The bad boy of rock and the badass of metal. This is Nick Oliveri without a filter.
What is Nick Oliveri's stance on violence?
What is Nick Oliveri's stance on violence? "I don't think that makes you a badass at all to get angry or to hurt somebody in any way. I don't think that's a cool thing or a badass thing. I think it sucks. It's something that I don't think people should do or should happen. Some people don't have control over that kind of thing and there are things you can do to try to find control over it."
The man behind the band "The Uncontrollable" is open about the fact that he engaged in many fights ever since his teen years, sometimes alongside Homme and other friends, but just as his music has evolved, his attitudes about fighting have changed. "I don't think that it makes you tough if you go around fighting people. I think fighting sucks and getting your butt kicked and kicking somebody else's ass can feel even worse than anything."
Part of the evolving Oliveri's therapy has remained his own music and getting his aggression and demons out through playing, singing, and creating as best he can. "If you listen to the lyrics I sing I've always kind of worn everything on my sleeve, you know, I write about everything. I don't hide. I don't censor. All of my Mondo stuff is uncensored. I'm kind of a rude prick in some of the songs. Some of it's humorous, some of it's not."
This music career, therapeutic or not, has led him not only back to a reunion (of sorts) with QOTSA but also Kyuss in the resurrected form of the band known as "Kyuss Lives!" After joining Kyuss singer John Garcia onstage with guitarist Bruno Fevery for a show at Hell Fest, Garcia invited Oliveri and drummer Brant Bjork to join him for the 2011 "Kyuss Lives!" tour.
This forced Oliveri to face another of his demons in that he then had to learn the Kyuss songs penned after his departure from the band. "I was a little bitter and I never really got to hear the songs, but when you're learning, teaching yourself the bass and what Scott [Reeder] was doing on there and dissecting the actual parts of the song and the guitar parts and everything that's going on and the drum beats ... it's a really good record! I really got opened up to these records that I had never really given a chance because I was part of the band and then I wasn't."
This reunion allowed Oliveri to actually meet some of the bigger, long-time Kyuss fans for the first time, as he was out of the band by the time they hit big. However, many of these "long-time fans" have certain misconceptions about history. "I've had people come up to me like 'Dude, I saw Kyuss in 1990!' I said 'No you didn't!'
"I knew everybody that came to those shows and there wasn't many of them. There was like ten people, you know what I mean? We'd come up and play in LA, there wouldn't be twelve people there. And I knew all of them. You know what I mean? Like there would be somebody we'd been introduced to that was from a record label that was interested in us. I was like 'Why? There's 12 people here!'"
Oliveri continues to laugh at this bizarre and repeated assertion. "And to say they saw me play in the original band? 'Dude, there's no way! Maybe you saw them with Scott [Reeder], like on the last record!', cause that was a few years later. That was on a bigger level for sure." Still, in Kyuss, Kyuss Lives! or any of his bands, Oliveri is grateful for any fans who come to the shows (possibly because of the empty houses of Kyuss' early years). "Sometimes I'll hear people tell me that and I'm like 'Really? That's cool.' I don't want to burst their bubble or anything. I'm like 'Yeah, sure, right on! Great that you saw us, man. That's cool!'"
Though initially met with the blessings of Homme and Reeder (who actually filled in on bass for a few Kyuss Lives! shows), these same two former band members ironically put Kyuss Lives! to death. A federal lawsuit prevented the band from recording as "Kyuss Lives!" It surprised many that Homme and Reeder were okay with the touring band "Kyuss Lives!" but drew the line at any recording band of the same name.
Oliveri explains that "when Brant left the band, Josh took the existing members and he included all the members that were in the band at the time as owners of the band name. That' a fair thing to do." Homme's action gave equal rights to the name to all of the then-current members of Kyuss, which did not include Oliveri. Kyuss Lives!, in turn, included some of those then-current members, but not Reeder or Homme. Thus the federal courts decided that the band could tour as "Kyuss Lives!" but not record under that moniker unless Homme and Reeder gave permission.
On the flip side, Oliveri indicates that he decided to leave "Kyuss Lives!" due to a conflicting plan on the parts of Garcia and Bjork, which proved to be the opposite of Homme's prior action. "They were going to register it as just Brant and John and they cut me and Bruno out and I was like 'Wow! That's odd! I thought we were a band.' So it really wasn't at the end of the day. It wasn't like what Josh was doing with Kyuss."
Much as Oliveri had Homme's blessing to tour with Kyuss Lives!, Homme approached Oliveri before the lawsuit took place to ensure his old friend was okay with the decision. When Oliveri stated that he had left the band, Homme went forward with the lawsuit.
Still, Oliveri remains "on the fence" about the decision to proceed with a lawsuit. "It killed Kyuss. Kyuss is dead now. Kyuss is gone. Kyuss ain't comin' back unless Josh decides to do some version of it, but it would never be an original Kyuss lineup. It could never be. It's something that's gone forever. The shame about the Kyuss thing is that Josh does own it but ... why you want to own something just to stop it or kill it? I don't quite get that. But, hey, it's not mine to worry about or get."
As for Reeder's involvement, Oliveri remains equally as ambivalent: "Scott wasn't in the band when the band started. Scott is a fantastic bass player. He's one of the best in the world. I could never take that away from him, but him owning the name Kyuss and for him to be in a lawsuit to own the name Kyuss, I can't see him having ownership of it."
Thus marked the change in name from "Kyuss Lives!" to "Vista Chino" and, in a way, the third time Josh Homme prevented Nick Oliveri's participation in some form of Kyuss. As in most things in Oliveri's current outlook on life, he has met this fact with a balanced stoicism and without holding onto anger. To Oliveri, the decision is, and always was, Homme's alone. "He kept that band going. He's on every single record. He's the main songwriter. It's kind of his band, you know what I mean?"
Oliveri holds a similar opinion about his removal from Queens of the Stone Age. "One of the reasons that we're doing this Halloween thing is because I never sued Josh. I don't believe in the lawsuit thing ... Josh already had the band name. I got cut in on it.
"It was something that I got cut in on as a bro and as a band member and given that opportunity and I wasn't stupid, I said yes, you know what I mean? And so when it came to the time that I was out of the band, yeah, I was butthurt about it ... I did think that it was partially my band. We did build it. He did have the name first but it wasn't worth anything. We built it together. I mean, I can say a band name right now and it's not worth anything, but when some pool of people come in and build it into this big thing, then it's everybody's. But it was his first and I never argued that. I was mad about it, but at the end of the day I never did, like, a lawsuit thing. I feel lawsuits kill music. Lawsuits make sure there's never gonna be a reunion or any jamming together in any band on any level ever."
What's more, even at his most bitter or, as Oliveri put it, "butthurt", the musician never wished his former bands to go down in flames without him. "You don't want to see anything that you were a part of become something bad," Oliveri explains. "For Queens of the Stone Age to sell no records and be dropped after the records I played on would have sucked ... I want it to do well."
To be sure, Queens of the Stone Age has done well with and without Oliveri and they continue to rise. "I had to start over from scratch all the way. No doubt about it and I'm still doing that." Oliveri has been nothing if not a master of reinvention (while continuing to explore his favorite genres). Even his acoustic albums and tours have been his own special subgenre. "I call my brand of acoustic 'Death Acoustic'. There's Death Metal, there's Death Punk and there's Death Acoustic! I'm trying to get my stuff across with that. When I'm not doing my band stuff I can still get away with doing acoustic because I don't know how to sing or play finger-picking, dazzling stuff.
"I actually started doing acoustic when I was touring with Queens when we had a day off I was going to record stores and if they had an in-store stage there, I'd be like 'Hey, you have a stage. I'm from Queens and I have a night off.' [They'd say] 'Yeah, we're coming to the show tomorrow!' I'd be like 'Can I play here tonight? I don't need any money, I just want to play! Me and [erstwhile Queens vocalist] Mark Lannegan will come down and he'll sing too.' Mark was always down to do something, too, so, we filled in all of our days off with shows, you know? If we didn't have our booking agents book shows in clubs on our days off we would go and ask the places if we could play."
The constant touring and musical experimentation is both a matter of Oliveri's self-expression and a matter of survival in the changing face of the industry. The death of the record store as it once was is lamentable to the constantly performing Oliveri for more reasons than one:
"To make a CD and sell a CD doesn't really make any sense. Kids can burn it off the internet and burn the artwork too and get it for free. All it takes is for one person to buy the record and upload it onto their YouTube and everyone gets it for free, so why buy a CD? You have to buy a hard copy, physical vinyl and how that's changed. And to move vinyls around on tour, the weight of them, and the sun melting stuff and warping, it's very difficult, even if you do a 50/50 split with the label. In the old days if you did a 50/50 split, by selling 20,000 records, you could make quite a good amount of money. At least enough to make another great record. If you're splitting seven dollars on a CD and you sell 20,000 of them you didn't do too bad with a small amount of records like that. But 20,000 on a major [label] and you get dropped. It's just that simple."
Technology has been a double edged sword for Oliveri and the similarly hard working musicians out there. "The internet is a great thing, but it's also a terrible thing." he explains. "The record stores are closed, the places that carried CDs are gone. So it's a very difficult time for music and to do it as a living. People aren't really going out and playing live shows anymore. Some people are, but it ain't like they can't just watch it on YouTube or a live feed of it or something. Somebody's gonna have it on their cell phone and it'll be upload in half an hour."
As Oliveri lists his musical favorites, bands like Slayer, the Possessed, the Ramones and Trash Talk, he is quick to add "And don't download it for free! Go buy it!" Oliveri's list doesn't go to any extreme shocks, but there was one surprise he threw into the mix. "Dude, I love the Scorpions! It used to be my hidden guilty pleasure and now I tell everybody because I love the Scorpions! Especially the early Scorpions with Uli Roth on guitar and the '70s stuff? I'm telling you, dude!"
And what of Oliveri's favorite band? I'm speaking of Queens of the Stone Age, of course, which Oliveri once called his favorite band as he lamented his departure. Oliveri clarifies: "Well, Queens of the Stone Age is my favorite band that I've been a part of, for sure. Of everything that I've played on or been a band member of, Queens is probably my all-time favorite and we have great fans, you know? The fans are great and because of them we were able to do what we did and, yeah, that's my favorite one for sure."
Further, QOTSA is a band he continues to listen to. "I have put on Songs for the Deaf, not long ago. I hadn't put it on in ten years and it sounded ... Wow! Man, this is killer!"
Specifically with his most famous band, Oliveri remains incredibly proud of his work and hasn't become more critical of the music as it, and he, has aged. "With the Queens stuff I was in my 30s and I kind of felt strongly about the stuff we wrote and the stuff that I wrote and I love it! I'm very proud of that stuff. I enjoy playing those songs acoustic when I do my shows. I enjoy doing some versions of some of the songs live with Mondo but doing it with Queens is a different thing. It's with the originators of the songs and it's going to be an amazing thing come Halloween."
This "Rocktober" show with QOTSA and the preparation therefor does have echoes of Oliveri's readiness for Kyuss Lives! as well. "I need to start listening to the stuff again and playing along with it because I need to be ready," the bassist confirms.
As Oliveri's tenure with Kyuss Lives! also forced him to learn (and appreciate) the songs that were recorded after his termination, might our subject continue to listen to the Post-Oliveri Queens of the Stone Age? "I bought everything Josh has put out since I've been out of the band. And sometimes I put them on and I listen to them," Oliveri says proudly. As to whether this is an easy thing to do after a decade out of the band, Oliveri's voice gets lower as he says "It depends on my mood. If someone else puts it on, sure, I'll listen to it, but if I'm going to put something on I normally don't put on the Queens.
"I still do have a hard time listening to a whole record and not feeling like I could've added to it or something crazy like that which shouldn't even come into my mind because it shouldn't happen. But I love the band and it was my band at one time and I still love the band. I can't help but think 'Man, I hear this thing and I wish I could've been part of this!' or 'I can't hear this right now, it's going to make me think of old times!' or something weird."
As with much of the recovering and evolving Oliveri, even the difficulty he has with listening to the band without his contributions doesn't prevent him from being a fan. "I do go see them live and it's a quite enjoyable time," he says.
This is a far cry from the angry, fighting, grudge-holding bad boy that the press has long branded Nick Oliveri. While any listen to The Uncontrollable's Leave Me Alone confirms that even the more diverse Nick Oliveri has not lost his metal edge or even his angry lyrics, the more, dare I say it, "controlled" Oliveri abhors violence and has nothing but reverence for his previous bands and bandmates, including and especially Josh Homme.
To be sure, Nick Oliveri has had a unique and long lasting impact on the music industry and the industry's impact on the man has made for a more mature and diverse musician, constantly experimenting and inventing new ways to remain exactly who he is. He may still occasionally perform nude, but blowing fire into faces is a thing of the past. He may still struggle with anger, but violence is something he's left in his past and regrets. With his moving on from the earlier troubles, healing and changing his ways, could the future of Queens of the Stone Age include Nick Oliveri in more than a backing vocal and occasional live performance role? Time will tell. Regardless, the Oliveri that I interviewed will surely be filling that time, not with drinking and violence, but with new forms of his very life's blood, The Music, on his days off as well as his days on.