Josh Homme taps into turmoil for 'brutal and raw' new Queens of the Stone Age album

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Most of the recent press surrounding the new album of Queens of the Stone Age has included speculations on why it sounds so dark and angry.

Obviously, it’s one of the main pitfalls of fame, but QOTSA leader Josh Homme’s private life has seemed anything but private as of late. So when reviewers dissect In Times New Roman …, the band’s eighth studio album, they tend to zero in on the recent turbulence in the musician’s life. That includes a very public and messy custody battle with his ex-wife, his recent recovery from cancer surgery and the 2022 deaths of friends, including Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan and the Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins. Rolling Stone, for instance, gave the album a positive review but also suggests QOTSA have never “been short of bad vibes and lacerating observations” and that it’s no surprise the new record offers “significant bile quotient” given the turmoil Homme has been through in the years since the band’s last album, 2017’s Villains.

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NME also writes about his problems before adding “… if there’s anything to emerge from the mire, it’s that QOTSA find themselves where a lot of fans want them: back in the sludge.”

On the phone with Postmedia from his home in Los Angeles, Homme acknowledges that he “tapped into that,” when making the self-produced record. But anger is only one emotion informing the lyrics and thundering guitar riffs.

“I think if Adele or Taylor Swift write about their breakups, no one questions that,” he says. “I think (it’s) my willingness to be vulnerable and honest. I find it interesting that there have been moments when people say ‘Wow, you seem really angry.’ ‘What are you talking about, man? What are you so surprised about, as if you yourself don’t have moments of anger? They don’t represent the entirety of you.’ I think that there are a lot of mixed emotions on this record and all I really care about is that they are honest. Because I care about our fans and they can listen to this and say ‘This makes sense to me. I’ve been through this’ and that I feel like I’m being genuine. Because I don’t really have anything else to give but my genuine self. I guess I’m more concerned about being honest. Words can be confusing, but when I say ‘look at this obscenery’ you know exactly what I mean. I think for this album, a lot of the time I just wanted to make up words in order to get my point across. But I think for every drop of frustration and anger, there is a drop of other deeper emotions: from sadness to confusion to heartbreak to joy. So I don’t think there is an overwhelming amount of any emotion on there, I just think it’s a lot of real emotion.”

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Obscenery is the name of the pummelling opening track, which has Homme spitting out lines like “You must be pleased with miseries you design.” It’s part of a one-two gut punch that opens the album. Track 2 is the equally relentless Paper Machete, where Homme doesn’t hold back conveying betrayal in lines such as “You think you’re brave? All the plans you made behind my back and far away? Truth is, face to face, you’re a coward.”

Rolling Stone, of course, is correct. QOTSA has never been subtle when offering these sorts of sentiments. And while there are moments of joy – not to mention inventive musical experimentation and orchestration – Homme admits that he did enter the studio with certain sonics in mind.

“This record needed to sound brutal and raw and like a live-wire,” he says. “Because that’s how I felt, that’s how the guys felt. I knew that the things I was going to have to say lyrically would match that sonic brutality. There are mistakes all over the place; things speed up, slow down. Every record needs to mimic the world we’re living in at the moment. I think that’s why there are also these orchestral passages that are really beautiful and fragile that almost T-bone the music out of the way at times. It’s a good juxtaposition that the sonic brutality is on purpose and not accidental. It’s meant to be rough like that.”

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While Homme is the only member left from the band’s first mid-1990s lineup, this version of the QOTSA – which includes multi-instrumentalist Troy Van Leeuwen, bassist Michael Shuman, keyboardist/guitarist Dean Fertita and drummer Jon Theodore – has been together since 2013. The Canadian leg of the tour kicks off in Calgary at the Saddledome. While Homme says he doesn’t purposely tailor his sound for a live setting, it’s not hard to imagine the band conjuring some significant heat with these songs while on stage. After more than a decade together, the act’s creative process has changed.

“In the beginning, you’re trying to destroy worlds to make room to make your own world,” says Homme. “I had sonic ambitions of just wanting to make it so that in five seconds you knew it was us and to carve out your own space. It’s not about trying to fit in, it’s about trying to take a machete and hack your own road through the jungle. I wanted to infiltrate, corrupt … It felt like constantly searching for your proper version of revolution. But along the way, it became more about trying to find a way to be the most vulnerable and honest and how to frame that and how to delicately switch sonics around.”

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At the time of this interview, Homme was using a rare break from touring to organize an all-star benefit concert for Sweet Stuff Foundation, which the singer founded in 2013 to assist career musicians, recording engineers and their families struggling with illness and disability. The concert featured St. Vincent and Beck, among others, and earned some positive press for the musician, particularly after his friend Dave Grohl debuted a new original song he had written in Homme’s honour.

Homme first entered the public eye as a teenager in the mid-1980s when he co-founded the stoner rock band Kyuss. But he says he never seeks out the spotlight, nor is he particularly comfortable with the trappings of fame.

“I don’t walk the red carpet and I don’t do certain things because I just don’t care,” he says. “If someone else wants to do that that’s fine. I guess I’ve always struggled with that part of this. My dark side is a very small part of who I am but I think sometimes being in the public eye brings that out of me because it makes me want to protect everything I care about. I’ve had moments when I struggle with that. I’ve said this before, but this is the way it makes sense to me: The adoration or hatred of a stranger are two sides of the same coin. But if you ain’t doing it for the money, it’s like a currency that doesn’t matter. I want to make something that can be someone’s favourite thing and it could mean something to them and outlast my lifetime.”

Queens of the Stone Age play The Saddledome in Calgary on April 1, Edmonton’s Rogers Place on April 2, Saskatoon’s Sasktel Centre on April 3, Winnipeg’s Canada Life Centre on April 5, Oshawa’s Tribute Communities Centre on April 8, Kingston’s Leon’s Centre on April 9, London, Ont.’s Budweiser Gardens April 10, Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre April 12, Laval’s Place Bell April 13, Quebec City’s Videotron Centre April 14, Moncton’s Avenir Centre April 16 and Halifax’s Scotiabank Centre on April 17.

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