August 2002 - Interview with Josh
by Nick Anderson
Spread between LA, Joshua Tree and the native Palm Desert, Josh Homme, one half of the duo in the eye of the Queens Of The Stone Age hurricane, confident yet languidly anticipates the release of “Songs For The Deaf’ (August 27th), their third, most artistically twisted and accomplished work yet. The often-rotating line-up currently consists of founders Homme, (vocalist/ guitarist) and Nick Oliveri (bass/vocals), additional vocalist Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen (A Perfect Circle) and an “anonymous drummer”, replacing Foo Fighter Dave Grohl. Grohl recorded SFTD and played all dates thus far, has recently departed to complete and tour the new Foo Fighters album. Referred to as “the 8 armed octopus” (rumor speculates Kyuss/ Fu Manchu drummer Brant Bjork, Karma To Burns, Rob Osbourne or Tim Alexander of Primus), this will be drummer number seven, since Homme and Oliveri reunited their alliance after tenures with Screaming Trees (Homme) and the Dwarves (Oliveri), re-igniting the ashes of their previous group, the genre defining Kyuss. Fore runners of the often obtuse stoner rock scene, the band were the stuff of legend, releasing 2 independent albums, (“Sons Of Kyuss”, “Wretch”), before signing to Elektra for the vital trio of “Blues For The Red Sun” (’92, Oliveri quits/ fired, depending who you believe), “Welcome To Sky Valley” (’94) and the swan song “…And The Circus Left Town” (’95), all produced by mentor and chief protagonist Chris Goss (Masters Of Reality).

It was also Goss who produced the first 2 QOTSA albums, the self titled debut ’98, (ROADRUNNER/ LOOSEGROOVE) preceded by an EP release via Mans Ruin), introducing their trademark “robot rock” concept, kraut-rockers Can an obvious influence among the more stock garage and twisted hard rock styling. Signing with Interscope 2000 saw the release of “Rated R”, deservedly lauded by most and making many of the years top release lists. “Rated R” upon reflection plays like a mid period Beatles album, the members each have their moments, though can travel a little far. SFTD succeeds in combining the varying personalities into a multifaceted singular entity. “The idea of Rated R, for some was like, wow, who’s this now? We had to feed or schizophrenic energy. And I think SFTD was like how do we take that schizophrenic attitude actually even further? but then rope it back in. So that it’s not such a large pill to swallow, or that even so that it is that it doesn’t feel as hard to do.”

Bound by the concept of a trip from the streets of LA to the desert, the album flows from scorching primal scream to pristine balladry. A number of friends provide the voice breaks of imaginary radio stations, linking the tracks, as though you’re scanning the airwaves for your next fix of rock. “I actually had a DJ party when wed finished tracking, it was c’mon guys, its going to be drinks and food, I had this booth set up in near darkness, you just did improve and we recorded it. Just let them riff for a while. I think the radio was the only way to stitch these songs together, if you didn’t pay attention you might think you were listening to a radio broadcast”.

While the group entered the studio well prepared, the songs complete and ready to track, they did so initially with Eric Valentine, replacing stalwart Goss, due to an Interscope requirement. “I think knowing that this was going to be a complex record, the most important thing to do was think about it of plan for it before. That way we could just go in and execute it rather than going in and going “What do we do, what do we do, how do we do this?” Dismissive of Valentines production credit, the album was completed by the band. “He just recorded it actually, it says production, he was only there to record the beginning of it, it was contractual”. Though the outsider’s perspective was worthy from time to time. “It resulted in getting some different takes on things that may not have come out. When its not that good, now you know what not to do, I think it enabled us to say “well this isn’t that good, this isn’t good enough, we’ll go in further for more”, it made us search deeper than we ever were going to”.

The material throughout SFTD, dramatically strong, both physically and artistically conveys a melee of influence. “On our turntable would be Bjork, Roy Orbison, early garage stuff, Link Wray, the Cramps, Slayer and early Elvis. Kind of just groovin’ rockin’ stuff, our record sounds like us listening to all that stuff, without mimicking it and making it sound like us”. Despite the best of intentions, as in Valentines case, the band have their system and network of people they need to get the job done, it would appear you’d best not get in the way. “I feel this was the toughest record for us to make, to other people there seemed to be a lot riding on this record and they ended up standing in our way trying to help, just get the fuck out of the way, do you see me nervous?, back up, let us go man. Our main thing we had to overcome was other people that were not involved with us, and sort of pushing them to the side, whether gracefully or violently”.

Grohl also had a hand in writing, his multiple talents integral to his contributions. “The chorus of “First It Giveth”, he really improved on what was there which was already difficult enough, and he made it even more difficult. There was some great spontaneous stuff. The end of “Songs for the Dead” and “God Is In The Radio”, moments like that where its just us playing together. Its not about did Dave Grohl make it better, or not, while he was playing, there were moments where everyone was just doing their thing, those were the moments where the best things happened. We said to Dave in the beginning “, if Nicks playing a bass hook and I’m playing a guitar hook you need to play a drum hook”, because he plays all of these instruments he hears all the hooks and is able to sort of jump from one to the next and be really vital, you could listen to the drums on there own or the bass on its own and it sounds cool by itself. That’s true for all instruments, and when they get together, it becomes gestalt. The sum of those cool parts is even bigger.”

Both sonically and lyrically the album has an underlying sense of menace, often enhanced by the haunting tones of Lanegan “There’s a lot of darker material, I think his voice lends itself to it, you always feel as though your getting whispered too even of he’s yelling at you. There’s Leonard Cohen moments, Nick Cave moments, Lanegan has a very special voice its not something you can practice for its something your just given. It’s easy and fun to write with Lanegan. A lot of dark stuff happened to Nick and I and there had to be a way to say “well, all this happened but its got to get better”. For me that’s not depressing, its like there’s got to be a way out”. Among the more reflective moments there are those of complete abandon, a couple of straight ahead tracks, “Gonna Leave You” and “Another Love Song”, evoke one of Oliveri’s 60’s heroes Roky Erikson, while carnal odes reminiscent of 70’s glam, brim with “body sway”, the phrase termed by producer Chris Goss regarding the former act Kyuss, a totally natural feel most evident on tracks that swing and shuffle, almost a lost art among rock music these days. “Music is kind of like screwing, it needs to have a groove, and the groove needs to change, but only when you’ve done with a certain groove. Music is best when it hits you in the crotch and the gut first. And the head last. Ultimately you want people to dance and party, we’re sort of the band that plays the party, that’s how we started so it makes sense to try and illicit that as at least one of the possible reactions. For me, I love all sorts of stuff, it comes out of you. It’s not intentional. That body groove, “God is in the radio”, it’s almost like Texas boogie. Ever since we went to Brazil and visited a Samba school and really watched this kind of tribal guttural crotch oriented music it’s really become more of a priority. I think we also really like the swing of “Song for the Dead” once it gets into the verse, the almost like slave ship tempo of “Song for the Deaf”, it seems to be everywhere”.

“No One Knows” will be the first single, though the follow up has yet to be decided and could be any number of tracks. “I feel like there’s a lot of songs that fit the singles time frame. I’d like to hear a song like “Hanging Tree” be a single. It’s a dark beautiful song that’s got a very pop sensibility, very haunting. Alain Johannes from Eleven wrote the melody and music so it’s easier for me to talk about that song. I don’t know any band that sounds like that song sounds like.” “Hanging Tree” along with opener “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire” were both originally released on separate volumes of the Desert Sessions recordings. Homme orchestrates the series of EP’s (Mans Ruin, now via Hommes Rekords Rekords) regarding the extracurricular activity as an outlet for creativity and collaboration, but also an alternate source of material and education. “While I’m playing music we might as well keep it going (recording). Fred Drake just passed away who owns the Rancho de la Luna, the studio that primarily did all the recordings so its tough to say when another one will happen, it wont be the same without him”. Future prospects for the series include Deen (Ween), P.J. Harvey, Jesse Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal), and Chino Marino (Deftones). “People who can sing and play multiple instruments. What I really learned with Vol.’s 7 & 8 was the more vocal driven it was the more intense it got. Have 1 or 2 really good or really horrible drummers, so it's very simple, then find the dark melody lines. Its not just what they sang, its what the sang that ended up getting played on guitar as well. I think some of those songs need to be introduced to more people. That song (Hanging Tree) was just unlike other songs I’d ever heard. I don’t need to have written all of it to be on our album. That doesn’t seem good enough, it seems the best songs that are available to us, at this time, in this year, on this day, that’s what we should be recording, we only recorded 14 songs and they all went on the record.”

Aside from the QOTSA and Desert Sessions Homme and Oliveri maintain an ever-increasing workload of side groups and guest appearances, Homme appearing on the last Local H album, Mike Johnson solo efforts and together with Oliveri composed material for the movie “Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys”. Recorded and toured the last Masters Of Reality album, recently backing Mark Lanegan throughout his forthcoming effort. An act mooted between the pair, and Casey Chaos of AMEN, “HEADBAND” has piqued interest without playing a single note. “There’s so much going Headband is just a concept, its reached more people than certainly I would have expected without doing anything, no pressure” Homme snickers bemused. Meanwhile Oliveri has completed his solo project Mondo Generator’s second album largely on his own. “Mostly Nick has played everything. It has a bunch of guests, I wondered in the other day and he’s playing guitar leads, it was awesome.” Branching out Homme not only admits to teaming up with DJ Shadow and James Lavelle for the new UNKLE album but also an involvement in the early U.S. rave scene. “I used to work at raves in 91-93, set up lights for free x and dance, you’d have to get 5/6 phone numbers and find the guy with Mickey Mouse hands and a glo-stick around his neck and shit. Its changed so much there’s all these sub-genres, still for me the best part is the dark side of it.”

Having played both club dates and festivals, for the last few months, on both sides of the Atlantic. (a show at LA’s Troubadour filmed for DVD release), with no new European dates announced, Homme considers the continent to be the bands second home, “that’s were we get the most love, so to speak”. Championed by the British music press Europe tends to accept the bands eclectic nature and the concept of full albums more readily than the U.S, “our music goes over better in the land of independent coffee shops rather than in the land of Starbucks”. As anticipated the involvement of Dave Grohl has lead to tabloid like speculation regarding the drummers role and divided loyalties, though, they insist there has never been any animosity between the groups. Homme regards the rumor mongering matter with his trademark nonchalance, “ I don’t even answer, it doesn’t even matter, its such a casual thing for us and for the Foo Fighters, someone hears a rumor that isn’t true, someone else writes an addition to a rumor and just keeps going, I think its funny.”

For the forthcoming leg of the U.S. tour the band will be joined by label mates And You Will know Us By the Trail Of Dead “an awesome band” and Canadian electro-trash Peaches, categorized “stinky rock” by a chuckling Homme. “We wanted bands that would make us play really good and that afterwards we could have a good time with. I think were in for something that were not even aware of yet.” Having toured Australia with Big Day Out last year, Rock In Rio beckoned a little more than the Auckland show, though Homme is determined visit the shores of NZ next January. “We’re going to do BDO and we’re not going to miss the New Zealand section. Really looking forward to going there. Australia thus far has always been a spot that we’re desperately trying to get back to, its like the perfect vacation in a way, you go and do your favorite thing which is playing, the people there we strike a chord with us, we fit in people wise. The climate and the environment is where we would live if that was our choice and NZ seems even more protected. Australia, even when its cosmopolitan its almost like, hotrod. It makes perfect sense to me, I just feel really comfortable there. We’ve always logistically for one reason or another had to miss NZ, and this time we're not going to do it.”

Ultra modern yet void of the “nu” SFTD is guaranteed to create waves, an innovative, immediate classic. The legendary live shows, inevitably, will seal their fate. Hard rock homeboys can slam the bedroom door one more time, never to be seen again. Retrograde fashion victims may well choke in their ties and wilt in their antique trousers while trying to maintain their momentum. Let the heads roll, royalty hath returned.

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