Sept. 9, 2002 - CD Now: Queens of the Stone Age, Kings of Metal
by Patrick Berkery
Queens of the Stone Age are probably the heaviest band on the planet right now. And it's got nothing to do with volume or velocity.

A palpable air of heaviness perpetually hangs over their lysergic hard rock, which throws the whiplash crack of metal, a jones for hazy psych-pop, and the desperate moan of the blues into a blender and comes out with a most potent, thought-provoking mega-decibel cocktail. It puts hair on your chest, whether you need it or not.

This is music that could only be concocted in the desolate and hazy environs of the California desert, which is where singer-guitarist Josh Homme, bassist-singer Nick Oliveri (both former members of Kyuss), and a rotating cast of co-conspirators including former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan, Dave Grohl, and Troy van Leuwen (Failure) tune out the rest of the world and tune into the robotic, druggy, sexy, and melodic sounds found on their self-titled 1998 debut and 2000's Rated R.

Their third LP, Songs for the Deaf was tracked primarily in Los Angeles and northern California. You wouldn't know it to listen to it, as the 14-song affair (linked by DJ patter from imaginary radio stations including KLON) is yet another hazy slab of desert songs. Such pulverizing fits as "First It Giveth" are driven by the drumming acrobatics of Dave Grohl, while Mark Lanegan lends his poet's soul and nicotine-spotted pipes to such tracks as "Hanging Tree." This is brain food for the Ozzfest generation, whether they know it or not.

CDNOW: Do you see yourself always using a rotating lineup?

Josh Homme: Well, I'm starting to get sick of showing people songs. And that includes Dave [Grohl]. It's getting old in certain aspects. Having the same drummer, at least, seems likes something we should shoot for next.

Does Dave have an open-ended invitation to play with the band?

Not really. We played with Dave, and it was great to play with him; we've been friends for a long time. But right now Kelly Scott from Failure is drumming. Drumming [is] where Dave should stay. Even if it's not with us, he's such a great drummer. And rock needs really good drummers really badly.

And Mark Lanegan?

Yeah, he's in the band now, for lack of a better term.

On the recent "secret tour," he was on stage for three, maybe four songs. What does he do the other hour of the show?

He smokes. He doesn't do anything else but smoke. He smokes enough where it makes me drink.

What sparked the concept of fictitious radio stations running throughout the record, spinning different songs?

We had most of the songs before we started recording, and we realized their eclectic, schizophrenic nature. And we were trying to think of a way to tie them together so that they had some kind of fluidity. They're a little bit jarring when they're alone. You just get yanked from song to song. This became the best way to create a flow, and it sounded like so many different bands. And to me, that's the radio.

The KLON [clone] station bit -- is that a knock on the generic state of modern rock radio?

Not really. Our sense of humor is commentary and making fun of stuff. And we were doing the radio thing, so radio became a target. It's not a bitter, "You don't play our music," or, "Look at the sad state of radio," thing, because I don't actually think that. This is just more like L.A. or big city radio. [In a schlocky, radio guy voice:] "Hey, how ya doin'?" And to be truthful, it requires that. As people look at a parody of it, they go, "Whoa, it sounds kind of silly, doesn't it?"

Were you surprised that "Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" [from Rated R] achieved some mainstream radio success?

It's not a hit-type song, because it's not for kids. Our record company was like, "This is going to be a hit," and I'm like, "A hit with whom? It's about fucking. Twenty-one-year-olds and over, maybe." They were trying to shove it down the throats of 13 year-olds.

The kids who bought "Nookie"

Yeah, but nookie to them is like breakfast food.

"Another Love Song" [on Songs for the Deaf] is a prime example of your unique spin on heavy rock, pitting the Sabbathian vs. the Nuggets psych-pop thing. Is it safe to say those are two primary influences?

I love old garage rock. And I'm even a bigger fan of Sun Records, Roy Orbison in particular, and that era of Elvis. This was definitely a record where we felt we could incorporate our influences without aping them. And so it became, "We've got to go all out on this record."

There's somewhat of an Orbison-like vulnerability and femininity in your singing voice.

He's one of the vocalists I'm most amazed by, and maybe because that's where my voice naturally sits, in that [register]. I can't scream, so I don't get to choose where my range is. For me, I'm glad, because it's where my favorite singers are.

You did the Ozzfest in 2000, and while you were one of the heaviest bands on the bill, you seemed diametrically opposed -- musically and aesthetically -- to everything the tour was about. Was it a compromise of sorts to have to play in that arena to reach the heavy rock-loving masses?

Whatever scene or clique we're looking at, it makes me go "ugh," to see 20,000 identical people; Goth people, metal people, whatever. They start to look like a herd; I want to see cowboys on the outside of them. I knew that we were kind of ginger on the palate for Ozzfest, and that was our one and only time doing something like that. I don't think we ever want to play ball like that again, because that almost destroyed our band. For the first time, we were just bitter and pissed off. But in a lot of ways, it helped shape some of the ideas of this record. Like, "Don't spend any time on things you don't like. Spend time on things you love. Let them get your energy." On that tour, the only fire that got fed was the negative one.

The "Stoner Rock" tag: bane? Crass marketing terminology? Apt description?

I was at the meeting where they made that up, so, for me, it sounds like some fake marketing tool for people who are stoned enough to wish they were in Sabbath. It's more a terminology for [critics] than me. I don't use it, and I don't need it. It doesn't come up until I talk to journalists. The more difficult it is to define, the better it is for me.

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