|Nov. 2000 - Guitar World: High Times
by Jim Derogatis
It's early in the tour on Ozzfest 2000, and Josh Homme, the guitarist, vocalist, and key auteur behind the Queens of the Stone Age, is diplomatically hedging on the cell phone in his tour bus, doing his best not to say just how much this year's rap-rock-dominated lineup sucks.
"Uh, it's not all my cup of tea," Homme finally grants. "But I'm backing Pantera and Incubus and Ozzy, and there's some other good bands, too. If there's rapping and shit like that, and the music is too hip-hop, it's out of my element. I'm not really down with the merge."
For many in the stoner-rock community, the Queens represent the genre's best chance to break big, reintroducing the masses of Generation Y to real rock and roll, the way Nirvana did at the outset of the Ninties. After all, Homme was a member of the hugely influential Kyuss before the Queens released its strong self-titled debut in 1998. More recently, the group released its second album, the hard-hitting Rated R, whose single, "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret," has cracked modern-rock radio, unleashing an all-out hypefest from the band's label, Interscope.
Given all this momentum, it struck some of the stoner faithful as a huge disappointment--if not a downright sell-out--to find the Queens linking up with the tired, corporate Ozzfest instead of headlining a stoner-rock march to triumph. But this betrays a fundemental misunderstanding of the king Queen's character: Homme is clearly adherent to the Groucho Marx maxim that he wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have him as a member.
"I see us as not fitting into it at all," the guitarist says of the movement he helped spawn. "In my own mind, it's something that exists without me. Kyuss was around before the term existed, and I don't believe that either of these Queens records are stoner-rock records. When we're included in the category, I always feel like an outsider. I've always tried to be outside of whatever's going on--I play rock and roll because I want to do something that someone else isn't doing."
Well, sure, who doesn't? But the band's moniker nods pretty directly at the name of the genre. And isn't a song like Rated R's "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" (with it's irresisteble chorus of "Nicotine, Valium, Vicodan, marijuana, Ecstasy and alcohol!") designed as a stoner-rock anthem?
"It might be, or it might be like a knife in the neck of stoner rock," Homme says, hedging once again. "It's hard to tell, and I think that's the good part about it. Look, you're always going to get labeled with something. Stoner rock is kind of a dumbing-down label, and that's why I don't gravitate toward it. And I think some of the bands that embrace it are under the influence of some of the other bands a little bit too much."
One of the bands doing the influencing is, of course, Kyuss. Taking its name from some monsters called "the Sons of Kyuss" in the Dungeons & Dragons book Deities and Demigods, the quartet burst out of Palm Desert, California, in 1991, unleashing a pounding, fuzz-laden sound that fell somewhere between punk, metal, and grunge. The group toured relentlessly and delivered four albums that were beloved by fans, but it never rose much above cult status. There are now 1,000 people who claim to have been at a Kyuss show that actually drew 100.
Though the band is pretty much revered in the current stoner-rock underground, Homme refused to dwell in the past. "If such a world exists, I wouldn't want to live there," he says. "I want people to dig it and enjoy it, but I want them to do it without me." the difference between Kyuss and his new band is partly one of attitude--Homme chose the Queens' name in part to tweak the macho metalheads--and partly one of sonic approach. Mixed in with the Queens' metal/punk overdrive is a melodic, trance-inducing quality that owes as much to Seventies Krautrock (including German art-rockers such as Can, Neu! and Kraftwerk) as it does to New Wave synth-poppers like Devo and Gary Numan.
"I learned alot with Kyuss," says Homme, "and I didn't want to be in a situation again where you just have to play something heavy, because if you don't, then everyone's gonna go, 'What's your problem?' It just seemed like this band should be something that's too greasy to hold on to. I also think Kyuss was adamant about not showing its influences, and that's partly to do with how we misunderstood that term. If you compared us to another band, we would have taken it as you saying we were copying that band. Anything that got close to anything else, we'd go, 'Can't play it, sorry.' At this point, I realize what you're saying is that if you like this, you might like that. It's more inspirational than mimiery."
The final differnece between the Queens and Kyuss is that the Queens aren't really a band--at last not in the sense that Kyuss was. Homme considers himself and bassist Nick Oliveri (a verteran of shock-punkers the Dwarves) to be the only permanent members of his new group. An impressive cast of contributors comes and goes onstage and on the albums: Rated R includes cameos by Rob Halford, Chris Goss of Masters of Reality and Barrett Martin of the Screaming Trees. (Homme served as second guitarist with the latter group on its final album.)
"I'd like to keep it loose, open and free," Homme says of the Queens' lineup. "I just think that if we can expand and contract, then there's nothing we can't do, and even the old songs will never be something like, 'Oh, let's not play that anymore.'"
Is there room for such invention from a hard-rocking band in these dire pop times, with teenyboppers at one end of the spectrum and rock rappers at the other?
"That's the beauty of it," Homme says. "I'm sort of free to run the range, because I'm not competing with that bullshit. I coudn't ask for a better time. It would be much worse if there were a bunch of bands trying to sound like us; I'd be walking amongst the 'sheeple.' Now I just kind of get to walk freely. I prefer that."
Key Records: Kyuss' four albums are all pretty much essential. They include Wretch (Dali, 1991), Blues for the Red Sun (Dali, 1992), Welcome to Sky Valley (Elektra, 1994), and ...And the Circus Leaves Town (Elektra, 1995). (Sky Valley is probably the best place to start.)
Both Queens discs deliver the goods, though Rated R is a bit slighter and more irreverent than its predecessor is. Homme has also overseen six volumes of Desert Sessions discs on Man's Ruin, featuring jammed-out collaborations with pals from Soundgarden, Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, and Wool, among others. Find them at www.mansruin.com.
A Few Words About His Guitar Sound: "My own guitar playing is much more focused now," says Homme. "I pick my spots. I've always wanted to be able to sing whatever I played, so that it's more of a melody and not a guitar solo. That's what's so great about Sabbath or the Stooges. You can sing the lead parts from both of those bands, so there's something happening instead of just straight-up chords. Sometimes chords are all you get, but other times you get hook lines that run through the whole song. I think those are very important because they involve what you don't play as opposed to what you do play."