A half hour after his concert ended in a dizzying assault of noise, Josh Homme stood behind a catering table quietly handing out bottles of Corona to fans who lucked/talked/connived their way backstage at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
A pretty blond in a short denim skirt seemed especially amused that the frontman for one of the best hard-rock bands of this decade, Queens of the Stone Age, was playing bartender.
(Interscope; US: 12 Jun 2007; UK: Available as import)
“This is one of the coolest days of my life,” she told him. “We never get this kind of excitement up here.”
Homme lifted his Corona to hers in salutation. “That’s exactly why we played here,” he said.
“Here” could have meant any of the out-there cities that Queens of the Stone Age played on its way from Los Angeles to Lollapalooza in Chicago three weeks ago: Boise, Fargo, Cedar Rapids, Missoula and even Billings were on the itinerary. They not-so-ironically called it “The Duluth Tour.”
“Before we booked these shows, we were like, `We need to go to cities we’ve never done before—like (expletive) Duluth!’” he said.
With sweat still dripping from his red pompadour, Homme (rhymes with “mommy”) bowed out of the backstage party for a post-concert interview. We wound up in a hockey warm-up room, complete with rubber floors and a coach’s rink-shaped marker board.
The 34-year-old rock star genuinely looked amused by the surroundings.
“Good rock `n’ roll translates everywhere, and we’re having fun proving ours is that good,” he said in a vaguely cowboy-ish drawl, acquired while growing up in the California desert.
Homme was full of comments that sounded more like rock mantras than interview answers. The best was: “I don’t need to be in the biggest band in the world. I need to be in my favorite band in the world.”
That distinction became apparent when it came time for Queens of the Stone Age to follow up its 2002 million-seller, “Songs for the Deaf,” the album that landed them a radio hit (“No One Knows”) and—for a brief time—a household-name drummer (Dave Grohl).
The band’s iron-hot status cooled, though, when Homme split with childhood pal Nick Oliveri, who formed QOTSA with him in 1997. Oliveri wrote and sang a good chunk of the first three QOTSA albums, so his departure obviously disappointed fans. And so did the album that followed, 2005’s “Lullabies to Paralyze.”
Homme conceded that it was a troubled time.
“People wanted us to make `Songs for the Deaf II,’ and there was so much personal stuff going on instead of musical stuff,” he said. “I just tried to get back into the music, but then I started to lose my temper.”
Things especially got rough when QOTSA went on tour with Nine Inch Nails. Suffering from knee and back pains (plus bad reviews and the fallout with Oliveri), Homme said he was just plain frazzled.
“So I just disappeared for a while, and re-emerged in the Eagles of Death Metal, which was way funner for me at the time.”
Homme has issued two albums with Eagles of Death Metal, a sexed-up, T. Rex-copping rock band fronted by another of his childhood friends, Jesse Hughes. It’s one of several well-received side projects spawned off of QOTSA (others included the Desert Sessions and Mondo Generator). Of the much-steadier Eagles gigs, he said: “They freed me up to do this again.”
“Music is the pursuit of things I love the most,” he said, offering another mantra. “If it starts to sting, I stop and do something else.”
Homme clearly found the love again in time for the fifth QOTSA album, “Era Vulgaris,” which plays like a wild, sweltering muscle-car ride through the desert in summer. It’s a clear rebound for the band, sonically ambitious and more diverse than past records.
He credited a lot of the rekindled verve to his bandmates, especially guitarist Troy Van Leenwen and drummer Joey Castillo.
“This lineup is fantastic, maybe be the best of them all,” he said. “Joey and Troy have been here for five or six years, more than half the band’s life. They’re hardly the new guy. But if you’re not there at the beginning of the band, people always see you as the new guy.”
“Era Vulgaris” also marks a noticeable step up in the lyrical department for Homme, who took the translation of the album title (“our common era”) to heart. He wrote about his generation Pete Townshend-style in songs like the moody dirge “Suture Up Your Future” and the playful and cocky “I’m Designer.”
“I don’t care if it hurts, just so long as it’s real,” he sings in “Suture.” In “Designer,” he offers wry observations such as, “My generation don’t trust no one/It’s hard to blame, not even ourselves/The thing that’s real for us is fortune and fame/All the rest seems like work.”
Homme said of the song, “It’s not a finger in the face or a judgment, it’s just an observation. I love this generation. I think we take sort of a blood-sport attitude to people like Paris Hilton. It’s like, `You’re entertaining. Fine.’ But when it’s time to get down to something, get out of the way.”
“Era Vulgaris” also hints at the personal ups and downs in Homme’s life of late. On the up side, he has a 20-month-old daughter at home with wife Brody Dalle, leader of the Aussie punk band the Distillers.
“I miss my family a lot; it’s the thing I care about most now,” he said, adding that he’s excited for his wife to go on tour with her new act, Spinerette. “The band is so good, it’s stupefying. And then I get to stay home when she goes on tour, happily.”
On the downside, Homme wound up having to take anger-management classes recently after he purportedly punched out Dwarves singer Blag Dahlia for trash-talking him in the press.
“I wish I could tell people the truth about what I really did and did not do, but I’ll leave that to the imagination,” he said, not offering much more comment on the anger classes: “Something like that, you just show a piece of yourself that they want to see. ... Sometimes I wonder if I ever really went there.”
Homme opened up a little more when asked about his split with Oliveri, which he said “was better for the band.”
“I miss being around someone that I really love but can’t be around,” he said. “But I can’t drink a little poison every day, certainly not for somebody else.”
In the end, Homme said he has indeed wound up with his favorite band in the world, if not the biggest band in the world. With Oliveri gone, he said, “We can get away with rock `n’ roll murder now.”
At least they slayed `em in Duluth.