You get the feeling — from his musical output, his onstage sneering and his offstage demeanor, specifically — that Queens of the Stone Age mastermind Josh Homme isn’t exactly “of these times.”
Rather, he seems like a throwback to several different eras, often all at once. Personality-wise, he’s a devil-dusted Delta bluesman from the 1930s, a spit-covered Bowery punk from the ’70s, a hard-partying Sunset Strip rock star from the 1980s and a bizarrely everyman alt-rocker pulled directly from the ’90s. Musically, he dabbles in bottom-heavy proto-metal, bong-ridden prog rock, trippy psychedelia, earthy blues and ultra-harmonized pop. Plus, he’ll talk to you about Björk for hours on end.
He is both a showman and a yeoman, the type of guy who talks about music in hushed, revered tones (“You’ve got to honor it, work at it or it’ll leave you”) and thinks flash, cash and the trappings of fame are, well, “like diamonds in sh–.”
So, obviously, when he tells you his band’s new album, Era Vulgaris, is all about “modern times and what it’s like to be in ‘em,” you automatically brace yourself for 11 tracks full of alienation, bitterness and “society’s doomed” declarations. But, strangely … you’d be wrong.
“Actually, it’s totally supportive of everything that’s happening today. All the depravity and stuff like that. In fact, it’s sort of like, ‘You need a hand?’ ” Homme laughed. “There have been a lot of records that have come out that sort of decry this time, but I sort of dig it. And I think our generation digs it. Because I think there are opportunities here for people to have jobs like you and I have and the opportunity to have something and try to make something of yourself that you are really passionate about.
“And I also think that with the way music is, you can create your own space now, and it allows the artist to be just that: an artist,” he continued. “And it allows the artist to make whatever kind of visuals they want, without having to kowtow to MTV. You can do whatever you want and not have to hear from a censor that they don’t really appreciate … it. Because that’s what art should be.”
And that quote is pretty much the best way to sum up Vulgaris (due June 12), a record that is, by turns, loud, brash, ballsy, dirty, spooky and — well — even a little arty. Tracks like “Sick, Sick, Sick,” “3’s & 7’s” and “Battery Acid” are steel-toe stompers. “Into the Hollow” is a quieter, eerier number that sounds like it was lifted from the band’s 2005 Lullabies to Paralyze album; and “Make It Wit Chu” — a holdover from Homme’s Desert Sessions series — sports a lilting piano line, Frampton-esque soloing and a seriously ill falsetto from Homme.
It all adds up to an album that rocks like the band’s R heyday while still exploring the spacier territory the rockers mined on Lullabies. But the focus remains the same — it’s about, as Homme put it, “keeping positive, yet getting positively dirty.” Because even though he’s a fan of the times, he’s no fool: He knows there’s plenty messed up with the world we live in (during our interview, he drops mentions of Hurricane Katrina and even Keynesian economics). He’s just choosing to focus on the good times rather than the bad.
“There’s an inherent stupidity to our music, but it celebrates that in an intelligent way. And conceptually, I think cool is something you really get into. I love to get into stuff. … I love music, I love art, and I think one of the coolest things of all time is this [he pumps his fist in the air],” he said. “Because this, inherently, is the dumbest, dorkiest maneuver you can do, but what it really is is telling everyone to the left and right, ‘I don’t care what you think, ’cause I’m into this,’ and I like people who are willing to do this.
“I want to focus on stuff I’m really into, because that’s when I have the best time. And I want to encourage that in other people,” he continued. “I never talk about stuff like [politics] because I’m walking on the sidewalks too. I’m not up in some ivory tower or something. And I know what it looks like to watch someone else do that, and I don’t feel it’s very effective. I’ve always tried to do stuff instead. F— the complaining. Like [former bassist] Nick [Oliveri] used to say: ‘F— the dumb sh–.’ ”
For more on Queens of the Stone Age, check out the feature “A Stone Unturned.”