Them Crooked Vultures: Top Flight
Originally published in Guitar World, March 2010
Combine Led Zeppelin's blues-inspired riff rock with Nirvana's post-punk aesthetic and the stoner metal sounds of Queens of the Stone Age. What do you get? Them Crooked Vultures, rock's latest supergroup, featuring John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl and Josh Homme.
"All three of us have that gene that makes people want to do some crazy shit.” Dave Grohl is explaining the unlikely, but highly effective, chemistry of Them Crooked Vultures, the supergroup sensation that teams Grohl (on drums) with John Paul Jones (bass/keyboards) and Josh Homme (guitar and lead vocals). The group reflects the collective mojo of Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, the Foo Fighters, Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age and the Eagles of Death Metal. Or to look at it another way, the band’s membership represents two of rock’s most influential decades—the classic rock Seventies and alt-rock Nineties—harnessed to some of recent rock’s most aggressive tendencies.
It’s a recipe for greatness…or potential disaster. Can those different musical influences actually coalesce into something coherent? Can three major rock stars put aside their egos and play as one cohesive unit?
“We’re all out to do something classic here,” Homme says. “And I know that in order to do it you have to take some risks. Risk nothing, gain nothing.”
And the risk, in this case, has certainly paid off. Them Crooked Vultures are a glorious affi rmation of the enduring power of riff-driven rock. Their phenomenal success offers tangible and eloquent proof that rock’s different generations can speak to one another across the divide of decades and changing fashions. The band’s self-titled debut album alludes heavily to the power-trio heyday of Led Zeppelin and Cream. Yet the Vultures’ take on this legacy is distinctly 21st century—angular, jagged and deconstructed, with nothing taken for granted, and grainy sounds that fly at your head from some aural phantom zone located midway between analog filth and digital degeneracy.
“Josh Homme has got loads of chops,” Jones says. “But he’s very quirky. He doesn’t really do anything like anybody else. He’s always very exploratory in his tones and how the guitars are amplified. He looks at things in a different way.”
That includes the very nature of Them Crooked Vultures. Homme isn’t keen on referring to the band as a supergroup. And he’s dead set against calling it a side project. “I don’t do side projects,” Homme says. “And it would be a real shame if that word ‘supergroup’ were valid. To me, what that means is people cashing in on what they’ve done in the past as if it were what they just did.”
Actually, the burden of history was exactly what all three men were looking to escape when they gathered at Homme’s Pink Duck recording studio in Burbank, California. “I would have had a huge problem,” Homme says, “if I had gone in there thinking that I was going to compete with Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. But I’m just trying to be myself.”
Them Crooked Vultures grew out of a friendship that Grohl and Homme forged in the early Nineties, when Grohl dropped in at a show by Kyuss, the stoner-rock group Homme performed with from 1989 to 1995. The two musicians continued to rub shoulders on the L.A. rock scene after Grohl, in the wake of Nirvana, formed Foo Fighters and Homme created Queens of the Stone Age, but their friendship deepened when QOTSA toured with Foo Fighters in 2000 and Grohl played on the Queens’ 2002 album, Songs for the Deaf.
“When I started playing with Queens of the Stone Age, I realized that Josh and I have this musical connection that I don’t really have with anyone else,” Grohl says. “So after the Queens of the Stone Age project, I wanted to get back and jam with them again some time. But Josh and I never had the time; we were always on tour with our respective bands. We’d bump into each other out on the road and say, ‘Fuck sitting on a tour bus and doing interviews all day long. Man, let’s do a project!’ So then I had this idea. I said, ‘What if we called John Paul Jones?’ ”