Getting Intimate with Josh Homme

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By: Andrew Bruss

Josh Homme by Brian Appio
While a new generation of rock stars have injected political correctness and socially progressive ideals into today’s music community, Queens of the Stone Age‘s Josh Homme has been hard at work bringing good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll ruckus back to the scene. Put bluntly, Homme’s lyrics put the sex and drugs back into rock ‘n’ roll.

For Homme, the group’s gravitational center, his musical roots start in the deserts of Southern California where he founded Kyuss in the grunge laden early ’90s. The group soon disbanded, and from the ashes Homme formed Queens of the Stone Age, a kinky hard rock outfit that’s gradually seen a significant change in their sound, as well as their lineup.

QOTSA spent their first few albums working closely with bassist Nick Oliveri until a falling out left the group’s leadership entirely in Homme’s hands. Following Oliveri’s departure, their fourth album, Lullabies to Paralyze, was met with critical acclaim and seen by many Queens fans as a bold new direction. This summer saw the release of Era Vulgaris, a freaky, tweaked out trip through the always-interesting mind of Homme, and was once again seen as a far-out step in the right direction.

For one reason or another, several months after the traditional publicity campaign for Vulgaris was complete, Homme dispatched word that he wasn’t done talking. Seizing the opportunity, JamBase caught up with Homme to discuss everything from his media friendly tendencies to creative habits and even his experiences with groupies.

JamBase: It seems like you enjoy doing press and giving interviews, which is pretty rare in this business.

Josh Homme: I enjoy it?

JamBase: Well, it seems like you’re pretty willing to do it where many artists find it to be a hassle.

Josh Homme – QOTSA
Josh Homme: When I compare it to hot tarring roofs, the thing that sucks about hot tarring a roof is a lot tougher than the thing that sucks about making music. It’s something that you come to understand. It’s been 15 years for me now, you know? Wait, sorry, 16 years on tour and playing.

JamBase: You’ve become known as a guy who can give a pretty good quote. Do you ever feel this creates pressure to keep an interview lively or make a provocative statement here or there?

Josh Homme: One of my hobbies is being a smart ass, and I just like to mess with language, so I never worry about that. I just talk. It’s always in the interaction with somebody, and trying to find a way to say something that you’ve said before.

What keeps you occupied while you’re on the road? The time spent on and off the stage seems pretty unbalanced.

I always look for something. It’s sort of like trying to chase down a scent you’ve never smelt before. I try to keep myself moving at all times, and keep myself looking for anything that I’ve never done before. It doesn’t matter how perverse it is, whether it’s a movie or going to a bookstore or what used to be a record store – which is pretty hard [to find] right now – to playing WhirlyBall in Atlanta.

You’ve said in past interviews that as you’ve traveled around the world you’ve felt like a scientist learning about the world we live in. What do you feel you’ve learned about America as a culturally diverse country? Whether it’s Southern California or New England, do you feel there’s a consistent, defining characteristic of the United States?

QOTSA by Matthew Field
I think that the United States’ size is its diversity. It’s too big to be [pauses] – even though we have The Body Shop and all that stuff, in every mall – it really is because of the geography. [It is] different in the South than it is in the Northwest. I think our size is kind of our personality. It prohibits you from copying everybody no matter what The Body Shop says. And nobody does dumb like the States, you know? I’m a huge dumb fan, like the expression, “Keep it simple stupid,” that really is one of my favorites. Nobody keeps it simple like the United States, and that’s something I miss when I’m in Europe.

As far as geography goes, it seems as though the deserts of Southern California have played a pretty big role in the development of Queens Of the Stone Age. Coincidentally, it seems that with your music, you’re big on themes, or what some folks might call concept albums. So, I’m curious how you feel that you’re connection to the desert has seeped into the music you’ve made over the years.

What I love about the desert is what I love about any situation. The best way to put it is you’re not in a hurry in the desert. You get the chance to make a completed thought. Which is why I think, more accidentally than anything else, Queens’ records are kind of the amalgam of an idea in total. It’s not really a delivered concept record but they end up being a completed thought, or a certain examination of a certain thing. That’s why it’s never like 2112 [by Rush]. The desert is more like getting a chance to really look at something without the hurried pressure lots of cities have. When you’re in the city you’ve got to get it on or get swallowed. I don’t feel like that time pressure is the same in the desert.

Continue reading for more with Josh Homme

 
In the past, before I was married, [I was into] groupies. That shit, it was awesome. Anyone who says it isn’t is totally lying. This notion that you could hook up with some beautiful girl, that’s an amazing thing. It gets strange and old after a while, when you’re like “Wow, this is just some weird warm hole,” and that’s it.

-Josh Homme

 
Photo by Nick Wilson

Do you feel as a songwriter that you’re looking to tell a story or tale? Or do you feel that your music is more of a strict expression of the way you feel at a certain moment in time or maybe a certain experience or theme at large, for that matter?

Josh Homme
I love to paint a picture more than anything else. I like the imagery side [of music], which is really all that there is to storytelling. I hate path of language, and when someone says, [sings lyrics by Stained] “It’s been a while,” all of that is too colorless to me; although, I’m having trouble being colorful right now. I’d rather have something like “Leg of Lamb” [by Queens of the Stone Age] where I can picture it. “I don’t want to be some hanging leg of lamb” and instantly I can see what that means. For me, lyrically, it’s got to be real or it isn’t. It needs to be something that has happened or something that I have seen or that I have had a little experience with. Otherwise, it doesn’t mean anything to me.

Is there anything in the past that you’ve utilized to help maintain the reality of your music when you may have felt that it was taking on a fake nature? What’s something that you’ve used to help bring things back to Earth?

Ultimately, it always needs to have a root in something. The one analogy I’ve used a lot to explain, but never actually used in song, is the amount of time you sit around on tour or being in a band is amazing. The amount of time I look at a doorknob – or a door handle probably sounds better – and just stared at it and hoped it would turn so someone interesting would come through the other side, and I’ve always thought, “Man, I need to write a song about the door handle that turns and what’s on the other side.” And I never have. It doesn’t have to be something with a resolve, where it goes “The end” and people live happily ever after. It just needs to be a representation of a real moment in time. When you start saying to yourself, “Here’s this door handle and why won’t someone…” it takes on another life. Why can’t it be someone I care about on the other end? Why is it always someone I never know? That, to me, is a story in and of itself. So, I think what’s important is that a song comes from something small because it usually has a shot at having a bigger connotation to it.

So for you a song has a snowball effect, in the sense that it starts out as something small and you build something bigger around it?

Yeah because I think that songwriting is chasing.

What do you mean by that?

Josh Homme – QOTSA by Nick Helderman
I mean a song like “Go With The Flow” [off 2002’s Songs for the Deaf] came to me all lyrics, all music and all drums at once. I could hear the entirety of it. You don’t always get the luxury of that, so you’re trying to chase down a feeling. I try to make it so that songs leave me with that feeling. Like when you leave a first date with somebody and you get those butterflies. Those are the feelings I’m trying to chase with music. I want every song to give me that feeling. Once you reach that, it immediately goes away and you’re forced to chase it down again. That’s the bittersweet curse of music. It’s a lot like beach sand in your hand. It doesn’t stay there for long.

You’re the only original member of the group now. Is it fair to say that the lineup you’ve got is something you’re happy with right now? Or do you feel that the lineup of Queens of the Stone Age is something that’s going to consistently keep changing?

To be honest, I never deliberately changed it. With each lineup, I’ve always thought, “I hope this one lasts forever.” It’s such a difficult thing to find really talented people that accent everything really well and you can live with after. Each time someone has stayed or been thrown from the cart, it’s been a group decision. Whoever’s in Queens that’s the group, you know? I know it’s got to look from the outside like I’m this tyrant who runs it but we don’t play a song unless everyone supports it. There’s no point in doing something if someone isn’t backing it. You really have to develop that relationship of saying, “No, I really want you to say what you think. I really want you to add what you think to this mix.” And when it comes to people, if I’m coming to your house to tell you it’s time to go you’ve probably been fucking up for at least a year.

You just tossed out the notion that you’re a tyrant ruling over the group with an iron fist. That seems far from the truth but is it fair to say that Queens of the Stone Age is your band?

QOTSA by Matthew Field
Yeah, but I think you live in the world that you create. I always wanted to play in an environment that’s open to collaboration, and that takes its time to make a choice of who to involve so that when you involve that person you can really listen to them and rely on them to do more than just stand there and fill a space. In that world it’s as creative as possible so you don’t even mimic yourself, but you know how to make a new album that sounds strangely familiar at the same time. Really difficult things seem like the most difficult obligation of being in a band. I feel like you’re supposed to make every record as original as possible, and you’re not supposed to emulate even though you love other styles of music. That’s just ground zero. That’s what you’re obligated to do. And if you can do more than that, then that’s what you’re really shooting for. If you can do more than that, that’s how you make something classic that will never go away. I’ve slowly started to realize that. It’s not exactly why I started doing it but it’s why I continue to do it because I’d love to make something that lasts longer than I did. It would be great to have that sort of immortality mixed on top of your own mortality.

Continue reading for more with Josh Homme

 
I try to make it so that songs leave me with that feeling. Like when you leave a first date with somebody and you get those butterflies. Those are the feelings I’m trying to chase with music.

-Josh Homme

 

Even with all of the rock bands in the world, we’re short of actual rock stars. I’m talking about Pete Townshend trashing his guitar, Led Zeppelin and their infamous mud shark incident, Iggy Pop literally walking over an audience. As someone known as a rather colorful rock ‘n’ roll personality, what do you think it takes to be a rock star?

Josh Homme by Matthew Field
I thought for so many years that “rock star” was such a bad phrase for me. Buying into the DIY punk rock spirit, you realize, “Wait a minute, this is just as fucked up as anything else.” What’s important to me is what my grandpappy always used to say to me, which was, “If you’re going to be different, you’re going to get hit by rocks. So you should learn to like rocks.” To me, that is the thing that needs to be a mantra. People, especially in this day and age, their opinion comes lightning fast before they’ve even had a chance even to think of it. If everyone’s opinion stewed around for as long as it took to write a song I think people’s opinions would be worth listening to more. But now, more than ever, when it comes to music, people’s opinions aren’t even worth listening to half the time because they’re lighting fast judgments from an arbitrary place, most of the time. So, there isn’t an opinion that can effect what I’m trying to do because I know I’ve thought about what I want to do way more than anyone who is going to have something to say about it.

You just mentioned you don’t like the term “rock star” but in the years since you’ve achieved stardom what are some of the perks you’ve come into? A lot of people dig being recognized or the groupies or even getting to play in nicer venues. What is you’re favorite thing about your rise in notoriety?

If I could be 100-percent honest…

That’s what I’m looking for.

I used to shy away from as much of that stuff as possible because of what I call the “They Theory.” What will they say? What will they do? The minute you say to yourself, “They will never be happy” and if I met them I’d be like, “Man, those guys are dicks,” then you sort of release yourself from all that. Some of the perks are playing beautiful venues. We play these beautiful theaters all over the place. It sounds great and you have a chance to have all this production, and I love trying to make someone’s jaw drop. In the past, before I was married, [I was into] groupies. That shit, it was awesome. Anyone who says it isn’t is totally lying. This notion that you could hook up with some beautiful girl, that’s an amazing thing. It gets strange and old after a while, when you’re like “Wow, this is just some weird warm hole,” and that’s it.

Was there ever a moment when you had a beautiful girl in bed with you and you remember specifically thinking, “Wow, this is getting old?”

Josh Homme
Strangely enough, yes. When you’re like, “God, it almost doesn’t matter anymore,” there’s something blank about that, where you just draw a blank. Partying is an amazing experience, when you can just waltz into a town and go partying and hang with locals, and not be such a tourist about it. I’ve always had a problem with being a tourist. I’ve always wanted to be around experienced locals because I like to see the dirty underbelly of every place. So, to be able to waltz into town and meet people who are very intelligent, experienced lunatics, I always reveled in that and being around people I’ve admired and getting totally wasted with them. Just without fucking censoring it at all, these are the things that make music chase-able, as far as touring goes. Creating music is already plenty for me, as far as making it. But, to go from town to town you need the visceral contact because it’s only one hour or two hours a day [on stage]. You need something like that. Getting recognized and all that stuff, it doesn’t mean much to me because we play it. I know I’m just this guy from the desert and I play music, and I love it. It’s my religion. At the same time, for someone else, it’s his Saturday night and I’m not going to ruin it by saying, “Dude, it’s no big deal.” Much like where I’m from, it’s a weird spot where two different things meet and it’s the only spot where they touch and you’ve sort of got a foot in each.

As a public figure, how has the role changed since you’ve had a child? Obviously being a performer was a decision you made but you might not want your kid to be in the position where a photographer shoved a camera in his face.

What I do is I stay out of those situations. It was my choice to do this but not hers. The other thing is, I don’t talk about it much deeper than what I just said. You’ve got to invite the vampire into your home before it can come in. The other thing I’d say is that if anything, it’s made my relationship with the press a little different. I’ve always been very Cosa Nostra. My business is my business. What it’s done for me, going through things with [former Queens bassist] Nick Oliveri and everything surrounding Lullabies to Paralyze and what we did and chose not to do, it’s made me realize I needed to relax, because you can take all this stuff way too seriously. I like it more when I take the music seriously and don’t give a shit about the rest. It’s tough to not give a shit because you actually have to not give a shit. You can’t just be like, “No, I don’t give a shit,” and then be like, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.”

For someone who might not have heard your music or may not have even heard of your group, what would you like them to know about Queens of the Stone Age before they get an album or buy a concert ticket?

I would want someone to know that we never rest. We’re always at the frontlines. That doesn’t mean you’ll like it, but if you do you have the possibility to like it the whole time. We don’t get out-tried by somebody else. I can’t make guarantees for someone to like it, but we never rest. We never rest and we never stop.

Queens Of The Stone Age – “3’s & 7’s” (clean version)

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