As the guitarist and principal songwriter for Kyuss in the early-to-mid 90s, Josh Homme preached a form of musical conservatism. He and his mates in the Palm Desert, California, brigade rarely diverged from the groove heavy, doom-and-gloom sound that became their trademark.
Though Kyuss was an influential force within the stoner rock movement in which it was categorized along with bands like Fu Manchu and Monster Magnet, the desire to stay the Sabbath-esque course eventually led to a certain creative exhaustion. By the time the group dissolved in 1995, Homme wasnt even sure he wanted to play music anymore. Fortunately, a stint playing rhythm guitars in the Screaming Trees recharged his desire to rock.
When Homme formed Queens of the Stone Age, it was with the intention of being anything but conservative. The group embraces myriad styles, textures and tempos. Metal, grunge, punk, psychedelia, pop and even a tad of Led Zeppelin-style folk color the groups second album, Queens of the Stone Age II.
Lineup-wise, Queens is a malleable, loosely constructed unit. The band is currently touring as a four-piece. But there are plans to add a second drummer, as well as a vibraphone and steel drum player, to the stage mix later in the year. Queens of the Stones Age will spend part of its summer stalking the stage at Ozzfest.
Guitar.com: After the Kyuss breakup you lost interest in music and went back to college. What led to that disillusionment with rock?
Josh Homme: I would say I was disillusioned because the thing that I like the most and the thing that got me into music was the punk rock DIY mentality. Do it yourself is a great mentality until everyone realizes its true. Then everyone starts doing it. I just felt there were just so many bands and there were just so many ways to skin a cat. I began to feel like it didnt make any difference whether I was here or not. I guess I stopped feeling like a snowflake.
Guitar.com: You've said you want to go for a more minimalist sound with Queens of the Stone Age. Yet the new album also seems really expansive -- like the maelstrom of horns that ends I Think I Lost My Headache. What exactly are you trying to achieve with this band?
Homme: There's a robotic element to our albums, like the repetition of riffs. We also wanted to do a record that had a lot of dynamic range. We wanted to set it up in this band so we could play anything. We dont want to get roped in by our own music. If anyone has a good song (regardless of style) we should be able to play it.
Guitar.com: There is a stronger pop element to Queens of the Stone Age than there was with Kyuss. How much does that have to do with the fact that youre singing lead vocals now? You're voice has more nuances than John Garcias vocals in Kyuss.
Homme: I can't scream through a song. Also, it's important to find what my own voice is and not try to mimic John. With Kyuss, we had a desire not to be on the radio. We enjoyed saying no more than we did yes. So if there was something that seemed too much like a chorus, I would just cut it out in Kyuss. Queens is about censoring ourselves less. Just letting it be based on the song instead of making deliberate moves to manipulate things so it wont get on the radio.
Guitar.com: There is also a greater dynamic range and more sonic textures with Queens than there was with Kyuss.
Homme: Yeah, Kyuss was very deliberate in some ways. With bands we liked, we always listened to their first couple of records before they began to change. So we were very adamant about playing heavy groove music and never letting that change. By the same token you can paint yourself into a corner. We were extremely concerned with the they theory. It was like what would they think. Will they say we've sold out. That's not real good cycle to get yourself into because they will never be happy and you'll never know who they really are.
Guitar.com: Have you been able to open up more as a guitar player because of this more expansive approach to music?
Homme: It's pushed me to do things that I would have never even considered before, which is good. The search for textures had broadened the playing a lot.
Guitar.com: The staccato riffing style you use. Is that all part of the robot rock you were referring to?
Homme: That element of staccato playing is roughly like saying, Do it exactly the same and very rigid so that each stroke is identical. It's got that robotic element to it. Music is all based on delivery and it certainly changes the delivery of the song when I play that way. If it would be strummed a different way it would just be different.
Guitar.com: How about your guitar influences. I detect some Black Flag roots in some of your playing.
Homme: Absolutely. I've always been a huge Greg Ginn fan. Plus a number of other early punk rock stuff and Can had an impact. Im also influenced by different instruments and trying to translate that to the guitar. Anything that makes a noise, I try to translate that back to guitar. I play the guitar, but Ill play anything thats around.
Guitar.com: Could you give me an example of a sound from a different instrument or just a noise that you've translated to guitar?
Homme: The easiest one for me is anything that's percussion or drums. I'll take even one note and play it a bunch of different ways or just use one fret on the guitar, just creating long big, bends. I think a lot of people do that sort of stuff. Its based less on technique. Its a little more primal.
Guitar.com: How has the musical diversity in Queens impacted your audience? Im sure you attract a number of old Kyuss fans.
Homme: To be honest with you, I think some people dont like that. But I think there are a whole bunch of new people who do. Were more concerned with the people who are.
Guitar.com: Has this changed the guy-girl balance of your audience?
Homme: Yeah, in Kyuss that part was okay. But now I think its even more balanced. We don't see a slam pit. We see people dancing, which I would much rather see. Inevitably [with a band like Kyuss] a pit takes place where the best seats in the house would be. So it's like this big hole in the middle, right up front. Whats the point of that?
Guitar.com: So you guys really want to be listened to?
Homme: It's not even that. Its more like if you guys are going to do a bunch of activity, cant you just move around without having a bunch of hard-tails bounce off each other with their shirts off acting all angry? I guess were just not pissed off anymore.
Guitar.com: It sounds like you prefer Queens of the Stone Age to be this kind of nebulous musical entity that is always changing in terms of its music as well as its lineup.
Homme: Absolutely. It also pulls me away from being the traditional frontman. We've got other people in the band who sing as well. I like that ever-changing feeling. Weve set it up so we can get away with murder!
The Secret World of Josh Homme
Guitar.com: Tell me about the Desert Session series you're involved with, which seems like its based on a similar, anything goes premise. You bring musicians up to a recording studio in the Palm Desert area and just start rolling the tape machine. Did you start doing this before you started Queens?
Homme: Yeah. It was kind of a template for Queens. Desert Sessions is just a musical experiment. Some musicians know each other, others dont. You sterilize them and mentally test them and then ship them out to the desert in wood crates and get them to play together and switch instruments and write songs on the spot. They dont have to go on tour and there are no obligations. It's really cool. When I see reviews of the CDs that weve released from these sessions I laugh because its not meant for any of that. It's purely for listening. Its also kind of like recording school for me.
Guitar.com: Do you plan on continuing these sessions?
Homme: Yeah, though they are going to be fewer and farther between. But I don't see why it should stop. There's an endless supply of cool musicians out there. If someone came up to me and said, Do you want to show up for a weekend and play whatever instrument you want and whatever you want, I would like that.