Hundreds of epic shows, memory lapses, unexplained injuries, one year-long detour with Iggy Pop and multiple Grammy nominations later, Queens Of The Stone Age reemerge from the desert newly scarred and somehow strangely prettier with their seventh album, Villains, out August 25th via Matador.
Like the stunning artwork of returning illustrator Boneface, the sonic signatures of the lineup that took …Like Clockwork around the world and back—Founder/guitarist/vocalist/lyricist Joshua Homme, Troy Van Leeuwen (guitar, keys), Michael Shuman (bass), Dean Fertita (keys, guitar), Jon Theodore (drums)—are as unmistakable as ever, though coexisting with sufficient new twists to induce recurring double takes. As Homme himself put it in a recent press statement, “The most important aspect of making this record was redefining our sound, asking and answering the question ‘what do we sound like now?’ If you can’t make a great first record, you should just stop—but if you can make a great record but you keep making records and your sound doesn’t evolve, you become a parody of that original sound.”
Of his role working within such a closed and confident ecosystem as Queens Of The Stone Age, Ronson says, “Queens are and have always been my favorite rock n roll band ever since I walked into Tower on Sunset and bought Rated R in the summer of 2000, so it was incredibly surreal to be welcomed into their secret, pirate clan—or the ‘jacuzzi’ as Josh likes to call it. I also knew that my super fandom alone would not keep me in the jacuzzi. There were moments during the making of the album in which i was aware i was watching my musical heroes craft something that was sure to become one of my favorite moments on any Queens album. And to have some part in that felt like being in a dream–a very heavy, dark, wonderful dream.”
“The title Villains isn’t a political statement,” Homme says. “It has nothing to do with Trump or any of that shit. It’s simply 1) a word that looks fantastic and 2) a comment on the three versions of every scenario: yours, mine and what actually happened… Everyone needs someone or something to rail against—their villain—same as it ever was. You can’t control that. The only thing you can really control is when you let go.”
In our new interview with guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, we discuss the making of Villains, touring with Iggy Pop, defining success, and more!
How did the collaboration with producer Mark Ronson come about?
Well, we knew we wanted to sort of make a record that we sort… like, of course we make a new move every time we record. So, we just kind of started by getting together as a band and playing and you know, tossing around the ideas we had. We knew we wanted to work with somebody who could act as producer because normally we just do it out of necessity. But, it was really because Josh [Homme] had worked with him before… I guess it was on the Lady Gaga record. And he knew right away that this would work, plus he’s very familiar with our catalog and the history of our band. So, I think he had an understanding of where we come from and where we’re going. So, it was great to have someone like him because he’s not only you know, he’s got golden ears but he’s a great musician and he’s got incredible hair.
Were there any surprising similarities between you guys and Mark in terms of sense of humour or musical tastes?
There was a lot of similarities, I mean it wasn’t so much as surprising as it was cool, you know to know that somebody who comes from such a total different, you know, whatever genre, whatever bullshit that is. And you know that’s why we work together, it was so, we had like a similar language and you know you have the same sense of humor and like every reference is like understood because everyone knows what everyone is talking about. So it was really a natural kind of collaboration.
What kind of humor do you guys share?
I mean I won’t go as far… into it. But, I will just say that there is no lack of puns happening. Just the stupider, the better. You know those are the kind of things that when you’re in a band for twenty years those are the kind of things that get you through tours, you know? Having, sometimes we’ll be like in a vehicle on our way somewhere and we’ll start doing our… whatever it is that we do and people just don’t understand. I mean… so it’s hard to kind of describe like in a short answer what that is but, we’ll just say it’s very pun-tastic.
In addition to the signature crunchy guitars the band is known for, the album also features disco beats and synths on songs like “Feet Don’t Fail Me” and “Un-Reborn Again.” Did you guys feel more sonically carefree this time around?
I think the bridge between the last record and this record we wanted to establish what it was, you know? From the beginning of Queens till now we look at it as like an arc. So there’s a philosophy that goes through the record that maintains but, I mean we are always looking for an opportunity to like, light that bridge on fire and go for it. So, yeah I think that we kind of started off as just putting together what our favorite stuff is and it tended to be upbeat. Yeah, that just seems to be what was going on.
Yeah, with the last record it’s at points very depressing, haha.
I mean yeah it is, haha! If you listen back you’re like “Wow”. Okay that was happening then, we got through that and so this is what’s happening now in response to that. Because, you know, we… it’s funny you know, because we have a great life you know? We’re musicians and playing around the world and having people like your music is… I mean there is nothing better than that. So, sometimes you have to question it with yourself and that’s where stuff like “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” comes in and …Like Clockwork comes in… that stuff comes out no matter what you have to express yourself.
You guys released a new single called “The Evil Has Landed” yesterday (Aug. 10th). It’s sort of a blues metal/psych/rock and roll combination that really works well. What was the creative process with that track?
Well that riff has been around for a while, the opening riff. I mean that’s just been something that’s you know, Josh has been playing for a long time. But, you know, we’ve made attempts at recording it before and just sometimes it takes time, you know? And a song arrives when it’s ready, so it did this time. But mainly it was just like all these twists and turns and all these parts and things that we would normally edit out because it’s too long. But, in this case it seemed like we are the biggest critics like ‘oh my god this is too long, this is boring and let’s get to the point’. We never found ourselves bored with any of it because we’ve been… I guess one of the things with this record that we really kind of focused on was this orbital idea. That each time you hear a part something shifts and it’s different or there’s a change in the melody. You know, so there’s no cut and paste Protools bullshit, haha. That’s a live performance you are hearing. But each time we go through the parts, there’s something different. That kind of happened on every song like an orbital, sort of philosophy we had going through the record.
Did you find yourselves with the last record doing that sort of thing where you’re being your own worst critic?
Yeah, I would say that we liked to cut even the meat not just the fat, we like to have the prime cut of what the music is. So there is no… we try to be economical with music because we are just that way a little bit too, there’s definitely some ADD happening in our band. So, yeah on the last record we were definitely trying to just like get the prime cuts but, I feel the same about this record but, it just seems that some cuts are just bigger, haha. Like there’s a couple of six minute songs on this record and a few five minute songs, I mean we didn’t do any kind of radio edit.
Where did the album title come from?
I think about the music that we are trying to, you know we’re trying to play our favourite music. A lot of that is inspired by other artists and a lot of those artists you know, if you think about Chuck Berry, if you think about Jerry Lee Lewis, you’ve got Elvis. If you think about Johnny Rotten, all those artists you know, kind of they kind of symbolize what Rock N’ Roll is and think about Jerry Lee Lewis that guy was badass motherfucker. I mean he’s sort of a villain you know? I think we identify with that.
You played live with Iggy Pop on his “Post Pop Depression Tour”. What was it like touring with a legend like him?
Another villain, haha. Well I have to say that it was probably one of the funnest tours I’ve ever done in my life. I use the word ‘fun’ because it was gratifying and it was nothing but a positive experience and when you get to not play some of your favourite music ever, you get to watch your hero bring it every night. I would say that playing with him really inspired us to get together and make another Queens record and right away. Literally the week we were done touring with him is when we decided to get back together. So, I mean that says a lot to us because I mean Iggy is our hero and most of what we do is inspired by someone like him, you know? He kind of fed us back what we always thought, you know? You never know when you meet your heroes, they could be total pricks, total assholes, they could be… but he was the most generous, kind, giving like he gave every bit of himself every night and it doesn’t show that he’s 70 years old.
So that’s the inspiration for me. If he can make it out and still be alive in this day and age when so many of our heroes are gone, I mean that just says to me that he’s doing something right, haha.
Some tracks on the new record like “Head Like a Haunted House” have existed since the Era Vulgaris era and tracks like “Villians of Circumstance” since 2014. What prompted you to dust these tracks off and revisit them?
Well kind of like what I said before, you just… sometimes music you know, doesn’t want to be finished you can’t force it. And those tracks they just they kind of linger until you are able to capture them out of the ether. And that’s, for us what records become, we are just trying to capture a moment where the magic is and we happen to figure out how to coax them into being. That’s what really what it is, because we are always writing, there are always songs and there are songs we attempted for this record that didn’t make it. So they’re always there and we always visit them, haha. We check in, you know? But, yeah when it comes time to make a record we really focus on trying to capture that magic.
So how many songs do you think were sort of left on the cutting room floor with this record?
I mean, haha. It’s hard to say because they’re all parts right now, there’s lots of parts I’ll just say that. Sometimes they fit together, sometimes you have to switch out parts and so it just depends but there were at least four or five. Four or five ideas that we still want to happen. When? I don’t know.
What kind of music did you listen to while recording this record because after listening to it a few times, I hear everyone from Cab Calloway to T. Rex to Berlin-era Bowie?
Well, I mean those are all good references. It’s funny while we are actually recording there’s not much music being listened to other than our own because we are immersed completely. But when we are on the road, we’re listening to The Bone Show, to Howlin’ Wolf, we’re listening to JD McPherson, you know Cab Calloway and I always have a Duke Ellington record playing, along with What’s Going On at some point. But I mean sometimes me, Mike and Dean will go out and DJ after a gig and those playlists change every night. There’s a lot of rock n’ roll, T-Rex, a lot of Bowie, there’s a lot of Grandmaster Flash and there are tons of LCD Soundsystem to Tame Impala, we listen to everything, you know? We try to stay on the cutting edge as much as we can, haha.
You guys collaborated with Boneface again for the album artwork. How did the concept come about and what does it mean to you?
The reason we work with him and why we worked with him on the last record is because we love what he does, the colour he uses, the imagery. Everything that he does kind of represents a new wave of like the dark aesthetic you know, when it comes to viewing the world. But, like the last record we invited him to come down and listen to what we are doing, while we are doing it. So being in that environment he gets to see a real visual aspect of what we are doing sonically. And I don’t think he’s ever shown us something we didn’t like. Like it’s incredible, everything he does. There’s too much of it sometimes, you know and so we want to use as much as we can so when you look at our deluxe vinyl there’s a lot of art. A lot. I mean I love that because you know, I grew up listening to vinyl and every time I would buy a record like I would use Physical Graffiti as an example, you know? There’s so much art in that record cover and album artwork it’s incredible. I want that for myself and other people to have that experience too.
With all the success you guys have had from Grammy noms to headlining arenas and major festivals, how do you define success?
I don’t know, haha. I don’t really know, I can’t really define it, but to me it’s always been an illusive thing but, I guess the short answer would be I find success playing with my friends and making art. Like I said before I guess success is being able to make art and make a living at the same time.
Pre-Order Villains here.