Queens Of The Stone Age At Home In Desert

Trio reflects an exploratory approach on debut shared by other 'desert rock' bands.

LOS ANGELES -- Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri may understand why the label "stoner rock" has been attached to their band, Queens of the Stone Age.

After all, they and drummer Alfredo Hernandez previously played together in the heavy-metal outfit Kyuss, whose head-banging sound branded them as stoner rockers. Still, they don't like it.

As it happens, Kyuss also were labeled "desert rock" -- a term referring to the sometimes free-form, psychedelic aspects of their music, as well as to their Palm Desert, Calif., roots.

As labels go, that one is more to Homme's liking.

"I'd take 'desert rock' over 'stoner rock,' because at least it's vague, at least it encompasses bands like earthlings? and Masters of Reality -- bands that are shooting off in different directions," Homme said, referring to two rock groups that also take the desert as inspiration.

Stone Age poured that barrier-breaking attitude into the making of their debut album, a self-titled disc released in early October on the Loosegroove label.

Opening with "Regular John" (RealAudio excerpt), the disc establishes right away the trio's musical intensity, as well as their propensity for repetition broken with sharp dynamic changes. The song -- its title a term for a prostitute's regular customer -- also is indicative of a more clear-cut lyrical approach, courtesy of Homme, than the cryptic style of Kyuss vocalist John Garcia.

Homme said that the bottom-heavy sound of Stone Age, which adds repetitive, trance-like elements to the Kyuss concoction of power chords and sludgy grooves, reflects an exploratory ideal shared by the desert-rock-band community.

Yet the notion of Queens of Stone Age as stoner-rockers wasn't completely without visible reflection on a recent afternoon at the Troubadour here, when the obviously sleep-deprived band finished its sound check in preparation for an evening show.

Red-haired, blue-eyed guitarist/singer Homme, 25, wearing a cream-colored shirt and jeans, first tried to do the interview sitting up but soon abandoned the effort and stretched out over two chairs in the club's bar area. In addition, 26-year-old bassist Oliveri -- clad in black and sporting a long, wise-old-man goatee -- had his legs propped up on the table.

Both Homme and Oliveri were practically chain-smoking cigarettes.

Homme reflected on the difference between Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age, concluding that the former's breakup had to do with becoming too self-conscious. He added that the new band is less so.

"We had some of that punk-rock guilt going on, like, 'Do well but don't do too well,' " he said of Kyuss. "That now is gone -- the idea of trying to guess what someone you don't know might be thinking if you try something. We were doing the only job that has no rules, and there we were, all bricked in, with rules we had established ourselves over the years."

"With [Stone Age], we're more open to taking something and trying to go out further with it and make it bigger -- not having any barriers," Oliveri added.

As proof of that, Queens of the Stone Age offers a range of sounds that includes the adulterated, '80s-pop outtake "If Only" and the grunge-like, rumbling-rager "How to Handle a Rope."

The roots of Stone Age date 11 years.

Homme was just 14 when the foursome Kyuss were formed in Palm Desert. The band toured with metal-ragers Metallica, eclectic-popsters Ween and grunge-rockers Soundgarden and released four studio albums during its eight-year reign, breaking up shortly after the release of 1995's And the Circus Leaves Town.

After Kyuss disbanded, Homme went on to play guitar with the Seattle-based rock-band Screaming Trees, and he produced an ongoing series of albums called Desert Sessions for the Man's Ruin label, featuring collaborative works by such musicians as former Monster Magnet member John McBain.

Oliveri left Kyuss before the band's split and subsequently played in the punk-band the Dwarves under the pseudonym Rex Everything. Drummer Hernandez stayed till the end of Kyuss and jammed around locally until joining Stone Age.

In December 1997, Man's Ruin released an EP under the band-name Queens of the Stone Age/Kyuss, but the Stone Age lineup wasn't sealed officially until June, when Homme hooked up with Oliveri and Hernandez.

Where? In the desert, of course.

"It's kind-of funny, because we all went full circle," Oliveri offered of their coming into the Stone Age. "We all did different things and came right back."

That's why Homme insists they're not "just a stoner thing."

"We play rock music, and we hope people like it, and we're going to try to keep it as open and diverse as we can," Homme said. "It's not just us; it's a family of people.

"I'd rather the ideal, or the family, be part of the sound, than it just be like it's some drug thing."