Though you wouldn't know it from their discography, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme has been through a lot in the past year. He's been through surgery twice, and on one of those occasions complications got so bad he was bedridden for nearly three months. Apart from a series of reissues, his main band has been relatively quiet since 2007's Era Vulgaris. In that time, he's released a record apiece with Eagles of Death Metal and Them Crooked Vultures. He's also expecting a second child, he's given up smoking, and he's even started exercising. This all gave the impression that Homme had made some pretty crucial decisions in his life after 17 years on non-stop recording and touring. I caught up with Homme for a decidedly more personal conversation than what you usually expect to get from a rock star. Catching him in rehearsals for an upcoming Australian tour for their debut's reissue, I found a man who was surprisingly open and willing to talk about his life at this critical juncture in his career, and what exactly he hopes to accomplish now that he feels revitalized.
I want to start before music, because you've had a few health issues along the way, from what I've been reading. What happened to your knees?
Well, just heredity, I guess. My grandpa had his knees replaced, and I don't have any hobbies so I thought I'd have some knee surgery.
How did it get so life-threatening?
No, had trouble re-oxygenating me. And getting the tube in my throat and it went even more south from there. They couldn't wake me up, and I could've choked to death.
And then the next thing you know you're in the hospital for three months. That's some pretty major damage to be in there for that long.
I was in the hospital for 12 or 13 days, and then I was in bed at home for the next few months, which was awful. And then, last week I just had wrist surgery. I'm into surgeries lately.
What happened to your wrist?
I had breast augmentation on my left wrist. It started hurting just a while back and there was no way around it, I had to fix a tendon.
I suppose I'm asking all this because last year I spent some time in a hospital and I know that when you're just kind of lying there in that bed, and waiting for stuff to get better, you just end up thinking about what you've done and where you'll go. Was it a significant time for you in that way?
Yeah, as you said, you kind of head-scratch a little in a hospital and say, "What have I done to get here?" If you've never been injured before, when it happens that first time, you sorta go, "Okay, how do I not repeat this?" It becomes a real priority. I gotta say, I left there saying, "Why do I play music and what am I doing? Why am I still doing this? I make another record and go on tour? What, do I just do that forever?" And, sort of lost the plot for music for a second.
Those feelings weren't there before the hospital?
Everyone goes through their ups and downs, and has different emotions about what it is they do. But all of a sudden it was overwhelming. It was like, I need something else, or I need to find the plot for music, or I'll have trouble doing it anymore. At the end of the day we have these obligations because I was re-releasing the first record. The obligations of going to Australia and doing some other stuff. And we started trying to play the first record note perfect. And honestly that started to re-inspire me — it just took me back for a second, where I had a chance to remember where I was when I first started doing this. I'm a bit of a fatalist, so I took it as a sign. I started getting sort of inspired and excited about playing music again, and even if it was just to repeat the headspace I was in, which was all about repetition anyways for me. 'Cause the first record is about — it's almost an examination of trying to be a robot, you know?
Between the Kyuss, QOTSA stuff, and all the other projects that came along the way, you've had a pretty long run of. Is this the first time that sinking of creativity happened to come along?
Yeah, it's the first time. So I'm basically used to having 20 songs ahead of whatever record we're going to do. So there's always this surplus of songs and music and inspiration and direction. And then all of a sudden you find yourself lying in a hospital bed, aimless and like what the fuck? And it was confusing and frustrating, and I think I was sort of feeling a little sorry for myself. Which I'm not into, because I generally don't feel bad for myself.
I believe you make your own breaks, and you just work hard, and you shut the fuck up. I think you put your head down when things are getting hard, and you work more. Take the trash out if you feel sorry for yourself. Do some dishes, do your own laundry. I don't think you necessarily have to do artistic work in that moment. What you need to do is work your way through it.
And the hospital is just the opposite of that.
It's because you're a slave to something that no one has any control over. You can't control this. When you just wake up and there are problems and you're just lying there, you're stuck. You kind of a prisoner and a slave. I like to have a good time, but I've never been a slave to any drugs or anything like that. Just being on pain medication because you have to be for a little bit, it's awful. Taking them for their actual use? What a waste.
You said that once you started playing that first album again, things started to come back. It had been a while since QOTSA had released anything new — were there any issues with that group of guys being back together trying to start from scratch?
No. Part of what happened to me made me think of not being in a hurry, of enjoying the moment and not always being in a rush to jump back on the wheel and get it to spin. And right now, the idea of just jumping in and making a new record right away, it's just not — we'll get a record out this year, and I want to enjoy that process. I don't want to push so hard that I'm just burnt out, because I feel like that's what got me there in the first place. I've had my head down working for 16, 17 years, and I don't want to burn out on this thing that I love so much.
And I guess you just found out that you're having a second kid, too.
I know, and I just found out that everyone else found out.
I know. I just saw that online that you just found out that everyone else found out. Congratulations, by the way.
And it was my wife who told everyone and then everyone told me that she told them. So, it was a weird vicious circle.
But that's pretty exciting news, given the hospital situation and going back into the studio and kind of just revitalizing everything.
Yeah, I'm really excited. Honestly, being a father is like my favourite thing, so to be able to have two short people in my house is awesome. I'm trying to quit smoking and shit too, so I'm trying to exercise and boxing, and between that and taking my kid to school there's not time for much else.
It really sounds like everything's up for change at this point.
I've always felt like I was running on hot coals, and it's kept me from feeling like I was ever in a rut or feeling stuck in a loop. And like I said, I think when you're lying there and you're like, "What the fuck am I doing?" It's one of those questions you have time to ask. And whether it's true if you should be asking that or not, you need to answer. And it needs to get answered. It's a very contemplative time. And I don't know if I've always had too much to do to be that way, or if I was afraid to do it.
Once the question pops into your head it's impossible to get rid of it.
Yeah, until you really have to answer it for real. And it's never come up, it's never been necessary before. So what do you do? What the fuck am I doing, and should I even be doing this? And honestly, I'm sitting there thinking, should I be doing interviews and stuff like that? Who cares what I have to say. You start to ask those kinds of questions.
But digging into this kind of stuff is interesting.
You know, ideally that's what you get to: "No, I have something interesting to say, and there's something that needs to be discussed." But when you're in the middle, when you haven't answered it yet and you having these life questions, and you're lying in bed, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the pressure to answer them.
I'm used to being from the medical school of "walk it off." The first thing you do is wait and see what happens. My doctor was saying that's not exactly the proper diagnosis for feeling pain.
How is this changing your outlook on writing new material? Has it changed the process of how you go about it?
I love this Man Ray quote: "My work has always been and always will be about two things: pleasure and freedom." I feel like that has always been the goal. And with every record, I'm trying to make myself a little more enlightened about my position in the world, even though I write about a lot of dark imagery and subject matter. I feel like a fish that's fixated on a beautiful lure. That's all I want to look at, you know, the beautiful things.
And I guess you can see the lure again for the first time in awhile.
Yeah, and I see the reason it's a lure. I don't want to focus on anything that I don't like. I don't want to spend time on shit like that. I've written a lot of songs that are basically love songs but are sort of masked in longing or obsession or trouble. I feel like in finding a way to voice stuff, the most difficult thing you can ever say is "I love you." So I feel like voicing stuff that is much more complicated, like that. But in my way, which I suppose has a dark and sick wrap, right.
And still pretty heavy.
Well, heavy is more of an accident for me.
How do you mean that?
I'm not necessarily into heavy music. I think of heavy as being delivery. The way you deliver something instead of being distortion. I guess it just turned out to be distorted and heavy. The way I think about it, I've never deliberately tried to be the steamroller. It just is.
We're about to play this festival in Australia, and there's everything from High on Fire to Slayer to Sum 41 to Social Distortion to the Melvins. Lots and lots of heavy bands, and we're in here rehearsing and we're saying I think we're heavy in a different way than those bands, although I like many of those bands. I like the Melvins and I love Slayer, but I also like fucking Björk, you know. That's not to say those other guys don't, but I guess I feel different than the heavy music scene.
Well, I guess that was the difference between the QOTSA and Kyuss before that. Now that Kyuss is getting back together, the offer must have been on the table for you to go there. I guess you decided not to.
I love what it was and what it was isn't what it is. I respect it so much, but I don't want to go back there. I just want to keep going forward. I think it's awesome that they're doing that and I was blown away that their shows sold out like immediately.
Have you seen their new show?
I wouldn't because I don't want the pressure of someone seeing me and saying "Go up there". It would make me want to go "Fuck you," which is not what I want to say. But I'm stoked that they're doing it.
So what can we expect out of a new Queens album at this point? You're saying it's coming out this year and I guess it's going to be slow-going in the studio. Have you guys already been in the studio? Is there song-writing already underway?
Yeah, we've already started to write. I guess the first record rehearsals are starting to sort of be like gravy over the top of what we're doing. It's sort of permeating what we're doing now. It's kind of bluesy and trancey, and a little bit kind of smoky, hazy. It's hard to describe.
I guess you could say it's going back to the basics of where everything started?
Well, it's very simple and repetitive and has a very sort of bluesy, trancelike quality. Like, it's in no fucking hurry, you know? And I think that's almost like the mantra right now, don't feel the pressure to be in a hurry.
Are the rest of the guys on the same page?
Yeah, actually. What's funny is that a couple of us are all going through the same kind of thing at once. Doing these first rehearsals has been really great because it's realigned everyone on the same plot. Everyone was firing in a different direction, and it sort of regained the plot of Queens. This kind of intense examination of the first record is good.
I suppose you can say that's rare. When you find success, it's natural for people to drift off in their own directions and start trying new things. But to be able to come back together like that is not always something that happens easily.
Well, there's sort of a relief that we're back together with everyone, too. Because this is the touchstone for everybody, and as you just said, it's a relief that we're all paralleling each other because we're all friends no matter what. But to artistically parallel all your friends, sometimes, many times, everybody kind of peels off and goes in different directions. And that's okay. Lots of times people get angry and it's like "I can't play with you anymore." They get angry. But it's really just acknowledging that you're going in different directions. I get more thankful for the time that was there already. What's nice is that everyone still on the same parallel together, right now.