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Homme sweet Homme
Queens of the Stone Age’s Lullabies To Paralyze

Far out in the California desert, hours from the city sprawl of LA, past sad towns like Slab City, where ghost towns are as ubiquitous as the sun, a small group of punk- and metal-inspired ’90s musicians found an oasis where they created something new on the rocky landscape — a stoner guitar grunge full of scorched-earth melodies, slow-lava rhythms, and heavy-lidded textures as surreal as a peyote daydream. Dragging generators into the vulture-filled canyons, these industrious rockers — among them rich-kid-gone-bad Josh Homme — came from lush desert towns like Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and Cathedral City to form the nucleus of Kyuss and, eventually, an entire scene built around Desert Session compilations. As legend has it, bikers, bands of groupies, and even seniors initially annoyed at the racket joined the musicians to rock the nights away, terrorizing reptiles and small animals with a massive, messy squall of detuned metal guitar riffs and sludgy beats that would coalesce as the Homme-led band Queens of the Stone Age.

Fast-forward to the present, where Homme, who remains involved in such projects as Eagles of Death Metal and the Desert Sessions recordings, is on his way to being one of the more unlikely rock stars in quite some time. From the ashes of Kyuss’s deep-bottomed grooves rose the Queens, an outfit that paired Homme and long-time drug buddy/Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri with what’s become a revolving cast of drummers (including Foo Fighter Dave Grohl). Homme and Oliveri played off each other to bring muscle and mayhem to Queens recordings, Homme the high-cheekboned pretty boy to Oliveri’s Fu Manchu–wearing biker thug. Their homonymous 1998 debut, a freak flash of oily grooves and hypnotic riffs, was Homme’s version of "chasing ZZ Top." Its follow-up, 2000’s Rated R (Interscope), added heft to an already heavy sound. The opening salvo offered a mantra-like mission statement: "Nicotine-Valium-Vicodin-Marijuana-Ecstasy-and-Alcohol-Co-co-co-co-co-cocaine." Then, just as fears that rock was dead were reaching their peak, Queens of the Stone Age delivered the biggie: 2003’s Songs for the Deaf (Interscope), a multi-platinum juggernaut of hypno-rock grooves and brutally blunt guitar riffs spiked with cactus-sharp melodic hooks. Grohl and Oliveri locked into such unwavering trance-inducing rhythms that yet another label was born: "robot rock."

But there was more to Songs than first met the ear. Homme tracked Grohl’s drums separately from the cymbals, and the cymbals separately from the hi-hat. Recording each part of Grohl’s drum kit solo allowed for incredible compression and separation: Homme had created a rock album like no other. Grohl’s goliathan beats took on an otherworldly ferocity. Homme’s vocals — a lazy, liquidy rock coo topped with girly falsettos — were the final touch that ensured "No One Knows" and "First It Giveth" would become the foundation of a new rock canon. Rock and roll wasn’t dead after all. But the stakes had been raised for Homme and the next Queens album — the new Lullabies To Paralyze (Interscope).

Homme has had two years to ponder his next move. He complicated matters by firing Oliveri. And with Grohl busy recording a new Foo Fighters disc, he had to put together an entirely new band, the one he’ll bring to the Roxy this Monday. (Homme denied Internet rumors that Oliveri may be rejoining the Queens: he did, however, confirm that he plans to work with Nick on other projects.)

Has Homme’s desert-rock fantasy finally run its course?

"There is a combination of seeing what your detractors say, what people are hoping for in a positive way, and comparing that to your earlier records, and then seeing what songs we have to make up something different." He delivers this fractured comment on the phone from an abandoned airport hangar in Austin, where the new Queens are about to perform to a South by Southwest audience. "The amalgam of all of that is that Lullabies To Paralyze is like a dark fairy tale, ya know? So it seemed like we should start off with a couple of one-two punches and then at ‘Someone’s in the Wolf’ it goes twilight and starts to get really dark. I like to work very dark because the reach for the light makes the darkness more uplifting than depressing. I wanted to keep the album away from ‘It’s been a while since I loved myself.’ It is okay to be confessional, but I don’t want it to be a journal entry."

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Issue Date: March 25 - 31, 2005
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