Queens Of The Stone Age: Nudity, narcotics, pyromania and madness
Queens Of The Stone Age are the renegade outsiders who hijacked the mainstream. As 2017 comes to a close, we look back on a trail of nudity, narcotics, Villains and some great music...
It was October 1995, and Josh Homme wanted out. Eight years earlier, the guitarist’s teenage band Kyuss had set out playing generator-powered all-nighters in the Californian desert, their jams punctuated by knife-fights between Mexican gangs and cops wheel-spinning over the dunes.
Later, with this fiercely DIY band now trumpeted as leaders of a tenuous ‘desert-rock’ scene, signed to major label Elektra and schlepping across urban America, 22-year-old Homme felt success stick in his craw. “Kyuss was starting to eat itself,” he shrugged in a post-mortem with LA Weekly. “I was disillusioned. Punk rock had blown up in my face. What I thought it was, was a total lie.”
With Kyuss put in the ground – for now – the ever-contrary Homme set about burning his bridges. A solo deal dangled by Elektra was gleefully sabotaged (“I thought: ‘Well, I’ll sing – that’ll get me kicked off.’ And it did”). Just as obtuse was Homme’s move to Seattle to study, his reasoning being that grunge’s epicentre was now so jaded that there was no risk of him being sucked into another band. ”
The plan worked – for a year. But by 1996 Homme had hooked up with a splinter group of grunge sidemen including Soundgarden’s Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron, and after Mike Johnson of Dinosaur Jr got him a gig as touring guitarist for the Mark Lanegan-fronted Screaming Trees he stopped resisting the inevitable. “When I was driving the truck on Lollapalooza, I had an epiphany, like, ‘What am I doing, going to school? Who cares if there’s too many bands? Who cares if no one else likes my music?’”
Having put himself “back in the fire”, Homme returned to California with pocketfuls of new songs, ample to feed both the first two volumes of the Desert Sessions series and the self-titled debut album by Queens Of The Stone Age.
Self-financed by Homme and released in 1998, Queens Of The Stone Age was a left-turn away from the sprawling stoner-rock of Kyuss, standouts like Regular John and Avon fusing gritty road-movie guitars with the precision of krautrock and the band leader’s eerie Roy Orbison-inspired croon. Homme described the album as “driving music” or “robot rock”, and revelled in its wider palette. Perhaps the most significant departure was the economy of the Queens material, with Homme pointedly distancing himself from the “wanky thirty-minute opuses” that many Kyuss fans had hoped for to see. “I’ve always been into frustrating some percentage of the audience,” he admitted. “We can’t be the same band forever.”