Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age: 'Make the world you want to live in'

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Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age with Brian Oake
Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age with The Current's Brian Oake (courtesy Brian Oake)
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Brian Oake interviews Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age
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Queens of the Stone Age last visited Minnesota a little more than a month ago, when they played a show at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium on Oct. 14. Before that show, The Current's Brian Oake had a chance to interview QOTSA frontman Josh Homme.

Ahead of Queens of the Stone Age's return engagement in St. Paul — this time at the Palace Theatre on Sunday, Dec. 3 — we're publishing Oake's complete conversation with Homme.

During the interview, Homme talks about QOTSA's new album, Villians, and how it's OK to use the word "fun" to describe it. Homme also talks about his work with Iggy Pop, about reading children's stories on the BBC, and about why it's important to create the world you want to live in, and not wait to do that.

Use the audio player to hear the complete interview with Josh Homme, transcribed below.

BRIAN OAKE: Anybody who listens to [Oake & Riley in the Morning] for any length of time knows that I have a tendency to go on at length about my love of this band, their songs and their legacy. I'm happy to say, with this new record Villains, it's got all my favorite trademark things about Queens. There is the buzz saw riffs, there are all the weird/cool headphone elements that make it worth listening to while you're high at 2:45 in the morning … and there is also just the right amount of rock and roll menace to make you want to get a little closer, even though you're afraid. But, dare I say it, this record might be the most genuinely fun record they've ever done. Anyway, I'm lucky enough to be sitting next to front man Josh Homme. We're backstage right now. Josh, how are you?

JOSH HOMME: Hi. You have a beautiful, rich voice.

OAKE: I hope that's not going to make it weird between us.

HOMME: No, no. If I just shut my eyes, my blood starts to move.

OAKE: It's weird, because the same thing happens to me when I listen to your voice and the music that you make.

HOMME: Well, it's tit for tat.

OAKE: Okay, very good. The universe seeks a balance. Would you say that my description of the new record, Villains, is fair? That it's still definitely a Queens record, but it's still fun? Fun might be too simple. But, a joy to it?

HOMME: You've actually hit an interesting word because, for some reason, to say "fun" … it seems scary to say that. There's a connotation that's like: "Well, part of it is fun!" It's weird that that might turn someone off or give them the wrong impression when the notion of music is ultimately to express dark moments, explain yourself when you don't know what to say, how to be in love and then how to have a good time. Those are the primary directives. So it's weird that that word would almost feel a little uncomfortable. I would like to use that word, perhaps I'm focusing on it too much. But I think having a good time, and fun, is an element of that. I think there's an element of, what I would categorize as "take your pants off" that's always there. Perhaps that's my synonym for fun. I don't know why I have to address everything with removing parts of my own clothes, but that's just the way it goes.

OAKE: The only reason I bring up the "fun" part of it is, I still think it sounds like a Queens record, but if you go back a few years to Clockwork (a record we waited six years for, by the way). Not that I'm laying that on you, but I'm letting you know I waited a long time.

HOMME: I have no guilt.

OAKE: It was a heavy record. It was a deep record; it was a thoughtful record. Not that there weren't fun elements on it, but I feel like it required a little more emotional investment. This record, I feel like, if you want to, to borrow a phrase of yours: take your pants off and dance, you'd still be enjoying the record.

HOMME: The only thing that really matters to me is the respect that comes from reality. If you respect yourself, that's the gift you can give yourself and show to others and get it from others. It's all based in being as honest as you can. Now, records are the audio diary of a lifetime. For me, that's what it is. I can't help it if it gets dark like it did for Clockwork. Part of me felt that I wished I had another alternative at the time. But you don't, so you just don't even worry about it. So, I was glad that there was fun in the air this time, because it makes you want to breathe in those moments to try and get some of that inside. I do feel at the mercy of what we're doing so much of the time that I was relieved there was some fun.

OAKE: So, it's not necessarily you dictating? I know a lot of the old-school purists, especially if they go all the way back to Kyuss, when they heard the name Mark Ronson, a lot of people were like: "What the hell has happened to my band? What's going on?" Were you surprised by the backlash?

HOMME: No, I was expecting it. It would be safe to understand that I might have known that that was going to happen. I do believe that there's no stasis or static in life. You're growing or dying. And, I feel if I'm challenging myself and if we're challenging each other, we're going in the right direction. The by-product of that is that anyone that's into us should expect the poke in the chest because we're doing it to ourselves first. Part of me thinks that every time we put something out, we may lose 20 percent of the people. That 20 percent of the people might go: "It's changed! Where's my band that I had?" You can pre-suppose that. I told this to Ronson, "If 15 percent of the people don't hate you, you suck." He said: "I'm just trying to get it to 40."

OAKE: (Laughter) Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age. Backstage before their show here at the Roy Wilkins auditorium. By the way, for those who weren't paying close attention, a brand-new show just announced coming back on December 3, what with this sold-out show right here. In past records, just to talk a little bit more about this record, Villains, collaboration has always been a big part of what you do. But there seems to be less of it, at least featured artists and musicians, on this one than on previous efforts. Was that a conscious thing? Did it just happen that way?

HOMME: It's about mixing it up, ultimately. Many of the records have guests and then some don't. I suppose there are just easy responses to the last one. The last one was very difficult to make. So, you have a friend come over and they lift the spirits and alleviate the difficulties for a minute. And then we started saying: "Yeah, will you come over? Oh, you're in town? Come over!" All the sudden, it got funny. Like, that's nine people. How many could it be before it actually started to look bizarre? And the answer was 18. That's how many it ended up being.

OAKE: That's like two short of "We are the World," right? We're almost there at that point.

HOMME: It's just like "He's the World," basically.

OAKE: You've done a lot of that, and collaboration has been a big part of what you do throughout your career. It's less on this record, but did I hear the rumor right that Nikka Costa does some background vocals?

HOMME: Nikka Costa is the only guest on the record.

OAKE: Now, it's weird because that's a name that I've not ever heard anybody but like three other people say to me. But she's got two songs that make it on to virtually every mix that I ever put together. She's a fire brand. There's nobody like her. How do you know Nikka Costa?

HOMME: My friend Alain Johannes is close with her. In fact, I'd heard about her so much through him. Basically passing ships within minutes so many times. We needed a vocal for "Head Like A Haunted House" that was virtually impossible. And she walked in and did the stuff on "Head Like A Haunted House" that was so intense and incredible, that I thought: "Oh my god, what if you could do that? That would be amazing." Someone who has that kind of talent? I just thought, "I wonder what that's like? That must be incredible." Because to stand there and watch it was jaw dropping.

OAKE: His name his Josh Homme, and I thought I loved him before but I'm actually falling in love with him more with every passing moment. Just a few more questions and we'll let you get ready for the show tonight. Last time I saw you live; you were dressed in matching suits with the backing band for none other than the living legend, Iggy Pop. You were deeply involved in the album and the tour of his Post Pop Depression. I had so much fun that night, I can't even tell you. How does that even come to pass? How do you cross paths and suddenly you and Iggy Pop are deep collaborative partners?

HOMME: I've always been a fan of his. We knew each other as acquaintances and had met a few times and played a couple festivals and things like that. I just got a call from him and I don't know why. I hope it's because of caring about what you do and putting everything into it. If it's not, I don't want to know was it was. I'm a fan of music. I love music. So, to be a part of that at all, in any way, I would have done any of the jobs. Take out the trash, or whatever. To be part of making a statement with him or being there when he wants to make a statement because I know it's completely real, coming from him. So, I was like you when I was on the stage, but I was watching it all go by thinking: "I'm so glad I'm here." Also, not being strapped to a mic and just being able to play guitar and dance around and enjoy myself…

OAKE: That was a thing I noticed. Obviously, you're having a great time when you're fronting a Queens show. But watching everyone … there's the spectacle, there's the dance, there's the whole blinding thing that everyone's watching. I don't know that I've ever seen you smile as much onstage or look as free and as loose and enjoying yourself so deeply back there.

HOMME: Well, I also think the distance of being a fan of his music and wanting to really respectfully play it as close to what it sounded like, versus Queens. There's a lot of fun in it, there's a lot of art in it and there's also a lot of darkness in it. Sometimes, when Queens is playing, I get accidentally hung up in the darkness of it all. And also, I don't try to control where it's going. If it gets dark, I'm happy to go there. It can get dark when you watch us play. But when you watch Iggy, it reminds me of the Tasmanian Devil, it's just like a whirlwind with legs and arms coming out of it. That view, from the edge, is gorgeous. Dangerous, but gorgeous though.

OAKE: That's rock and roll though, right?

HOMME: Yeah, absolutely.

OAKE: This might be the opposite end of rock and roll, but the last thing I want to do is rob you of any of your rock mystique. We are talking to Josh Homme, lead man of Queens of the Stone Age. Very recently, and the internet has fallen in love with it (particularly the English, who by the way, are more obsessed with you than anybody I've ever seen anywhere in my life), you recently did a segment on the BBC network, CBeebies, where you read a bedtime story. I think some people might find a little dichotomist in that we are looking at this dangerous, swaggering rock front man who suddenly … I want to lay my head on his lap and have him tell me this delightful story!

HOMME: Those are your words, not mine.

OAKE: How did that happen? Did someone approach you and say: "We've had great luck with singers doing this before"? Or how did it come to pass?

HOMME: I asked them if I could do it.

OAKE: Really?

HOMME: Yeah, it's one of the few things that I've asked for because I'm also a father. And I really want my kids to like me.

OAKE: I've been working on that for a long time.

HOMME: I want them to see me doing things so that they want to do things. I would love it if those things that I'd be doing were for them. Because then, it would be the right circle. They're watching me do stuff, they want to do stuff. Forget talking about stuff; go out and do stuff. It's for them, so it's coming back around and pushing them forward again. All I'm doing is reading a bedtime story. That's it. It's not much to ask, in a way.

OAKE: It's not much, but it is kind of everything at the same time. That being said, it's one thing to be young and be like: "We're gonna rock and nothing matters. It's all gonna burn to the ground anyway." But then you have kids and you have a family, does it change the way that you approach what you do and the aspect that you put out? Does it influence the art that you make, knowing that they're going to hear it at some point?

HOMME: No. I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. I have attempted many things I have thought I knew. There are certain people that ask me: "What about feelgood hit of the summer?" And all this other stuff, which is really just a list that does not endorse nor condemn. They're just saying words. Because I've always been obsessed, in that George Carlin/Bill Hicks way, with the philosophy of life and making fun of it, and poking it. I know there's this construct and we're all living here, but that doesn't mean that I agree with it. That doesn't mean that I am here to water it and put it in the sun. Part of what I want to do is burn it. I just want to be able to feel like we're not in a photo-op or doing rhetoric. You just go ahead and say it. If we're going to play a game, why play the game where you don't say how you really feel and what you really want? Or, you don't really try for what you want? Let's play the game where you just go ahead and do it. Many people don't feel like they have that luxury. They think of it as a luxury. I totally understand that, too. I have had terrible jobs when I was younger. I understand that notion of feeling trapped. I really feel adamant about trying to represent that feeling of "No, no, no, tonight is ours." With the people that we're playing for, because they paid, and so I want to give it away. I want them to have their battery charged. I want my kids to see that too. "Question everything" — a lot of people say that, but I'm also like: "Burn some of it, too, and don't even ask." I know what people want you to do, because they'll tell you all day long. But why don't you do what you want to do instead? Because you only live once, and that's it. I know that you should try to make the world you want to live in, and you shouldn't wait. That's plenty for me, to get going. And it's plenty for them to get started. They'll end up knowing more than I will, hopefully because of that, or partially because of that.

OAKE: His name is Josh Homme. I can't imagine a question I could ask that's going to engender a better answer than that. It's being really nice to meet you, and I appreciate all the time. Good luck with the tour, and thank you for waving to my daughter. You've literally made her night and mine just as much. Good luck with the new record, good luck with the tour and really nice to meet you.

HOMME: Thank you, likewise.

OAKE: Brian Oake backstage right now at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stoneage. Its 89.3 The Current.

Produced by Anna Reed
Transcribed by Hanna Bubser

Resources


Queens of the Stone Age - official site

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