That can’t be Josh Homme, switching up his vocals like a shape-shifter on the new Queens of the Stone Age album (Era Vulgaris, Interscope). Ah but it is, a bewildering byproduct of the stoner rock icon pushing himself in the studio harder than he ever has before. Or, as he explains it simply after a London show with Queens’ latest lineup, “I wanted to try some s*it that was downright embarrassing at first. This record is a grower, not about what isn’t there, but what is.”
That’s a bit of an understatement. To be honest, it took us more than a few spins to understand even a couple cuts on Queens’ fifth record since forming in 1997. The subtle special guest inclusions of Trent Reznor, Mark Lanegan and Julian Casablancas from the Strokes (on vocals and Casio synth guitar!) certainly don’t help either. But that’s the beauty of Homme’s career: Nothing is what it seems. Hence our invitation to have the downtuned-or-death man shred down memory lane.
Kyuss, Wretch (dali, 1991)
This was done over a few sessions when I was 16, 17 and 18. The guy who recorded it did Coca-Cola commercials. We didn’t know him at all or if it would even become a record. We just wanted to press it for our friends at home. I remember he was so upset that we were tuned down so low. He came in yelling, “You can’t use bass amps for guitars!” Basically just like, “You can’t do that!” the whole time. And because we were young, we were like, “Really, you can’t? F*ck! What are we going to do?”
I’m proud of it because I was so young and I wouldn’t change any of it, but it’s not the best record. I don’t think anyone wrote home to their parents about it.
Kyuss, Blues for the Red Sun (dali, 1992)
We made this within a year of Wretch coming out. I feel like that’s the first recording that captured what we sound like. At the same time, we got in a van and did hundreds of bars with no one but the local drunk in it. So we were like, “Why are we doing this? If we wanted to see people who just don’t care, we should probably just stay home.”
Kyuss, Welcome to Sky Valley (elektra, 1994)
People didn’t particularly care about this either, but it didn’t matter by then. Playing to 30 or 50 people was rad.
Kyuss, …And the Circus Leaves Town (Elektra, 1995)
Toward the end, people did know who we were and it kind of irked us. I certainly wasn’t ready for that. If you look at any of the early Kyuss interviews, they’re all like, “Why are you asking me that? Why you gotta prod?”
I also felt we had locked ourselves into a box musically because we had all these rules to keep it as pure as possible, like no jamming with anyone else, no alternate tuning and pop songs that were totally perverted. Which was cool, but if you wanted to do something concise, it never materialized. There was also a lot of what I call the “They Theory”: What will they say, what will they do after hearing your music? You want to be liked, but you also want to be recognized as something different.
The desert sessions, Volumes 1-10 (Man’s Ruin/Southern Lord/Ipecac, 1997–2003)
This came from two things: I didn’t have a band and I didn’t want other people to feel threatened when I asked to play with their drummer for a second. It wasn’t about permanence; it was about just doing something.
It’s taking a while, but I’m about to release a box set of the first 10. We’re also going to do a best of—songs like “Screamin’ Eagle” or “Johnny the Boy.” People thought we were just getting stoned and jamming, but the funny thing is it’s really f*cking good, not a drum circle environment.
PJ Harvey, for one, was incredible. She really opened up and came out of her shell. Going up to Joshua Tree and recording at this house isn’t like a studio, you know? It’s a lot of recording in the shower or out by the fire pit under a full moon outside. Which smashes the magnifying glass effect you get in the studio. As for her vocals, we tracked them in the laundry room and outside. The whole house is a living, breathing studio.
Gamma Ray, (Queens of the Stone Age’s name for some rough recordings before a German power-metal band threatened to sue)
This happened around the same time as the Desert Sessions. I was still on Elektra, had some songs and wanted to get kicked off, but they wouldn’t do it. So I said, “I’m a s*itty singer. Let’s record some songs and we’ll all get kicked off.” And that’s exactly what happened. John Garcia and Chris Goss helped out a lot. They are the two guys that pushed me to keep singing.
Queens of the stone age, S/T (man’s ruin, 1998)
I listen to this record all the time. I feel sorry for bands that say they don’t listen to their own music. None of my records are perfect, but there’s nothing I’d change about them. Each record has its own direction. The first one was just so pure and off the tap. I was ready to make it a declaration of what I’d learned so far basically. It was very “the arrow points this way.” I always look at music as a process to learn stuff; to be enlightened, like through a religion.
Queens of the Stone Age, Rated R (interscope, 2000)
There were a lot of new people around me at this time, which was great. It was kind of an open door policy, like, “I know that you usually do this, but would you like to do this for a while?” Keeping it loose made everyone feel comfortable because it wasn’t like, “We need to be the Three Musketeers, all for one and one for all.” It was more about the music, not people’s hang-ups. Our first record announced our sound. This one added that we’re different and weird.
Queens of the stone age, Songs for the Deaf (interscope, 2002)
This record was supposed to sound bizarre—like lightning in a bottle. We also were extremely f*cked up. It even sounds that way to me, like a crazy person.
The radio interludes are supposed to be like the drive from L.A. to Joshua Tree, a drive that makes you feel like you’re letting go—more David Lynch with every mile.
As for Dave [Grohl] playing [drums] on it, I’d known him for years, but it always felt like having him play would overshadow what we’re doing. We wanted to be respected and not have people say, “Dave helped you guys get to where you are. Goodbye!” Well, your friend is one of the best drummers in the world; should you play music with him? F*ck yes! Are you kidding?
Dave and I almost made a record recently with just the two of us, actually. We like pushing each other to dip into “the weird,” you know?
U.N.K.L.E., “Safe in Mind (Please Get This Gun From Out My Face)” (global underground, 2004)
This came at the very end of a five-and-a-half month tour. I had met [main U.N.K.L.E. producer] James [Lavelle] through a friend after he did a remix of “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” on his own. He basically sent some beats to me. Then Troy [Van Leeuwen] and I went to his London studio and constructed an entirely new song in three hours. My vocals took one take. We were very proud to say, “That’s how you do it in Queens land, motherf*cker!”
Queens of the stone age, Lullabies to Paralyze (interscope, 2005)
I felt free because [bassist] Nick [Oliveri] was so aggro at the end of [Songs for the] Deaf. He had everyone walking on eggshells. Being in Queens at the time came with so many expectations. It dawned on me that people were either for Nick, for me, or like, “F*ck all this personal drama.” That’s why it’s such a dark record.
Queens of the stone age, Era Vulgaris (interscope, 2007)
It feels like we’re a new band now. It sounds different, even for us. Lots of wheezing and coughing up blood, too.