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Interview: Queens of the Stone Age

AFTER a six year hiatus, dicing with death on the operating table and a few side projects in between, the desert rock ringleader has propelled himself back to full health with QOTSA’s first No 1 album, ‘…Like Clockwork’ and a mammoth world tour.

Gemma Brosnan catches up with Josh Homme to discuss loving Elton, making music, getting better and the importance of being honest.

Gemma:  It’s been six years since ‘Era Vulgaris’ and your latest album ‘…Like Clockwork’ smashed the Billboard chart in its first week of release. Are you surprised at how well it’s been received?

Josh: Well, it’s such a dark record, it’s almost like, thank God for mental illness, but I feel like we’ve always had the same people with us since the beginning and I hope my vision is correct that we’re like a magnet picking up people who stick with us so that’s really who we are playing to.

Gemma: You almost died and were bedridden for months in 2010 after routine knee surgery went wrong – how did this affect your approach to the album?

Josh:  It was the hardest three years of my life, but also the best thing that could ever happen because there was nowhere to go but up. I felt sorry for myself and thought I might not make music anymore or it might take a long time for me to get back to it, but music has always been a great healer so I think I’ve got to the state I’m in now where I feel really great from playing and music has always been my religion, so I’ve just prayed into that, got on my knees and hoped it worked out. This is all I know how to do so I have no reason not to throw it all to the wind and let whatever happen because there is nothing to lose.

Gemma: How easy is it to stay relevant after 17 years?

Josh: Music is weird right now because it’s the perfect place for a band like us whereas before we had to fight with everybody to explain what we were trying to do when we’re just trying to grab people that want to hear someone being as honest as possible.

Gemma: Is this your most honest album to date?

Josh: It’s the most naked, I suppose. We’ve always been going that direction, but the more vulnerable you get, the better it gets because when you lay yourself bare, that’s what people relate to and that’s what I relate to. The moment you’re not yourself, you won’t be around for very long because there is a realm for everything. If you want some manufactured pop music – and I like some of that stuff too – it’s there, but that’s not what we do, so you have to throw yourself off a cliff and that’s our specialty.

Bill Hicks had this amazing thing about people on LSD where they say, ‘Oh, I can fly’ and they jump off a building, but his whole thing was that if you can fly, just run and do it from the ground so maybe we’re doing that, just running from the ground, dragging our music around and dropping it at people’s front doors.

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Gemma: You’ve got two young children who weren’t born when you put the last QOTSA album out – how does this affect you musically?

Josh: Well that’s the thing I care about the most so everything comes second and that’s it. I never wanted a normal life, I don’t want them to have a normal life, I want them to have a life which is why I’ve been here with them the past few weeks, just standing there on the beach throwing sand at each other.

Gemma:  Where do your side projects fit in?

Josh: I don’t think people just listen to one style of music so the goal has always been to just play whatever sounds good and not worry about it. I want to do another Eagles of Death Metal record right away because every ten years, a moustache comes along and my buddy, Boots Electric – do you know the Eagles of Death Metal at all?

Gemma: Yep, it’s one of your side projects.

Josh: Look, I know I’m in it, but honestly, it’s really good and the singer, his name is Boots Electric – how can you argue with a name like Boots Electric? – and he’s had this moustache since when we were in high school and you really shouldn’t have a moustache when you’re in high school because it will just make people hate you, but now it’s glorious and just so him and I want that moustache to sweep the world. Are you going to offer me a cigarette?

Gemma: I thought you’d given up and didn’t want to corrupt you.

Josh: Corrupting people is what I do best.

Gemma: You’re also pretty good at collaborating.

Josh: Well, I’ve played with a lot of people by now and I’d like to think I’ve had a hand in letting other bands know that collaborations are ok and it’s a really beautiful thing because you spill it over somebody else and you merge together to make some new colour.

Gemma: Elton joined you on ‘…Like Clockwork’ and has since gone on to describe it as ‘probably the best rock album in about five years’ – how did that feel?

Josh: I love Elton. I love sending Elton flowers and gifts, it’s really weird. He’ll call me and say, ‘I just wanna say I love the record and I can’t stop listening to it’ which is so sweet, that’s such a nice thing to do, it’s what a nice person does, right? So I just keep sending him flowers. It’s kinda weird.

Gemma: Weirder than the stuff you get sent?

Josh: I get all kinds of weird stuff, lots of weird photos, voodoo dolls with pins in them that are supposed to be nice because they missed all of my vital parts and I’m like, ‘Ah, so that’s why my shoulder hurts’.

Gemma: Alex Turner also appears on the album and described your work on Arctic Monkey’s latest offering, ‘AM’ as ‘really exciting’– how much influence did you have?

Josh: Remember the old Batman TV show that had a cake dish to protect the Bat-phone? I just put a cake dish over them and they did want they wanted to do, my impact was really nominal and they’re awesome. They went through stuff that nobody goes through and are so insulated it didn’t matter, they’re just friends and they’re really nice and they still care about each other. They’re sweet men and a funky, weird pop band.

Gemma: What music do you love that surprises people?

Josh: This is my ipod we’re listening to which is a bunch of afro-beats stuff. I love Slayer, I love Motown, I love Ol’ Dirty Bastard, I love cooking to Dean Martin. There’s this great station called Martini In The Morning and it’s just Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and all those guys and that’s what I listen to in the mornings because there are songs like (sings) ‘Have the time of your life’ and you’re like, Oh My God, it’s like having balloons or a popsicle in your hand. You don’t see anyone walking along the street with a popsicle in their hand going ‘Motherfucker!’ You just take the popsicle, grab the balloons and go.

Gemma: Where’s the weirdest place you’ve heard your music?

Josh: We have this thing that if you walk into a bar and your music starts to play you have to leave because it’s not a good start.

Gemma: Would you find it equally disconcerting if one of your tracks started playing during sex?

Josh:  No, that can be quite nice, actually. It’s what my music is made for, right? Driving, screwing and hanging out.

Gemma: What’s the best time you’ve had making music?

Josh: I didn’t think I’d do this all the time so I’m really just riding the wave of my favourite time and that’s not a democratic answer either. I’ve played with John Paul Jones, you know, that’s so fucking awesome, I learned so much and I’ve played with Billy Gibbons and my favourite guitar player when I was a kid and they’re not much different as in, I had this amazing time so I just try to seize the moment a little bit. I could sit back here alone, you know, but now we’re here and what the fuck else is there? Seize the mood you’re in, you know what I mean?

Gemma: Does that ever lead to regrets?

Josh: ‘Go With The Flow’ is a life mantra, not just a song for me and yep, there is one thing I regret, but I wouldn’t be here if I had done things any differently and here is an alright place to be.

Gemma: What do people still get wrong about you?

Josh: I don’t really know. Long ago, I understood that reading about myself is not for me. By now, I’ve been called every bad name in the world and they’re probably all true, but like my Grandpa always said, ‘I’d have to give a shit for it to matter’ so I just live and walk around and I don’t worry about it. Everyone has moments where they doubt themselves or hate themselves or they think they’re the best thing in the world and all those are wrong. You worry about the people you care about and the rest doesn’t matter.

Gemma: Don’t you ever worry about what you’ll be remembered for?

Josh: I’m supposed to give everyone a night they’ll never remember.

To see QOTSA live go to http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/Queens-of-the-Stone-Age-tickets/artist/730011

Photos: Zoe Miranda