The bad boy of rock and the badass of metal. This is Nick Oliveri without a filter.
Singer, guitarist, bassist Nick Oliveri has gained a certain reputation in the music press.
Ever since his high profile ousting from the mega-selling rock band Queens of the Stone Age, Oliveri's name has been oft reviled and his reputation as a bad boy of rock and a badass of metal has preceded him. The hard partying, hard drinking and fighting lifestyle that he has been seen to have cultivated reportedly caused his ouster from both Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss ... and from both bands he was fired by the same man, guitarist and singer Josh Homme. To be sure the aggressive, fast paced metal stylings of Oliveri's separate projects such as his work with Dwarves and his solo work with Mondo Generator and The Uncontrollable help to portray this badass image and the lyrics he writes for the latter two bands hardly shy away from the Oliveri the press has given to us. Allegations of domestic abuse and continued aggression have both furthered this wild image and harmed his music career.
Any interviewer might expect to encounter an angry guy who has earned this reputation as Nick Oliveri, the hard partying, hard-to-work with badass of metal. This is not the Nick Oliveri that I interviewed. Instead, I was introduced to a friendly and funny music professional who is very serious about his music and the evolution thereof. The Nick Oliveri I met has nothing but praise for his former bandmates (including and especially Homme) as well as his current bands' lineups, takes responsibility for his actions in the past and even says positive things about the music his former bands have made without him (surprisingly even praising his replacement on bass in Kyuss, Scott Reeder). What started out as a rock interview quickly began to feel like a couple of old buddies laughing about music over beers livened by Oliveri's sincere sense of humor and even a distaste for violence in real life.
Nick Oliveri's newest record is entitled Leave Me Alone and helps to showcase the new Oliveri. Still heavy and hard driving, Leave me Alone is a much more diverse and personal album, with Oliveri performing virtually all of the instruments himself. "I wrote the songs on drums. I was humming the guitar parts and stuff, the riffs in my head while playing drums and I transposed them to guitar and so I played the drums on it, I played the guitar, I played the bass, I did everything on it. Some of the actual guitar solos themselves I had some friends do. I did a couple of them myself.
"I called it Leave me Alone because I was like 'Leave me alone, I've got to finish this record!' You know? I gotta do this myself. I gotta finish this. I gotta do it," Oliveri says with excitement. "I'd done acoustic records but why do an acoustic record when I can do a whole electric record?"
This dedication has led to a much wider ranging musical and vocal sound than has generally been heard on Mondo Generator albums or his contributions to Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf and Rated R. "Rated R and Songs for the Deaf are the two, probably, the biggest highlights of my life. We really set out to accomplish something and worked hard at it. It wasn't something that just came to us." he reminisces. However, in the 12 years since his last album with the band, Oliveri has hardly been stagnant. "There's always room to get better in everything you do. You know, you can always learn more and get better and you don't get better unless you try," the singer says. "And you're not going to get better at something unless you go for it. I wanted to really try to open up my vocals a little bit more."
Ironically, or perhaps, appropriately considering the evolution of Oliveri, the title track from Leave Me Alone is a light acoustic experiment with no vocals whatsoever. "I've been doing a lot of solo acoustic tours and shows and I have to change up the way I sing every night. If I'm doing like 20 shows in a row, sometimes my voice is going to sound different than if I had two days on, one day off, three days on, one day off."
While the new album available now and his band The Uncontrollable is booked for a European tour with US dates to follow, Oliveri's evolution isn't simply about reinvention or doing his own thing. Much of this growth has led him back, full circle to the bands that made him famous.
Having long ago buried the hatchet with Homme, Oliveri contributed backing vocals to the song "If I had a Tail" from QOTSA's latest album ... Like Clockwork. Although the backing vocals were as far as this contribution went, new associations with the old guard are already continuing: "We have a show on Halloween with Queens of the Stone Age at the Forum in L.A. and it's going to be an interesting night," Oliveri explains. While he is careful not to oversell it, Oliveri is also set to join the band onstage for the Halloween show. "We're going to actually end the set doing about five or six songs. It's kind of a reunion but not a reunion. Just a good time for that particular evening and just a very special night."
Oliveri's association with Queens of the Stone Age goes back to before he joined the band (although his voice is heard as an answering machine message on the band's self-titled debut, his first musical contributions were on the second album, Rated R) and in fact, before Queens of the Stone Age even existed. Although well known as the erstwhile bassist for Kyuss, Oliveri originally performed with the band as second guitarist when they were known by the moniker of Katzenjammer, while the band members were still teenagers. After only two shows with that incarnation of the desert rock band, Oliveri was let go for the first time.
"I don't think Josh felt that he needed a second guitar player around. At the time he didn't want one. So I was out. But I was there at the beginning and when they [Kyuss] needed a bass player ... I was like 'Well, I don't play bass.'" This was, according to Oliveri, the only reason he ever played bass guitar, the instrument he is best known for in the music industry. "It turned out, as I tried more things, that I was more interesting on bass with my playing than my actual guitar playing. I don't think my guitar playing is uninteresting, I just think that I'm better on bass than I am guitar playing."
But in 1992 after years of touring and the release of the band's second full-length album Blues for the Red Sun, Oliveri was fired from the band for (arguably) the second time. The musician explains that the death of his father in an auto accident caused him to go "off the deep end a little bit," and the younger Oliveri self-medicated with copious parties and drinking, leading Homme and Kyuss to make a change to Scott Reeder on Bass. Looking back, Oliveri manages to make even this memory into a positive. "It was a terrible time for me, to lose that as well as my dad but, you know, life is hard and it just makes you stronger and you get over it." Further, this freed Oliveri to experiment with his own musical style. "I kind of was going in the other direction anyway. I wanted to play faster music and Kyuss was going to slower and longer songs and more jammy and I was going more faster songs, shorter songs."
That said, Oliveri's firing from Kyuss does mirror his removal from Queens of the Stone Age and has been cited as something of a pattern in the bassist's life and career. Likewise his admission into this new band was prompted by one of his more legendary badass moves. As both Oliveri's current band and an early version of QOTSA were set to perform in Austin, Texas the Queens members went to see Oliveri play. Realizing there were record executives in the audience, Oliveri found a unique method of welcoming them to the show. "I was nude and I blew fire in the faces of the record execs before we started the show." Needless to say this didn't result in a record deal for Oliveri's band. "I was just like 'I know they're not going to sign my band! Screw 'em!' And I just blew fire in their faces. [laughs] I did some fun stuff when I was quite young. I've ... mellowed out some, I guess."
According to Oliveri, the ballsy move did result in a different and unexpected windfall for the musician. "Josh said that was the moment he was like 'Dude, we need to get Nick back in the band,'" he laughs. After joining Queens in 1998, Oliveri found himself rising in stardom alongside his childhood friend, Josh Homme. Rated R (2000) was a commercial and critical success, while Songs for the Deaf (2002) proved to be the band's commercial breakthrough and remains a critical darling. Oliveri largely credits former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters multi-instrumentalist Dave Grohl for the band's rapid rise.
"We were a 'band's band'. Other bands liked us and other bands don't buy records, they get them for free. We listen to each other's music and we go see each other live and we'd get on the list to get in [free] too. The band doesn't really make any money when they're a band's band. You get the respect of the other bands and that's basically what we had. Grohl took us on tour with Foo Fighters and we played to a crowd that we had never played to in our lives. Kids that were young, and bought records and were into it. And Dave liked us. He kind of opened us up to a crowd of people that maybe bought records that weren't in bands."
It was also Grohl's involvement as the new drummer for Queens of the Stone Age that prompted their record label to heavily promote what ultimately became a huge hit in Songs for the Deaf. "They were going to make another record with us anyway. We had sold enough records that they weren't going to drop us, but when Dave got involved, all of the sudden they were into it. Dave really lent his hand and his damned fine drumming, I'd say." Oliveri is quick to add, "Thanks Dave!"
It was during the tour supporting that album that things began to unravel for Oliveri and QOTSA as the fans knew the band. During the band's European tour in 2003, Oliveri had a direct conflict with Homme before a show in Spain. According to Oliveri, Homme was not feeling well and didn't notify the band or road manager that he was unable to attend rehearsal and sound check, a move which angered the bassist. "I was like a dumbass kid and I drank a whole bottle of vodka and got all smashed. I didn't think he was going to show up because he didn't tell anybody." However, the singer/guitarist did show up and the show did go on, regardless of Oliveri's condition. "I was being a total jerk, you know? I tried to jump into the crowd and I landed on the barrier [laughs] and hurt my back."
The crowd jump resulted in a back injury that led to the cancellation of the last few European tour dates. The altercation with Homme, following the show caused a rift in the band. "We were kind of gonna cancel the band at that point because of me being a jerk and then we had six months of touring left, dates booked, so we finished them out and that was that, pretty much." Oliveri and Homme had what the bassist calls "fighting words," a unique incident in five years of steady touring. "To this day I wish he would have just duked me, you know, just hit me down or knocked me down or something like that." as opposed to the alternative.
"When Josh first came over to tell me that the band was over he didn't tell me that I was out, he said he was breaking the band up because he didn't want to do it anymore. And so I read online that I was out and he was making a new record in the spring. 'WHAAAAAAT?'"
This began a strongly worded, yet, as we now know, short-lived feud in the press between Oliveri and Homme's new version of QOTSA. Oliveri is candid about his hurt feelings and participation in the feud to boot. "We probably said a lot of things about each other that we since have apologized to each other about. It doesn't really change the fact that they've been said in the press and that people read things and people believe what they read and people want to believe whoever's point of view is stated. Whoever's. But when you're mad your point of view is going to be twisted and turned around."
The jabs, however, were not limited to the press. The day after reading that he was fired, Oliveri reunited with the punk band Dwarves (the same band he joined after his departure from Kyuss) as a studio guest. "I go into the studio and they're recording me and I'm saying, like 'What am I going to do out there in this world. It's scary all by myself!' and I'm talking all this shit, and they dropped it in on a song". That song was "Blast" from the Dwarves 2004 release The Dwarves Must Die and has been noted as one of the opening (and longest lasting) salvos of the feud:
"It was kind of fucked up, man, because I didn't know they were going to do that. I think [Dwarves vocalist] Blag just thought he was defending me and he was going to make this Rock Feud thing and people would read into it and it would sell some records or something. I don't know what he thought, but it really backfired on me."
This was far from the final salvo of the feud. In a 2004 interview with BBC Radio, Homme indicated that a contributing factor to Oliveri's termination was a rumor about domestic violence against Oliveri's then girlfriend. "What really hurt me the most of probably my whole career ever was Josh saying what he said on BBC Radio. It was like 'Wow, Dude!' I mean, I know he was hurt about the Dwarves song, but I wasn't part of that. I would never talk bad in a million years about Queens of the Stone Age. I'm a very proud member of that band's past and for whatever I do with them ever. I'm very proud of that band."
"That's one of the reasons that I was out of the band," he continues. "The only thing was that the anger was pointed at the wrong person which was my band[mate]. We were the owners, we were in a partnership of that band and we had a huge fight in Spain and the outcome was I went against the army at that point, just being a jerk and an asshole and I lost a lot from that and it's a drag, man. I've since forgiven myself and Josh has forgiven me as well and I don't blame him for saying whatever he wanted to say in the press."
In 2011 the allegations of domestic violence became more than a rumor as Oliveri endured a four-hour standoff with a police SWAT team at his Hollywood home after police were called by Oliveri's then-girlfriend. He was arrested on felony domestic violence charges as well as two counts of possession of a controlled substance with a firearm, two separate charges of possession of a controlled substance and one count of resisting, obstructing or delaying a police officer. Although he faced 15 years in prison, a plea deal allowed for probation, community service, and anger management classes.
As serious and sensitive as this is, Oliveri neither avoids the hardball questions on this topic, nor his own responsibility. Instead he is focused on pressing forward and changing as best he can. "I've had my problems with anger. I'm not denying anything like that. I've had classes that I've had to do and, yeah, I'm an angry individual. I'm not going to lie about that. I've had some trouble with that kind of thing but that's part of the healing process, I guess they'd say. Denial is not a way out. You're not going to get better. I'm not saying I've never been in any fights or anything like that. I'm not denying that." Oliveri's voice slows and becomes heavy with regret as he elaborates. "I've never claimed to be the best friend or relationship guy. I'm kind of a magnet for crazy people ... girls or whatever. So, I don't know. I've had my troubles with that and it sucks, but it's something that has to be dealt with and faced."
These questions, of course, have to be asked and Oliveri, while struggling with them, answers them with as much honesty as he can. The real question is whether or not he has changed in these life struggles or if he sees himself as a victim of an unfair situation.