Queens of the Stone Age: Disputing “They”

I had been waiting for this one for years. At first I had been scheduled to do the interview with the drummer, Joey Castillo, who I was a fan of but not that thrilled to be interviewing as a member of QOTSA. Not because I didn’t appreciate his contribution as a member of the band but, come on? Josh was the one I was most interested in speaking to. Lo-and-behold his availability cleared up and the Publicist conferenced me in. Josh was running errands with Brody when I caught up to him for this brief but insightful chat. He’s a cool motherfucker. I have fond memories of driving around in Ben’s (Under the Drone/Mantra Tattoo) 4×4 listening to “Mexicola” while scouting locations for some GFW/Loadbringer shots.

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Josh Homme was born and raised in the Palm Desert area of southern California. His first band, Kyuss redefined heavy music with its nod to Black Sabbath, a band, which Homme hadn’t heard until some time after starting Kyuss with child hood friends Brant Bjork (drums), Nick Oliveri (bass) and John Garcia (vocals). Kyuss was the type of band with a large cult following and had the kind of scrutinizing fans that judged every step the band took. They influenced an entire genre of music dubbed ‘Stoner Rock,’ though their version of it was more adequately titled “Desert Rock,” which in itself was somewhat vague and identified the band merely by location.

Forming Kyuss at 13, Homme demonstrated a uniquely keen ear for sound and developed a personal style of guitar playing that had various parts Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons and Black Flag’s Greg Ginn without ripping off one particular guitarist. Kyuss had its run in the mid-nineties, releasing several critically acclaimed albums including Wrench (1991), Blues for the Red Sun (1992), Welcome To Sky Valley (1994), and their fourth and final full-length appropriately titled The Circus Leaves Town in 1996. After Kyuss called it quits, Homme moved up to Seattle WA, a place he knew ‘music was dead,’ started going back to school and played guitar with Mark Lannegan in the band Screaming Trees. He did what he could to get kicked out of his former record contract so he decided if he sang on the next record that would nix him out of the deal and luckily it worked.

Prior to getting QOTSA up and running, Homme had always thought of what people would think of his music first. He ascribed to that thought process for most of his tenure in the music business until one day it dawned on him that the theory of what ‘They’ think is: “an incorrect theory. What will they say? What will they do? Presuppose what people you don’t know might think and it couldn’t be worse than that (for creating music), because you put yourself in a box that doesn’t exist and its one you made for yourself.

“Its one of the reasons I quit Kyuss. Because I always thought of music as a lawless territory, waking up one day realizing I’m about to be choked out by my own rules, and this sort of religious, militant following by myself and the rest of the band and lots of people that were into it. I wouldn’t change anything about Kyuss but it was just a thing that needed to be killed immediately. It stops paying allegiance to music and it pays for attention from people you don’t know. Also titled punk rock guilt.” You can practically hear the air quotes through the telephone receiver as Homme explains things. His confidence is infectious and it seems like everything he says has weight. He doesn’t spend much time chewing on what he is going to say next, but he is thoughtful. Perhaps because he’s been through the celebrity rumor bin enough times to know that his reply will have conviction.

Though Homme’s leave of absence from the music world was brief, he eventually returned to what he knew how to do best and in 1997 started recording demo’s for what would become QOTSA’s debut album. “Regular John,” the lead track on Queens of the Stone Age sets up Homme with enough room to experiment without alienating his former fan base. It’s basic four on the floor kick drum pattern, fuzzed-out-down-tuned Mosrite guitar through a bass amp, nailing that Mojave desert ‘sound’ without re-treading old ground. This record also saw Homme co-producing with long time friend Joe Baressi at the famous Rancho De la Luna studio, home to many a recording of the famed Desert Sessions.

Producing has always been a major part of where Homme’s inspiration and passion stems from and time spent in the studio is where Homme can really experiment and create to his fullest abilities. “(Producing) is my favorite part. There is a bunch of different ways to interpret what I do. I kinda think the way people (or label suits) used to interpret it is the way that I see it, which is; I don’t like to hire outsiders. When I work with an outsider my first question is ‘Why are you trying to take this (music) away from me? I really love this. You think that’s what I’m asking you to do? If you do I can tell you now that’s not what I’m asking.’ I love that (creative) process, the scratching of the framework of a song [within the studio].”

Adding, “It’s like a Rubix cube that I can actually solve. I love doing things wrong. Using the equipment incorrectly is my favorite thing. I like to leave mistakes. It’s not supposed to be perfect. That way you leave the record where it sounds great then you blow it away live too. It allows for future.”

Scalability in music is a wise approach. Visionary, control freak, guitar god, and studio genius are all terms that come to mind when referring to Homme. One thing is certain, Homme is fueled by music, and his guitar is more of an appendage and extension of his body. He still gets wide eyed and excited by new things. Of all the people Homme has worked with (Dave Grohl, Mark Lannegan, PJ Harvey, UNKLE) Billy Gibbons was a dream come true. ZZ Top’s Gibbons sat in on the track, “Burn the Witch” for QOTSA’s Lullabies to Paralyze. It also marked one of the first times Homme took a gamble. In regards to taking chances he says, “That was the first and only time I have ever shot in the dark. Because I like to ask a question I already know the answer to, I can’t help it. It doesn’t mean I need to know the answer but when it comes time for asking someone to guest, if I could avoid that, it would be killer. In this case with Billy it was like ‘F*#! It, let’s just ask.’ I NEVER see him on anyone else’s record. So (the answer) is probably ‘no’ BECAUSE I never see him on anyone’s records. When he came back and the answer was ‘yes’ I was like ‘Oh! What do I do!’ That type of thing become clear if you don’t look for them.

“I was pretty sure he had a preconceived notion of what we were about so we did this song called ‘Like a Drug’ and it totally caught him off guard and we did it live with vocals and everything all in one go. It was the first time he played with everything live in 25 years. That was great because we got to give something back to him. I probably learned 10 million things from him in the three days we recorded together.”

“Burn the Witch” is a bluesy but modern and very QOTSA sounding song that didn’t highlight Gibbons shredding abilities but complimented the track effectively. And though Homme is an accomplished musician, he is quick to point out certain things in a self-deprecating manner by saying, “That just made me so glad that I had taken those steps. (Billy) may have said ‘no’ if we had done something that we knew was lame. Or backed out at some earlier point. I can’t say we’ve never done lame, just not on purpose. That seemed to make a difference. No intentional lameness.”

Always the consummate musician and showman, Homme has amassed a large following not only as a guitarist but also as a brilliant producer. His work with The Desert Sessions, a series of recordings done at the Joshua Tree Rancho De la Luna studio has allowed him to work with some of the worlds most respected musicians. One thing is certain in Homme’s world, he is a servant to the music he creates and pays fealty to no one.

So when ‘They’ rear their head and turn their venom toward QOTSA or Homme, he diplomatically states; “Music is a device that you use to reach the goal of pleasure or elation or the understanding of something that’s gut wrenching. (Music) is not supposed to “be like this man!” When I meet people like that today, who want to control perception (or music), having been freed from that myself and evolved from that misconception, I’m always like, ‘I understand what you’re saying. You’re wrong but I totally understand you.’ Because it’s just about loving music PERIOD. Nothing else is necessary.”

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