Stoner Rock Royalty

Queens of the Stone Age finds tipped-out serenity in its private desert oasis

Kyuss' time was rapidly drawing to a close, although the group issued two more albums, Sky Valley and the somberly titled And the Circus Leaves Town, before calling it quits in 1995.

As for the breakup, Oliveri says, "There was a lot of political things in terms of business managers. Once everyone was trying to screw the band, Kyuss took a passive-aggressive approach. Instead of trying to rise above it, they said, 'All right, whatever. It's over.' Y'know, just break it up. That was the Kyuss mentality."

Homme moved to Seattle and toured with Screaming Trees for two years. In the interim, he released Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age, a split EP of unissued tracks from his former band and his new one. Not since the Move "presented" the Electric Light Orchestra has one band so deftly mutated into another.

Modern stone-age family: From left to right, Josh Homme, the departed Alfredo Hernandez and Nick Oliveri.
Lisa Johnson
Modern stone-age family: From left to right, Josh Homme, the departed Alfredo Hernandez and Nick Oliveri.

When the invitation to play with Queens came up, Oliveri was living in Texas and feeling sorely out of place. "I moved there to check it out," recalls Oliveri. "I don't know why. Living there was kind of weird. If you're from anywhere else, you're considered a transplant, and I'm not too much into the pride of any flag, y'know. And Texas is."

Oliveri moved back to Palm Desert, where he'd lived since the early '80s. "Actually there was more of a scene then; there really isn't one now."

Among the groups part of the current scene are the Earthlings (which features newest QOTSA member David Catching), Fatso Jetson and Uneeda (featuring former Kyuss lead vocalist John Garcia). "Everyone's played with each other, or at least a member or two has played or jammed with somebody," says Oliveri.

This rather incestuous cabal of musicians also seems to revolve around Monkey Recording Studios, co-owned by Goss and engineer Steve Feldman. Up and comers like Fu Manchu and the Flys have recorded there in recent months, while countless others have come hoping to capture that elusive desert sound. Queens of the Stone Age recorded its eponymous debut there, returning recently to lay down several new tracks. One song recorded during those sessions, "Infinity," will surface later this year on the soundtrack of the long-awaited sequel to the animated Heavy Metal movie.

Although the first QOTSA album featured three-fourths of Kyuss' Red Sun lineup, it's hardly a case of Kyuss Mach II. While the emphasis is still on the band's heavier side, there's an element of pop that would've been unthinkable in the context of the previous group. One track off its Loosegroove debut, "If Only," features the most telltale of all pop signs -- the hand-clap track. Another trait that sets Queens apart from Kyuss is that Josh Homme decided to start singing.

"I'm a big fan of John Garcia," says Oliveri of Kyuss' powerful wailer. "But to have a guy like John singing, you might as well call it Kyuss. Josh adds a new element. He tried out a bunch of singers until somebody finally told him, "Dude, nobody else's gonna sing this shit, so you gotta sing it yourself."

Compared to Garcia's supercharged voice, Homme's down-to-earth vocal register humanizes the songs and brings a good deal more humor and pathos. When he sings, "Life is a trip when you're psycho alone," on one of the album's standout tracks, "You Can't Quit Me Baby," it resonates with empathy rather than coming off as a put-down. And while the title and the weird slide tunings are a tip of the hat to Led Zeppelin, the bizarre, low-timbre, humming voices on that track and on "Give the Mule What He Wants" are right out of one of Ennio Morricone's scores. Unlike most guitar heroes whose "talent" depends on how many notes they can cram into a single measure, Homme will bend the same note for two minutes to get a suitable trancelike mood, as he does on "Walkin' on the Sidewalks."

Clearly, Queens of the Stone Age is not a group afraid of left field. When asked what direction the next album will take, Oliveri laughs. "Up, down, side to side, man. It's going in all different directions. I think you'll dig it. Some songs will be heavy, some songs will be trippy. We want to be able to move around with it and keep it new for everybody."

Aware of how quickly it can get boring playing the same songs all the time, Oliveri promises surprises on the concert front as well. "We're gonna try tours where we have two drummers, tours where we have two guitar players, add and subtract members. We tour so much and we plan to stay on the road and make records."

Queens made good on that promise during its last tour, when it enlisted new member Dave Catching to play electric piano and lap steel as well as rhythm guitar on a couple of songs. "We want to be able to do stuff live that expands on the album. We're not trying to write any hits."

Maybe not, but many of the tracks from the group's first album easily could match with the Foo Fighters for catchiness and focused hooks. Cementing its appeal with alternative radio, the Queens recently toured with Smashing Pumpkins. "They played smaller places for them so nobody who would've come to see the Queens would've been able to get in," says Oliveri. "Cause it was all sold out in however many minutes," says Oliveri. "We really enjoyed that tour because we wanted to play for the young girls."

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