Troy Dean Van Leeuwen (born January 5, 1970, Los Angeles, California, United States) is an American musician and producer. Van Leeuwen began playing music at a young age and started playing guitar at age 13. Soon Van Leeuwen was playing in various local bands such as Jester with lead vocalist Eric Book, 60 Cycle and later Failure. During this time, Van Leeuwen also worked as a session musician for various bands and met guitarist Billy Howerdel, who later recruited Van Leeuwen to play guitar in his and Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan's alternative rock supergroup A Perfect Circle. The band's debut album Mer de Noms became the highest ever debut for a rock band, with 188,000 copies sold in its first week.
After recording three tracks on A Perfect Circle's second album, Van Leeuwen successfully auditioned for Josh Homme's Queens of the Stone Age, and was welcomed into the band as their second guitar player. In addition to guitar, Van Leeuwen was also required to play lap steel and keyboards. Since joining the band in 2002, Van Leeuwen has played on three studio albums - Lullabies to Paralyze in 2005, Era Vulgaris in 2007 and ...Like Clockwork in 2013 - as well as recorded with various band members' side projects such as the Desert Sessions, Mondo Generator, Eagles of Death Metal and the Gutter Twins. He created his first side project, Enemy in 2005, but currently is with his new side project, Sweethead.
Early life and career
Van Leeuwen was born January 5, 1970 in Los Angeles, California. His surname is Dutch (he has ancestors from the Netherlands and has described himself as a third-generation American). He became interested in music at an early age and his dad would play early rock and roll records such as Chuck Berry. His first big influence in learning how to play rock came through listening to Led Zeppelin records. Playing drums initially, Van Leeuwen sought to imitate Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham, but later switched to guitar and discovered that he had an aptitude for it. He cites Jimmy Page as a big influence:
I would have to say that Jimmy Page was the first influence I had as a guitar player. There were so many textures and different sounds that he got. The riffs that he made were undeniably great. Every one of them. Even the mistakes he made were great. So to me, that was a great first influence.
In the late 1980s Van Leeuwen played in Jester, a successful southern California band fronted by vocalist Eric Book. Jester released an EP, which is the earliest and most rare recording of a 16-year-old Van Leeuwen. He then played in a small band called Little Boots, with which he recorded a number of demos and played a few shows before the band's breakup. His next band was 60 Cycle, which released their debut "Pretender" in 1995, and their self-titled album the following year. It was during his time in 60 Cycle that Van Leeuwen met Kellii Scott, and the two started working on a project (later to be known as Enemy). Van Leeuwen went on to play in Failure. The band released three records and didn't enjoy any commercial success, but was praised by critics as a talented and almost revolutionary group. It was during a tour with Failure when Troy met former Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme, who was presently playing rhythm guitar with The Screaming Trees. After the breakup of Failure, Troy went on to be a session musician and recording engineer, working with groups such as Orgy, Crazy Town, Coal Chamber and KoRn.
A Perfect Circle
It was during his time as a session musician that Troy met Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan, who offered him a spot in his and Billy Howerdel's new band A Perfect Circle. Due to the band's lineup of talented musicians and good chemistry, Troy accepted the invitation. The band played their first show at LA's Viper Club Reception on August 15, 1999. After playing shows in Los Angeles, the band entered the studio to begin work on their debut album. Soon drummer Tim Alexander was replaced with session drummer Josh Freese; however, Alexander's performance can still be heard on the album version of the song "The Hollow". After completing the recording of the band's debut album, Mer de Noms, the band began touring, initially as the opening act for Nine Inch Nails in 2000. Later the band embarked on a number of headlining tours around the world, including the Canadian festival, Summersault. Mer de Noms was released on May 23, 2000, while the band was on tour. The album marks the highest ever debut for a new rock band, selling over 188,000 copies in its first week, and appearing at number four on the Billboard 200.
Queens of the Stone Age
On A Perfect Circle's second album Thirteenth Step, Troy recorded guitars for only three tracks before successfully auditioning for a spot in Josh Homme's Queens of the Stone Age. After outperforming Jeordie White and others in the audition, Troy was welcomed as the band's second guitarist for their Songs For The Deaf tour. Besides playing guitar, Troy also performed on lap steel guitar, keyboards, backing vocals and occasionally bass guitar. Due to the band's schedule, Troy had only one week to learn 30 songs before the tour began. For the European leg of the album's supporting tour, Dave Grohl left to return to his main band Foo Fighters. He was replaced with former Danzig drummer Joey Castillo. Songs for the Deaf was a critical and commercial success, and the singles "No One Knows" and "Go with the Flow" became hits on both radio and MTV. The tour culminated in a number of headline dates in Australia in January 2004.
Troy's first recording with QOTSA was Lullabies to Paralyze. The band entered the studio with long-time collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Alain Johannes, who replaced Nick Oliveri on the album. Troy aimed to fill in some of the gaps in the music where he felt the sound could be expanded through atmospheric and ambient textures made by guitar, lap steel and piano. The album (the title of which is taken from a lyric in Mosquito Song from Songs for the Deaf) featured several guest appearances, most notably ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, who performed backing vocals and lead guitar on "Burn the Witch" and the ZZ Top cover Precious and Grace. Despite reportedly turning down an invitation to remain with the band, Mark Lanegan recorded vocals on new tracks, and appeared with the band on the supporting tour when scheduling and his health permitted. The album was leaked onto the internet in February 2005, and was aired by Australian radio on 3 March 2005 as an unsubstantiated 'World Premiere'. The album was then officially released on March 22, 2005 in the USA, and debuted as number 5 on the Billboard Music Chart: the greatest initial success of any QOTSA record to date. On November 22, 2005, the band released a live album/DVD set called Over the Years and Through the Woods, which featured a live concert filmed in London, and bonus features (including rare videos dating from 1998 to 2005).
After touring to support the album, the band headed back into the studio in July 2006. A year later, Troy reported that the band had written new material that was "still in its infancy", which Homme later suggested might be released as an EP. This matured into their 2007 release Era Vulgaris, to which Van Leeuwen contributed a significant amount of material.
Several sites reported that the album would include many guest vocalists, including Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails, Julian Casablancas from The Strokes, Mark Lanegan, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and wittingly, deceased humorist Erma Bombeck. Josh Homme described the record as "dark, hard, and electrical, sort of like a construction worker". Era Vulgaris was completed in early April 2007 and released in June 2007 in the U.S. The tracks "Sick, Sick, Sick" and "3's & 7's" were released as singles in early June. Bassist Michael Shuman (Wires On Fire, Jubilee) and keyboardist Dean Fertita (The Waxwings, The Raconteurs) took over touring duties from Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider respectively.
Following a subsequent interview with Homme, The Globe and Mail reported that the EP "could contain as many as 10 B-sides recorded during the Era Vulgaris sessions." It was since reported however that the EP would not be released due to the record label's unwillingness to put out another QOTSA release at this time. In a September issue of NME Magazine, Josh Homme stated that he was going back to make the new QOTSA and Desert Sessions records along with remastering the 1998 self-titled album for an early 2009 release. Homme also stated Queens' new album is going to be a "desert orgy in the dark".
Other musical work
In 2005, Troy released Hooray For Dark Matter with his sideproject Enemy. The album features bassist Eddie Nappi from the Mark Lanegan Band, and his former bandmate from Failure Kelli Scott on drums (who had replaced Quicksand's Alan Cage). Troy describes Enemy as his "big, dumb rock trio", and "a vehicle driven by pure and utter disgust of mediocrity and general frustration with the human condition". During Troy's time with A Perfect Circle, Enemy recorded a five track demo in what Troy called "Guerilla-style recording" at various studios. The band (unusually) offered to be signed by a record label by advertising for the princely sum of $250,000 on Ebay. Enemy was ultimately signed by Control Group/TCG, who released their debut album. After joining the Queens of the Stone Age, Troy also has contributed music to band members' various side projects: such as The Desert Sessions, Mondo Generator, Eagles of Death Metal, The Gutter Twins and Mark Lanegan's solo album Bubblegum. After the Era Vulgaris tour's end, Troy began touring with his current side project, Sweethead.
According to Troy, Queens of the Stone Age (and Homme in particular) have a "veil of secrecy" regarding their exact setup, in order to maintain a unique guitar sound. However, Troy eventually disclosed some information regarding his gear. During the Lullabies to Paralyze period, Troy favored semi-hollow guitars due to their natural resonance. To prohibit "bad feedback", he stuffed pieces of foam into the F-holes of some. On Era Vulgaris he switched to Fender Telecasters and Jaguars, recorded through small, cheap amps. All of his guitars were fitted with a variety of Seymour Duncan pickups, most often Customs or JB. His guitars are tuned in standard 440, E, E♭, D and C tunings. He uses Ernie Ball 10 to 52 for standard tuning, and heavy jazz gauge 12 to 58 for lower tunings. He is a steady user of Mastery Bridges, utilizing their Offset and Tele models in addition to the Offset Vibrato. Troy has also said that his live rig is considerably different than what he uses during recording, due to the fact that he considers most of his vintage equipment too unreliable for touring.
In addition to guitar and lap steel, Troy has also played a Clavia Nord Electro keyboard and later a Moog Little Phattie synthesizer during live performances and recordings. After Nick Oliveri's departure from the band, Troy also played an Epiphone Rivoli bass or a Custom Yamaha SA-bass during several Queens of the Stone Age recordings and tours following Lullabies to Paralyze, sharing bass playing duties with Alain Johannes. For the Era Vulgaris album, Troy was the primary lead guitarist—although he also occasionally contributed with keyboards, lap steel, bass, and back up vocals.
- Gibson Les Paul - Troy has used several different Les Pauls including a 1995 Classic Premium Plus in Amber, a 1991 "Bullion Gold" all gold Classic, a 70s white Deluxe, and a black Standard. Usually Tuned to C standard for QOTSA. The "Bullion Gold" Les Paul was actually Josh's Homme's backup guitar in Kyuss.
- Fender Telecaster - Has used a Mexican Custom model from Era Vulgaris and onwards for songs in E Standard tuning as well as a Custom Shop built Copper Relic 12 string variation. Troy also used a gold Schecter PT Traditional in Failure.
- Fender Jazzmaster - Used from Era Vulgaris and onwards. Has used a black AVRI 62, an Aztec Gold AVRI 65, and the prototype for his Fender signature model as well as a Custom Shop double neck that combines his signature model Jazzmaster, an Electric XII, and a Telecaster.
- Fender Jaguar - Used from Era Vulgaris and onwards. One of Troy's personal favorites is his 1963 Jaguar: originally Candy Apple Red, it was later refinished black (not by Troy) only on the body, resulting in a unique mismatched body/neck. Also rarely uses a white AVRI 62 and a Johnny Marr signature model.
- Yamaha SA503 TVL - Van Leeuwen's signature semihollow guitar, fitted with three P-90 pickups, two three way switches and a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece. Since discontinued. Tuned to E standard during the Lullabies to Paralyze tour.
- Yamaha AES1500 - Hollowbody, tuned to C standard during the Lullabies tour. A custom red model with neck and middle P-90's and a trapeze tailpiece used most frequently in addition to white and black standard models.
- Yamaha SG2000 - Used occasionally in studio or as backup to the Les Pauls.
- Gibson ES-135 - One of Troy's main guitars from A Perfect Circle to Era Vulgaris. Tuned standard when used.
- Epiphone Supernova - Noel Gallagher signature guitar in Manchester City blue finish. Tuned EGDGBe for "Fun Machine" and "Someone's in the Wolf".
- Echopark Guitars - Troy has a few of Gabriel Currie's creations, including two "Clarence" models based on a prototype Tele style body built by Leo Fender: one, the "De Leon", is a signature model variation, with Troy's pickup choices being the distinction; and the "Clarence J" is a hybrid of the "De Leon" with an offset style vibrato.
- Burns Double Six - Used throughout ...Like Clockwork and the subsequent tour as well as infrequently by Josh Homme on live performances of "Another Love Song".
- Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster Special - Hardtail Jazzmaster used for a while on the QOTSA self-titled reissue tour.
- Fender Blacktop Jaguar HH - Used alongside the Squier to replace the heavy Les Pauls while recovering from a collarbone injury.
- Fender Stratocaster - Heavily worn sunburst model used in Sweethead.
- Fender Pawn Shop Mustang - Equipped stock with coil split-able Wide Range Humbuckers used in studio.
- Various Maton models - Troy occasionally used a ms503 in Eb standard for "The Sky is Fallin'" during the Deaf tour and Josh Homme's BB1200 recording Lullabies.
- Chandler Lap Steel - Mahogany body and palm tree fret markers, equipped with a Seymour Duncan Invader. Tuned to Open E tuning.
- Silver Hercos .75mm picks - Same picks Jimmy Page uses.
- Ampeg VT 22 Combo - Used alongside an Orange 4x12 Cabinet, or an Ampeg 2x12 Cab.
- Ampeg V4 Head - Same as the VT-22, 120 watts and all tube, but in head form.
- VOX AC-50 CPH Classic Plus - Used for lapsteel with a Vox CPH 2x12 Cabinet, also uses an AC50 head for guitar in conjunction with a Vox CPH 4x12 Cab.
- Vox AC30HH - Used on the 2011 tour with a Vox CPH 2x12 Cab.
- VOX Brian May Special - With treble boost.
- VOX AC-15 - Used for the salt mine concert.
- Bad Cat Black Cat - 30 watt combo used during live performances with an Ampeg 2x12 Cab. Also used with an Ampeg V4 live.
- Bad Cat Cub - 15 watt combo used during recordings.
- Peavey Amps - Has used Series 260 Standard and Musician Series 400 solid-state amps live from 2005 to 2008 and in studio.
- Fender Bassman - 1963 Blackface model used in the studio and occasionally live during the Lullabies period
- Fender Excelsior - Pawn Shop series 13 Watt combo with 15" speaker.
- Marshall 4x12 - Used in combination with many of the amps above live.