queens of the stone age

Q (UK) - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs: Alex Lake

Q COVER STORY: By track­ing Josh Homme on his mo­tor­bike in LA and his foot­steps through Soho, we find out what makes mod­ern rock’s kingpin tick.

He is The Ginger Johnny Cash. The loved, feared and re­spected Leader Of The Pack. The out­sider who knows every­body. He is Josh Homme, the badass king of Queens Of The Stone Age, the guy that most mu­si­cians wish they were in­stead. Niall Do­herty tracks his mo­tor­bike across Los An­ge­les and his foot­steps through Soho to find out what made his new al­bum Vil­lains tick.

Acou­ple of years ago, Josh Homme and his fam­ily went on hol­i­day to the San Juan Is­lands, a salt­wa­ter archipelago in the North­west of Amer­ica that you can only get to by boat or sea plane. It was the Fourth Of July and they took a hike round Roche Har­bor’s pi­o­neer ceme­tery, where the found­ing peo­ple of the is­lands had built a rest­ing place for fam­ily mem­bers and work­ers. The tour guide pointed at a me­mo­rial stone ta­ble that lay on top of the graves and said, “The kids from Roche Har­bor come here to drink.” All of a sud­den Homme’s imag­i­na­tion lit up. “Yeah, they come here to drink, screw, talk about the stars, the fu­ture, what they will do in the world,” he thought. The con­nec­tion be­tween the dead and the liv­ing ex­cited him, that line trac­ing the distant past to a not-yet-writ­ten fu­ture. When Homme dies, the Queens Of The Stone Age front­man wants peo­ple to have the chance to party on top of him. He would look upon that as a great hon­our.

The older he gets, the more Homme con­tem­plates how he’s go­ing to leave his mark on the world. There are songs on the new Queens Of The Stone Age al­bum, Vil­lains, that Homme sees as be­ing his ver­sion of that stone ta­ble. When he’s gone, songs such as Fortress and Vil­lains Of Cir­cum­stance, with its mes­sage of “wher­ever you go, wher­ever you are, I’m there”, are what will be left for his fam­ily. The 44- year-old has three chil­dren now with his wife Brody Dalle, and he felt that now was the time to sing about how he re­ally felt. He re­alised that now is all we’ve got. There was no point in hold­ing back. Los An­ge­les, June 2017. Ten miles north-east of Hol­ly­wood, past Walt Dis­ney Studios, be­yond the des­o­late blocks of car garages, Mex­i­can restau­rants and liquor stores, you head over the rail­way tracks and come to a po­litely sub­ur­ban area in Bur­bank. On a tree­lined, res­i­den­tial street that looks like the sort of road where the neigh­bours might tell you to turn down the stereo if your soirée is go­ing on past 9pm, there’s a non­de­script, one-floor build­ing on the cor­ner. Head in through the gate and Josh Homme, bouncer big with the wel­com­ing, slightly mis­chievous air of a bloke who might or­gan­ise stag dos for a liv­ing, greets Q at the door. This is Pink Duck Studios, Queens Of The Stone Age’s HQ since 2007. “It’s be­come the club­house,” says Homme as he con­ducts a guided tour. Fur­ni­ture from his grand­par­ents’ Palm Desert ranch is scat­tered around the place, a side­board here, a chest of draw­ers there. When ev­ery­one was fight­ing over their be­long­ings af­ter they passed away, Homme pulled up in a truck and took it all, telling squab­bling fam­ily mem­bers, “if you want it, come and get me.” Homme loved grow­ing up close to his grand­par­ents. Their ranch was half a mile down the road from his home and he used to en­joy the walk be­tween the two houses. His con­ver­sa­tion is pep­pered with say­ings his grandpa passed down. “If you’re gonna be dif­fer­ent, you’re gonna get hit with rocks, so you need to learn to like rocks” is one, “I have to give a shit for it to mat­ter” is another. There’s a piano in the cor­ner that was painted by Homme with Brody and the kids. Out­side, Homme’s Tri­umph mo­tor­bike is stood up next to the back door. Homme likes the fo­cus of rid­ing his bike. “I like the ab­sence of a phone and it’s a re­ally quick way to es­cape,” he says. “In a world of im­me­di­ate grat­i­fi­ca­tion, that is a re­ally suc­cess­ful ver­sion of that for me. It’s so sin­gu­lar. It de­pends on you.” He says that rid­ing brings to­gether all of your skills at once and that, if you don’t want to have an ac­ci­dent, you need to have a wide spec­trum of thought and vi­sion. We take a seat in the main stu­dio space, gui­tars and amps lined up against the walls. This is where the band mixed Vil­lains, which was recorded across town at United Studios in Hol­ly­wood. It’s a thump­ing rock record. Their pre­vi­ous al­bum, 2013’ s …Like Clock­work, was

“If you’re gonna be dif­fer­ent, you’re gonna get hit with rocks, so you need to learn to like rocks.”

Josh Homme

in­tro­spec­tive by QOTSA’s erup­tive stan­dards but their play­ful shimmy is back. Homme is one of rock’s most well-con­nected men, some­one who counts Dave Grohl, El­ton John, Arc­tic Mon­keys, Trent Reznor, Iggy Pop, Lady Gaga, PJ Har­vey, John Paul Jones and Florence Welch amongst his friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors, but Queens Of The Stone Age oc­cupy a cu­ri­ous place amid the world’s big­gest rock bands. They are out­siders who made it in through the back door, rein­vent­ing rock mu­sic by ex­am­ple. There aren’t any other gui­tar bands who head­line fes­ti­vals and play are­nas and have zero sin­ga­longs. You are more likely to holler along with the riff to their best-known song No One Knows, for ex­am­ple, than you are the words. Homme helped to pi­o­neer stoner-rock, a clash of psy­che­delic ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and Black Sab­bath-style dirges, with his break­through group Kyuss but the mu­sic he’s made with Queens Of The Stone Age has al­ways had much more of a spring in its step. Its meld of clas­sic rock riffs with a hip-swiv­el­ling swing has in­spired a new wave of bands over the past decade and you can hear dif­fer­ent bits of QOTSA in Arc­tic Mon­keys, for whom Homme has acted as a sort of rock men­tor, Royal Blood, Biffy Clyro and Tame Im­pala among oth­ers. Mark Ron­son, who pro­duced Vil­lains af­ter work­ing with Homme on the Lady Gaga al­bum Joanne, says that their in­flu­ence stretches far and wide. “They’ve never put a foot wrong,” he says. “I work with all kinds of peo­ple. One day I’m in the stu­dio with Di­plo, the next day with Steve Lacy, the next day I could be in with Ezra from Vam­pire Week­end, the next day a rap artist, and Queens Of The Stone Age get the same amount of re­spect from ev­ery­one. There’s a huge amount of re­spect for Josh be­cause he’s changed from al­bum to al­bum and never

sold out. Most of us wish we were that bad-ass but he ac­tu­ally is.” he last few years have been a pe­riod of in­tense highs and lows for Homme. The al­bum he co-wrote and recorded with Iggy Pop, Post Pop De­pres­sion, and its sub­se­quent tour in 2016, left a huge im­pres­sion on him about seiz­ing the mo­ment. The great­est thing he took from it was “en­joy your­self ”, ad­vice Pop gave him when Homme asked if he could use a leftover ti­tle from the project for the open­ing song on Vil­lains, Feet Don’t Fail Me. But there has been tragedy too: Ea­gles Of Death Metal, the band that he formed with his child­hood friend Jesse Hughes, were at the cen­tre of a ter­ror­ist atroc­ity when their show at the Bat­a­clan in Paris was at­tacked by gun­men in Novem­ber 2015. Homme, who was due to be per­form­ing with them that night un­til a last-minute change of plan, was home in LA and be­came the per­son try­ing to get them back to the US. Both events have fed into the new record. There will al­ways be a part of Homme that is an­gry about Paris, he says, an­gry about the cow­ardice and about all the things he now knows that he wishes he knew noth­ing about. “It’s also the frus­tra­tion from star­ing some­thing down that doesn’t mat­ter if you like it or not,” he says. “Who cares what you think, it’s hap­pen­ing.” He hates that “other peo­ple are in that club now” but he has learned to let go of the anger. “Anger will get you up, fine, but don’t ride on that, be­cause life’s too short,” he says. “It’s too fuck­ing short. This is it. You may have thoughts of to­mor­row and beau­ti­ful mem­o­ries or re­grets of yes­ter­day but they don’t amount to much when we’re here now. This is all you

ever get.” He says he is wary of telling his kids too much be­cause

what could he say to pos­si­bly ex­plain what hap­pened and what’s hap­pen­ing, but he could do some­thing. “I like work­ing at what we do to­gether, as a fam­ily, as a gang, as a style of liv­ing. I’d much rather have you look at what I’ve done and sort it out that way.” While QOTSA were work­ing on Vil­lains, the only peo­ple that heard any works-in-progress were Foo Fight­ers’ Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins. Ev­ery­one else – man­agers, la­bels, wives, girl­friends, chil­dren – had to wait. Foo Fight­ers were mak­ing their own new al­bum one build­ing away and the two groups would gate­crash each other’s ses­sions for din­ner and drinks to­gether. One day, Homme was frus­trated about a track and Grohl said to him, “You know, not ev­ery song is gonna be your best song.” “I thought that was good ad­vice,” says Homme, “but I said, ‘Why? Why not? Why can’t ev­ery song be the best ver­sion of it­self ?’ I think both of those are right.” He has been friends with Grohl since he was 19 and con­sid­ers him a “gen­er­ous, cool, great guy”. “If ever he and I are dis­cussing some­thing,” he says, “I just al­ways as­sume, ‘You’re prob­a­bly right and that’s fine.’” One night, a tipsy Grohl turned up at the stu­dio as Homme was strug­gling with a lyric in the vo­cal booth. Grohl had been “en­joy­ing him­self ” and, cau­tious of mak­ing a tense sit­u­a­tion worse, pro­ducer Mark Ron­son turfed him out. “I didn’t see it be­cause I was [ in the stu­dio] wrestling an al­li­ga­tor, but in this case Ron­son is the new guy and he was very sweet and he was pro­tect­ing me. Maybe in his own mind he thought he was pro­tect­ing Dave too.” The song Homme was wrestling with was Fortress, an af­fect­ing an­them he wrote for a loved one. “The cho­rus is al­most in­spi­ra­tional for me and that’s harder to do. It’s hard to say ‘I love you’ some­times, with­out sound­ing re­ally sac­cha­rine and like a goof, but there is a way to say all things.” As well as the sen­ti­men­tal tributes, there is also a hefty dose of Homme’s usual wit and cheek­i­ness. You can’t re­ally be pic­tured on

“Josh has changed from al­bum to al­bum and never sold out. Most of us wish we were that bad-ass but he ac­tu­ally is.” Mark Ron­son

the al­bum cover get­ting a snug­gle from the devil and then have nine tracks of heart-warm­ing salutes to your loved ones, af­ter all. Homme says that he was a big ad­vo­cate of the sleeve, de­signed by Liver­pool il­lus­tra­tor Bone­face, but not ev­ery­one in the band was into hav­ing big bad Beelze­bub on the front of their new record. “Isn’t it just me any­way?” Homme says. “I never blame the devil for what I do cos I don’t want the devil to get the credit,” he says.

Homme is an odd com­bi­na­tion of per­son­al­i­ties: he is both poet and pugilist, wrapped up in one huge bun­dle. He is an im­pos­ing pres­ence with­out be­ing too in­tim­i­dat­ing. Sil­ver-tongued ex­pres­sions flow from his mouth and it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to watch him chase the tail of his own thought process. Some­times he speaks in a slightly cos­mic man­ner, like a sen­sei whis­per­ing into the ear of his en­emy. For ex­am­ple, talk­ing about peo­ple who want ev­ery­one to be­have in the same mun­dane man­ner, he says: “I have this con­tempt for so­ci­ety, and that’s why I want to walk be­tween the rain­drops and not get wet. You want me to pick a side but I walk the line that you touch, that’s where I live, in the tran­si­tion of life.” He likes pok­ing fun at con­ven­tion. If it’s 3am and there’s a red light and no one else around, he’ll drive through it. “I’ve been pulled over mul­ti­ple times for this thing but I’ve never got­ten a ticket for it cos we’re just two guys in the mid­dle of the night that wanna get home. I ap­pre­ci­ate the colour red as much as the next guy – fuck, my hair’s red – but do we re­ally have to lis­ten to colours at three in the morn­ing?” He says he’d like to en­cour­age peo­ple to break what should be bro­ken in or­der to cre­ate some­thing that looks amaz­ing, sounds amaz­ing and feels good.

“I never blame the devil for what I do cos I don’t want the devil to get the credit.” Josh Homme

Homme loves bring­ing things to­gether, and re­mem­bers how early QOTSA side-project The Desert Ses­sions taught him how to be a “cat­a­lyst with­out try­ing to con­trol.” He loves be­ing around idio­syn­cratic peo­ple. “A friend of mine kept say­ing, ‘You’re the shep­herd of the weird!’ I’ll take that. There’s some fuck­ing bril­liantly crazy peo­ple and those peo­ple have great per­spec­tive.” He has al­ways strug­gled with his tem­per. Tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tion has helped – he doesn’t get mad about traf­fic any more. But he has al­ways de­tested bul­lies and “peo­ple just dom­i­nat­ing some­one else”. He will burn bridges over it. “There’s times I wish I’d maybe been a lit­tle more po­lit­i­cal, you know, but I was raised that way.” Brody is the same, he says. “You haven’t lived un­til you’ve seen a won­der­ful bridge fire. We def­i­nitely pick a side, but maybe that’s OK. My main mo­ti­va­tion is that I can sleep at night. I don’t ex­pect any­one to be per­fect, let alone my­self. So that’s fine.” With that, two of his band­mates, guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and drum­mer Jon Theodore turn up. It’s lunchtime, and Homme knows just the place. It’s a scorch­ing day but that doesn’t seem to bother the af­fa­ble, even-paler-than-me Van Leeuwen as he leads us out to his top-down black Cadil­lac. The long­est-serv­ing mem­ber of Homme’s band, he is dressed im­pec­ca­bly from head-to-toe in black. The gre­gar­i­ous Theodore has surfer dude vibes, and calls, “Shot­gun!” as we get to the car. “Hey, you should sit in the front,” he says to Q. “Bet you’ve never been in a Cadil­lac be­fore.” But the rules of shot­gun are clear and must be re­spected, so Q climbs into the back. Homme sticks his hel­met on, hops onto his bike and leads three-fifths of this Queens Of The Stone Age cav­al­cade to­wards his favourite lunch spot in the area. Chili John’s is a much-loved lo­cal restau­rant that’s been in West Bur­bank since 1946. Homme has been a reg­u­lar for the past decade and when we ar­rive, he’s al­ready sat at the bar en­gag­ing in a lively back and forth with the two old dears be­hind the counter. One of them is Deb­bie, the owner. The menu here is sim­ple: chicken chilli, beef chilli or veg­e­tar­ian chilli, served with rice or spaghetti, hot or medium, with cheese and/or sour cream. There’s no need to get in­volved with the chilli dogs, Homme ad­vises, the good stuff is in the gi­ant vats. Homme leads the way with his or­der, hot chicken and rice. “You’re a new guy, huh?” Deb­bie says to Q. “Well, wel­come, new guy.” Homme finds that very funny. Deb­bie tells him that she went to see The Moody Blues a few nights be­fore, and so he spends the next five min­utes sing­ing a ver­sion of Nights In White Satin pre­tend­ing that he has den­tures that are fall­ing out. “You just wait, honey,” Deb­bie darts back. Homme is en­ter­tain­ing when he’s one-on-one, and with his friends

“Some­one is gonna have a great day, why shouldn’t it be you?” Josh Homme

around him he ramps it up even more. It’s time for him to leave for an ap­point­ment now though, and he pays for ev­ery­one’s lunch be­fore head­ing back to his bike. Vil­lains is Van Leeuwen’s fourth QOTSA al­bum. He says that Homme is a fun guy to be around, es­pe­cially on the road. The band is like a fam­ily, “a Mafioso fam­ily,” he says. He laughs when he hears that Homme has been talk­ing about his tem­per. “I gotta say, it hap­pens,” he says. “That’s part of who he is. I know he hates it but it hap­pens.” Van Leeuwen has seen Homme break $ 5000 gui­tars purely be­cause they hap­pen to be in his vicin­ity. “Some­times we’ll use a toy drumkit, just cos the sound is in­ter­est­ing,” he says. “He de­stroyed one. It was hi­lar­i­ous. That poor lit­tle drum set and a gi­ant man just pum­melling it. Some­times he’s im­pa­tient. De­struc­tion hap­pens…” We fin­ish up, and Van Leeuwen heads home. There’s a man com­ing round to his house to look into the rac­coon prob­lem he’s got in his gar­den. They keep eat­ing the fish out of his pond.

A week later, Josh Homme is stood on a roof ter­race at posh London ho­tel The Edi­tion, look­ing up to the grey skies above. Homme loved the heavy rain the day be­fore and he’s equally ef­fu­sive about the hov­er­ing dull clouds that show no sign of shift­ing. As a born and bred Cal­i­for­nian, used to day af­ter ter­ri­ble day of blue skies and sun­shine, he is de­lighted by the fact that the UK has weather. He is here for a screen­ing of Amer­i­can Valhalla, the doc­u­men­tary he’s made with Ger­man di­rec­tor An­dreas Neu­mann about the Iggy Pop al­bum and tour. It’s a bril­liant film, one that shows Homme in his “cat­a­lyst” el­e­ment, a ring­leader who doesn’t al­ways have to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion. This morn­ing, he woke up early with jet­lag and de­cided to take a walk. He turned left out of the ho­tel, cut across Ox­ford Street and kept go­ing for a mile, weav­ing through Soho, tak­ing in all the nooks and cran­nies of the West End. “I love Soho,” he says, “I love that en­ergy of the gay area of town and the book­stores. I re­ally liked it in the morn­ing when it was closed and it was quiet.” Homme isn’t nec­es­sar­ily an early riser but he likes the op­ti­mism of the morn­ing. When he’s at home in LA, he tries to get ev­ery­one in his house in the best mood pos­si­ble by start­ing the day with play­ing what he calls “a lit­tle woo-hoo”. It could be The’ s, or The Go-Go’s, or The B- 52s’ Rock Lob­ster. “It’s start­ing the day by go­ing, ‘Wooo!’, cos it could be the great­est day ever,” he says. “Some­one is gonna have a great day, why shouldn’t it be you?” He loves see­ing his kids dance around. His daugh­ter Camille is a fan of The Cramps and is cur­rently read­ing a book on Sun Records. “She’s 11! She makes me re­ally proud. She loves Elvis and wants to lis­ten to Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis.” There’s not a lot in the way of “com­put­er­ing” in the house with the kids. They’re al­lowed an hour on their iPads at the week­ends. Camille re­cently lost her iPad time af­ter a prob­lem at school. “She got in trou­ble for say­ing, ‘Oh, if any­one does that, I’ll kill them,’” he says. He was called in. “I was like, ‘You’re right – how dare she use such ba­nal, run-of-the-mill lan­guage. She’s bet­ter than that.’ She should say, ‘I’ll string them up by their toes!’ The

teacher said, ‘You need to take this se­ri­ously.’ I said, ‘I’m here, I’ve spo­ken to the prin­ci­ple, I am tak­ing it se­ri­ously… You want me to take it like you take it. I can tell you’re an in­tense per­son since you’re deal­ing with this in an in­tense man­ner.’” He told his daugh­ter that it was us­ing bor­ing lan­guage that got her in trou­ble at home. “If you can’t out­smart a fourth-grade teacher, we’re gonna have prob­lems here,” he ad­vised. “Your first job is to get round these moth­er­fuck­ers. I’m not try­ing to make her the ul­ti­mate fourth-grader, I’m try­ing to make her a per­son that can en­dure and make it through.” That prob­a­bly wasn’t the only oc­ca­sion that Mr Homme has come up for dis­cus­sion in the staff room. Another time, Homme was in the school and there was a green space that he thought could’ve been put to bet­ter use. “That’s fuck­ing re­tarded,” he said. A shocked teacher told him, “We don’t say that.” “I’m sorry,” replied Homme, “I didn’t mean to say that word. It’s just… re­tarded.” The “taboo-ising” of things in the mod­ern world an­noys him, peo­ple want­ing to reg­u­late ev­ery­thing that’s said and done. “Ev­ery­one says it’s all one world,” he adds, “and it’s a small world. It’s not. Have you ever tried to walk it? It’s re­ally big ac­tu­ally. I think our dif­fer­ences are what is amaz­ing. That’s what we should cel­e­brate.” Homme isn’t a huge fan of the in­ter­net. He says most so­cial me­dia profiles end up read­ing like a trailer for some­one’s life. “‘Here are my best mo­ments!’ It’s never like, ‘Oh my God, I got a uri­nary tract in­fec­tion, I’ll put that up on Twit­ter!’ I’m work­ing on my first life, you can work on your sec­ond if you want.” Hear­ing him glide through sub­jects, you won­der if there is space for a stand-up sec­tion in fu­ture Queens Of The Stone Age shows. Homme is a mod­ern rock fig­ure­head – you don’t work with Lady Gaga and get Mark Ron­son to pro­duce your al­bum if you’re some old fusty Lud­dite – but also at odds with lots of what’s hap­pen­ing around him. He gets pissed off and an­gry, he loses his shit. He says he can’t stand the amount of in­jus­tice in the world. He’s not a lover of rules, and thinks tra­di­tion is a word that peo­ple use to hold other peo­ple down. “But by the same to­ken, what am I gonna do, but do the best I can do?” he says. “Knock me down, I’ll spit a lit­tle blood on the floor and gig­gle. It’s not get­ting knocked down, it’s get­ting up, that’s where your style is.” He puts out his cig­a­rette, fixes the col­lar on his leather jacket, takes one more look at the grey sky, and strides back in­side. Be­cause some­one is gonna have the great­est day to­day. Why can’t it be you?

Com­ing of Age: Josh Homme at work in the stu­dio on Vil­lains, which was pro­duced by Mark Ron­son (bot­tom left and right); (op­po­site page) Homme on home turf in Cal­i­for­nia, 9 July, 2017.

“The shep­herd of the weird”: (left) Homme per­form­ing at Rock In Rio, Brazil, 2015; (bot­tom) with old friend and oc­ca­sional QOTSA drum­mer Dave Grohl.

Top gear: (above) Josh poses on his pride and joy; (be­low) band chauf­feur Troy Van Leeuwen tries to keep up with Homme in Bur­bank, Cal­i­for­nia.

“Can some­one please just tell me where the Post Of­fice Tower is?” Homme en­joys his day out in London; ( op­po­site page) Homme has some­thing to tell us, but we’re not quite sure what.

De­mon days: the cover of QOTSA’s forth­com­ing sev­enth al­bum.

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