Queens of the Stone Age's Joshua Homme

Queens of the Stone Age's Joshua Homme
The anticipation for the Queens of the Stone Age's fifth album, Era Vulgaris, is high. Perhaps the most eager fan awaiting its June 12 release is the band's front-man/singer/songwriter/guitarist Joshua Homme. Managing to keep his excitement despite an ailing back, Homme sat down with Exclaim! to discuss fatherhood, the new album and the comfort he feels hanging out at the Bovine Sex Club whenever he rolls into Toronto.

Cam Lindsay: How’s the back?
Joshua Homme: Sucks. Note to everybody else: don’t lift studio gear without using your legs. If you see someone you like give them a heads up.

For posterity’s sake, can you pronounce your last name? Everyone seems to get it wrong…
It’s "Homme” – like "mommy” or "Tommy.” In Europe it’s pronounced "om,” so when in Rome… but if we’re in North America it’s "Hommy.” Thanks for doing that, it’s good of you. I grew up in a small town and there were four Joshuas in my class, and so it was only last names. It wasn’t until I was 18 and left to go on tour that no one ever pronounced it wrong. And when they did get it wrong, I was like "What’s wrong with you man?!” Now I realise it has too many possibilities…

Did becoming a dad have any profound effect on your songwriting or how the band now operates?
Songwriting, no. A lot of people told me, "Oh you’ll see.” And I’ve always been scared of things like that and what they call the "40 curse” — which is where you turn 40 and start to suck immediately. I’m far from that one and the family thing… I guess what I did was that I didn’t think about it at all. I wouldn’t take back "Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” I kinda want to put it out again, in a way. What it did, I guess, was reinforce what I thought before. I’m into balance, and I like to go to the extremes, but only for a moment. I like individualism, I hate equality. [Laughs.] Scheduling wise, yes, because now there’s something I love more than life itself. So, I wanna be around. It changes that aspect a little bit, but that’s just life.

Were there any different intentions when you started writing and recording Era Vulgaris?
I’ve always understood what kind of direction we were headed, which is still vague because it’s not about, "We’re gonna do this goddammit and that’s it!” It’s more, let’s go north, and then you find what you find going in the direction of north. This time around it was interesting because we could do anything. It turns out that it’s actually kind of a difficult situation at first though. When you can do anything, you’re like, "Well, where the hell do we start?” So it took a moment to get rolling because we were putting together pieces and writing when we got into the studio.

You know, if you go far enough north you reach Canada…
I know we do! Hence why we often go there.

Yeah, I hear you guys like to frequent the Bovine Sex Club when you’re around…
I’ve been there a bunch of times. I don’t dislike it, but I don’t have any plans to ask it to dinner. Everyone there is nice and have been really good to us. We’re very Cheers in that way — you go where you’re comfortable.

The décor is definitely something to behold…
Damn, every time I go in there I’m so drunk I never notice. Why what is it?

They have a whole lotta shit glued to the wall.
Oh, like Friday’s but on acid! Okay, well I like to view knickknacks… though I don’t like it in my own area.

I read the last album took a toll on the band. How did you change things to make it a smoother process?
Just to make sure it’s understood right, the recording of Lullabies to Paralyze was really beautiful and simple. We were done in 28 days, and it just happened so naturally and flowed perfectly. Most of the songs were written in advance and we got a chance to meet Billy [Gibbons of ZZ Top] and it felt like we were answering the situation that was going on. And that situation was really difficult. So I felt like I was trying to get it back to music and not necessarily such a focus on people. But there was no real way to escape that, so I felt that, on paper, this shouldn’t make people understand how we feel and what’s going on. I think there was just too much chaos going on around it and I was feeling a little too sick in the head. So we stopped touring and I went home to do the laundry and the dishes, because that’s what you should do when the music is kicking your ass up and down. But that allowed us to get it back to music for this. I realized that it just didn’t happen at the pace that I was hoping, but I feel really hyper about this record. Like, I almost leaked it the other night when I was shitfaced. I want people to hear it. I want to set it free; get it out of the fuckin’ milk-fed cage that it’s in right now and let ’er rip!

So, as far as you know it hasn’t leaked yet?
No, it hasn’t. What we’ve been doing is giving our fans as much content as we can without giving it away. I like surprises and I’m surprised at how many people just can’t wait. They gotta stick their finger in it. So, we’ve been giving them little pieces of it so they’re not so adamant about finding someone that has the record and then beating them down and uploading it.

You’ve described the album as "dark, hard and electrical, sort of like a construction worker.” Could you elaborate on that a little?
[Laughs.] Umm… yeah, well the construction worker part just came to me in a flash of idiocrity — which isn’t even a word, I suppose. I think Queens have always had a sense of doing some kind of dark pop oriented thing; I love hooks and things that just grab you right away. I think this record’s harder than the last record. It’s like someone ripped out a big electrical cord and shoved it into the ass of this record, y’know. Everything seems to have this sort of electrical fuzz around it. And there’s a lot more broken keyboard work. Troy [Van Leeuwen, multi-instrumentalist] is excellent at imitating the death of a robot. So, it’s a lot more mechanical. The construction worker part was more of a Village People thing… which really isn’t on the record, but y’know, it’s the Village People.

I thought the band finally had a solid line-up, but then you added two new members in April. How durable is this version of QOTSA???
[Laughs.] Well, the way I look at it is like this: the band is an engine and when parts go bad you can put in other parts by various makers and they work. But ultimately you’re looking for parts that fit properly and make the engine work the way it should. It takes a long time to find those people — it took me 15 years to find Joey [Castillo, drummer] and Troy. Troy smells terrific and Joey’s Mexican — it just makes everything great! So, in the studio it was just Alan Johannes recording and mixing, me and [Chris] Goss producing, and Joey and Troy playing everything they could get their hands on — it was a family affair. And we all switched around and argued about who was gonna play bass. Now everyone wants to play bass in our band. For touring though, that just wouldn’t work, so we found this guy Mikey Shoes [aka Michael Shuman], a bass player, and then Deano [aka Dean Fertita], who was playing in the Raconteurs for the last year and half, played keys and other things — he’s a man with many hats. He kinda looks like Troy’s cousin from Detroit, so we call him the "Dark Twin.” Just to be able to throw down everything live, it’s really charged the band up. We’re really psyched about how we sound right now, it’s really good.

There are some pretty cool guests on the album. Was that planned or did they just stop by while you were in the studio?
I talked to Jules [Julian Casablancas, singer of the Strokes], when I was on tour with the Eagles of Death Metal, who were touring with the Strokes, and this idea of doing something just came together. One of the things that Jules mentioned was that he’s never done a record without feeling that everything was on the line. So, I was like, "Fuck, we’ve never done a record that way.” I thought it would be cool… I really respect the guy and think he’s a great songwriter — I’ve been a Strokes fan since the first record. I thought it would be a cool mix, because to me the first Strokes record and the first Queens record have a lot in common: they’re very angular, they’re very raw, it’s just bam, bam, bam songwise. So, I thought he would understand the robotic throw to what we’re doing. He came for a couple days and the song "Sick, Sick, Sick” was the one that came together.

As far as the debut albums for both your bands go, both of them also feature the lower of the female body. There’s another tie…
Yeah, that’s right. [Laughs.] "This one is free, my friend!”

Is the Trent Reznor track ["Era Vulgaris”] going to be on the album?
No, it’s just on the net for free. There’s a multitude of little things: we knew we were gonna give a song away and that it should be something that easily could have been on the record. It was funny to us that it was the title track. And it was funny because we could hear our label saying, "You’re giving away our marketing plans!”

This is the second straight album that you’ve used songs from Desert Sessions 9 & 10. Are those songs always up for consideration on a Queens of the Stone Age album?
I think there are a lot of great songs from the Desert Sessions, and I kind of do them and it doesn’t really matter if the sessions come out, it’s more of an excuse to get everyone together. It’s really there to see a "this one time at band camp” sort of thing happen. Musicians want to play with other musicians, and they don’t get the chance or their bands are too constrictive, and I think it’s just a great opportunity to ask one of the great questions: do you remember why you started playing? Because there’s an excitement there where you don’t know everybody and you put your best foot forward, and you’re learning from these people. So these great compositions come out of that, and some of them should see the light of day a little more. And there have been times when I’ve brought something that I knew was for Queens and early on, there wasn’t enough songs, so I put "Avon” on there, the first record, knowing that it was gonna go on the first record. And "Millionaire” was another one that I knew was gonna there [on 2002’s Songs For the Deaf]. I look at it like a song bank; we cover songs too live just to do it, and I wish more of the people that have done them did that, but maybe they just don’t like them.

Can we expect more Desert Sessions?
I’m gonna do them forever. This record actually took longer than we thought it would, and we didn’t put a time frame on it, and it really steamrolled the opportunity to do more Desert Sessions, which was a bummer. It’s just like a mix-tape and I want to do it till it reaches 120; there’s no reason to ever really stop it.

Songs from the new album are to be featured in four different videogames [Guitar Hero 3, Rock Band, Madden 08 and NASCAR 08]. Are videogames something that appeals to you guys or is it just to get the music heard?
I like videogames because they’re just forever, y’know. Plus, every once in a while I play them on the road, but I can’t too often because I get addicted to them. It feels like a way to introduce yourself to new kids that isn’t the radio. I don’t really think people listen to the radio anymore, so it’s a way for them to trip on this stuff. They’re gonna put some band on there, so why not us? I like to do things that aren’t… like we’re doing all of this online content, like videos, for this lightbulb that’s on our record cover. The new one is really funny and it makes me closer to what I’d like to be: which is an art house. Because there really is a community of artists around us; we’re not just Queens — there’s Eagles, Methods of Reality, Liam Lynch — it’s a whole group of folks, and there are a few studios in there, and graphic artists, etc. I’d really like to work like Andy Warhol’s Factory, y’know. That model of what was going on really appeals to me, to make stuff no matter what it is.

Are you looking forward to playing one of your songs on Guitar Hero 3?
I can’t play that game — I blow ass. It’s so contrary to playing guitar. I already have a Casio digital guitar, and that already looks lame on me. There was this kid on YouTube playing a game like Guitar Hero in Japan and it’s the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen. It’s so gnarly, that you’ll shit someone else’s pants!

Rumours have been circulating about a Kyuss reunion. Is there one in the works?
Someone asked me about a Kyuss reunion and being offered a lot of money, but that has nothing to do with it. I don’t see a need to do a reunion because it’s not what it was, it’s what it is. Kyuss is something I’m real proud of, and I think Kyuss fans are fucking awesome, and I think they’d be bummed if their impression of it got ruined. I’m not as interested in new people as I am the people that are into it from right now back. I don’t need to make any new Kyuss fans, I just wanna have the current fans not have what they believe in us tarnished… because I’m one of those people too. I wouldn’t want to risk it looking like it was for money either, because that would never be the case. It’s got a really cool legacy and it’d be a shame to jeopardize it for no reason. It’s a surefire way to blow it. A good buddy of mine said to never do a reunion or a sequel. I think that’s good advice.

So that gig you played in December with John Garcia was just a one-off?
It happened just ’cause I love John. We were just like, "Let’s do something cool that would trip everyone out.” I didn’t think it would create such a reaction like, "Oh, are you guys gonna do something?” But it really has come up a lot. In a way we’re like, "Well that’s really cool people are interested,” and in another way we’re like, "Oops!"