INTO THE NEW AGE

Af­ter 20 years with Queens of the Stone Age, Josh Homme still man­ages to sur­prise his fans, writes Iain Shed­den

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

Josh Homme, at 196cm and sport­ing a gallery of tat­toos, can be an imposing pres­ence. His en­trance on this oc­ca­sion, how­ever, is par­tic­u­larly scary. An­nounc­ing him­self with a hello from be­hind a cur­tain in his band Queens of the Stone Age’s dress­ing-room at Syd­ney’s Hordern Pavil­ion, the singer emerges in the­atri­cal fash­ion, lean­ing on a walk­ing stick in one hand and grasp­ing a glass of red wine and a cig­a­rette in the other. With some difficulty he hob­bles to a chair, turns around and drops into it, spilling just a mod­icum of dig­nity.

This sur­pris­ing, un­gainly en­try from one of rock ’n’ roll’s most dy­namic per­form­ers is due to Homme hav­ing dam­aged his menis­cus a few days ear­lier, an in­jury he dis­misses with a shrug. “I’m here to play,” he says, just a few hours be­fore he leads his col­leagues Troy Van Leeuwen, Dean Fer­tita, Michael Shu­man and Jon Theodore on to the Hordern stage, takes his po­si­tion front and cen­tre, and tosses the cane into the crowd.

Homme’s non­cha­lance — or per­haps bravado — in th­ese dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances is in­formed by his med­i­cal his­tory, where knee prob­lems over a num­ber of years, al­beit on his other leg, prompted surgery, com­pli­ca­tions from which in 2010 al­most cost him his life and made him con­sider whether he had any fu­ture as a tour­ing mu­si­cian. Ear­lier this year he ripped a ten­don in his wrist that also re­quired surgery.

“I now have the lux­ury of a whole new leg to f..k with,” he jokes, although the smile is more of a gri­mace.

His ail­ments aside, Homme, 44, has plenty to be cheer­ful about, in­clud­ing the hand­ful of gigs QOTSA were here to play last month and a new al­bum, Vil­lains, the group’s sev­enth, which is re­leased next week. The Aus­tralian shows, which fea­tured many of the Cal­i­for­nian band’s best known songs, such as Make it Wit Chu, Go With the Flow and No One Knows, were an op­por­tu­nity to test-drive a few of the new tunes, in­clud­ing sin­gles The Evil Has Landed and The Way You Used to Do.

While both of those new songs boast the gutsy rock ve­neer that has made QOTSA fa­mous, there’s a pop sheen on them and on the rest of Vil­lains that makes it one of the most ac­ces­si­ble al­bums in the group’s 20-year ca­reer. The man re­spon­si­ble for that, at least in part, is the al­bum’s pro­ducer, Mark “Up­town Funk” Ron­son, whose cred­its just in the past five years in­clude Adele, Paul McCart­ney, Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga. There’s noth­ing there as testos­terone-fu­elled as QOTSA, but Ron­son is a long-time fan of the band and wel­comed the op­por­tu­nity to work with them, some­thing that came about thanks to Homme’s six-year-old son, Or­rin, dis­cov­er­ing Up­town Funk on a fam­ily hol­i­day. Homme de­scribes ask­ing Ron­son to take the con­trols for Vil­lains as “a great so­cial ex­per­i­ment”.

“I love the el­e­ment of sur­prise,” he says. “I knew that’s where I was headed, that with the sev­enth record it was time to rein­vent ... hold on to what’s im­por­tant and let go of the bag­gage. When it comes to Queens I’m al­ways on the good end of the sur­prise. I come up with a plan and sur­prise other peo­ple. I thought it would be great just to ask him. The truth is Ron­son is a mu­sic lover and I think it is a shame when peo­ple say of him ‘you can only do pop’. He’s a fan and has a vested in­ter­est. He’s a great com­mu­ni­ca­tor. He has good ideas and they come from be­ing im­mersed in your world when you’re with him.”

Homme bris­tles a lit­tle at the sug­ges­tion that QOTSA has gone pop, but ad­mits that since child­hood he has been a sucker for a strong melody and a killer hook.

“I’ll take that all day long,” he says. “In all the punk rock shit I grew up on, and even be­fore that when I couldn’t pick my own mu­sic, lis­ten­ing to all of my par­ents records like Jack­son Browne … I liked hooks. I need hooks, so I think I as­so­ciate pop with hooks. Per­haps mod­ern pop is a lit­tle less tune­ful than what I’m used to. When I think of pop I’m think­ing about ABBA and the tune­ful­ness of all that and the Bee Gees and the tune­ful­ness of that, and even Whit­ney Hous­ton, the tune-craft of that.”

Homme’s ca­reer thus far ex­tends be­fore and be­yond QOTSA. He has been play­ing in bands since he was a 12-year-old in Palm Desert, Cal­i­for­nia, and made his record­ing de­but with the punk metal band he formed there with a cou­ple of school mates, Kyuss. He had a brief stint as rhythm gui­tarist for Amer­i­can band Scream­ing Trees af­ter Kyuss split up in 1995, be­fore QOTSA emerged with their self-ti­tled de­but al­bum in 1998. That’s also when Homme formed the band Ea­gles of Death Metal, an on­go­ing en­sem­ble that has re­leased four al­bums, in­clud­ing 2015’s Zip­per Down. Homme, who plays a va­ri­ety of in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing drums, but rarely tours with the band, was not with them dur­ing the ter­ror­ist at­tack at the Bat­a­clan con­cert venue in Paris in Novem­ber 2015 at which 89 peo­ple died.

The rest of Homme’s cur­ricu­lum vi­tae is a story in it­self. Among the mu­si­cians he has worked with in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties are Arc­tic Mon­keys, Trent Reznor, Pri­mal Scream and the Strokes, while another on­go­ing band project, Them Crooked Vul­tures, fea­tures Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl and Led Zep­pelin’s John

THERE’S SOME­THING IN THE DE­SIGN OF THIS BAND THAT SAYS ‘WANT TO BE HERE’

JOSH HOMME

Josh Homme has long been a sucker for strong melody and a killer hook

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