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Queen of the Stone Age's Josh Homme Talks New Album, 'Villains'

Queen of the Stone Age's Josh Homme Talks New Album, 'Villains'

When it was announced that Villains, the new album by Queens of the Stone Age, was going to be produced by pop renaissance man Mark Ronson (Adele, Bruno Mars), logic dictated that he would chisel away at the band’s quirky edges.

Queens guitarist and chief conceptualist, Josh Homme, dismisses the notion with a wave of his hand. “There’s this perception that there’s no musical overlap between us and Mark, but, in reality, there’s a stunning amount. We wanted this album to be tight like an early ZZ Top record, and he is so beat-centric, we knew he would help us keep the rhythm section tight and dense.”

Homme’s instincts proved to be correct. Far from being a soulless slice of modern pop product, Villains is infused with an almost old fashioned sense of rock and roll exuberance and devilish mischief.

The fierce robot boogie of the album’s inescapable first single, “The Way You Used to Do,” captures the overall spirit of the album, which manages to reference oldies but goodies like Chuck Berry and Little Richard while still sounding fresh, funky and futuristic.

“I was watching this wild footage of Jerry Lee Lewis from one of his first performances on television during the early Fifties, and he was really putting on a show,” says Homme. “He was going into fits and the shakes while he was singing and playing the piano, and basically encouraging the audience to do the same. The kids were totally losing it. Early rockers like Jerry, Elvis and Little Richard were so radical for their time, I could just imagine parents saying, ‘These guys are villains—this has to stop!’

“That is the punk rock infiltration that I’ve always desired. I have no interest in fitting in or playing nice. My interest is in when you’re revolting against your parents—or if you’re just plain revolting and a sick individual—you come to me.”

Rock and roll subversion is rarely accomplished alone, and Homme has amassed a pretty impressive team of henchmen to help him on his mission. It’s not an overstatement to say Queens of the Stone Age features three of the most creative guitarists in rock music.

In addition to the innovative frontman, the current lineup includes Troy Van Leeuwen, a respected session musician who also moonlights with Tool’s Maynard Keenan in A Perfect Circle, and Dean Fertita who plays with Jack White in the Dead Weather (see sidebar). So, how do the three make room for all the side projects and still stay focused on the mothership?

“I think the way you live your life has such a massive impact on how long you do your art,” says Homme. “I’ve really staked everything on the fact that music is my religion and my philosophy. It’s how I explain myself when it’s difficult, it’s how I teach my kids, and how I live. I want the guys that are in Queens to unequivocally understand we’re here because we want to be, not because we need to be. So, everyone is encouraged to go do other things, and pick up as much knowledge as they can, so they can bring it home so we can pick through it and get inspired.”

As you will see, there is plenty in Villains to get inspired about. The trio brings a whole new bag of guitar licks and sonic strategies to the band’s already super distinctive sound. In the past, Homme has been reluctant to talk specifics about his sound. But clearly a new spirit of openness pervades his music, and during our conversation, he decided to share a few of his most interesting and provocative ideas.

I really enjoyed the almost uplifting rock and roll attitude on Villains. It’s “let’s have some fun and break some rules,” as opposed to “fuck you, I’m gonna go and shoot some smack.”
JOSH HOMME
I like the idea of putting an accelerant on somebody who is thinking, This is who I really wish I was, and this is what I really want to do. Saying “fuck you” is lame and boring. That’s uniting over what you don’t like. It’s too easy, and I have no interest in that.

For me, playing music is an escapism worth its weight in gold, and trying to do it in an artful manner is totally everything, man. My grandpa used to always say, if you can’t outsmart them, out-dumb them, and I feel like my calling is to out-stupid everybody.

That’s a good calling! On the cover of the album I noticed the devil is sitting next to you. He’s covering your eyes, but you’re seeing right through him.
Yeah, man. Everyone feels like they’ve got the devil on their back, or everyone is worried about the devil. But what if that’s your good buddy?

One of the roles of the devil is to go against the grain, which is essential to good rock and roll.
Totally. I think I’ve always felt like if everyone is doing it, how good could it be? There’s only a few instances of things that we all agree on, like Coca-Cola, and maybe like, two other things. On a very fundamental level, whatever bothers a lot of people is a really great place to start, especially if you do it with a nod and a wink. I think for me, that devil is about cutting loose. Life is too short to let fear drive. Now is all you’re ever going to get.

Are you a realist or an optimist?
Both. The realist has a bit of disdain for humanity. The optimistic side, however, believes in truth, to strive for something, to have a faith, and my faith is in rock and roll. My religion is in rock and roll. That’s how I question rules, and that’s how I say: you should think for yourself. That’s how I say: if you don’t make your own plans, you’re part of somebody else’s, and I simply refuse to do that. Defiance looks beautiful no matter who wears it.

Speaking of defiance, you recently recorded an album with Iggy Pop, one of the ultimate rock rebels. What was that like?
Doing Iggy’s record, Post Pop Depression, was the single coolest thing I’ve ever been allowed to be part of. It was a total recharge. It left me feeling like, “Let’s go get ’em, boys!” I love Iggy so much because I really try my best to live in the third truth—you know, yours, mine and what actually happened.

I think Iggy has been living in the third truth his entire life. He wrote this thing for me about what happened during the recording of his solo albums with David Bowie, The Idiot and Lust for Life, and it was so beautifully written because it was completely honest. You just read it and you go, “He never tries to take credit for anything that isn’t his. Nor is he trying to doll up what he did do.” It was just very matter of fact.

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