INTO THE NEW AGE
After 20 years with Queens of the Stone Age, Josh Homme still manages to surprise his fans, writes Iain Shedden
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 has long been a sucker for strong melody and a killer hook