|Aug. 30, 2002 - Boston Globe: Queens are the Kings fo their Realm
by Christian Hoard
"This time around I'll be doing a lot of the dancing," says Queens of the Stone Age singer Mark Lanegan. "I'm also trying to talk them into letting me play tambourine."
Lanegan is joking, presumably, but past Queens of the Stone Age shows have had their share of bizarre sights: bassist Nick Oliveri clad in nothing but his braided goatee; the band dressing in all-white uniforms for a set of Ozzfest gigs; ex-Nirvana member (and current Foo Fighters leader) Dave Grohl mounted behind the drum kit for a run of shows this past spring.
But with Grohl having abandoned the skins to attend to the Foo Fighters and with no visual antics in the works, the only out-there thing that will be on display when the Queens play Avalon Sunday is the band's sound. Since 1997, when Oliveri and singer-guitarist Josh Homme founded the group in Southern California, Queens have been staking their claim as the most engaging hard-rock act around.
Pegging their heavy guitar attack isn't easy, though lots of labels get tossed at the band: pseudo-metal, stoner-rock, heavy alternative. "We're all in agreement that labels are stupid," Lanegan says. "The other bands that I hear mentioned under these same categories - there are elements that are similar, but [Queens] are really, distinctly their own thing. I hear elements of Devo and new wave and Krautrock and stuff that has nothing to do with Black Sabbath or whatever, and that's what makes it cool."
Which isn't to say that the Queens have a split personality. Their songs are typically based around heavy guitar riffs, a pounding rhythm section, and lyrics that read like tripped-out adolescent poetry ("The sky is falling/Human race that we run/It left me crawling/Staring straight at the sun"). And despite moments of conceptual weirdness - interspersing snippets of disc jockey babble on their albums, or using a laundry list of narcotics as lyrics - they've managed to attract a big following with their two major label albums, 2000's "Rated R" and the recently released "Songs for the Deaf."
Like its predecessor, "Songs for the Deaf" is sprawling and unpredictable, but where "Rated R" managed to work in a choir, a brass section, and some genius minor-key choruses, the new record banks on a taut, focused attack.
"I think it's a great record," says Lanegan, who co-wrote and sang on several of the album's tracks. "To me, it's like the Ramones - it's just really distinct, and almost always really catchy. But not stupid."
One of the reasons "Songs for the Deaf" hits so hard is Grohl's presence on every cut. For his first real drumming gig since Kurt Cobain's death, Grohl came out firing, contributing the jangly boom-chick rhythms of "No One Knows" and the adrenalized bounce of "Do It Again."
"It was cool to be on a record and to do some shows with him playing drums," Lanegan says. "Because in my opinion he's one of the greatest drummers ever."
With the possible exception of Judas Priest singer Rob Halford, who sang the chorus to "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" from "Rated R," Grohl is the biggest name Homme ever recruited for his band. But the drummer was the latest in a revolving cast of friends that has - along with Homme and Olivieri, the only permanent members until Lanegan joined last year - comprised Queens of the Stone Age.
For Homme, Queens' avowed leader, inducting Lanegan into the band was an easy choice. During the past two years that Lanegan fronted Seattle-based Screaming Trees, he employed Homme as his guitarist. When Homme's own affectless vocals weren't right for several songs on Queens' second album, he called on the gruff-voiced singer.
"We were both in LA when he was doing "Rated R," Lanegan says, "He just asked me if I wanted to sing some stuff, work on some songs. Then they asked me to go do a British tour with them, which I did. During the course of that, they asked me if I wanted to work on their next with them. I said, 'Sure.'"
One thing that had Lanegan especially enthusiastic about Queens' prospects was his respect for Kyuss (rhymes with "pious"), the band Homme and Oliveri first founded while they were still teenagers. Known for their overdriven, down-tuned guitars, Kyuss pioneered the genre known as "stoner rock," receiving acclaim among guitarheads and pot smokers near their home base of Palm Desert, Calif.
Despite recording two albums for Elektra, Kyuss burned out before it ever hit it big. As for fame and fortune, Queens of the Stone Age are still on the cusp - they haven't gotten as big as the nu-metal goons they're sometimes compared with, but they've been able to sell out gigs around the world.
Lanegan, who briefly rode the rollercoaster of pop stardom with Screaming Trees, says that Queens don't much care how the band is received.
But he is sanguine about Queens' long-term chances, especially compared with the trials and tribulations he went through while touring in early '90s. "Most of the [earlier] experiences I can't remember. But I'm pretty sure I'm enjoying this a lot more," Lanegan says. "I would say that one of them was like traveling with an unhappy family, and one of them was traveling with a happy family. Queens are a happy family."