|August 2002 - Blender: How to Survive Five Days on the Road with Queens of the Stone Age
by Neil Strauss
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Thanks to Angel L. Venable for the jpg and pdf files!
With their best album freshly completed and both Blender and Dave Grohl onboard, Queens of the Stone Age have hit the highway. Tonightís show: a club that helped break Nirvana big. Seattleís grunge aristocracy are in attendance, and the "magic mushroom" tea is being passed around. "The last time I felt like this," Grohl explains, "was 1991. . . ."
DO NOT DRINK OUT OF OPEN CONTAINERS
IN A BLACK tour bus parked outside of Graceland, a club in Seattle, something is brewing. It smells like vanilla chai.
"Actually itís mushroom tea," offers one of the Queens of the Stone Ageís roadies. On the table in front of him is a large plastic bag full of marijuana buds and a small baggie containing a large chunk of hash. He pours the tea into an Aquavit water bottle, and hands it to Blender.
Blender declines: We have work to do. It is an important night. Two men who have spent most of their musical lives in the desert playing heavy, heavy rock are bringing two of Seattleís most famous expatriates back to the city.
One former Seattleite is Dave Grohl, who played legendary gigs with Nirvana at Graceland (back when it was called the Off-Ramp). The club is also where he met Queens of the Stone Ageís core members, guitarist Josh Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri, who at the time were playing in the underground-metal band Kyuss. Tonight, Grohl is playing drums, as he once did for Nirvana (in the Foo Fighters, the band he leads, he sings and plays guitar).
The other Seattle expat is Mark Lanegan, formerly of Screaming Trees and one of Kurt Cobainís hometown heroes. In the audience tonight is the other surviving member of Nirvana, Krist Novoselic, as well as musicians from what was once the Seattle elite: Mudhoney, Fastbacks, and the Screaming Trees, among others.
Yes, Blender needs a clear head for this one.
"I told myself I was going to say no to drugs when I first went on the road," another Queens roadie tells Blender, shaking his head as he slowly sips the brown liquid from the Aquavit bottle. "Now Iím their mule."
For the rest of the tour, the bottle will remain on the bus - moving from the table to the counter to the refrigerator. The liquid will recede until the bottle is nearly empty. Yet no one, after tonight, will confess to have drunk any of it.
DO NOT SIT WHERE DAVE GROHL SITS
GRACELAND IS PACKED solid, and the heat is nearly unbearable. Homme and Oliveri lumber onstage. Their dynamic is perfect: Homme is large and affable, with short red hair and a melodic, everyman voice. He may be the most normal-looking guy in rock.
Oliveri is shaved bald and sports a long, pointy goatee, making his face look like that of an upturned unicorn. He possesses a terrifying scream. While Homme seems like heís perpetually on painkillers, Oliveri appears to have explode in a shower of amphetamines.
With a shirtless Grohl on drums, a laconic Lanegan providing extra growls and Troy Van Leeuwen of A Perfect Circle on keyboards, guitar and lap-steel, Queens are at the peak of their powers. Two albums into their career (with a third mere days away), they seem to be perched perpetually between cult-icon status and arena stardom. Their 2000 album, Rated R, etched the Queens name on the hearts of all committed rock fans, thanks largely to the laundry list of drugs that make up "Feel Good Hit of the Summer." The current tour is meant to build excitement for their third album, Songs For The Deaf, a varied ride full of commercial-radio disses, heavy guitar riffage, drawling ballads, dark brooding and soaring pop.
"My goal is to be the slippery fish," Homme says of the Queensí M.O. "The intention is to build something unpinnable, where you have no idea where weíre heading. Itís a perfect situation, because it means I can do whatever I want on each album. In a way, you will shape what I do next. By saying something, you can guarantee I wonít do that."
Every night, the premium-model Queens stretch out more, jamming like a sludge-rock cross between Black Sabbath and Santana. Onstage in Seattle, Homme often turns to face Grohl, and Grohl looks closely at Homme. If heís smiling the jam continues; if he widens his eyes, itís time to switch direction.
What everyone in the band knows but wonít admit is that this arrangement is temporary: Grohl is finishing a Foo Fighters record, Van Leeuwen is waiting for Toolís Maynard Keenan to lay down vocals on the next Perfect Circle LP and Lanegan is writing his next solo album. Still, everyoneís having more fun on the road than theyíve had in a long time.
"I realize I was put on Earth to play drums," Grohl says before the show, an evangelical gleam in his eyes. "I just know it, I donít have to think about it. I love every minute of it, every second of it.
"The last time I experienced a feeling like this tour it was 1991, right as Nevermind was coming out," he continues. "Everyone felt that there was this new electricity, and other people were going to get to experience it. There was this buzz. Itís really wild to experience that again 10 years later."
The Seattle show, however, does not go exactly as planned. There are electricity problems. Midway through the set, Hommeís amplifier sputters and goes silent. One of his guitar pedals dies. The music loses tension until the befuddled band picks up the slack and starts jamming while one of the roadies who isnít tripping on mushrooms repairs the problem. Because of the heat and the sound problems, Homme cuts the set short, leaving the crowd with a falsetto chorus of "Whatever you do, donít tell anyone."
Afterward, Grohl sits with the band backstage as Lanegan jokes about selling his access pass to buy heroin. Homme, who is devoutly serious about his band seethes: "Tomorrow night, I feel like I have something to prove," he says.
Grohl stands up to leave and inspects his chair. His butt cheeks are outlined in sweat on the upholstery. An unsuspecting fan slides into the empty seat. Instantly, Grohlís sweat soaks through the fanís jeans and underwear, wetting his skin. Disgusted at first, he has a sudden change of heart. He pledges never to wash his boxer shorts again.
SPEND SOME TIME TALKING WITH MARK LANEGAN
RIDING FROM SEATTLE to Portland, Oregon, a clear divide emerges. In the front of the bus, half the band is watching lowbrow comedy: Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. In the back, Homme and Lanegan are taking in an art film: My Best Friend, in which German director Werner Herzog reminisces about the temperamental and brilliant actor Klaus Kinski. After comparing Oliveri to Kinski, Homme remarks, "Every band has a Klaus Kinski and a Werner Herzog."
"Iím a boisterous guy when Iím alone, but when Nickís there, I donít need to be," Homme elaborates. "Weíre a great team. Heís naturally inclined to blow your head off, so I can be the down guy. He enables me to be more mysterious."
Lanegan cracks an approving smile. A man of few words, heís tall and stolid, his face creased with experience. Whatever grunge is - or was - he epitomizes it. In the late Ď80s, he played with Screaming Trees. When Homme first moved to Seattle to attend college after leaving Kyuss, he joined the Trees as a guitarist. Now, in a strange twist of fate, Lanegan is Hommeís sideman.
"I remember the first time I met Mark," Grohl says. "Kurt and I went up to Seattle from Olympia to hang out with his friend Dylan [Carlson, of the band Earth]. Dylan was living with Lanegan, and I was sleeping on the pullout bed in the living room. Mark came in in the morning and opened up the front door. He looks at me and goes, ĎWho the fuck are you?í I go, ĎIím Dave; Iím Kurtís new drummer.í He sat down, and we talked for a while.
"Mark was Kurtís Hero," Grohl continues. "No question. That might sound weird, but Kurt really looked up to him."
Sitting near Lanegan is a fascinating experience. Every now and then, heíll open his mouth, and something deeply wry and world-weary will come out. He has been everywhere, and been addicted to everything. When a roots-music documentary playing on the bus shows country-music pioneers the Carter Family singing "Keep on the Sunny Side," Lanegan growls, "Fuck the sunny side. Stay in the darkness!"
"I havenít had the best of times," Lanegan reminisces of his days in San Francisco, the tourís following stop. "I was arrested once, I had a few near-death experiences and I was once chased uphill by 30 guys who wanted to kill me."
Blender asks what Lanegan was in jail for. "Nothing they could ever prove," he says dryly. (He later confesses that it was a drug charge.)
Lanegan is the secret weapon of the Queens live show. Heíll trudge onstage and stand stock-still at the microphone. A hush will fall over the audience as he sings a tortured lament he wrote, "The Hanging Tree." It is pure darkness.
JOSH HOMME WILL KILL YOU IF YOU BREAK THE RULES
GROWING UP IN Palm Desert, California, there wasnít much to do - especially in the summer, when temperatures can soar upward of 115 degrees. So if you were Nick Oliveri, you sat at home and learned to play guitar by listening to Ramones records, figuring out the songs by ear. If you were Josh Homme, you wailed on guitar at parties in garages (which doubled as methamphetamine labs in the daytime) and around desert bonfires, where the music continued through brawls and shotgun blasts fired in the air. The two attended the same high school, where Homme was three years Oliveriís senior.
What did one do to relax and escape the heat in a place like Palm Desert?
"Meth," Oliveri answers. "Definitely meth. Very relaxing."
In the basement of the San Francisco club Slimís, Oliveri fidgets, bobbing his bald head to some unknown hardcore tempo. In the room next door, Grohl blasts the new Foo Fighters album, listening for errors in the latest mix-down. After wondering what it would be like to play without drugs or alcohol ("I did my first sober vocal ever on the new record, on a song called ĎMillionaireí"), Oliveri talks about the bandís revolving lineup.
"The band is set up so that people can move about the cabin freely," he says. "If youíre good, you can stay as long as you want; if you want to leave, you can leave; if youíre not good, youíre fired. Itís that cut-and-dried. It enables Josh and me to do whatever we want musically. Iíve trusted Josh since I was 14 or 15 years old."
As Oliveri speaks, Homme lounges on the sofa trying to sleep, which proves an impossible task: He simply cannot rest when his band is being discussed.
"I have pages of notebooks of what this band should be, the many layers," Homme says. "It works on a bonehead level. It goes all the way down, until you realize youíre being made fun of at the bonehead level."
Homme has an unusual way of talking about the band, favoring military and historical allusions. On their attitude toward pop culture, for instance: "Infiltrate and kill the king. And you donít do that by knocking on the fucking drawbridge door. You become his adviser, whisper in his ear, slit his throat, blame it on the cook and run away."
On Queens of the Stone Ageís desired audience: "Unite the clans. Make a scene where itís half boys and half girls, and bring together all the cliques."
On, um Kylie Minogue: "Iíd fucking shit hot knives to hang out with Kylie Minogue for 40 minutes."
Aware of the intensity of his metaphors, Homme backpedals a little. "Iím not a very violent person," he says. "Contrary to what I said last night."
The night before, Blender accompanied Homme to his brotherís house, and Homme requested that the experience be off the record. We told him we knew he was joking when he said heíd kill us if we wrote about it.
"No, I was serious," he says flatly, looking Blender directly in the eye. "I will kill you."
KNOW WHERE YOUR GIRLFRIEND IS AT ALL TIMES
THE BAND AND its crew decamp San Francisco on two our buses: Homme, Lanegan, Van Leeuwen and Grohl and his girlfriend in one; Oliveri and his girlfriend, Deborah, in the other. At 8:50 in the morning, Queens of the Stone Ageís tour comes to an end as the buses pull into a depot in Sherman Oaks, in the valley just north of Los Angeles. As the groggy fivesome struggles to find matching shoes and pack up any bottles of liquor that are left over, Oliveri gets on the first bus.
"Hey, has anyone seen Deborah?"
"No - wasnít she traveling with you?" Grohl asks.
"Yeah," Oliveri replies. "But we stopped at a rest stop, and she got off the bus and didnít get back on. So I thought she was on your bus."
"Nope, havenít seen her."
"Oh, shit," Oliveri exclaims. He stumbles off the bus and begins to pace around the depot, rubbing his bald head back and forth in anger, confusion, disbelief and frustration. Apparently, what Homme and Oliveri always say about Queens of the Stone Age is no exaggeration: If you canít keep up, you will be left behind.
Huge thanks to Thomas (TyCobb) for typing this up!