It sits for a minute or something, and then it revisits things in different tempos. We re-recorded through my cassette player. It's a badass cassette player. It's the truth, actually. That's no lie.
Pitchfork: Anything else you'd like to add? What's on your screensaver now?
JH: Gotta wait for it to change because it's two people I don't know; one of them looks like Tipper Gore.
Pitchfork: That might be Flo & Eddie from the Turtles.
Oh, wait, something new's coming up-- the Tahoe Biltmore Hotel postcard. [laughs] Dude, I love the way everything looked back then. All the cars were made like as if you had to make something cool, which is how you should think of everything. You know, if you go to Denver...have you ever been to Denver?
Pitchfork: I have not been to Denver.
JH: Well, if you go there, you'll notice that all the buildings are just a bummer, where you're just like, "Geez." It's all corrugated cement, as opposed to aggregate. And didn't you even want this bank to look cool?
Pitchfork: Well, it's a bank, that's probably why.
JH: Banks are kinda cool, you put some money in there. It should be kinda vaguely sexy, but it's not.
Pitchfork: They should combine banks and stripbars. That would really work well.
JH: Hello! Make a deposit!
Pitchfork: Yeah, it's all about the innuendo.
JH: I'd like to make a deposit in Savannah! [laughs] Why are they all called Savannah, dude? That's not cool to Savannah, Georgia, I don't think. No, I think that's it. Let's make everything look cool. Starting now.