Oct. 2002 - SPIN: Machine Heads
by Chuck Klosterman
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Queens of the Stone Age are taking the heavier-than-thou legacy of Black Sabbath into the 21st century. They've been called "stoner rock" and the future of heavy metal. But they're here to set the record straight: dude, it's robot rock.

There is nothing more metal than the majesty of midgets, Ozzy Osbourne, Kid Rock, Nigel Tufnel -- they've all understood the magical power of miniature adults. So when Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme says that the Queens have hired a midget and a mime for an upcoming recond company bash, I briefly suspect this indisputably proves they are, in fact, the new face of American heavy metal.

The 6'4" Homme disagrees, "Don't confuse metal's love of midgets with our love of midgets," he says while eating a slice of pizza on a Manhattan sidewalk. "That would be a mistake. Not to mention that mimes are the great annoyers of the world, brought to us by the French. So mimes negate any sort of metal imagery."

It's somewhat paradoxical that Homme still gets asked about the Queens' relationship to heavy metal, particularly because he has said he hates heavy metal in virtually every interview he's ever given. The only question that comes up more often is whether or not the Queens' dulcet sludge epitomizes "stoner rock," another genre they dismiss out of hand. In fact, troll-like bassist insists he hasn't smoked marijuana in years, although this is a little hard to believe: Five minutes after we meet, he mentions that AC/DC are "still badass" and accidentally drinks from a Coors Light can containing a cigarette butt. This is not exactly straight-edge behavior.

The reason the Queens are employing midgets and mimes is to celebrate the completion of Songs for the Deaf, the apex of a four-year, three-album cycle. Homme likes to refer to his music as "robot rock" -- it's always been built around expansive, mind-crunching guitar riffs (which is why metalheads dig it) and high-concept, trance-inducing minimalism (which is why potheads worship it). But what pushes Songs for the Deaf into the next stratosphere is the addition of former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan (a longtime collaborator with Homme) and Foo Fighting, nevermind-ing drum manimal Dave Grohl, who has single-handedly turned the trippy haziness of 2000's Rated R into a blitzkrieg of laser-guided destruction.

"This is the best album I've ever played on," insists Grohl. "For the last forty years, you've had the Fab Four and Led Zeppelin and all these bands where a specific group of people defined what the band's sound should be. The cool thing about Queens of the Stone Age is that all the records have different combinations of musicians. This combination is fucking awesome, but the next combination could be awesome as well. And it's indefinable. It's slippery."

The temporary addition of Grohl was the highest-profile example of the band's revolving-door membership, which technically began when Homme and Oliveri became friends as California middle school students (their earliest recordings were covers of the Damned's "New Rose" and the Ramone's "Blitzkrieg Bop"). The pair first came to national prominence in the early '90s as the musical spinal cord of Kyuss, but things got serious when they formed the more conceptual Queens in '98 and adopted a uniquely catholic mind-set: The group will include whomever the pair happens to be hanging with at any given time, provided they have the chops (the lineup for the current tour also includes Troy Van Leeuwen of A Perfect Circle). Grohl has already exited the collective -- he says the next Foo Fighters album is set for release -- but no one seems overly concerned about the future. They're equally unconcerned with the normal conventions of live performance. Lanegan sings lead on four Songs from songs for the Deaf, but he doesn't play any instruments; consequently, he meanders onstage when he needs to sing and immediately when finished.

Diversity is the closest the Queens come to any kind of singular vision, and the redheaded Homme thinks his band is part of a larger "anti-scene" comprising people interested in rock'n'roll for reasons that are more musical than cultural.

"We're trying to unite subcultures," he says, looking and talking more like a librarian than a hellion. "Our shows are filled with Hessian guys and goth chicks and punk kids, and we're trying to unite all those sub-cliques. I used to pay allegiance to punk rock -- I had mohawks and all kinds of fucking shit. And then one day I realized that punk was just another clique with a bunch of rules, just like the Republicans or the Wiccans. I stopped paying allegiance to the fashion side of the rules. I think it's more punk rock to look the way I look now. I can infiltrate and be like the good cancer."

Good cancer, more midgets, no Wiccans: the future of metal in spite of itself.

Huge thanks to Angel L. Venable for typing this up!

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