Queens of the Stone Age on Rock Greatness: "It's Like a Magic Trick, Like Mind Control"
Photo by Nora Lezano
At this current moment, Queens of the Stone Age is the best rock 'n' roll band on the planet.
A bold statement, to be sure. However, while there exist other artists with similar relevance and artistic integrity, no group so deeply embodies the spirit of the genre's past while fighting to make fresh statements in the present, and none have developed a sound so immediately identifiable and unique as that honed by Josh Homme and his ever-evolving cast of kindred rockers.
Though the band has enjoyed the undying adoration of serious fans since forming from the ashes of Homme's previous band, Kyuss, in the late '90s, Queen of the Stone Age's most recent release, 2013's ...Like Clockwork, has catapulted the band to a level of truly universal praise and respect that has eclipsed even the success of the group's mega-selling 2002 album, Songs for the Deaf .
In preparation for the band's long-awaited return to South Florida, we here at Crossfade spoke with the band's lead guitarist and Homme's chosen foil, Troy Van Leeuwen, about the band's growth, the trick of being successful without selling out, and the greatness that was Mick Ronson.
Crossfade: It was announced that Queens will be performing at the Grammy Awards this year. I feel a lot of serious musicians from the rock 'n' roll world are at odds with the Grammys as an institution. Do you have an opinion on what it represents these days?
Troy Van Leeuwen: Well, you know, I don't really have a problem with awards and stuff like that. We're a rock 'n' roll band, we're only making the world a livable place for ourselves as musicians. And as artists, what we can't say in everyday life with words, we say with music, and if it touches people, that's great -- that's the most important part to me.
So, in order to be nominated -- you know, this is like the fifth or sixth time we've been nominated -- and we've gotten to this point where it's like, "Shit, it's never going to happen." So, we don't really have the expectations of what all that stuff is. For us, performing on the Grammys is kind of like crashing the prom, you know what I mean? It doesn't really make us who we are, but it's a nice kind of cherry on the top, a nod from the musical community. I think it's cool, personally. It's not going to change who I am, it's not going to change who we are as a band either, but it's nice to be noticed by your peers and the industry.
In a time when most of what makes its way to the mainstream is extremely processed and approachable, Queens of the Stone Age continues to make music that is challenging, organic, and human while retaining a certain mainstream appeal. Do you feel there is a key to that success?
All I know is that when we make our records, they're really a labor of love. There's not really a process that we lean on. Every record that I've made with the band has been completely different. It really just starts from within, and usually, you know, our records in the past, we've been able to knock them out pretty quickly. This record was a tough one, and we're not used to that. So, we did the most questioning of ourselves on this record and I think that kind of vulnerability came through, and I'm just feeling like a lot of people identity with that. So yeah, the process that we go through is an internal one and it's checked by each one of us, and everyone has got to be cool with every single note on every single song before we move on with it.
Even six albums deep with a revolving-door lineup, each record works as its own cohesive statement that sounds distinctly like Queens of the Stone Age, but sounds completely unique within the discography.
Yeah, I mean, every filter that we go through is our own. We just want to play our favorite music and we're trying to slowly grow in the process. At the end of the day, we sound like who we sound like and we can't really change what that is!
...Like Clockwork is definitely the band's most mature-sounding album. Did the struggle of making the album yield that kind of growth?
I think it made the band tighter, yeah. We know each other better, we know each other's strengths and weaknesses better. You got to have a lot of trust with each other to go through that and come out with what came out with. Now that there's Grammy nods, it's a nice kind of reminder that we did the right thing.
Beyond the Grammy nods, every serious rock 'n' roll fan I come into contact with -- even classicist types -- seems to accept that Queens of the Stone Age truly carries the torch for relevant rock music in the millennial era. From my perspective, the band is poised to be one of the only rock bands in the past 20 years to truly join the club, so to speak. Is that something the band is aware of?
Yeah, we're definitely the hardest on ourselves and I think that when you say that, it's not taken for granted, it's something that we're constantly trying to earn. I think that comes from our need to constantly better ourselves -- especially in the live situation. I think it all stems from that experience, because getting the audience on your side and having a moment together, that's the biggest challenge I think right there.
That's the true human element of it all.
All of my favorite rock 'n' roll bands and artists, they can all reach out to their audience and pull some magic off. From Tom Waits to Bowie to even Zeppelin, it's like a magic trick, like mind control. They've got the audience and I'm in it, you know what I mean? So, I think we all have sort of a keen understanding of what that means and how to kind of grasp that sort of magic out of the air.