Sept. 2002 - HMV: Killer Queens
by Barry Walsh
The oddly-named Queens Of The Stone Age are not so much a band as they are an experiment - throw some like-minded musicians in a room, allow them to play whatever they want and to follow whatever musical flights of fancy they can fathom, and stick it all on one disc. And seeing as the experiment worked brilliantly on their second album, Rated R (featuring the modern rock staple 'Feel Good Hit Of The Summer'), why not try it again?

For the newly-released Songs For The Deaf the nucleus of singer/ guitarist Josh Homme and bassist/ singer Nick Oliveri has been joined by a sterling cast, including Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan, Ween's Dean Ween, and perhaps most notably, the multi-talented Dave Grohl (former Nirvana drummer, current Foo Fighter), who lays down the guitar to return to the instrument the Good Lord meant him to play, the drums. Grohl is a documented QOTSA fanatic, and when the opportunity arose to play on the group's new album, he was literally in the studio hours after getting the phone call.

"He wanted to play on 'Rated R,' but it finally came about for this one," says Oliveri, doing press while having a late (3 pm) breakfast in a Toronto eatery (for those who need to know, he likes his eggs over medium). "We tried to pay him and he wouldn't accept any money. So we were like 'Okay, whatever, dude.' But he's had me taking my bass home and s**t. I haven't done that in, like, eight years."

But while Grohl hasn't joined the band on the road for the current leg of their tour, his contribution to the recording is staggering, as are the efforts of the other honorary Queens. But even with such a revolving-door policy in effect for their albums, a strange consistency exists throughout the band's catalogue. Maybe it's the heavier than hell guitar sludge dealt by Homme, maybe it's in the weird pairing of pop hooks with said sludge - whatever it is, it works.

"We've told everyone involved they can stay as long as they like," Oliveri says about the ever-evolving cast of characters. "So it's pretty much up to them - if they want to stay, write songs, hang out, I don't know - whatever they want to do. As long as you're kickin' a**, you can stay as long as you want. And we'll play anybody's song - if the song is good, we'll play it. As long as everybody's still smilin' I guess we'll be rockin' for a while."

But smiles weren't always in such ample supply for Oliveri and Homme - in their days with grunge-metal heroes Kyuss things were a bit different, with the band often opting to circumvent success in whatever way possible, rather than appearing to 'sell out.' The band predictably imploded as a result. "Yeah, if the label wanted one thing we'd kind of do the exact opposite," says Oliveri. "Kyuss had a self-sabotage thing goin' on, which was really bad. I don't know what the hell we were thinking.

"We're still doin' the same thing we always did, which is play music that we wanna hear but we can't buy it in the stores so we have to make it. We're not trying to cater to anybody - I wouldn't know how to do that because I've never sold records, you know what I mean? 'Let's write a single!' I don't know what that is - I've never had one. But if sellin' out means we've sold some records, then bring it!"

Of course, in order to effectively 'sell out,' QOTSA would have to fit into a nice little niche that could then be passed on to the necessary marketing teams, focus groups, etc. that turn records into hits these days. And the odds of that happening are mighty slim. Even now, the press has a hard time tagging the band - the new album has its share of 21st Century Sabbath riffage (as on the killer first single 'Millionaire'), but there are also the moments that Oliveri refers to as "dark pop" - psychedelic flourishes liberally splashed across the sonic canvas. It all adds up to an album that truly deserves the tag "modern rock" - much more so than the one-dimensional offerings of most of the nu-metal brigade. But whatever you do, just don't call QOTSA 'stoner rock.'

"I'd call us a rock and roll band, 'cause that allows us to move in any direction we want. Rock 'n' roll is everywhere - it's big. Whereas a term like 'stoner rock' - that puts you in a room in a house. We're not in the house - we're not even in the yard, dude. We left the building a long f***in' time ago."

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